For free monthly updates, event invitations and exclusive deals, sign-up for our newsletter!
Enter a keyword such as “Italian” or “Hamburgers” or type the name of the restaurant below.
June, 2008, Page 193
9719 N. Hayden Rd., Scottsdale
After nearly 11 years as the featured vocalist at the Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort, international recording artist Khani Cole packed up that great, big, sultry voice of hers and moved it to Scottsdale, where she and husband/manager/drummer Mike Florio teamed up with former Leccabaffi chef-owner Michael Lepore to open Vocé, an Italian restaurant with a jazz club attached. [Or a jazz club with an Italian restaurant attached, depending on your priorities.]
Cole and Florio had two goals: Bring more big-name jazz acts to the Valley while still featuring local artists, and create an intimate, sophisticated venue to rival famous jazz rooms around the country. Hooking up with Lepore allowed the couple to add a legitimate food component while leaving the restaurant details to someone in the business. Pretty smart.
The trio turned the original Leccabaffi space into the lounge (probably because the black granite-topped bar was already in place) and moved the restaurant into an adjacent space recently vacated by a jewelry store. The advantage to this arrangement is that people who just want Lepore’s regional Italian food, not a night on the town, can eat in the quiet(er) dining room, while the folks who’ve come for entertainment and dancing can head for the lounge without feeling pressured to order an entire dinner.
Both rooms are dramatic, thanks to brick-red walls, mirrors and Italian photography. The simply furnished dining room evokes the narrow Italian restaurants of the East Coast, while the lounge gives off a sleek, contemporary vibe, softened by a perimeter of over-sized chocolate brown leather couches and flowing velvet curtains. Dimly lit and decidedly sexy, this is a room that says, “Eat Drink Man Woman.” When Cole takes the stage, it says more than that, but such words aren’t for print.
But let’s begin in the dining room, where the menu looks much the same as it did when Giovanni Scorzo opened Leccabaffi so many years ago. Lepore has kept most of Scorzo’s original dishes, offering a lengthy list of his own nightly specials (many of which sound wonderful) to complement them. I’m happy to see the same fragrant house-baked breads I remember from the old days, and I’m very nearly ecstatic to find my old favorite: gno-cchetti alla Romana – fat semolina dumplings, baked (not boiled) and served in a fondue-like puddle of Gruyere and Fontina cheeses ($18). They’re still delicious. But why do I bother with point-by-point comparisons? Leccabaffi is dead and gone; this is a new endeavor, best judged independently.
And when Lepore gets it right, he’s dead on. I’m in heaven over meltingly tender osso buco and its rich, tomato-y juices, which seep into the bed of fluffy Parmesan mashed potatoes underneath ($35). My friend puts away every bite of hearty ravioloni all’ antica – small, house-made veal and Swiss chard-stuffed ravioli ladled with meaty veal Bolognese ($22).
Razor clams (usually fried and rarely found on an Arizona menu) are served in their cracked shells, floating in a light, spicy tomato broth ($14). I’ve never had them this way before, but I like them a lot. Grilled calamari, served whole with lemon and olive oil, are smoky-tasting and tender ($12), while fresh baby artichokes, sautéed until lightly browned and offered as a side dish (“contorni”), work well as a light, healthy appetizer ($9).
Other selections struggle. A side dish of rapini comes drowned in olive oil ($9); poor-quality mozzarella and mushy, tasteless tomatoes render the expensive Caprese nearly inedible ($12); and eggplant fritters have absolutely nothing going for them in the way of looks, taste or texture ($10).
Despite its sexy ingredients, pappardelle with sautéed seabass, garlic, olive oil, Pinot Grigio, tomatoes, baby artichokes and asparagus is just OK ($29), while grilled veal chop, pounded thin and served with shaved Parmesan hardly seems like a $39 experience. For that price, I don’t expect my green salad to have brown edges, either.
For dessert, give me chocolate mousse. Chocolate crème brûlée works in a sugar-jonesing sort of way.
I’m happiest in the lounge, where the entertainment is terrific and the foreshortened menu is much more affordable. Here, Lepore offers individual pizzas, small plates and desserts, keeping it all laidback and simple. I adore the golden-brown Bianco pizza, its thin, chewy crust overlaid with a veneer of Gorgonzola and Gruyere cheeses, then topped with fresh pear slices ($9). Mini meatballs of veal, pork and beef, moored in light, flavorful tomato sauce and served over Parmesan mashed potatoes, are yummy, too ($9). Triangles of soft, tangy Pecorino Romano, dunked in honey, make another simple, delicious snack ($11).
It’s tempting and even logical to view the restaurant and lounge as two separate entities. And if I were to do that, I’d ding the food in the restaurant for its inconsistency while praising the food in the lounge for being accessible, affordable and fun. But it’s more complicated than that. And who or what lures the customers anyway – Lepore’s food or Cole’s voice?
I’m crazy about Vocé, the jazz club. We’re damned lucky to have Khani Cole and crew in a venue that in its first few months of operation has already seen George Benson, Frankie Valli and noted sidemen Al Ortiz and Joey Navarro, all of whom have just dropped in to jam. I saw the show the night Ortiz and Navarro walked in, and it smoked. If I’m less enthusiastic about the restaurant, well, let’s give it time. Maybe Lepore just needs to find his voice.
Dinner, 5:30 p.m. to 10 p.m., Monday through Saturday; lounge, 5:30 p.m. to 1 a.m., Monday through Saturday.
— Nikki Buchanan can be reached at
© 2007 Copyright Phoenix Magazine 15169 N. Scottsdale Road Suite C310 Scottsdale Arizona 85254
Travel & Outdoors
Best of The Valley
Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine
Advertise With Us
Web Site Design