Heritage Square in downtown Phoenix never ceases to amaze me. Every time I find myself in that area, I am mezmerized to think that at one time, Phoenix had an area of Victorian houses that were all the rage and the focal point of desert living, long before ranch houses and Southwestern-themed interiors.
Most of those old homes are businesses from museums to restaurants these days, including Pizzeria Bianco. Only a few months ago, one of those houses was also home to Ruby Beet Gourmet, one of the restaurants on my list to try. Alas, the powers that be decided it was not to be and Ruby Beet closed.
Now, a new restaurant on the downtown Phoenix scene has taken over where Ruby Beet was housed. That would be the old Silva House, a residence build in 1900 by a liquor magnet and used as a personal residence by a family until 1977. Now, the beautiful home is Circa 1900.
As fate would have it, my friend Neil was tipped off to the new place by his friend who knows the chef. I knew nothing about Circa 1900 other than a brief mention I saw on the Chowhound.com Southwest Board. Neil made an 8 PM reservation and he, Dave and I drove down to Heritage Square for dinner.
We walked from the parking garage (5th Street & Monroe) and found ourselves right in Heritage Square. We took the short, leisurely stroll to Circa 1900 and were mesmerized by the warm night, the soft sound of jazz and the gorgeous Silva House. We entered and the house is amazingly beautiful, complete with hardwood floors, plenty of windows and a spacious porch. We were seated in one of the front rooms with windows overlooking the main square. It was like having dinner in someones antique home.
We were handed menus and the hostess filled our water glasses. Only a few moments passed and our waiter, Brandon, handed us menus and a wine list. We opted to have martinis instead as they were having a half-priced sale on all martinis. Dave got a Chocolate Martini ($5.00), Neil went with a Cosmo ($5.00) and I was the traditionalist with a Classic Martini ($5.50), slightly sweet. Neil and I also ordered Iced Teas ($2.00 each) and Dave got a Diet Coke ($2.00).
Brandon returned with a plate of bread and a tray of condiments for the bread including olive oil, sea salt and finely ground black pepper. The bread was fresh and soft with a chewy crust. We each poured a bit of oil on our plates and seasoned it with the salt and pepper. The mix was a great way to kick off the meal. At this point we placed our order for appetizers. Neil and Dave decided to split the Trio of Bruschetta ($9.00) while I opted for the Farm Salad ($7.00). We were already very relaxed from the atmosphere from the restaurant with the numerous votive candles that flickered against the backdrop of the white walls and the polished floors.
Our martinis arrived and we toasted the evening and our friendship and then sipped our drinks. Daves outburst of oh my! signalled to me he was thrilled with the Chocolate Martini. He described it as rich and chocolatey and strong. He was licking his lips after each sip. Neil was very pleased with his Cosmo stating that it was perfectly made and strong as well. My Classic Martini was Bombay Sapphire Gin with a nice dose of Vermouth. I tend to like more than a hint of Vermouth in my martini and this version was excellent. Smooth, strong and slightly sweet, I savored every moment.
The appetizers arrived and they looked stellar. The bruschetta was three crisp bread ovals, each piled with some different treat. The first was topped with various dried meats. Neil and Dave cut each in half and the bread was crisp and crunchy straight through. They both liked the dried, salty, savory meats on the bread. Next for them was the toast that had been piled with sauteed and seasoned fava beans. Neil liked this one, while Dave disclosed that, after a taste, fava beans were not his thing (although we were quite distrubed when he did mentioned them probably going better with a nice Chianti). The last one was covered with marinated tomatoes. Neil did not favor this one, but Dave really enjoyed it, which means it must have been quite good since tomatoes are not Daves favorite thing. Their plate was quickly emptied of the Bruschetta.
My salad was on a large, white plate and was slightly mounded in the center. I could smell the maytag blue cheese and the pear that were mixed with the bitter greens, radishes and croutons. I loved the salad from the first bite. It was robust from the cheese and had a mild, but creamy, vinagrette dressing. The greens were fresh, bright green and gave a crisp resistance in my mouth. The croutons were buttery and crunchy. It was an exquisite mix for a salad and the marriage of pears and maytag blue cheese was perfect.
After finishing our appetizers, we ordered our entrees. Neil had heard from his friend to get the Ribeye Steak ($22.00). I predicted that Dave would get the Grilled Pork Chop ($19.00), which he did. The description of the Crispy Duck Breast ($21.00) sold me. Our order was placed and we sat and chatted about Heritage Square and how much we were enjoying the evening.
Shortly after placing our order, we were treated to a palate cleanser. This was a demitasse cup of Cold Asparagas Soup (gratis). I am not a fan of asparagas, but this was tasty, with a lemony undertone. It was perfect for preparing one for the entrees. Several beverages and plates of bread later, our entrees did arrive. We knew we were in for a treat even before the plates hit the table as the scent from our meals brought a chorus of mmmmms from the table.
Neil wasted no time attacking his Ribeye Steak. It was a ribeye cut to a round and set atop a pile of potatoes and mushrooms. It was sprinkled on top with snipped chives and encircled on the plate with a lovely Bordelaise sauce that Neil was raving about from the minute it touched his tongue. The meat was cooked to order perfectly and Neil brought up several times how much he loved the potatoes. The aroma of the Bordelaise sauce was wafting over to my side of the table and I immediately made a note to have it the next time I ventured to Circa 1900.
I knew that Dave would enjoy his Pork Chop. From the description alone, I knew that a pork chop served with sugar snap peas would entice him. He wasnt disappointed. A thick, bone-in pork chop had been grilled and set atop a bed of sauteed baby carrots, sugar snap peas and what I believe were fried parsnips (I missed the notation on the menu). It was lightly dressed with a reduction of pan drippings and seasonings. Dave was not shy about devouring the chop and the vegetables. He loved the chop and its tenderness along with the seasoning. He said the vegetables were spot on with the preparation. He had nothing but praises for his meal.
My duck breast was amazing. The skin had been left on and the cooking process had made it deliciously crispy and greasy. It enhanced the taste of the moist, tender duck breast, which had been cut into slices. It sat on a bed of sauteed spinach and miniature turnips and was topped with pickled onions and a light sauce with what I thought may have been a hint of cardamon. The taste was fantastic and I adored the salty aftertaste of the skin from the breast which was an excellent counterpoint to the sweetness of the turnips and onions. What a wonderful entree this turned out to be and made me even more appreciative of duck meat.
We finished our meals but were not shy about asking Brandon for additional plates of bread to mop up all of the sauces on our plates. We were so pleased with the preparation and taste, we wanted to savor the moment as long as we could. However, we crossed our fingers and hoped that the desserts would be as scrumptious as our entrees. We were told that for the night we were dining, Circa 1900 offered three desserts: Marscapone Sorbet ($5.00), Panacatta ($5.00) and a Plate of Fresh Cookies ($5.00). We decided to try one of each.
Dave hosted the Panacatta, Circa 1900s version of the great Italian pudding Panna Cotta. It was a simple preparation of a creamy custard topped with Blackberries and Blueberries. Dave loved it and I thought it was a perfect dessert to play off the richness of the entrees. It was fairly light, but had a delightful flavor. We all gave this one a thumbs up.
My place was the anchor for the plate of fresh cookies. Eight freshly baked cookies of many variets were sitting on a paper doily. It was a charming presentation with miniature bites of Chocolate Chip, Cinnamon Oatmeal, Sugar, Lemon, Double Chocolate and others. The cookies were still slightly warm in the center and we all agreed that these were a wonderful way to end the meal and suggested to the manager that the cookies would be great to have for sale in a little bag at the end of the evening for a take home item. I know we would have grabbed and extra bag for the ride home.
As heavenly as the Panacatta and Cookies were, we were all blown away by the Marscapone Sorbet. Wow! Let me say again: WOW! Neil was the lucky boy who got the lions share of this sublime dessert. It was so creamy and delicious, I wish I had ordered it as well. It had a subtle flavor of marscapone with a touch of sweetness and just a trace of vanilla. It was also served with a Fluer de Lys-shaped sugar cookie. It took a few minutes to wrap my brain around the idea of a cheese sorbet, but I am a believer now. I only wonder if I could convince someone to make Marscapone Gelato. There was no doubt that this was the best dessert on the table and those who were lucky enough to find it on the menu should get it without hesitation.
We finished up our desserts and the last of our drinks and asked for our bill. The total was $125.40 including tax. For the quality and creativity of the food, this was a hands-down winner. The service was superb (special kudos to Brandon) and the staff were all friendly, helpful and gracious.
As we waited for our change, the manager arrived and inquired about our meals. We had nothing but raves and she asked us if there was anything we could suggest to make our experience better. I mentioned that Circa 1900 may experience a noise problem when the place was full because of the hardwood floors, the tall ceilings and the conservative wall decorations. She said that was a concern of hers as well. Other than that, we had no complaints. It was a wonderful evening.
Before we left, we were introduced to the executive chef and the pastry chef. They, like the rest of the staff, were friendly and thankful for our patronage.
We left and headed back to the garage. What a great evening. What started out as a stab as a new downtown restaurant turned into a fantastic night of food, drink and fun. My only regret was that J. wasnt here to share it with us.
Circa 1900 was perfect for friends, but would have been a romantic dinner site as well.
Circa 1900 (at Heritage Square)
628 East Adams
Phoenix, AZ 85004
Dress: Fancy Casual on up
Notes: Reservations highly suggested. Parking is at the garage at 5th Street and Monroe. Circa will validate your parking which will reduce your cost to $1.00.