and the story behind the restaurant is almost as intriguing as the food. After an arduous, traditional apprenticeship beginning at age 16, Vincent Guerithault worked his way from the famed Maxim’s in Paris to Le Francais near Chicago to a new French/Mexican restaurant in north Scottsdale to a family-run, Provençal-accented place in Phoenix in 1986. There, he found culinary stardom with a fresh, imaginative mesh of French techniques and Mexican/Southwestern ingredients and preparations.
The family opened an adjacent bistro and added high-end catering. It hosts a popular Saturday farmers’ market and has instituted both corporate delivery service and the clever Vincent Van Go, a pizza oven on wheels. To celebrate the restaurant’s 25th anniversary, Guerithault has debuted the cozy, salon-like “Bleu” room, where sophisticated nibbles and some of the city’s best wine deals are served from 3 to 6:30 p.m. weekdays.
We started with $4 glasses of Wild Rock Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and warm, puffy cheese gougères with smoky chipotle mayo dip and a carefully selected cheese and fruit plate (both $3.50). On to a choice of three from a list of eight petite but substantial salads ($4.50): rare beef with capers and greens; palate-pleasing walnut, gorgonzola and pear with spicy-sharp arugula; and crunchy frisée with bleu cheese and bacon. After that, adorably doll-like sliders ($8) – juicy beef, a meaty crab cake and sweet-spicy duck – on buttery brioche buns.
At 5 p.m. they roll out blistered, thin-crust pizzas ($8). My favorite is the cheesy, bacony, sautéed onion-topped tarte flambée, served exactly as they do in Alsace. For a fine finale, miniature pots de crème ($3) – coffee, chocolate and vanilla – are pure luxury.
Having relished the famed lobster chimichangas ($18.50) and duck tamales ($14) on other occasions, this time we tried the ethereal and earthy white bean-stuffed ravioli scented with truffle oil ($12) and a jewel-like cylinder of beet and goat cheese with a sprinkle of microgreens ($13). Perfectly balanced grapefruit-cranberry sorbet preceded delicate Arctic char and firm halibut on a bed of softened leeks ($30), crispy-soft sweetbreads in silky gravy ($35) and intense, melting short ribs magically matched with raisins and figs ($35). We also enjoyed meringue-frosted lemon ice cream and a poufy bittersweet chocolate tart (both $9).
For wine pairings, put yourself in the hands of sommelier Howie Buttrick (just one of a relaxed, confident and pampering staff). He will judiciously match a top-notch quaff to each course (price varies) so you can toast 25 more years of the Guerithaults’ creation.
Vincent On Camelback
Address: 3930 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix
Hours: 5 p.m. to close, Monday through Saturday
Highlights: Happy hour selection (prices vary): lobster chimichangas ($18.50), duck tamales ($14), white bean ravioli ($12), beet and goat cheese salad ($13), Arctic char and halibut ($30), sweetbreads ($35), short ribs ($35), lemon vacherin ($9), warm chocolate tart ($9)
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