Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

The British Are Coming: As part of this month's UK/AZ Festival, our British cousins will be sending over some of the things they do best: royalty (Princess Anne), Shakespearean theater (Othello) and fashion design (Zandra Rhodes).

But food? The notion of "British cuisine" is generally considered an oxymoron, or a punch line. (British cuisine is the world's second-best cuisine. What's first? Everything else.)

However, the Brits are working hard to change that perception. The Mother Country, it's true, has some fine basic ingredients to work with: beer, cheese, cream, fruit and, at least until some of the cows went mad, beef. And it puts out marvelous crackers, jams and shortbread. But I'm not quite sure I'd elevate this to the status of "cuisine."

You can judge for yourself. There'll be tastings this month at AJ's markets. On Fridays, all Valley AJ's will participate; on Saturdays, you'll have to go to the branch at Central and Camelback.

Here's the Friday schedule:
October 3--Cottage pie
October 10--Fish and chips
October 17--Puff-pastry salmon
with currants and ginger
October 24--Finnan haddie in milk
October 31--Roast beef and
Yorkshire pudding
Here's the Saturday schedule:
October 4--Puff-pastry salmon
with currants and ginger
October 11--Apple and Stilton strudel
October 18--Huntington stuffed pears
October 25--Tea time with scones

What national gastronomic marvels won't we be tasting? You won't find toad-in-the-hole (sausages baked in batter), Scotch eggs (deep-fried, sausage-coated hard-boiled eggs), or Scotch woodcock (toast topped with anchovies and heavy cream).

Other delicacies also haven't made it through customs: bubble and squeak (mashed potatoes and cabbage mixed together and fried in butter), haggis (a hearty blend of sheep's innards, oatmeal, onions and suet packed in a sheep's stomach, then sewn up and boiled), spotted dog (steamed pudding with raisins) and faggots (an invigorating combination of liver, kidney, belly, heart and brain bound together with a pig's caul). Arizonans, I imagine, will be profoundly grateful for their absence.

If you want to get a local take on British cuisine from soup to nuts, four of the Valley's top restaurants are putting together full meals, assisted by British chef John McGeever. On Wednesday, October 15, he teams up with Mark Tarbell at Tarbell's (955-8100), and on Thursday, October 16, Christopher Gross (Christopher's, 957-3214). On Friday, October 17, McGeever shares the spotlight with the Phoenician's stable of chefs, preparing a dinner for the James Beard Foundation (423-2530); and on Sunday, October 19, he and Eddie Matney join forces (Eddie's Grill, 241-1188).

Britannia may rule the seas, and the sun may never set on the British empire. This month, however, we'll see whether the kitchen is one place the English have yet to conquer.

--Howard Seftel

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Howard Seftel