For me, part of the allure of Arizona Restaurant Week is sampling the wares of places I’ve never tried out before. Last spring I finally got to try an amuse-bouche (a half-decade after we wrote about them at the Tribune) at Binkley’s Restaurant in Cave Creek, where we marveled at the ludicrous miniature courses — that’s a tiny sloppy joe at right there, with my hand in the frame to give a sense of scale — that somehow didn’t leave us starving, as we had begun to fear early on. (Likely because there were about a dozen such plates during the course of the meal. That place must invest heavily in dishwashers.) Another night we trekked out to El Chorro, the legendary patio restaurant that’s been a part of Paradise Valley since the ’30s.
Besides the food, it’s also great to gather a group of friends to do something unusual and interesting. The comfortable familiarity of hanging out with the same people in the same places can turn into a rut, so I like to invite at least one or two “interlopers” any time I’m organizing a get-together, to bring some new energy and conversation to the mix.
Over time, I’ve realized that my preferred mix includes only six people. Because of seating constraints and the like, a group of more than that tends to split into subsections — eight will morph into two groups of four, for example, while the people at opposite ends will be pretty much strangers through a meal. And if the whole point is to bring people together, then why plan a meal that keeps them apart? It’s one thing if you’re having a cocktail party or something that keeps people mixing and moving, but once the event includes stationing your seat for a meal, I think six is best if you want everyone to participate.
(And yet, at holidays, I will keep inviting and inviting until I’ve got a dozen guests to cook for. Maybe it’s just the wish that everyone has a great place to spend their Thanksgiving/Christmas/Hanukkah.)
Tonight’s dinner at Tomaso’s, above, was originally set for six, but thanks in part to illnesses and last-minute business trips, over the past week the plan has morphed to include eight people — some substitutes, some additions (including a birthday guest!). It will be a good way to wrap up the week; I’m already thinking about the burrata and dates appetizer, the mixed-meats grill (petite filet! lamb! Tuscan sausage!) and the chocolate caramel crunch dessert. It sounds like a guaranteed grand slam of a meal. (Please don’t be sold out of anything, please don’t be sold out of anything, please don’t be sold out of anything.)
|WHAT SAM WORE: 9/28/13
|The shirt: Spread-collar button-down by Banana Republic,
with cufflinks from my dad (and I think his dad before him).
|The pants: Houndstooth trousers from Zara at Fashion Show Mall, Las Vegas.|
|The shoes: Brown leather lace-ups by BCBG Men,
from Saks Off Fifth at Arizona Mills.