Tuesday, January 12, 2010


It was a beautiful Arizona day with temperatures around seventy, a deep blue sky, and light breeze, and no humidity.

So what better place to spend the afternoon than at the courtyard at the Borgata in Scottsdale (more about this later)? But first, lunch.

We stopped by Chuck’s Aunt Evie’s and the three of us were off to meet Beverly Jahn (the wife of a son of Chuck's grandmother's sister, Martha) and Beverly’s friend, Jeannie. (In the photo, l. to r.: Kate, Evie, Beverly, and Jeannie.) At Bev’s suggestion, our lunch location was to be Houston’s, which has other restaurants in twelve major U.S. cities (but not Philadelphia). This is a chain/franchise operation that you would never guess was a franchise. The décor was stylish, but understated; the service was impeccable – especially our server Luke; and the menu combined the familiar with the creative. Add this to great dining company, and we had all of the ingredients for a super lunch.

Chuck started his meal with a bowl of the “soup of the day” – the New England clam chowder. This was a flawless rendition of one of Chuck’s favorite soups. It was thick and creamy with great briny ocean flavor. I would describe the cream base as being medium thick, but the chowder was so full of chopped onion, potato, and clam pieces that it appeared thicker. I only got a small (very small) taste, so I didn’t have the opportunity to identify the herbs used for even more flavor. But this was one great bowl of soup.

For his main course, Chuck ordered the French dip with fries. This had to be one of the largest French dips I have seen. So large that Beverly and Jeannie, being familiar with this restaurant, shared their sandwich.

The thinly sliced – almost shaved – beef came medium rare, and to use a cliché, melt-in-your-mouth tender. The roll was substantial enough to hold up when dipped in the cup of au jus and had a nice chew. The roll proved again that one of the secrets of a great sandwich is a great roll. And his thin hand cut fries gave a new definition to “shoestring.”

I have been reading menus and searching in vain for a creative salad. I don’t want the same old greens – even if they are baby greens - with the same old tomatoes and cukes and red onion, with the same old ranch or blue cheese or vinaigrette salad dressing. I can make this at home. I wanted something different. And there on Houston’s menu was the salad of my dreams – the Thai Steak and Noodle Salad. My order elicited a “That’s one of my favorites” from Luke. “It’s a different taste in every bite.”

The minute the plate hit the table I knew I was going to like it. Bites of marinated rare and tender steak were mixed with thin noodles, shredded Chinese cabbage, shredded carrots, chopped basil, halved cherry tomatoes, sliced avocado, sliced mango, and chopped peanuts, this mélange was tossed with a soy-based dressing heavily infused with Asian chili paste. Every bite was a study in contrasts. The sweet basil and mango contrasted with the salty soy dressing and salty peanuts and the crisp cabbage and carrot contrasted with the soft mango and softer avocado. This was an amazing salad and certainly not something that I would take the time to make myself.

We later learned from Luke that Houston’s makes most of their product in house – all of the breads, all of the salad dressings, and even the catsup. And the finished product exemplified that attention to detail and earns Houston’s a 5.0 Addie rating.

After lunch, we traveled a short distance to the Borgata. Here up-scale shops (see first photo above) surround booths with merchants selling a variety of items from rock candles, i.e., rocks with oil-burning wicks in holes in the rocks (above), to jewelry, sauces, clothing, and vegetables.

The Borgata is designed to feel like the Tuscan Village of San Gimignano complete with cobblestone walkways, fountains, and an open-air setting.

It is a destination for an upscale crowd that heads to the high-end shops and restaurants.

Chuck took a few minutes to walk through Two Plates Full, a one-of-a-kind gift boutique "featuring whimsical home accessories and functional art" (shown in these last four photos in this entry). In the case of the items in this store, the advice is: "If you like it, buy it, because each item is a one-of-a-kind production."

As Chuck saw it, these tables fit into that category--certainly colorful and unique--but not practical, and in an RV "practical" trumps "colorful and unique."

Upon his return to our outdoor table, Chuck concluded that the shops are, indeed, upscale/expensive. The small cabinet (right) had a price tag of $2300.

A day of upscale dining, browsing, and relaxing.

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