Sunday, December 12, 2010

On This Trip to Phoenix, . . .

we didn’t plan on breaking new culinary ground. With only two weeks, we planned to eat at some old favorites like Andreoli, Barrio Café, Andreoli, China Chile, Andreoli, Oregano’s, Andreoli…well, you get the picture.

Then Chuck’s cousin Raina loaned us a copy of Phoenix Magazine with an article entitled “Best New Restaurants.” And it was there that I saw a write-up on Tottie’s Asian Fusion 2. (Pomo Pizzeria Napoletana was also among the Best New.)
The article said “You’d be hard-pressed to find better Chinese, Thai or Vietnamese food in town, let alone all three under one roof. (Tottie) Kaya scours Lee Lee Oriental Supermart personally to find the freshest produce for her dishes, and when she’s not out shopping she’s in the kitchen cooking or out on the floor greeting cherished patrons…” So when we met Raina one afternoon for lunch, Tottie’s seemed to be an obvious choice.

Located in upscale Scottsdale, Tottie’s is not your red flocked wallpaper Asian restaurant. In fact, it is quite stylish in an understated sort of way. Just outside the doors are two comfy-looking wicker chairs and an assortment of magazines for those waiting for a table.

The first dining area is dominated by a dark bar (in the back-ground).

We have found Asian restaurants to be great grazing venues, so we first looked to the lengthy list of appetizers and soups. Appetizers included: Egg Rolls filled with carrots and cabbage; Tottie Rolls—Thai-style pork-filled egg rolls wrapped in lettuce; Shanghai Egg Rolls filled with pork, shiitake mushrooms, and Napa cabbage; Vietnamese Goi Cuon--rice paper rolls with shrimp, pork, bean sprouts, herbs, and rice vermicelli and served with peanut sauce.

The warm dark beige dining room where we were seated was adorned with plates decorated with Asian images. It was a setting the encouraged a slow perusal of the menu. Salmon Spring Rolls; Shrimp Tempura Spring Rolls; Soft Shell Crab Spring Rolls; Vegetable Spring Rolls; Sugarcane Chicken—minced chicken meatballs skewered on sugarcane and served with cilantro, mint, cucumber, and rice vermicelli to be wrapped in lettuce and dipped in peanut sauce; Beef on Skewer; Chicken Satay Sticks; Soft Shell Crab with Ponzu Sauce; Edamame and the list goes on.

Most of the soups were of the familiar variety--Egg Drop, Wonton Soup, Hot & Sour Soup, Chicken Corn Soup, and Sizzling Rice Soup. But there were some interesting additions--Spicy Seafood Noodle Soup (mussels, fish, shrimp, scallops, and vegetables with rice noodles), Tom Yum Y with chicken or shrimp (a classic Thai soup made with lemon grass and Thai herbs), Seafood Tom Yum (scallops, fish, mussels and shrimp), Tom Kha Gai Y with chicken or shrimp (Thai herbs in coconut milk broth), Pho Tai (Vietnamese beef broth soup with rice noodles and thin-sliced beef), or Pho Tai Bo Vien (Vietnamese beef broth soup with rice noodles, thin sliced beef, and meat balls).

We could have also chosen to order from an extensive list of lunch plates, but instead opted for three different full dinners. Coordination here was key to assure we had a wide range of tastes and textures. After much deliberation (ordering food is hard work), we finally settled on: an order of Pad Kra Pao Y with beef stir fried with Thai basil in chili sauce, onions, red bell peppers, and bamboo shoots; an order of Pad Se Ew Y—spicy chow fun (wide rice noodles) with shrimp, broccoli, and bok choy; and Kung Pao Chicken. One traditional and familiar Chinese dish and two mystery Thai dishes.

Next to all three items on the menu was the chile pepper symbol indicating that the food is spicy. After we placed the order, our server asked how hot we wanted the food. They will prepare it from Level One (mildest) to Level Seven (watch out). We decided that Level Four or medium would be best.

Before our meal began, we had to decide whether or not to use the napkins, which were wrapped around the forks to resemble the Bird of Paradise flower.

For our first course, we were each served a small bowl of salad containing greens, grated carrot, bean sprouts, and cucumber and topped with toasted crushed peanuts and fried wonton-style noodles. The light dressing seemed (we weren’t sure) to be made with soy, rice wine vinegar, and toasted sesame oil. The salad had a wonderful crunchy texture from the nuts, noodles, and vegetables and was a light and tasty start to the meal.

Then our entrees began to arrive. While all were medium spicy, there did seem to be a pronounced difference in the levels of heat. We’ll start with the least spicy – the Kung Pao Chicken. This was a delicious rendition of this familiar Szechuan dish that includes pieces of tender stir fried chicken, peanuts, bamboo shoots, whole chile peppers, and—in Tottie’s version—small cubes of zucchini. The sauce tasted of soy, hoisin, and sesame. The plate, like all three entrees, was garnished with cilantro, grated carrot, and red cabbage.

Next on the Heat-o-Meter was the Pad Kra Pao—tender slices of beef in a chile-based sauce with Thai basil, red onions, red and green bell peppers, mushrooms (which Raina and I ate), and bamboo shoots. The sauce contained soy in some form and had a faint sweetness which may have come from either hoisin or oyster sauce.

Topping our scale (but not the restaurant’s) was the Pad Se Ew. Stir frying is the perfect method of preparing shrimp since the short time usually results in seafood that is moist, crisp, and succulent. If you only like pasta-like products cooked al dente, you probably wouldn’t like chow fun noodles. These were ultra thin and very soft but made a great textural contrast with the crisp shrimp and broccoli. Again, soy seemed to be the basis for the spicy sauce.

All three of our dishes contained a most generous quantity of whole dried chilies. What made one decidedly spicier than the other is another one of life’s mysteries.

While we had consumed a considerable amount of food (Yes, we cleaned our plates.) I wanted to try Tottie’s homemade coconut ice cream. So we order a bowl with three spoons. I read somewhere that this ice cream is dairy free and is made with coconut milk rather than regular milk or cream. But if there was no dairy in our serving, it certainly didn’t lack creaminess. The “ice cream” had discernible nuggets of fresh coconut and the toasted peanut topping provided even more texture.

While I am fairly knowledgeable about Chinese food, my experience with other Asian cuisines needs work. If only I had dining companions who could talk me through some menus. And since I don’t know that much about Thai, I don’t have an educated basis for evaluation. We’ll leave it as our having enjoyed our meal and will award Tottie’s Asian Fusion 2 a 4.5 Addie rating.

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