There are several scenes in the delightfully heartwarming animated Disney movie Ratatouille that resonate with all gastronomes who delight in the sensual pleasures of the dining experience–those for whom food is an enchanting adventure in the discernment and love of its subtle nuances and overt fragrances, tastes, textures and colors.
France’s preeminent chef Anton Gasteau, a pivotal character in the movie, describes this sensual adventure best: “Good food is like music you can taste, color you can smell. There is excellence all around you. You need only be aware to stop and savor it.”
The scene which may resonate best with this gastronome is when Remy (a provincial rat with a heightened sense of smell and with aspirations of becoming a great chef) places a morsel of cheese in his mouth and closes his eyes as the fabulous flavors of the fetid fromage envelop him. His mind’s eye is awash in vivid shapes and colors as his taste buds truly savor the experience.
In combination with other ingredients, those vivid shapes and colors become a complex and brilliant kaleidoscope of beautiful symmetry. This symmetry is reality for those who learn to live to eat–those for whom food is so much more than mere sustenance.
For my inaugural dining experience at Scottsdale’s Orange Table, I had the honor and privilege of joining friend and fellow gastronome Bill Hanson, who shares in my passion for culinary adventures. Bill, an aspiring chef himself, so relishes inspirational food that, like Remy, he shuts his eyes and accedes to the flavors and fragrances of the experience. When he invited me to break bread with him, I knew we were in for the type of dining experience I crave.
Little did I realize we were to meet a kindred spirit in Susan Speidel (pictured above), who along with her brother Eric and boyfriend Jeremiah Maloney comprise Orange Table’s ownership triumvirate. Susan is an indefatigable whirring dervish and a very visible ambassador of hospitality at her charming restaurant. Moreover, we quickly found out she is one of us–a true gastronome with a rare passion for the dining experience.
The dining experience is the very reason she and her partners opened Orange Table. They want everyone to enjoy all aspects of a meal–from beginning to end– without rushing through it. Like me, she would rather skip a meal than hurry through one.
Her personal mission statement in owning a restaurant is that food should always be made from scratch, using the freshest ingredients possible. She believes it is the responsibility of restaurant owners everywhere to ensure their guests are served items that are fresh and delicious instead of using “prefab” food…especially when people have less and less time to cook for themselves.
That responsibility, she emphasizes, is not exclusive to upscale restaurants. To that end, Orange Table is committed to using the best ingredients and providing the highest quality, making as much as possible in-house. She does not abide in ever taking the easy way out. What isn’t made in-house comes from other businesses that share the restaurant’s philosophies.
It’s not by accident that Orange Table and its food are very approachable. Susan’s goal was to create a neighborhood hangout with a casual atmosphere in which outstanding food and awesome coffee are served–an inviting milieu in which patrons feel at home whether in jeans or three-piece suits, where they can arrive via bike or limo and where they can even bring their dogs.
It hasn’t always been easy for the Orange Table which is ensconced in a concrete jungle somewhere between a multi-level parking structure and the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.
Its obfuscated location means two things–it’s the perfect neighborhood hangout, not prone to unwanted interlopers whose favorite chain restaurant is closed, and if you’re not from the neighborhood, it’s a destination restaurant. Orange table is by no means on the well trodden, well beaten, well eaten path. Patrons have Orange Table in mind when they navigate to this area (which also seems to be a magnet for construction).
In four scant years since its April, 2003 launch, Orange Table has surmounted the three biggest challenges to a restaurant’s success–location, location and location. That may be a hackneyed phrase, but one which rings true (as all restaurateurs know). To be as popular as Orange Table has become, it has got to be more than very good. In a city abounding with excellent dining choices, it’s got to be great. Orange Table is!
One cautionary disclaimer–Orange Table prepares every item to order and since quality should never be rushed, it may take a while before your order arrives at your table. It will behoove you to share your table, as I did, with fun-loving food fanatics who don’t mind the wait. Besides, the wait here is worth it.
Take a few minutes to imbibe the ambience. The walls are painted in bright red and pumpkin colors and are festooned with thematic imagery, including one of a beguiling woman (au naturel) holding two strategically positioned orange halves. A beckoning lounge area with comfortable looking leather couches is available should you have to wait.
The ambience also includes safely stacked boxes of the restaurant’s featured beers. You won’t find pedestrian beverages at Orange Table. The beverage selection complements the restaurant’s menu and in some cases, is incorporated into the featured fare.
One case in point is the restaurant’s “Arrogant Bastard Rustler” Cheeseburger in which a 3-ounce splash of Stone Brewery’s Arrogant Bastard Ale is added. That burger, by the way, was selected in 2007 as the best burger in Phoenix by the Phoenix New Times.
For three dollars more, a tall bottle of this ale will accompany its eponymous burger companion. Its label will tell you it’s an aggressive beer requiring the partaker have an advanced level of taste and sophistication to appreciate it. Lexicologists who appreciate acerbic humor will love reading the entire label which reads like a biting D. A. Byler op. ed. piece.
For me adult libations start and stop with carbonated, non-alcoholic refreshment and not surprisingly, Orange Table excels here, too. Why have a prosaic Coke or Pepsi product when you can have High Mountain Huckleberry Soda, a full-bodied, tangy, fruit-flavored soda brewed by the Jackson Hole Soda Co?
There’s another reason, aside from the made-to-order preparation time, it will take a while before your meal arrives at your table. Attribute at least part of that wait to the menu which is replete with tempting options: salads, plates, handmade specialty burgers, sandwiches and lavash pizza for dinner.
The plates section of the menu features several meant to be shared items such as an imported French brie plate (pictured above right). Brie’s nickname, the “queen of cheeses”, was ascribed because several hundred years ago, brie was one of the tributes which had to be paid to the French kings.
Orange Table’s rendition of brie is worthy of royalty (in a non-bourgeois way). Baked in a canvass of golden brown phyllo which complements the brie’s naturally sweet, creamy and rich flavor, it is an outstanding precursor to an evening of deliciousness. It is served with sliced seasonal fruits, berries and grapes and with a side of toasted baguettes. If this appetizer is edible art, its plating is nearly as expressive.
While the Arrogant Bastard Rustler Cheeseburger may have received acclamation as Phoenix’s best burger, it may not even be the best burger at Orange Table. For my money that distinction belongs to the “Belvedere” Wine Cheeseburger which is, quite simply, one of the three or four best burgers I’ve ever had. It’s a burger on par with the Bobcat Bite’s green chile cheeseburger, a burger I revere with a pilgrim-like passion.
The Belvedere is a hand-formed, half-pound Angus beef burger cooked to medium with a splash of red wine and topped with melted port wine cheese, tomato, red onion, lettuce and Haji’s garlic sauce then served on a grilled bun.
As with all great burgers, the star attraction is the beef which is prepared to your exacting specifications. When tinged with the port wine’s subtle bouquet, that beef acquires a richer, more complex flavor best appreciated Remy style, with your eyes shut and with your rapt attention focused on savoring and experiencing all its flavor.
One menu item available only after 5PM may have you thinking Cuban cigars solely by virtue of its name, Cigares Sanbusek. I surmise the name is derived from the cigar (or egg roll) shaped nature of this entree.
Served in quantities of three, each cigar-shaped treat is comprised of well seasoned ground beef wrapped in pastry then fried. It is served with Orange Table’s “peculiar Cowboy cocktail sauce” which is wholly unlike any cocktail sauce you might associate with seafood.
This peculiar sauce doesn’t have the horseradish bite of traditional cocktail sauce, but it does have its own tongue-tingling piquancy. It’s also got a curry-like pungency, a slightly fruity tanginess and just a hint of sweetness. It’s a magnificent sauce into which you might want to dip anything left over on your table. The Cigares Sanbusek stand out on their own, but when married with this sauce, are an adventure in taste.
In Albuquerque I’ve long lamented the lack of lavash, an Armenian cracker bread flexible enough to be served pizza-like with assorted toppings. Orange Table features four different lavash pizza options including the “Farrago“, a large lavash topped with hummus, tomato, Kalamata olives, artichoke, red onion, feta cheese and fresh Mediterranean herbs. If you lust for lavash, you’ll love this one.
Lavash is a perfect canvass for high quality ingredients as it complements its toppings while providing just an inkling of its inherently subtle flavor. As we enjoyed the discernment of complementary flavors on the Farrago, it may have been easy to focus on our favorite of the lot, but the melding of so many varied and savory flavors was like a cohesive ballet on our taste buds. This, too, was a fabulous entree!
On weekends, the Orange Table serves breakfast until 2PM (on weekdays until 11AM) and it’s a breakfast worth getting up for. The breakfast menu features an impressive ensemble of pancakes, hash and flannels, omelettes (the restaurant’s spelling) and scrambles, sandwiches and so much more. There’s even something for the lighter appetites–fruit plates, fruit cups, fruit yogis and granola yogis, but most of the menu is befitting hearty eaters who prefer prolific portions.
Apple pancakes are a restaurant specialty–two buttermilk pancakes with thinly sliced green apple inside topped with sour cream and sliced apples served with a side of spiced apple pan syrup and your choice of breakfast meat or side fruit. This sweet and tart marriage is absolutely delicious. Cut into the pancakes and despite the apple innards, they’re cooked all the way through–to perfection. The sour cream adds a savory quality to the sweet and tart pancake combination, a taste triumvirate that makes breakfast a special event.
Among the omelettes is The Catlan: Spanish chorizo, white onion, garlic, tomato, Kalamata olives and Manchego cheese served with a side of toast (your choice of sourdough, olive bread or whole wheat). There is a lot going on with this breakfast entree in which the superb quality ingredients combine in a symphony of flavors worthy of a performance at the nearby Performing Arts Center. This is the type of omelette I would make for myself in terms of ingredient proportionality and quality.
Dining at Orange Table made it easy to imagine Remy shutting his eyes and letting fragrances and flavors engulf him like a dream from which he wouldn’t want to awaken. The Orange Table is a dream meant to be shared.
7373 East Scottsdale Mall
LATEST VISIT: 16 May 2009
1st VISIT: 27 November 2007
# OF VISITS: 2
BEST BET: The Belvedere Wine Cheeseburger, Baked Brie Plate, Cigares Sanbusek, The “Farrago,” Apple Pancakes, The Catlan