One of the pitfalls of any long distance relationship is that you don’t get to spend important days together throughout the year. Outside of Thanksgiving and Christmas, J. and I have only been able to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and other important days together only a handful of times. So, it was no surprise that we were, once again, unable to spend the day together on J.’s actual birthday. Since we couldn’t make a birthday celebration happen when it should have happened, J. was content to let me make arrangements for a special night out.
Since we had enjoyed Digestif so much, I suggested we head to their sister restaurant in the same area. J. was game for the adventure and I made reservations at Cowboy Ciao and requested a nice table for a celebration. We were lucky enough to find a parking spot right on Stetson Drive, just a few steps from the entrance to the restaurant. We made our way inside and checked in. The hostess told us we had a choice of tables: either something next to the window or a larger table in the center of the restaurant and slightly elevated. Well, why not be the centerpiece for a birthday celebration?
We were taken to our table and handed our menus. The restaurant was busy and bustling and I did have some concerns that the noise level would push the envelope. However, it was manageable. One thing that I didn’t like was the lighting. Like Digestif, Cowboy Ciao had these small, bright bulbs that were at odd angles and shining on the side of the face. It was a bit uncomfortable, but I was able to scoot over a bit to keep out of the light’s direct beam.
After surveying the menu, we turned to the wine list, which was phenomenal. Nearly 100 pages of wines from all price ranges and some of them were seductive, but I wanted to save myself for some muscat after dinner. J., however, was having an alcoholic beverage before, but opted for a Foret Organic Beer ($7.00) from Belgium. I had my Diet Coke ($2.00).
Our server returned with our drinks and took our order. We decided to split two appetizers: the Pork Belly Sliders ($12.00) and the Ultra Grilled Cheese Sandwich ($10.00). For our entrees, I went with the Stuffed Pork Rib Chop ($26.00) and J. ordered the Exotic Mushroom Pan Fry ($24.00) which was touted as Cowboy Ciao’s “signature dish.” We also got two Mixed Green Salads ($6.00 each) to go with our meals.
After ordering, we settled in to enjoy our drinks. J.’s Foret Organic Beer was presented in the bottle with a brandy snifter. J was in love with the first sip because it tasted incredibly fresh. The beer itself was light and hoppy and didn’t have an “over-processed taste,” according to J. I took a sip and thought it was quite smooth and quite unique because it tasted like it had just been bottled. A very refreshing way to start the meal.
We were then treated to our appetizers. The Pork Belly Sliders were brought to the table. Two of the sliders were nestled around a plate of homemade potato chips. A thick cut of pork belly, tomatoes, greens, and aioli were served on a French roll. J. and I each grabbed one of the sliders. I was somewhat disappointed. The quality of the ingredients were top notch but the tomatoes and the aioli, due to their abundance, overwhelmed the sliders. I could not taste much of the pork belly. J. had the same reaction. The tomato slice was about 3/4ths of an inch thick so the meat didn’t stand a chance. I really wish it had because I love pork, but this dish simply failed to deliver. We did, however, really like the homemade potato chips. Those were outstanding.
Our disappointment with the Sliders was immediately wiped away when we dove into the Ultra Grilled Cheese Sandwich. It was sublime on every level. The ultra cheese sandwich included prosciutto cotto, and Gruyere on French bread. Heaven. The sandwich was perfectly cooked with the meat and cheese hot and delicious and the bread giving a health crunch that rivaled the homemade potato chips from the sliders. J. said this was the best grilled cheese sandwich ever and I certainly agreed. The small basil and cherry tomato salad that accompanied the sandwich was cold, fresh and delightful. It really helped cut the richness of the sandwich. This was a must-try-again item.
J. and I had each ordered the Mixed Green Salad to break up the meal and I am glad we did. Each salad was a plate of fresh, crisp mixed greens with cherry tomatoes and bits of Gorgonzola cheese. J. had the Mustard Vinaigrette and I had the Pesto Buttermilk. These were quite good and we liked both dressings. I thought, however, that some croutons or some type of nuts would have given a nice contrast to the salad. Still, we were pleased.
We only had a slight wait between the salad and the entrees and I was very happy when my Stuffed Pork Chop arrived. A large bone-in chop had been stuffed with Shropshire blue cheese and then grilled before being put into a hot oven to bake. It was served with ancho bread pudding, apple jus, a raisin and fig compote and green beans. The product was exceptional. The pork, despite its thickness, was super tender and moist. The blue cheese had fully melted and was oozing out onto the other items on the plate. I was very happy with the meat and the cheese. The bread pudding was slightly spicy and salty and a good pairing with the raisin and fig compote that gave a sweet edge the dish needed. The green beans were good, but how could they not be sitting in all of those flavors? J. really liked the dish as well and found it to be a stellar production.
J.’s Exotic Mushroom Pan Fry was different than I envisioned it. A large plate was covered with a mushroom pan fry that included cremini, button, oyster, cepe, lobster, black trumpet, shitake, morel and yellow foot mushrooms in an ancho cream sauce all poured over triangles of polenta and topped with grilled portabellini, tomatoes and cortija cheese. The result was a very earthy and rich dish that J. was very enamored of. The amount of mushrooms and the polenta soaking up all the flavors made this a success for J. who devoured every last drop. I can see why this is Cowboy Ciao’s signature dish. It really was quite creative and spectacular.
After devouring our dinner, we decided that to celebrate J.’s birthday we would have dessert. The dessert menu was presented and I told our server we were having a belated birthday celebration and to recommend some desserts. He encouraged us to try the Pecan Brittle with Bacon or the homemade ice cream. After a small debate, we ended up with the Pecan Bacon Brittle ($5.00 for 3 ounces), the Strawberries and Cream Ice Cream with Sugar Cookies ($7.00) and the Cuppa Red Hot Chocolate ($9.00). I also ordered a glass of the South African Muscat ($3.00).
The South African Muscat arrived first at our table. The small glass contained about three ounces of the dark red liquid and the scent of currants filled the air. I took a sip and was pleased with the muscat. It wasn’t overly sweet and it did have a particular “wow factor” but it was a nice beverage to prepare myself for dessert.
My Strawberries and Cream Ice Cream with Sugar Cookies was quite large. Two huge scoops of the ice cream and two large sugar cookies were in a large bowl. The cookies were soft and had a wonderful vanilla flavor that paired well with the ice cream. The ice cream itself was rich, creamy and very satisfying. My only complaint was that the ice cream was far too soft and on the verge of being mushy. I think it would have been much better had it had a harder consistency. Still, I thought it was a great way to end the meal.
J.’s Cuppa Red Hot Chocolate was a beautiful presentation. A coffee cup was filled with a cinnamon and cayenne spiced chocolate pot de creme that was frozen and served with a chipotle creme sauce and a ginger cookie. J. struggled to get the first bite out but loved the spicy and cold mix. The taste was bold, J. said, and very clever in its creation. “I like that it isn’t overly spiced, but just enough to give some burn to my mouth.” The ginger cookie, however, was only “okay.”
The last part of our meal was the Pecan Bacon Brittle. Although they had brought us out the three ounce bag of the brittle, they also served us a small place of two pieces. J. and I both loved the smoky flavor of the brittle, but three ounces was enough for two people. There was so much going with the texture and various tastes that after the filling desserts, this almost was too much. I was glad I saved the small bag for another time.
We asked our server for our bill and the total was $113.35 including tax. Our server had graciously removed the charge for J.’s dessert as a birthday nod. Our server was professional and engaging and we were happy with his service. We paid our bill and headed back to the car.
All in all, we found Cowboy Ciao to be a very good choice for J.’s birthday celebration. With the exception of the sliders, we enjoyed our meals and would return.
On the way back to Arcadia, J. and I talked and then J. got quiet. There was a long pause before I heard the words, “So, when are we getting married?”
7133 East Stetson Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Dress: Resort casual on up.
Hours: Sunday through Thursday - 5 PM to 10 PM; Friday and Saturday - 5 PM to 11 PM.
Notes: Valet parking available. Reservations available through www.opentable.com
Alcohol: Full bar. Very extensive wine list.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
7133 East Stetson Drive, Scottsdale, AZ 85251