Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Phone Mail: When you dish out criticism on a weekly basis, as I do, you've also got to be able to take it.

I have no problem with honest disagreement. But I was upset with a recent message left anonymously on my voice mail:

Howard Seftel? Are you the one I've admired for so long, read your column and agreed with you most of the time?

You are the one who wrote favorably about Sir Charles? That little dump where I had the worst brisket-of-beef sandwich I ever had? The five dollars I spent, I hope he chokes on every penny of it. How could you give him a five-star review?

You are catering to an advertiser, and I've lost all my respect for you.
Obviously, this person didn't have the same barbecue experience at Sir Charles as I did. My guess is she probably complained about her food, and got what she felt was a rude response. Why else would she want Sir Charles to choke on her money?

But it's quite a leap to go from having an unpleasant sandwich to accuse me of trimming my views to accommodate advertisers.

For the record: Nobody tells me which restaurants to review. Nobody tells me which restaurants to review favorably or unfavorably. I've never had a column pulled or my opinions tampered with. Restaurant owners don't know who I am. They don't give me free meals. I don't get special treatment. I don't use the column to settle personal scores or ingratiate myself with my bosses. And I have absolutely nothing to do with the advertising side of the paper.

The only drummer I march to is my own critical sense. That's why I love the job. And that's why I can look at myself in the mirror after I cash my paycheck.

Booking a Table: Eating and reading are two of the world's greatest pleasures. A wonderful new place in north Scottsdale has figured out how to combine the two. The Book Vine is a first-rate independent bookstore with a first-rate cafe and wine bar.

It's a comfy, good-looking eating nook. I particularly love the clever reproductions painted on the tables. You can eat off a Georgia O'Keeffe skull, Salvador Dali's melting clocks, Picasso's Gertrude Stein or even the Mona Lisa.

Pick out a book or magazine to feed your mind, then get ready to feed your stomach. At breakfast time, the kitchen puts out a variety of frittatas and omelets. Later in the day, enjoy the likes of snow-crab cakes with greens, avocado, red onion and tomato, or a dynamic spiced chicken breast sandwich coated with a roasted poblano and cilantro-scallion mayonnaise. Afterward, sit back with an espresso or one of 15 or so wines by the glass.

At check time, the staff likes to have some fun. The bill arrives in an old book, whose title may carry a message. Mine arrived in The Impatient Virgin. Two elderly ladies at the next table cackled when their check showed up in Sinful Women.

The Book Vine is in the massive shopping complex on the southeast corner of Pinnacle Peak and Pima roads, a few doors north of AJ's. Call 502-8052.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at [email protected] or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

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Howard Seftel