Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Late-Night Dining: After the big hand hits the 12 and the little hand reaches the 10, there aren't too many eating-out choices in the Valley that don't end in ". . . berto's."

One particularly good one: Carlsbad Tavern.
It moved a few months ago, driven out of its Scottsdale Road address by a new hotel complex. It relocated a few miles away on Hayden, just south of Osborn.

The new digs are quite pleasant, especially the outdoor section. The little pond in the area can help you make believe it's a little cooler outside than it actually is.

I came here recently after a Diamondbacks game, at about 10:30 p.m., in search of dinner. I'm happy to report that the New Mexico-style food is as tasty as ever.

Appetizers are very strong. In fact, going through the appetizer list with several on-the-rocks margaritas is how I plan to spend next year's summer vacation. (There's a nice selection of tequilas--blends, reposados and anejos.) Santa Fe duck ravioli is one of the best munchies in town, chipotle pasta filled with ravishing smoked duck, topped with a creamy brie sauce. You may consider sharing this, but it won't be easy. My every impulse screamed at me to keep it for myself.

Red-chile potato pancakes also furnish topnotch nibbling pleasure. You get three crisp, chile-flecked pancakes, topped with apple chutney, sour cream and cilantro. At $3.95, the price is right, too. Other starter alternatives include spicy crab cakes, excellent brochettes fashioned from beef, chicken and scallops, and grilled shrimp marinated in tequila and lime, glazed with an orange-cilantro pesto.

You can spend about $12 to $15 on first-rate entrees like artesia chicken, crammed with roast pepper, feta cheese, spinach and sun-dried tomatoes; chorizo-stuffed pork chops, lined with a prickly-pear jelly; wonderful braised lamb pierna in a wine-and-mushroom sauce; or barbecued ribs coated a zesty chipotle glaze.

But there are plenty of less-pricey options. It's hard to imagine not getting complete satisfaction from the green-chile stew, a lip-smacking blend of pork, chile, potatoes, carrots and corn that goes for $3.95 a bowl. At $7.95, chile rellenos, filled with pork and jalapeno jack cheese and teamed with black beans and rice, should suit the budget-minded. So should the carne adovada, smothered with red chile, for the same price. And for just 50 cents more, you can add an order of sopaipillas and honey.

My favorite, though, is posole, one of the Southwest's great dishes, and one that's not nearly as easy to find in Valley restaurants as it should be. Carlsbad Tavern combines butter-soft roast pork and hominy in a cilantro-lime broth, and gooses it all up with a spicy kick. The $2.95 tag--that's about the same price as a double cappuccino--seems like a misprint. If it is, I hope no one alerts the restaurant's management.

Carlsbad Tavern stays open until 1 a.m. seven nights a week. It's at 3313 North Hayden in Scottsdale. Call 970-8164.

--Howard Seftel

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Howard Seftel