After our trip to Sol y Sombra, Tim and Tara decided to invite me to another meal. I am certain that it was my stunning wit, charming personality, and dashing good looks, along with my modesty, that inspired them to contact me for dinner. Or, perhaps, they wanted more scintillating stories about Madge.
Whatever the reason, they told me they were having dinner with another Chowhound that I had met before over dinner at Barrio Cafe. (She was a bit shy about using her real name for this review, so she asked to be called by her online nickname Winedubar.) I was anxious to see Winedubar again since we really didn’t have a chance to talk much at Barrio Cafe. I was also glad to hear that we were trying a new place for me called Rancho Pinot.
I had heard very good tales about Rancho Pinot and was excited to get there and have a wonderful meal. Arriving shortly before our 7:30 PM reservations, I saddled up to the bar and ordered a Fat Tire Beer ($5.00). The host quickly doubled as the bartender and provided me with the beer and cold glass of ice water to counter the summer heat. I had finished about a third of the brew when Tim and Tara arrived.
After being seated at a four-top table, we made ourselves comfortable as we waited for Winedubar. The place was instantly comfortable for me, although we did sort of sink into the chairs. The interior was warm and welcoming with lots of western touches and a hint of cowboy kitsch. The lighting was perfect and the space open.
As we reviewed the menu, Winedubar arrived and we ordered our drinks. I had a Diet Coke ($2.50) and Winedubar had a wine flight ($16.50). Tim and Tara stuck with water. Our waiter retreated to the bar and we made our decisions about dinner. I decided to start with the Nectarine, Grilled Corn and Almond Salad ($8.50) and would follow it with the Hand-Made Pasta ($20.00). Tara selected the Ricotta Gnocchi ($10.00) to start and Nonni’s Sunday Chicken ($20.00) for an entree. Tim ordered the Grilled Shirmp ($11.00) and the Crispy Half-Chicken ($26.00). Winedubar would start her meal with the Crispy Squash Blossoms ($10.00) which would lead her to the Flat Iron Steak ($29.00). At the last minute, I also added an order of the Green Beans ($6.00) to my selections.
After getting our drinks and placing our order, our server arrived with a plate of bread. A small pitcher of olive oil was already on the table and we dove into the slices that rested on the plate. I thought the bread was quite good, and I detected a trace of sourdough. The interior of the bread was soft and delicious while the crust was chewy and satisfying. We cleared the plate in no time.
The conversation carried us through to the arrival of our appetizers. Tara’s Ricotta Gnocchi was a bowl filled with the bite-sized morsels of potato pasta. It looked and smelled wonderful. The tender gnocchi was in a meat sauce and topped with grated Italian cheese. Everyone raved about them because the pasta was soft and packed with flavor from the sauce and the cheeses. The sauce had Tim grabbing extra bread to mop up what was left in the bottom of the bowl.
Tim’s plate of Grilled Shrimp contained four shrimp on a bed of Thai slaw and topped with a mango relish. Tim said he wished there had been a few more shrimp because he really enjoyed them. He said the sauce on the shrimp started out sweet and then ended with a pleasant spicy kick that was reminiscent of pepper. He also had good things to say about the Thai slaw. Tara had a bite and said she found it has some very unexpected but pleasing flavors.
Winedubar’s Crispy Squash Blossoms took Tim and me by surprise because they turned out to be something very different than we expected. I had never had squash blossoms myself, but I imagined them more flat than tubular. The blossoms were stuffed with goat and ricotta cheeses, dusted with herbs and topped with a cherry tomato vinaigrette. I really liked the blossoms and the complexity of the dish, but what blew me away was the vinaigrette. Sweet, tart and amazingly delicious, I could have had a plain, green salad with just that dressing and been very, very happy. Winedubar was pleased the blossoms were not greasy from the cooking process.
My Nectarine, Grilled Corn and Almond Salad was a mix of those ingredients plus basil and sheep milk feta. I liked the complexity of the flavors and the daring mix, but the salad just missed the mark with me. It was good, but should have been better. I think the problem was how weak the nectarines were in the salad. Some were firm and others were on the verge of being mealy. I loved the corn and the cheese along with the almonds, but I needed it to go to a higher level.
After a gap of about 15 minutes and several plates of bread, our entrees began arriving at the table. Winedubar’s Flat Iron Steak looked fantastic, although she definitely preferred her beef on the exceptionally rare side. The plate was mounded with slices of flat iron steak, spinach with pancetta and portobello mushrooms along with fingerling potatoes and chimichurri sauce. While the rest of us declined a bite due to the rareness of the beef, Winedubar described it as “fantastic.” She was particularly impressed with the fact that the kitchen was willing to (barely) cook the beef. “Just walk the cow through the kitchen,” she said.
Tim’s Crispy Chicken was visually appealing. The skin of the chicken was golden brown and the dark green color of the spinach really made the dish stand out from the white plate and tablecloth. The skin was also exceptionally crispy and Tim was very happy with it. The chicken was also sitting in a small amount of lemon thyme sauce which Tim said made the chicken meat that much better. He also loved the polenta served with the chicken, particularly because there was a bit of cheese within the batter.
The Nonni’s Sunday Chicken that Tara ordered was braised thigh meat with white wine, mushrooms and herbs with toasted polenta and grated cheese. The aroma had me drooling. It looked wonderful and the triangles of polenta really made the dish stand out. Tara was quite please noting that the great sauce and great flavors “just worked.” Tim thought Tara’s chicken dish was better than his, but that his polenta was better.
My Hand-Made Pasta was one of the best pasta dishes I have ever had. The pasta was tossed with Sicilian sausage, peppers, crispy onions and pecorino cheese. Just amazing. The pasta was so tender it melted in my mouth. The combination of flavors was extraordinary and I almost didn’t want to share with the rest of the table. Like Tara’s dish, everything about my pasta just worked, but the stand out was definitely the pasta. If only all pasta was that great…
My small plate of Green Beans was quite good. The beans were tender crisp and had been treated with a bit of butter, a bit of mint and some lemon zest. These were a nice compliment to the pasta dish, although I think the beans would have been sublime with a bit - no, a lot, more lemon zest or juice.
After polishing off just about every crumb and morsel on the table, our server enticed us with the dessert menu. I withstood the temptation, but the other three gave in. Tara ordered the Traditional Strawberry Shortcake ($7.00), Tim had the Honey Pecan Bar ($7.00) and Winedubar went straight for the Chocolate Cake with Cinnamon Ice Cream ($7.00). She also had a cup of coffee ($2.50).
We had little downtime before the desserts started arriving. Tara’s Strawberry Shortcake featured a biscuit-type bread as the foundation instead of the more modern sponge cake. The strawberries were bright red along with the sauce that spilled over onto the plate. A big dollop of whipped cream rested on top. It looked magnificent. Tara found it excellent and was more than happy with her dessert.
Tim’s Honey Pecan Bar was a square of a bar cookie-type dessert with plenty of pecans, a small scoop of ice cream and a lot of chocolate sauce. Tim found it to be “pretty good” but said the other desserts on the table were slightly better. I thought it looked appealing although I probably would have preferred a bit less chocolate sauce.
Winedubar’s Chocolate Cake with Cinnamon Ice Cream was the show stealer. Although we all thought it looked rather small in size, the cake and ice cream were so incredibly rich that a larger serving would have required insulin. The wedge of cake was resting in a thick puddle of caramel sauce with the cinnamon ice cream resting next to it. It was then sprinkled with cocoa powder. Everyone thought it was fantastic. Winedubar said she was tempted to lick the plate clean because of the caramel sauce.
After food coma began setting in, we requested our bill. The total was $178.11. The service was outstanding. It was friendly, engaging, attentive and exceptionally professional. I loved how they kept bringing refills of my Diet Coke in a little metal pitcher. The silverware was also swapped out for clean utensils for every course. We were very pleased.
We kept talking into the evening with stories of other great meals and life in Phoenix. At 10:30, we called it a night and headed home.
Rancho Pinot had lived up to its reputation and I found it one of the better dining experiences in the Valley. I would have no hesitation about returning.
I only hope that next time I have better dirt on Madge to share with the group.
6208 North Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85253
Dress: Resort Casual
Hours: Tuesday through Sunday - 5 PM to Close
Notes: In the Lincoln Village Shops. Part of the Slow Food movement.
Alcohol: Full bar; very comprehensive wine list.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
6208 N Scottsdale Rd, Paradise Valley, AZ 85253