My wife and I celebrated our anniversary at Mary Elaine's last night thought I'd report back as I know this place has been in discussion the last while on the board. It was very interesting reading back through this thread (http://www.chowhound.com/topics/38594...) now that I have some experience to share.
First things first - the meal and experience were both fabulous. Top notch, best in the Valley in four years of trying everything we can. The service was exemplary, the food extremely well prepared, creative and inventive - on par with places around the country we revere like Michele Richard, Bouloud and others. I had a lot of fun with the wine list and the view right at sunset over the southern half of the valley couldn't have been beat.
We started with a half bottle of Nicolas Feuillette Brut and it was perfect - just the slightest hint of fruit but otherwise very dry and clean. Longer, more interesting finish than say a Tattinger or Cliquot. The amuse was a little bite of house-smoked salmon with the tinniest-tinny haricot vert arranged alongside creme fraiche with caviar. Just perfect flavor and size.
My wife started with an asparagus Veloute with smoked mussels and this curry paste concoction that was, as she put it, "essence of India." The soup was cool and refreshing and the mussels (3) were wrapped up with a little caviar in little packages. Very creative and balance flavors - a great start. I had a grilled octopus salad with frissee, warm potatoes and squid. The octopus was sliced into matchstick sized bites tossed with perfect little potato and olive bites, topped by the dressed frissee and then a few crispy calamari rings on the top. Reminded me a little each of Greece and Barcelona.
The next half bottle was a Charbono (2005) from Robert Foley. Big, bold extracted flavors - very fun. Worked well with my Buffalo Tenderloin with short rib/potato hash and mustard greens, all topped with a quail egg .... a beautiful rich demiglace alongside. Not a typical spring flavor, but extremely well prepared and presented dish. My wife had the winner, though - Dover Sole Fricassee with peeled grapes, roasted hazelnuts surrounded by a coconut cream froth/emulsion. The fish was light and crispy, dressed up away from the foam to stay crunchy. It had these peeled celery stalks that were melt-in-your-mouth and the aromas from this dish were just amazing.
To wrap up, my wife had a three-cheese plate (Spanish blue, an aged domestic cheddar that was terrific, and this French triple cream that was the smoothest cheese I've ever had) served with a variety of crackers and a relish plate including quince paste, fig compote, almond brickle and a mustard gelee that was really cool. I had a chocolate souflee cake with bananas foster ice cream and the staff kindly toasted us with a sweet procesecco for me and a tawny port for her cheese. Little bon-bons to finish and a nice little box of chocolates to take home with us.
In contrast to some of the takes in the previous threads, we found little touches like the purse stool to be welcome, not stuffy. The quiet and dignity of the restaurant desirable, not something to be feared. We sighed, moaned and shared bites across the table just like we always do. The only criticism we'd have is that the piano player was a little cheesey . . . singing soft rock just wasn't right for that. Keep the feel and have just instrumental or classical or just nothing. Listening to Gershwin is great but it just didn't feel right. All in all, it was an outstanding meal and Top 20 in the country dining experience for sure, if not higher. The food was spot-on, as good or better than anything else we've had in the valley.
The true differentiator, though, is the service. Nothing in Phoenix can compare to the setting and class of this place. We love Michael's and Binkley's, where the food is equally fantastic, but to really dine refined and elegantly . . . Phoenix doesn't have anything else like Mary Elaine's that we've run across. The closest we've had was the Ventana Room in Tucson. If you want great food but are willing to sit next to drunk golfers in shorts, Binkley's is fine. If you want an elegant evening with seamless, professional service with lovely silver, gorgeous china and that type of setting, this is the place to go.
Happy eating to you all!