February 2, 2006

Desert Classic

Making fun of the French is a national sport. Even if you're French. But before we heap more abuse on the Land of the Brie (and risk getting whistled for piling on), let's reflect on something particularly French: culinary talent. The ability to create memorable meals from the ingredients at hand. Classical training is key; it teaches a chef to be rigorous yet flexible.

Chef Vincent.jpg Vincent on Camelback.jpg

Before Vincent Gueritault opened his own place on Camelback Rd. in Phoenix 20 years ago, he'd worked at La Baumanière in Provence, Maxim's in Paris and Le Français in Chicago; he knew his stuff, and understood that stuffy French food would never fly in casual Phoenix. Instead, he looked to what's usually dismissed (in France and elsewhere) as "peasant food," in this case, the staples of Arizona's Hispanic community. Early-on, he adopted and adapted its ingredients and flavors, enhanced them with classic techniques and gained a reputation as the classiest restaurant in town.

Heirloom tomato salad.jpg Duck tamale.jpg Souffle grand marnier.jpg

Enroute to the airport we were, and stopped off for a light lunch. Heirloom tomato salad in green, yellow and orange, topped with home-made buffalo mozzarella and a cloud of tiny green and purple arugula, simply dressed with a drizzle of olive oil and balsamic vinegar: refreshingly unpretentious. Then one of Vincent's classic appetizers, tamales wrapped around a filling of duck spiced with Anaheim chiles and raisins. Not hard to see why the dish has lasted two decades! For dessert, a classic of the French repertoire, souffle Grand Marnier, delivered in twin ramekins because, the waiter explained, it just cooks better that way.

Not often that a place with a lofty reputation delivers so convincingly. If ya gotta get out of Phoenix, this sure makes a pleasant send-off.

Vincent on Camelback, 3930 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix, AZ, 602-224-0225 Vincent on Camelback on Urbanspoon

Posted by Ronald Holden at February 2, 2006 12:24 AM

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