Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Small Talk: There's been a lot of discussion recently about sealing off Arizona's border. Those in favor of strict frontier controls argue that the state is being flooded with people who don't share our work habits, customs and values, who threaten our quality of life. If the alien wave isn't stopped pretty soon, anti-immigrationists say, Arizona's distinctive way of life could disappear.

I never thought this line of argument was particularly persuasive. Until now. Yes, now I'm convinced we must do everything in our power--even electrified fences and armed border agents--to keep Californians from entering Arizona territory.

The breaking point for me came when I heard a story about a course at the Culinary Institute of America's new Napa Valley facility.

This incident took place in a catering class, designed to give food entrepreneurs helpful tips about setting up parties. It seems that kids' birthdays generate a lot of catering demand, so the instructor spent some time informing students about the latest trends in that part of the business.

What's the hippest, hottest way to throw a kids' party in the Golden State of conspicuous consumption? These days, you can't just have a bunch of kids over, play Pin the Tail on the Donkey in the living room, sing "Happy Birthday" and eat some cake. You need to spend approximately the gross national product of Ecuador if you hope to impress anyone.

The catering students were told they should set up a room with long, low tables, low enough so that kids sitting on the floor would barely have enough room to tuck their legs under them. There was advice to hang up bright decorations and offer exotic fare.

Now comes the high point (so to speak) of the party: The food is to be served by midget waiters. Dressed as Smurfs.

Wow, now that's entertainment. Just when you think 20th-century life can't get any more decadent, you can count on the California imagination to pull through. Since Arizona is about six months or so behind the California curve, I'd say we can expect to see our local trendoids throwing the first midget-Smurf birthday parties by spring.

Arrivederci, Roma: Three weeks ago, I ran an unflattering review of Tony Roma's, a barbecue chain whose best days seemed to be behind it. Apparently, diners didn't need my column to convince them. The Tony Roma's branch at 1812 East Camelback closed down just before the column appeared. Andale, described as a Mexican grill, will take over the high-profile location.

Gourmet Alert: Ounce for ounce, northern Italian white truffles have a street value that rivals cocaine and produce a similarly intense high. In season for only a couple of months, they're almost impossible to find here.

But Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician has them. A special truffle menu will be available December 4 to 10, including white-truffle risotto with roasted chicken sauce, semolina fettuccine with white truffles, warm pheasant salad with white-truffle vinaigrette, and roasted monkfish saddle with creamed celery root and white truffles.

Bring money. Appetizers run about $25to$30; main dishes hover around $35. Call4232530 for info and reservations.--Howard Seftel

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Howard Seftel