Last week Hubby and I went to Mesa, AZ for our first "real" vacation ever. We've done the occasional long weekend - adding a Friday here, a Monday there. But we never really went away for a good long week and "vacated" our lives for a while.
My folks rented a house down in Mesa from a friend for a month. So, we flew down to Mesa and stayed with them for the week. Oh, what a glorious sight! Sun! Blue Skies! Temps in the 60s! Woot! Seriously, it seemed like we were charmed. We picked up our luggage from the luggage carousel and started to look for the shuttle to take us to the car rental location. Immediately, a guy said "The shuttle to the car rental? Follow me!" He took our bags onto his luggage cart and headed down a secluded hallway. Husband started looking nervous - how did we know this guy worked for the airport? But, lo and behold - he takes us through a door right to the first shuttle and starts to load our baggage. Nice!
We had similar luck at the car rental center. As we walked to the area to find our car - we had rented a compact car - a lady come up to us to help. She looked at our paperwork and said "You are renting a compact car? Here, I'm going to give you a complimentary upgrade to a mid-sized car." Wow!
I have to give props to the AZ highway system for their signs. So easy to follow. And, they have huge bushes of rosemary in the medians. Seriously!
We got to the house my folks are renting. It was very nice and great to see them. We had orange and grapefruit trees right outside. How cool to wake up in the morning, go outside, and pull a couple of oranges off the tree to make some freshly squeezed orange juice! Soooooooo tasty.
Unfortunately, our good fortune would not last. Hubby come down with a nasty sinus infection. He bravely tried to brush it off - doing a lot of sleeping and drinking OJ. However, it finally got to be too much. Thankfully my mom had her computer down there - I was able to check with my insurance company and find a clinic and pharmacy that was in-network.
Then, came the rain. Yes, the rain. The week before we came down, my folks were regaling me with how it was 70 and sunny all week. Of course, we come down in time for The Rain Storm of the Century followed by FloodGate: The Noah's Ark Edition. Suddenly, it was cloudy, cold (for AZ) and doing lots, and lots, of raining. Roads were closed due to flooding, someone's house got swept away by a raging river, massive snow storms at the higher elevations. It was crazy! They even had a Tornado Warning.
Even still, there were some shining moments - like the food. Yes, you knew I was going to go there.
We ate lunch one day at Cowboy Ciao in Scottsdale. Downtown Scottsdale is really nice with lots of shops and restaurants. There are some really kitschy places - selling all forms of turquoise and sand paintings - but also some really impressive art galleries and even a very cool antique book shop that had a 1400s Thomas Aquinas Summa Theologica (which the person manning the store actually took out of the cabinet and showed us). A mere $20,000. No big whoop.
Anyway, back to lunch. I had their signature mushroom pan fry - it had lots of different mushrooms with a nicely spicy tomato/pepper cream sauce smothering fried polenta. It was topped with chopped tomatoes and avocado. So tasty!
Hubby had a "salad" of confited tuna (confited in duck fat) with a salty sauteed spinach and tomatoes and a fried egg. The tuna was mixed with shallots and capers.
If you are down in the Scottsdale area - try Cowboy Ciao. I got a merlot flight that was really nice - and they didn't skimp on the wine (something that many placed do for flights and is a pet peeve of mine).
Another place we went to was Caffe Boa in Tempe. It is in the area of the the University. The head chef was originally from MN and they specialize in local foods. We were really excited to try it. We had lunch - after coming in from cold and rain. The place was very cool. We both had variations on the lunch special (sorry no pictures!): I had a half-pannini with mozzarella, basil, prosciutto, and a fig jam. It came with a side of soup that I though the server said was tripe - but it seemed more like a tomato-based vegetable soup with garbanzo beans and some small bits of beef. It was very good. Hubby had the pasta-soup lunch combo - same soup. The pasta looked more like a soup as well - in a beefy stock - rather than a sauce.
The food was good, but we had a bad experience with the server. He forgot to put in our order for the charcuterie appetizer. When we asked about (he had just put down our main course and asked if we needed anything) he asked if we still wanted it - which we did. He said it would take a few minutes - but we figured - it's charuterie. You slice the meat, put on some spreads on a plate and add bread. We finished our main course (about 15 minutes) and our places were cleared. Then we sat there....and sat there....with no one coming to bring our food or to check on us. Finally, the server showed up with the charcuterie. Really nice food - very bad service.
Finally, the other dining experience I would like to talk about is Pizzeria Bianco. So much has been said about Pizzeria Bianco - I feel like I would just be adding to the noise. But, I must say that it is fabulous. It helps to know going in that THERE WILL BE A LONG WAIT. But, I feel it is worth it.
It was our last night in Mesa - the sky was cloudy, the air was cool. We showed up at 4:30pm and got into the already long line. Several people were already in the middle of working on a full bottle of wine. Ahhhhhhh!The doors opened at 5pm. Immediately before 5pm - a swarm of people showed up - and joined their friends ahead of us who were the line place holders for the group. Yeah, I knew it would be a while.
Luckily (for us and for the owners), they have a wine bar next door. After putting our name in, we went over to the wine bar. We were lucky enough to get at least 1 bar stool and ordered beers and wine and conversed with other patrons as the bar tender would inform the next party when their name came up. We met some really cool people and tried a few AZ micro brews. Finally, at 7:45pm, we were seated at the bar inside the pizzeria.
We had the spiedini appetizer - melty fontina cheese wrapped in proscuitto on a bed of microgreens with a vinagrette.
We ordered two pizzas - the Margherita (to which we added La Quercia Proscuitto) and their Wiseguy - with onions, mozzarella, and fennel sausage.
We ate it all and I have no regrets. If you go - go early (as we sat there, people came in looking for a seat only to be told that it was a 3-3.5 hour wait). They only take reservations for parties of 6 or more - and when we went, their reservations were booked 2 months out.
Of course, the sun came back out on our last day. Our trip to the airport was as nice as our trip from the airport when we arrived.
To finish, an FYI: If you have an expired drivers license - even with the renewal paperwork - you will get through airport security, but you will not be served alcohol in the Phoenix airport. Is that a crazy world or what?
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