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February, 2011, Page 152
Photos by Nathan Noyes
T. Cook’s at Royal Palms
T. Cook’s at Royal Palms
5200 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix
This sophisticated, colonial Spanish-style resort restaurant is legendary for stoking amorous fires with its lavish Mediterranean cuisine and sumptuous setting. And quite literally the heart of the place is a wood-burning fireplace, which, more than just heating souls, actually cooks many of Chef Lee Hillson’s showcase dishes. In fact, a section of the menu is dedicated to “From the Fireplace.”
The seasonal offerings vary, but cool weather selections might feature succulent, slow-roasted lamb stuffed with a tomato mousse on a bed of minted fingerling potatoes, red peppers, fennel and snap peas; oven-roasted pork tenderloin over Medjool date risotto cake, vanilla roasted Japanese eggplant and grilled scallions; or Poulet Rouge chicken, roasted over pecan with herb gnocchi, house-made sausage, broccolini and lemon-scented Fossil Creek goat cheese.
The most satisfying – and best to share with your sweetie – is the Fireplace Platter, brimming with half portions of each entrée plus Hillson’s signature paella stocked with lobster tail and claw. When you’re done, retire for drinks and dessert on the patio, with its heated floor and, yes, another fireplace.
Amaro Pizzeria & Vino Lounge
Amaro Pizzeria & Vino Lounge.
28234 N. Tatum Blvd., Cave Creek
Draw your eyes away, if you can, from the glittering chandeliers and the artwork, which originally hung at Las Vegas’ Caesars Palace. This 6,000-square-foot cucina and pizzeria does things in big style, including showcasing what the owners call “one of Arizona’s largest wood-fire ovens” hunkered near the mozzarella and charcuterie bar overlooking the chef’s counter. While we didn’t clamber inside the fiery behemoth to measure anything, we’re told it spans 56 by 72 inches and can hold up to a dozen pizzas at once.
Chef Jon Spahr’s specialty is Neapolitan-style pies, like the Diavolo spicy sopressata, or the white Dolce Arrabiatta layered in mozzarella, Taleggio, caramelized onions, sweet and spicy Italian sausage, and Calabrian chiles. The hearth is also home to bread, vegetables, pasta dishes (mmm, gooey lasagna Bolognese), chicken (Parmesan with melted buffalo mozzarella is a must) and sausage.
It’s no surprise there’s such flair here: Co-owners Frank Vairo and Tagan Dering came from Cowboy Ciao and Kazimierz World Wine Bar, so you can expect a little fire in your glass, too, sparking in special wines chosen from a global, 90-bottle list.
111 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix
Many delicious things emerge hot and fragrant from this fire-breathing beast of a wood-burning oven, be it roasted chicken (paired unexpectedly with parsnip, farro, broccolini and pomegranate in a touch of roasted garlic sauce), or a variety of flatbreads loaded with seasonal ingredients like fresh figs, melted leeks and Point Reyes blue cheese.
Chef/owner Aaron Chamberlin had the contraption custom made, built on the plans for a 19th-century bread oven, and proudly displays it in the exposition kitchen.
Can’t identify the flavor infusing your food? It’s mesquite wood for the smoke and almond for heat. Many dishes include at least one ingredient from the oven, from centerpiece meats to vegetables, sauces and sourdough bread, while some plates simply finish with a visit to the searing chamber.
Wrap your lips around savory pork chile verde with cornbread, meatballs jazzed in Moroccan spice and tomato sauce, or a hearty pork chop mounded with mashed potatoes, spice braised cabbage and caramel apples. Cioppino is another flame-kissed jewel, stocked with shrimp, mussels, clams, fish and aromatic vegetables.
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