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July 21, 2010

The Quarterly Report - Q2 2010

Chinese Pancakes @ Super L Ranch Market Dominic Armato

One thing is, sitting around a hospital room means you have a lot of time on your hands. So while there's no Bravo and Top Chef is out, heck, as long as there's time to kill and I've got myself an internet connection, why not do the quarterly report? For those who missed it first time around, these are the last three months' worth of little snippets and impressions that never seemed significant enough to work into full posts. Which means they're even less comprehensive than usual. Consider them a quarter's worth of little snapshots, in no particular order.

The Fallen AngelDominic Armato

La Grande Orange Pizzeria
4410 N. 40th Street, Phoenix AZ 85018

La Grande Orange seems to be a rather popular spot. And having only stopped into the grocery until recently, I wasn't quite sure why. There was some good stuff to be found, but it struck me as a gourmet grocery that was more style than substance. Good for picking up some treats, but not really a market in any serious sense. I warmed to the place quite a bit, however, after sitting outside with a pizza and salad from the accompanying pizzeria one evening. I'm pretty agnostic when it comes to pizza styles. They all have their charms. So while hardcore traditionalists of many stripes might be offended by the sourdough crust, I have to back it up. This is a tasty pizza with great texture, alternately charred, crisp and unusually chewy. The Fallen Angel, with Schreiner's Italian sausage, roasted peppers and shaved fennel, has a healthy level of spice with a balancing natural sweetness. And it reminds me that I really need to check out Schreiner's sometime soon.

Italian SubDominic Armato

My Daddy's Bakery
11677 West Bell Road, Surprise, AZ 85374

Surprise doesn't get a whole lot of attention within food nerd circles, and driving through it's not hard to see why. But I still subscribe to the theory that there are little hidden gems everywhere you go. And while I don't know that I'm willing to call My Daddy's Bakery a gem based on the one sandwich and couple of sweets I tried, it's more interesting than most everything else I've driven by down Bell Road. Cute little place that's mostly Italian pastries, cook at home pizzas and a few frozen pastas. A basic sub of the throw-it-all-on-there Italian-American variety did the job, hitting the spot in a no-frills fashion. Sfogliatelle could've been lighter but were enjoyable, and cannoli were similarly workmanlike, even if the use of green candy sprinkles rather than pistachios was a little annoying. But they were mini cannoli, so perhaps it was to avoid the use of nuts for grandkids' sake. Still seemed kind of sacrilegious.

Ricotta RavioliDominic Armato

Pasta and Sugo
2916 N. 40th Street, Phoenix AZ 85018

I think the deathwatch was on for Pasta and Sugo the day they opened. Odd location, crude signage, and a bit of an identity crisis. Perhaps they know what they are, but I'm not getting it. They produce pasta and sugo (natch), nothing else, and not very much of it. A few shapes of fresh dried pasta, a few varieties of frozen ravioli, two or three sauces -- that's about it. And this could be great if the product's great. The bagged pasta was worthwhile, nice bite with a bit of whole wheat for a slightly rustic flavor. But it was priced like an ultrapremium import and just didn't seem worth it. Eating in is a disaster. Arriving in a plastic takeout container, the pasta was waterlogged and the sauce was flat and crying out for salt (mediocre tomatoes, I think). Though the method of service gave a clue as to why. Only a handful of tiny tables in the place, and our group of five was served slowly over the course of twenty minutes. I think they only have one microwave, and I don't mean that as a joke. Which is especially frustrating because when all you're serving is three kinds of ravioli and a couple of sauce options, would it be so hard to keep some boiling water going and two pots of sauce simmering? It just seems unnecessary. And the stripped-down trappings wouldn't bother me one bit if the pasta were good, but it just isn't. Not after being prepared that way, anyway. I'd love to support a place like this, but I just can't.

Steak House BLT BurgerDominic Armato

The Grind
3961 East Camelback Road, Phoenix AZ 85018

The Grind has been pretty well covered by others, and I don't know that I have that much to add, but I'll note it here for posterity's sake. The big question for me, as much as I hate to do the old head-to-head thing, is how their burgers stack up against Delux. So do I prefer The Grind? Yes and no. And that's the problem. When the burger's on, and it's cooked to the right temperature, and the bacon is crisp and it's nicely sauced, there's absolutely no contest. It's a great burger with a real meaty, beefy patty with substance, in contrast to the glorified meatloaf over at Delux (I have teeth, guys, and I'm willing to use them). But The Grind has been wildly inconsistent, and sometimes that burger just doesn't come together. Also doesn't help that the late-night menu has been stripped down and only features one burger. When it's on, I love your Steak House BLT burger, guys. Sure wish I could try the others.

Salade Frisée aux Oeufs et LardonsDominic Armato

Petite Maison
7216 East Shoeman Lane, Scottsdale, AZ 85251

Staff meal at Petite Maison is rather eclectic, but the regular menu is pretty much straight-up bistro. With a twist, I suppose you could say. Lots of them. Little ones, though, as if they wanted to put a signature spin on each classic. Problem is I'm not sure they're improvements. I haven't spent a ton of time in France, but does anybody there put a croque monsieur on a croissant? Even if somebody does, I think it's a mistake. I don't care if it looks good on the menu, it doesn't do justice to either the croissant or the croque monsieur. And the frisée salad with poached egg and bacon has a beautiful poached egg, but rather than nice chunky, fatty lardons you get a pile of bacon that's been sliced and chopped and cooked dry. Again, not an improvement (and it's overdressed, to boot). This is perhaps overly harsh. We had a perfectly nice lunch, and everything is crisply and professionally executed. But it's frustrating when a kitchen that seems to be in control stumbles through questionable attempts to distinguish itself. There's nothing wrong with distinguishing yourself by simply being extremely good, and that skill is clearly there.

Chinese PancakesDominic Armato

Super L Ranch Market
668 North 44th Street, Phoenix AZ 85008

A fun little diversion if you're hitting one of the restaurants down by the Chinese Cultural center on the weekend is a small cart that the Super L Ranch Market puts out front. I'm not familiar with this particular brand of sweet treat, but I like it. Similar to takoyaki, these pancakes are produced on a hot griddle with indentations into which is first poured a batter, then a filling, then more batter before they're flipped to cook on the other side, resulting in a thick pancakey dessert puck with your choice of sweet filling. Red bean and coconut were two of the options on the day I walked by, as well as one other choice that I've since forgotten. But they're tasty, a little crisp on the exterior, sweet and volcanic in the middle, and the long line of folks waiting for their turn makes for a nice little taste of street food culture in a town that doesn't seem to have very much of it, Nogales Hot Dogs notwithstanding.


I'll have to try out some of the restaurants and im especially looking forward to checking out that market stall. Ive never seen it before but it sounds really great. Thanks for the reviews Dom!

Nice. I love these little quarterly reports. The sourdough pizza looks pretty rocking. The pasta from Pasta and Sugo, however, looks positively vile, and akin to what you might get if you ordered a side of pasta from the local Shop Rite.

I love the gelateria at La Grande Orange (used to be Arlecchino - it's called something else now) and I've always been curious about La Grande's pizza, but when you're in Phoenix once a year, Pizzeria Bianco gets the "go out for pizza" nod every time (the Rosa is to die for). The little store is nice in a kitschy way - they moved away from pure Williams-Sonoma-ville last time I was there and added some retro toys/candy. The bakery isn't bad either. Never had any of the deli/salumi, so I can't really comment on that part.

Dom - if you didn't already see it, Monkey Island 2 for the iPad got a glowing review on Gizmodo.


Hope everything goes well and you get away from the hospital soon.

Brian... it's now Grateful Spoon (I weep for the loss of the previous name), it's a regular stop, and the only reason it wasn't included is because I anticipate doing a full piece on it at some point :-)

I've been planning a pilgrimage to Pizzeria Bianco for some time before the end of the year and I think I'm going to have to include a stop for the sourdough pizza also.

Bill... it's not something so fabulous that I'd put it on a list of places for visitors to hit. But it's a very good pizza.

I've really wanted to try Pasta E Sugo, but I haven't been able to get past the banker's hours. I'm not really sure what the business model is there because even if I pass the place on my way home and feel the impulse to buy some ravioli for that evening's dinner, the shop is never open past 5.

I agree that LGO Pizza and Grateful Spoon gelato make a nice combination.

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