Giants Spring Training
plus Las Vegas on the way home
We went on a Road Trip, Carol and I. Our main objective was Giants Spring Training in Scottsdale AZ. Every year, I’ve talked about going to spring training and every year Carol would say, “I can’t take time off at that time of year.” Carol retired — WooHoo — so this year, we bought the Giants Spring Training package. Tickets to 3 games and hotel for three nights, tee shirts, caps and other goodies. We’re going to spring training! We will meet our friend and Carol’s former colleague, Sarah and her friend Scott in Scottsdale.
We decided to make it a Road Trip, and decided to rent a car for the trip for two reasons: a) we have enough *Miles* to cover a 10 day car rental, b) our Altures road trip mishap; and c) why put nearly 2000 hard miles on our fabulous 2008 VW GTI? That’s 3 reasons. All the better.
We planned to get down to Scottsdale expeditiously — bypassing Las Vegas and spending the night in a town to the west — and stop for two days in Vegas on the way home. If you reduce your map enough Reno to Scottsdale is pretty much a straight line.
This is the eats part of the recollection. Not all our meals were great… the first one is kind of ugly, but I decided “warts and all” was the way to go. Not every meal was perfect… although some neared perfection. You can skip the ugly one or two if you want but we couldn’t.
WEDNESDAY February 27
We ate breakfast at home before leaving at 8:30am. Don’t remember what we ate.
Lunch at El Marquise, Tonopah NV $31
Our Guidebook described “a dark, comforting room and good food.”
It was that. The guidebook did not say the food was picturesque.
I had the Carne Asada and a salad. Carol had a Taco Salad with chicken.
Carne Asada — pork with green chili sauce, refried beans and rice — is my go-to dish in a Mexican Restaurant. Despite its looks, the pork was extremely tender and the beans just right. I’m not a sandwich lover and a taco is a sandwich, a particularly messy sandwich. Carol loved her Taco Salad, she always does.
As with many roadside restaurants, the servings were way too big.
We arrived at Pahrump, a town uglier than its name just before 5pm. Not bad, this was the longest leg of our trip.
The Best Western is nice enough and their companion restaurant, Wulfy’s, is a sports bar kind of place.
Dinner Wulfy’s Fried Chicken + Pizza $31.
Carol had a 9-inch pizza. Mine was the deep fried chicken — choice of wing and thigh or breast — I chose the former. The food was okay, moist and everything, just not seasoned. When I complained, Carol said, “You want good, well seasoned fried chicken, go to KFC, they built a business on their seasoning. MacDonald’s fish is pretty good too… or Jack-in-the-Box burgers.”
“Yeah,” I responded, “but they have bright lights, hard surfaces, moms with kids and no beer. At least this place with just okay food has good lighting, the Warriors on the TV and Fat Tire on draft. Also salt, pepper and ketchup to apply to taste.”
THURSDAY February 28
Best Western offered a complementary breakfast at Wulfy’s, and it was good. Almost anything you would want for breakfast except eggs-to-order. I had scrambled eggs, sausage links and fried potatoes. The potatoes were particularly good. They had been cubed, roasted and then deep fried. Crispy outside, creamy inside. Carol had the same, except a warm biscuit instead of potatoes.
About 290 miles southeast of Pahrump on US-93, we stopped at Wickenburg for lunch. Believe me, there is almost nothing in Arizona between Boulder Dam City and here except straight roads and horizons; mountains in the distance. (More on that when we travel north.)
Wickenberg has a historic downtown and the Gold NUGGET, a place mentioned in our tour book and housed in a historic building. For lunch we paid the princely sum of $28.60 (All prices noted are for two with drinks, tax and tip.)
Of the Giants’ recommended hotels, we chose the Saguaro and checked in at 5:15 but oops it’s 6:15 AZ time. We didn’t know that. No wonder our lunch restaurant was nearly empty… it was nearly 2pm. Sarah made reservations for the four of us at the hotel restaurant, Distrito to save the trouble of driving somewhere after our long drive getting there.
Besides being an Open Table Diners’ Choice Winner in 2012, the Chef Jose Garces won the most recent season of The Next Iron Chef, making him one of just six chefs in the country to hold the prestigious title of Iron Chef America.
This is the kind of eats we came for… not the desert roadside variety. We were glad to have four at the table so we could sample many plates. And someone once said, “You pay for what you get,” in this case $144 for two.
Yes. The food tasted as good as it looks. I ordered the Albondigas because I have made albondigas soup and eaten a very good albondigas soup at a Reno restaurant near my house. In this dish the meatballs were of a different texture than those I had eaten and served with a rich, spicy tomato sauce rather than in soup. Excellent.
FRIDAY March 1st
Nothing special for breakfast. In room coffee, V8 juice, a hard boiled egg. This is stuff I brought along. To buy and bring a small cooler was a brilliant move. The hotel has ice at the end of our hall. I put the ice in a gallon zip-lock bag, put that on top of whatever is in the cooler (V8, beer, water, cheese, egg, etc.) and it’s good for a day.
Today is our first ball game at 1pm v. Oakland A’s at Phoenix Municipal Stadium. We decided to leave around 11am to allow time to soak in the atmosphere and get lost on the way. (We got lost only once.) Lunch will be the All-American ballpark food: hot dogs and beer.
Giants lead 10-5 in the fifth inning and go on to win 13-9. In Spring Training games, position players are changed out after 3 at-bats and pitchers usually don’t go more than 2 innings. By the last few innings, you’re looking at players with numbers higher than 60-something.
After, we have a drink by the pool and walk to Old Town Scottsdale to find dinner. We choose Grimaldi’s Coal Brick-Oven Pizzeria. That’s a small chain with locations in NJ, FL, TX, AZ and NV. We have one in Reno and like it a lot. There’s a 45 minute wait to be seated, so we spend the time over unremarkable bar food at The Pink Pony Steakhouse, a spot of some renown in days-gone-by.
SATURDAY March 2nd
We had a fairly ordinary latish breakfast at Distrito so we wouldn’t need many overpriced hotdogs at the ballpark. Giants are at home today. Scott led us through the Scottsdale Arts District for most of the 3 block walk to Scottsdale Stadium.
Giants win again 9-7 over Chicago Cubs. We caught a golf cart back to the hotel. There are 10 or 15 six-person golf carts shuttling folks between ballpark and nearby hotels. Not organized, they’re entrepreneurs. Two or three bucks for a person or couple. Very convenient.
We went to dinner in Tempe with Sarah and Scott. Scott knows Phoenix a little and took us to Mill Street, the main street of Arizona State University. We walked into and out of many loud bars/restaurants that mingled along the street with Five Guys, In n Out, Jack in the Box, a very large Gordon Biersch and so on. We left our name at an Irish Pub with a large dining area outside in back with instructions to check back in 30 minutes or so.
We walked outside and just around the corner on 4th Street happened upon Caffe Boa, an adult kind of Italian place with a table available outside near the entrance. Perfect.
Best meal of our trip! Carol and I shared an appetizer of Shrimp Adriatico, I had Capellini Nero with Squid — I could barely see it because the pasta was made with squid ink — Carol, the Gnocchi Fricassee — the gnocchi fried a bit crisp before saucing. Never had gnocchi like that before. We finished with Warm Chocolate Budino with Cherries — brandy soaked cherries in a lovely dark chocolate sauce. OH. MY. GOD. Good thing we had four to share the richness and delight of it all. $123 for two (Probably why it’s quiet with few students.)
SUNDAY March 3rd
We had a fairly ordinary breakfast at Distrito again. The good thing is that it’s outside next to the Arts District, so there are happy people coming and going on a lovely spring day. Sarah and Scott are off to LA today on their way to a Warriors game in SF on Monday night. We’ll pack up, check out and walk to the Giants v. D’backs game.
Giants 5, D’backs 4. That’s 3 for 3 for our Spring Training. Lovin’ it.
Around 5 in the evening, we visited my Uncle Frank, 93 and Aunt Wilda 89 and 3 of my Phoenix area cousins that I’ve hardly seen since childhood. Wilda — always full of energy and hustling around — served some snacks and a ridiculously good cherry creme dessert.
Phoenix is a food anomaly. It has some very good restaurants — we’ve experienced two — but if you’re just driving from Tempe to your hotel in Mesa the restaurant scene is barren. We came upon a Hooters and Applebee’s on opposing corners. I stopped and looked at a map and saw that the Fiesta Mall nearby. There we found Old Chicago; 110 Beers, Pasta and Pizza. We ate there.
MONDAY March 4th
We went back to the Fiesta Mall for breakfast to discover a pretty big place called Mimi’s Cafe, an agreeable breakfast place. The corned beef hash for the hash n eggs was not canned, and the waitress was a friendly pro.
Our next stop was a tour of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West. There are many pictures and descriptions on RectorSite (when I get them posted). We had planned to eat at Taliesin, but alas, the dining room is only for students and faculty. Pity.
This is our last day in Phoenix and the day set aside to visit my high school classmate, Jerry and his wife Pam, who has become my conscience on eats as a prolific commenter. I saw Jerry for the first time since high school at our 50th reunion and met Pam for the first time. Since, I feel I have grown to know her well, through our mutual love of cooking.
We went to their home in Mesa, a 60s low slung white stucco flat roof house. Nice. Pure Phoenix modern. The genuine article, not tricked up with southwestern or mediterranean *enhancement.*
We chatted and sampled Pam’s hors d’oeuvres.
Having just come from Taliesin, we noticed the FLLW sidelight for their front door. Pam and Jerry have been collecting art for many years. They decided that exchanging anniversary gifts is difficult and usually meaningless. So they take that occasion each year to purchase a piece of art upon which they agree. Most of their pieces are modern or pop-art with some primitive and native art mixed in. I will say that it is contemporary, imaginative and well rounded. The collection fits them and their house well.
They took us to dinner at Eddie’s House in Scottsdale.
Jerry said he had always wanted to try one of the house specialities, *The Famous, One and Only, “What’s In This Steak”*
The rest of us each ordered the *Seared Diver Scallops, smashed roasted heirloom cauliflower & acorn squash topped with a leek ring salad.* The room was very dark with a candle on each table and the menu in rather small script. We were offered a dainty flashlight, but a perusal of the menu was difficult. What I saw of the menu seemed great, but the execution turned out to be just good.
It was a fine evening. “A right, a right and a right,” were Jerry’s directions to get out of his neighborhood and onto the Apache Road of our Twin Palms hotel.
And so we conclude the Cactus League Spring Training part of out trip… on to Las Vegas!
Pam’s hors d’oeuvres:
Slice crusty bread 1/4 – 1/2 inch pieces and place on baking sheet
Lightly toast side one of bread; remove from broiler
Brush side two with olive oil and toast
Spoon toppings (below) onto bread slices
Melted mozzarella (buffalo or regular) + Trader Joe’s tomato bruschetta topping
Hummus, broiled eggplant, crumbled feta, red grape halved
Fig butter (or any fruit jam), marinated cucumber slices (recipe below), blue cheese crumbles.
Marinated Cucumber Slices
1 medium cucumber
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 tbls chopped fresh dill, plus sprigs for garnish (or your favorite herb)
1 tsp honey
1 tsp lemon juice
Salt & pepper to taste
Peel and thinly slice the cucumber. Put the slices in a bowl and set aside.
In a separate bowl whisk together the vinegar, dill, honey, and lemon juice. Pour over the cucumbers and toss to coat. Season with a little salt & pepper.
Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to chill and incorporate the flavors.