Recent dining experiences

As much as I bitch about how lousy the dining is in the Phoenix area, I figured it was time to acknowledge some of my positive dining experiences. Here are a couple I’ve had recently.

Trente-Cinq

Several weeks ago, I took a date to a new Belgian bistro in my new neighborhood called Trente-Cinq. For those of you not familiar with the French language, it translates simply to the number 35. I had spotted the restaurant on my drive home from work one day a while back, and it piqued my interest. When I was planning a second date with a woman I’d recently met, it gave me an excuse to try it. I can honestly say, so far, it is the single best all-around dining experience I’ve had in Arizona.

Perhaps because I’d made a reservation, we were given what had to be the sweetest table in the house, in a corner of the restaurant where we could sit close together and preserve some intimacy yet be able to observe the entire restaurant, which was packed. The restaurant’s decor is minimal, giving the impression the dining room is a work in progress, and by all accounts, it is. However, there is a decidedly European atmosphere about the place, as we got the impression that everyone else had arrived moments before us, and there would only be one seating that evening.

We dug in for what would become a leisurely evening of great wine, great conversation, and great food. I had decided before we got there that we were doing, at the very least, three courses and a bottle of wine, even if it killed us. I wasn’t about to hear any I’m-on-a-diet shit, but fortunately my date was super-cool and every bit as game as I was.

The first order of business was to order some wine. I’m no connoisseur, so when I’m in a nice restaurant, I usually ask a waiter or sommelier for a recommendation. In doing so, I usually run the risk of paying way too much for wine my palate is not delicate enough to discern. However, one of the cool things about Trente-Cinq is that the wine list is very short, comprised only of a handful of French wines, and all the bottles are priced within a few dollars of each other. So I let the waitress choose and didn’t worry about it.

Then it was on to the food. The fare is described as Belgian comfort food, and there doesn’t seem to be a bad choice on the menu. I had picked up a menu several days earlier, so I pretty much knew what I was going to order before I arrived, but it’s always fun to see what someone else picks when given the same choices. For an appetizer, she ordered roasted asparagus, while I had shrimp croquettes. Both were excellent. Moving on to the main course, she had a wonderful filet of pork with ale sauce, which I was lucky enough to get a bite of. I ordered the Belgian national dish, mussels steamed in white wine, served with twice-fried Belgian-style French fries, with mayonnaise, of course! I had no complaints about the dish, and I absolutely would order it again, but not on a date. The mussels were served in a big bowl, which made for a somewhat messy meal. However, being able to share my fries was a nice touch. Then it was on to dessert. Although we ended up sharing each other’s desserts, I ordered the café liègeois, which is mocha ice cream with a shot of espresso and whipped cream, and she ordered the chocolate mousse. The mousse was served in three layers: white chocolate on top, then milk chocolate, and finally a decadent dark chocolate bottom layer. I won’t soon forget her reaction when she got her first bite of the dark chocolate.

A sure sign you’ve had a great dining experience is when you completely lose track of time and place. We arrived at 7:30, and before we knew what was going on, it was already 10:30, and we suddenly realized the restaurant was empty except for the chef, one waitress, and us. We got the picture and headed for the door. It turned out to be a perfect beginning to an unforgettable evening.

If all my second dates went this well, I’d probably have a lot more third dates.

Delux

What do you call it when you spend $27 for a burger, a small order of fries, and two pints of beer? Anywhere else, you’d call it getting reamed up the ass. At Delux … well … at least they use Astroglide.

Delux is another place I saw while out doing something else. In this case, I was pulling into the parking lot at Gelato Spot to satisfy a late-evening frozen dairy craving, and I noticed a very trendy looking bar and grill with outdoor seating and a lot of happy looking customers. The name was easy to remember, and the URL was in big, bright lights above the door, so I made a mental note to check it out when I got home. I then forgot about it for a week or so, until I was out getting my hair cut one evening after work. After the cut, I realized it was dinner-time, and Delux was only a few minutes away.

I was alone, so I decided I was going to sit at the bar. It was the middle of the week, about 7:00, and the place was packed. However, there was one stool left, so I sat down. On my right was a couple of stuck-up mid-twenties bitches who appeared to be unaware they had wandered a few miles west of the Scottsdale Fashion Center. They were telling a 21-year-old bartender he was too young for them, because guys his age didn’t know what they wanted yet. I was tempted to tell them that five years from now they’d be cheating on their husbands with guys his age, but I resisted the urge. On my left was some dick who left his keyring conspicuously on the bar, not because his pants didn’t have pockets, but because everyone needed to see the unmistakeable Bavarian blue-and-white logo that told the world he drove a BMW. I was beginning to understand why the stool had still been free. This place might be a little too trendy.

Sitting at the bar, the first thing you notice is an impressive selection of draft beers. I didn’t count the number of taps, but there are about two dozen, maybe more. I ordered a Fat Tire, had a few gulps, and began to ponder my options. I didn’t ponder very long. The first item on the menu is the Delux burger, and that’s what I ordered. The menu says the Delux burger is “best served medium rare.” You can ask any woman I’ve ever dated how well I take hints, but I heard this one loud and clear, and I ordered it medium rare. The concept intrigued me, because most restaurants won’t serve you ground beef medium rare. However, since they grind their own beef every day, they can probably get away with it. I also asked for an order of French fries.

The bartender placed my order with the kitchen, and a few minutes later, a server arrived and asked, “Who had the half-order of fries?” What’s this half-order shit? I said nothing. As he started to head back to the kitchen, the bartender told the server they were for me. So I asked her why she only ordered me a half-order of fries. “You won’t need a full order,” she said. Well, it turned out she was right. A half-order was plenty, and it saved me $2.50. They serve their fries with a spicy mayonnaise which I can’t quite describe, but I loved it. I didn’t even touch the ketchup they gave me.

Then the burger arrived. I’m guessing it was roughly a third-pound of beef, and it really was medium rare, possibly on the border of rare. The bun was a sort of demi-baguette, into which all the blood from the meat was soaking. It was topped with a mix of blue and gruyère cheeses, caramelized onions, chopped bacon, and some sort of green leafy vegetable, which seemed like a cross between lettuce and spinach. I began to devour it like a caveman coming out of hibernation, slowing down just enough to savor the complex combination of tastes. At some point, Mr. BMW looked my way and said, “Man, that is a really rare burger.” I smiled in agreement as blood continued to drip down my chin.

As a man who has eaten much more than his fair share of burgers, I can tell you without hesitation that this was one of the best I’ve had. Moments later, the bill arrived to put it in perspective.

If I have any more memorable dining experiences, I’ll be sure to share them.