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December 29, 2010

The Quarterly Report - Q4 2010

Navajo Taco @ Sacred Hogan Dominic Armato

Q4 was not the most productive quarter here at Skillet Doux. Assorted craziness and a month and a half (and counting) of nonstop kid sickness have, unfortunately, kept writing to a minimum. But I did, in fact, eat out. Occasionally. So while I'm sitting on a small stack of places for which I intend to do larger writeups, here are a few bits and pieces. As always, in order determined by random.org:

The Elliott GlasserDominic Armato

Stan's Metro Deli
414 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, AZ 85281

UPDATE : Stan's Metro Deli has closed
I'm unsure if the hype surrounding the second coming of Stan's Metro Deli, which approached a religious tenor, was a matter of true nostalgia or a function of PR. If the latter, I salute you, Stan's. But while you can get a decent (if uninspired) sandwich, I'm not sure I understand the hoopla. Chicken soup was weak and the matzo ball was a sinker. Brisket combinations and permutations would be laughed out of NYC but were perfectly palatable when taken in local context (keep those hackles down, let's be honest that deli isn't a strength here, folks). Potato pancakes more closely resembled hash browns than Bubbie's latkes, but were crisp and enjoyable. But this was the site of one of the more bizarre restaurant experiences I've had. Upon discovering that I'd left my beet borscht almost completely untouched, a manager or owner asked what I thought. This is a question I almost always evade since it rarely if ever leads to anything constructive, but on this occasion I came out with it. It was a puree rather than a borscht, it was weirdly gritty, and it was sweeter than Halloween candy. To their credit, they couldn't have handled it any better (other than making better borscht, of course). I was comped the soup and told they knew they needed to rework the recipe, but I've been unable to determine whether they ever did since it's been 86ed the two times I returned to find out. Weird.

ParrilladaDominic Armato

Asadero Norte de Sonora
122 N. 16th St., Phoenix AZ 85034

Asadero Norte de Sonora falls into the category of places I really want to like. It's a little hole in the wall authentic Mexican joint that's doing all kinds of very basic takes on grilled meats. It's all over mesquite, it's all smoky, it's all charred, and it's all... okay. Let it be known that I'm an enthusiastic booster of fire meets meat. There's nothing that annoys me more than "carne asada" that's wet or lacking smoky char. But here, the pendulum seems to swing a bit too far in the other direction. Charred is good. Dry and carbonized is not. Still, the parrillada in particular is a feast, complete with charred cebollitas, jalapenos and some other vegetables, tortillas that could fill in for barber shop towels (i.e. hot and steamy), and some really, really good smooth and creamy frijoles refritos. I suspect some plan old carne asada tacos might come across better, where the meat isn't quite so exposed. Or maybe I didn't catch them at their best.

Mutton StewDominic Armato

Sacred Hogan Navajo Frybread
842 E. Indian School Rd., Phoenix AZ 85014

I'm a complete novice when it comes to Native American foods. In fact, Sacred Hogan is, I think, the only Native American restaurant -- Navajo, in this case -- I've ever been to. But while I'd be a complete fool to dismiss it based on a singular experience and I'm anxious to try some elsewhere, I can't say that Sacred Hogan has me all excited about the cuisine. Mutton stew, though composed of an admirably clean and pure broth with chunks of lamb and hominy and little silky bubbles of mutton fat, was criminally underseasoned and needed a shakerful of salt to take it from flat to plain. Blue corn mush was similarly devoid of any complementary flavor, and authentic or not, wasn't particularly enjoyable (though I'm told cutting it with cream and sugar and eating it like hot cereal is the way to go). And the frybread -- like the fairground fried dough's savory first cousin -- was topped with underpowered meats and a mix of vegetables that tops every Americanized taco. I'm anxious to learn more about the cuisine. Just not here.

Torta AhogadaDominic Armato

Tortas El Guero
2518 N. 16th St., Phoenix AZ 85006

What a bummer that the Arcadia branch closed up shop shortly before we moved into town. This is a great little torta joint, spartan but clean and overseen by friendly folks. There are tacos and burros and such, but the tortas are where it's at, served on pillowy soft bolillos with only a hint of a crust and finished with a very typical set of vegetables, but usually anchored by some delicious meats. The ahogada, a Jaliscan specialty no longer listed for some reason but still offered, is filled with succulent, fatty pork and smothered in a hot chile sauce and it may be my favorite. Milanesa is paper thin and wonderfully crisp, and the other basics are formidable. Less compelling, I thought, was the seemingly popular adobada which was all sweet sauce with the meat almost as an afterthought. Still, most are hits with very few exceptions. Don't trust the al pastor, though, no matter what they say. They insist under direct questioning that it's cooked on a trompo (vertical spit), but I saw no evidence thereof, either by glancing through the kitchen pass or in the flavor of the pork.

Green Chile StewDominic Armato

Dick's Hideaway
6008 N. 16th St., Phoenix AZ 85016

Hideaway is no joke. I think I circled it five times before locating the place. Any joint that's open late I'll get to sooner or later, and Dick's is no exception. It's kind of a cool vibe, dark and warm and welcoming. The food's not to my taste, but I suppose it is what it is, which is very saucy, very cheesy, not particularly refined Southwestern. A seared scallop special came with no fewer than four different sauces, one of which was great. Omitting the other three entirely would have made it a better plate. The Schreiner's sausage was the surprising weak link in another starter, almost devoid of fire and spice and buried under melted cheese that only further obscured its flavor. I fault myself for not noticing that the green chile stew uses beef tenderloin, but still, premium cut or no it's a lousy choice for a stew (it's a lousy choice for most things, actually), and the whole dish played more like plain beef stew with a little green chile thrown in as an afterthought and a bunch of cheddar cheese melted over the top. The whole chickens roasting over an open fire behind the bar looked great. I should've followed my instincts and gotten one of those.


I had no idea that there were any Navajo restaurants off of the reservation. I've had a lot of Native American cusisine, mostly at powwows, but also during trips to Window Rock, Canyon de Chelly and other reservation stops.

It is simple, based as it is around government handouts of flour and lard, enhanced with local meats and scant vegetables. My experience is that there isn't a lot of seasoning. Favorite dishes include Frito Pie and Navajo Taco. I would like to see some of these dishes turned into something magnificent by a skilled chef, but unfortunately, I have not encountered that yet. I did have a great mutton taco at a powwow in Gallup once, but it is truly hit or miss.

Anyway, that's my 2 cents on Native American cusine.

Yeeck, double post, any way to cull them?

Perhaps your most depressing quarterly report ever. Here's hoping q1 2011 and beyond brings you tasty eats. Happy New Year to you and the Skillet Doux community.

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