A few months ago we blogged about James Beard Award winning Chef Robert MgGrath’s upcoming new project and wished him well.
Last night Mrs. P Chef and I went Renegade and had a great time. Before we proceed, full disclosure is in order. Robert McGrath is friends with Teaching Chef, our chief culinary instructor at SmartKitchen.com, and Robert has given us some advice about Smart Kitchen, our Online Culinary School based in Scottsdale, Az.
So don’t wine (bad pun intended), if I am a bit biased in favor of Robert. Mrs P Chef won’t be. And we did not warn the staff in advance of our visit, seek or get any special treatment, or receive any complimentary food/drinks. And we still had a great time.
The place is vibrant. From the moment you enter, you hear a jubilant crowd and the festive feel carries over into the menu, especially at happy hour where even the good food and drinks are discounted.
We sat down and perused the menu. There was a lot to take in and decide upon. As opposed to places that try too hard, where every entree looks great at first glance, until you re-read the description and find a few off putting ingredients in every dish; Renegade Cafe’s menu had the opposite problem (benefit really) of everything sounding spot on. The burden of choosing from among a plethora of inspired dishes, is a burden I can handle. The Lesser of Two Evils game is not for me. Choosing between, the pan seared hanger steak with a cauliflower saffron demi-glaze or the dill baked salmon in a curried puff pastry is a “lose, lose” decision; the kind I dread. We were cutting it close for happy hour pricing and made two snap decisions:
Lobster Tail Tacos and Phil’s Ribs @ the Happy hour price of $10.
Remember the disclosure, and who was likely to be most biased? My bride, Mrs. P Chef, who has been dragged along to far more obscure BBQ places than the average blushing beauty, exclaimed around a mouthful of rib meat, “OMG, they’re the best I’ve ever had.” And then within 30 seconds, she said it again, as if I hadn’t been paying attention or something. “They’re the best I’ve ever had.”
Hearing it twice, and with such enthusiasm, was both good and bad news. Good news because the bite I was about to take would likely be pretty fabulous. Bad because, generous prince of a husband that I am, I could see my portion of the noteworthy rib appetizer slipping away. From my few bites, and our detailed conversation about the ribs, I know they are baby back ribs and they present almost like a more mature, more American, slightly drier (in a good way) version of Chinese spare ribs. It was a thoroughly delectable and “grown up” rib, not slathered in KC Masterpiece sauce, or sweet like a kids’ meal. Mrs. P Chef downed them like they’d disappear with Happy Hour at 07:00.
I consoled myself with the fact that I could come back and perhaps get some ribs next time, and there was the bulk of the lobster tacos, which were very good, but a bit over charred for my taste. It is likely one of those flukes of the busy kitchen. I am confident, I could order them again and get less charring and enjoy them immensely.
Then came a palate cleanser, in the form of a sylvan spinach salad with bacon and honey dressing, scallions, candied pecans and the visually appealing coddled egg. It is another item to return for. Then came the entrees.
Mrs. P Chef had ordered the duck Fajitas with caramelized onions mustard demi glaze, arugula and pomegranate, but she’d gone out too fast on the ribs, and didn’t do much damage to the quesadilla.
I had made the improbable choice of ordering the Oxtail Soup. Right? Soup? Ox Tails? Who was I, my father? Well as he can tell you, my Dad knows a thing or two. That oxtail got gnawed down to the barest umami tasting bits, and every drop of scintillating sauce, jus, etc. was put to good nutritional use. Nothing went back. Mrs. P Chef, who is not an ox tail gal, even gave it the home makers’ seal of approval.
And marvel of marvels, we both had room for dessert. Mrs. P Chef made what must have been a health and nutrition inspired choice, (I know it wasn’t a palette building curiosity order) and selected a sweet potato cake with sweet potato frosting. Needless to say, it was a tour de force of cooking; making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. But for me it did not hit the spot, that certain high end dessert spot. Even so, it’s magic what they did, approximating cake with sweet potatoes. It was a very good cake as far as sweet potato cakes go, but how far do they really go? Especially, when facing off with a taste bud comparable of a candy cap mushroom bread pudding. It was a little like pitting Woody (Allen or Harrelson or both) against Arnold in a “dessert-athon” grudge match. Sweet Woody never stood a chance.
Pallete building curiosity is what first sold me on it but the dessert will bring me back. “Candy Cap Mushroom Bread Pudding” is a forager’s dream pastry, and could have been literally to die for if the foragers had picked the wrong fungi. But as of this writing, they didn’t and the only thing to die for was the bread pudding, with a vanilla melted ice cream sauce. All in all a very successful visit to what looks to be a very successful star on the Scottsdale dining stage.