Cafe Reviews

SECOND HELPINGS

Adventurous Dining: Saluting the 13th-century Italian merchant who spent some 20 years in China, Marco Polo Cafe is certainly aptly named. Although the poet wrote that "East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet," the proprietors here disagree. They call their cooking "East meets West," and that's as good a description as any. Newly expanded to more than double its former size, the place looks great, once you close the door behind you on the shopping-center parking lot. A huge, etched-glass panel dominates one room. Elsewhere, you'll spot a beautifully restored old-time soda fountain, an antique ice chest and ornate hutch. Lace curtains and lace tablecloths over heavy wooden tables add to the charm. East and West meet, but don't unite, in the appetizers. Toasted ravioli, shrimp tempura and excellent cannelloni stuffed with chicken and beef offer samples of both regions, but gastronomically keep to themselves. The main dishes, on the other hand, consummate the marriage of tastes. I particularly loved one daily special. Baby-lobster-tail meat and rock shrimp get thrown into a wok with garlic, butter and olive oil. Then they're folded into thick Chinese noodles and plunged into a zesty tomato sauce zipped up with spicy Chinese peppers. It's an outstanding concept, deftly executed. So is the filet mignon platter. This dish starts with high-quality beef, sliced and grilled to a charred edge with broccoli and snow peas, in a lip-smacking hoisin oyster sauce. I literally couldn't put my fork down until I was done. Hong Kong chicken is another eye-catching specialty. Four pieces of boneless breast are deep-fried, rolled and stuffed with shrimp, shiitake mushrooms, spinach and mozzarella, and drizzled with a pungent orange sauce. Desserts have been considerably improved since my last visit, when they were furnished by a supplier. Now they're made in-house. A light, mousselike cheesecake aims at folks just about out of belly room. The excellent tiramisu is more substantial. And it has an Asian touch, topped with crispy thin rice noodles and toasted almonds. The espresso, however, will keep you up at night. And not because of the caffeine, either. It's the price: Like Africanized bees, the dreaded $3.50 cup of espresso has apparently made its way to Arizona. Figure a full meal here at about $25 per person. Marco Polo Cafe is at 7027 East Camelback in Scottsdale. Call 970-0799. Moving and Shaking: A few months ago, I gave a heartily negative review to Remington's, the dining room at the Scottsdale Plaza Resort. Apparently, other diners agreed with me. Management has brought in a new chef, Robert Kabakoff, from the Arizona Club, to make over the menu. Look for dishes featuring regional American cuisine to debut soon. One of my favorite Middle Eastern restaurants is thinking about expansion. Tasty Kabob's owners, a delightful Iranian couple, hope to open a place called A Thousand and One Nights in north Scottsdale, with entertainment and more elaborate food than their Tempe place. And, although they won't talk about it, the proprietors of Christopher's are aiming to open up a new restaurant next month, at 32nd Street and Lincoln Drive, at the site of a remodeled Mother Tucker's.

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Howard Seftel