Whiskey glass in hand, Dean Martin used to counsel folks about the perils of drinking and driving. "Hell," he said boozily, "don't even putt." Mark Twain warned about golfing under any circumstances. He called the game "a good walk spoiled."
Now is the time of year when thousands of players flock to the Valley to wear ugly plaid pants, whack a little white ball and fudge the truth. Most golfers routinely take a mulligan when they whiff on a drive. They concede themselves five-foot putts that would give Jack Nicklaus the yips. And they "forget" to count an extra stroke when their first attempt to get out of the trap only moves the ball to another patch of sand a few inches away. Let's face it: The average guy's scorecard records his true number of swings about as reliably as a Fife Symington loan application records his true financial condition.
This week the touring pros are in town, teeing up at the Phoenix Open. Awestruck duffers can only dream about shooting like Phil, Greg and Tiger. They can, however, eat like them.
Our local golf-course restaurants are getting increasingly sophisticated, catering to a demanding, affluent clientele. When you're paying a hundred dollars and up for a round of high-season golf, you have a right to expect more from a clubhouse kitchen than a Mel's Diner blue-plate special. And those expectations are met at The Grill at the TPC and Quill Creek Cafe. Those dining spots will make hungry hackers happy even if the only way they can break 80 is by calling it quits after nine holes.
For years, I've thought that the restaurant executives at the Scottsdale Princess resort do a masterful job. The Marquesa and La Hacienda are two of the finest dining destinations in Arizona. The new Grill at the TPC, the resort's latest restaurant effort, does nothing to shake my faith. This isn't merely a great clubhouse restaurant--it's one of the best restaurants in town, period.
The place has a manly, bourbon-and-water feel. The cigar-filled humidor by the entrance sets the tone. There's lots of wood, heavy white tablecloths and oversize wine bottles on display. You can view the 18th hole out the large picture windows.
The Grill isn't aiming to reconceptualize modern gastronomy, hook on to the latest culinary trends or attract thrill-seeking foodies. This kitchen deals in basics: steaks, chops and seafood. And, basically, they're magnificent.
Most of the menu's creativity is channeled into the appetizers. The wild mushroom and potato Napoleon is a lusty, earthy delight, zipped up with plum tomatoes. Griddled polenta cakes, covered with a vegetable ragout and ringed with sweet carrot oil, assault your taste buds with a blitzkrieg of flavors. Three large, moist scallops, sitting atop spinach mashed potatoes in an orange butter sauce, will stop conversation at your table. While none of the starters will cause you to loosen your belt, they will get you to sit up and take notice. So will the hot, chewy loaf of bread that accompanies dinner, served with a whole roasted garlic.
The main dishes will put the same kind of grin on your face you'd have if you just outdrove John Daly. The Grill is the only place I know of that offers both dry-aged and Cryovac-aged prime-graded beef. (Dry-aging means hanging beef in a refrigerated locker for about three weeks, an expensive process that most elite steak houses have pretty much abandoned. Most use the Cryovac, or "wet" aging process, which doesn't take as long and results in less beef shrinkage.) Is one method better than the other? Not really; it's a matter of taste. Dry-aged beef is likely to have a somewhat stronger flavor.
The dry-aged porterhouse goes for $34, but serious carnivores won't feel shortchanged. It's a mesmerizing slab of beef, teamed with a potato hash and smoked grilled peppers. Shooting par and eating this steak on the same day could be a lifetime highlight.
The quality is just as deep with other forms of animal protein, and the mixed grill gives you the opportunity to sample three of them at once. The thick lamb chop, fork-tender filet mignon and luscious smoked chicken breast are a high-powered trio, paired with wild mushroom mashed potatoes and roasted tomatoes. And the kitchen, knowing you've just come in from a full round of 18, doesn't stint on the portion.
It's hard to believe, but the seafood is as impressive as the meat. The restaurant claims that fresh fish is flown in daily, and I wouldn't dispute that claim. What's more, someone here knows how to prepare seafood. One evening's special, a gorgeously moist hunk of smoked shark, took my breath away. So did the side, mashed potatoes enfolding a crab cake. The seafood mixed grill is also outstanding: big shrimp, juicy scallops and a phenomenal piece of grilled ahi crusted with peppercorns. Whipped polenta and veggies round off this first-rate platter.