More Phoenix eats + recent reads.

I’ll be on Baseball Tonight on ESPN this evening (Tuesday) at 9:30 ET/6:30 Arizona time. I’ve also got a new Insider column up about a conversation I had with Brandon Belt about his swing. Today’s Behind the Dish podcast features Baseball-Reference founder Sean Forman talking WAR, defense, R-level, and more.

First up, some local food notes.

Tanzy calls itself a “Mediterranean” restaurant, but it’s just upscale Italian-influenced food, done very well at slightly elevated prices because of its location in the Kierland area of Scottsdale. It’s in the same shopping complex on the east side of Scottsdale Road that houses Press Coffee, True Food Kitchen, and yet another location of Grimaldi’s Pizza, across from the Kierland Commons mall itself.

I took the girls there for dinner on Thursday, knowing it would be our last chance for a family meal for a week because of games and travel, and we went a little overboard, getting a good bit more food than required. We started with one of their antipasto platters, this one including fresh mozzarella that is pulled for you tableside and seasoned with your choice of four different salts. The mozzarella itself was fine, probably best because it was warm, but it was probably the least interesting thing on the platter, which also included basil pesto (nut-free!), olive tapenade, dried figs, tomatoes marinated in garlic and olive oil, strawberries, and crusty pieces of country bread. This became my daughter’s dinner, since she’s never met a fresh mozzarella dish she didn’t love, and her only complaint was that the tomatoes were too spicy because of the raw garlic.

My wife ordered two starters as her dinner, an eggplant/mozzarella/tomato stack that she loved and that I didn’t try because I don’t love eggplant, and the fried brussels sprouts, an enormous serving of the brassicas lightly breaded (tempura-like), drizzled with a mustardy aioli and served with a sweet and sour dipping sauce. I went with the risotto, which wasn’t risotto at all, lacking any of the creamy sauce that makes that dish so distinctive (formed from the blending of stock with starch granules that separate from the rice during the slow cooking process).

Where Tanzy excelled was in desserts and cocktails. My daughter picked the white chocolate Chambourd crème brulee – the child has a sophisticated palate, which should cause absolute hell for any future suitors – and it was absurdly good, with a perfect texture beneath the sugar-glass shell. For a drink, I tried their “spice and ice,” made with five-year aged Barbados rum, mango puree, and their own ginger-habanero syrup, with a seven-spice mixture on the rim of the glass. It was odd to drink something so bright and sweet (almost too much so) only to have it bite back at the finish.

I’d go back there, ordering a little differently, but I think I could do much better for my dollar even just within Scottsdale – Citizen Public House and Searsucker both offer superior food at comparable or lower price points. Tanzy does have a more reasonably-priced lunch menu with sandwich options that might be a better way to experience their food.

Essence Bakery in Tempe popped on my radar recently because local foodies have praised their croissants and macarons, the latter of which is a small obsession of mine. (I can’t quite get them right, although my last batch was close, just a touch too moist inside so they couldn’t hold up when filled.) I met a friend at Essence, which is on University just east of Hardy (right near ASU), for breakfast over the weekend and was very impressed by the quality of their ingredients – even if you just want your basic EMPT* breakfast, this is one of the best options in the area.

* Eggs, meat, potatoes, toast – the breakfast of champions.

Eggs are eggs as long as they’re fresh and cooked correctly, which these were. Essence has its own variety of breakfast sausage, and the potatoes on the plate aren’t generic hash browns or “breakfast potatoes” (whatever the funk that is), but come as a mashed potato cake, like a knish but softer inside. The toast options include sliced, toasted baguette, which comes with a little bit of what I assume was homemade jam. There isn’t a ton of seating, but I didn’t have to wait to get a table; if people realize how good this place is, though, I could see that becoming a problem.

I don’t believe I ever mentioned Giant Coffee in downtown Phoenix, run by Matt of Matt’s Big Breakfast, yet another high-end coffee roaster and bar along the lines of Press or Cartel. It’s been long enough since I went to Giant that I can’t tell you what variety of beans I tried, but I sampled their espresso and their pour-over and would recommend both if you’re serious about coffee.

Shifting gears to books, the last book I read, Ian Stewart’s In Pursuit of the Unknown: 17 Equations That Changed the World, was a dud. I enjoy math/science books, even if they get a little technical, but Stewart’s book made the mistake of trying to cover more ground in a short pop-science book than the subject matter permitted. He’d present an equation, give very little about its origins or derivations, and then throw it out there and jump right into applications and subsequent developments. The writing was dry and there was none of the narrative structure you’d get from a longer exposition on the development of one specific formula or equation or proof.

Before that, I read another of Richard Stark’s Parker novels, Plunder Squad, sent to me by the folks at the University of Chicago Press. (It’s just $4 on the Kindle.) That’s the fourth Parker novel I’ve read now, and there’s definitely a sameness to them – Parker gets involved in a heist, something goes wrong, and there’s a good amount of violence and amoral behavior involved in extricating himself – but Stark’s writing is so sharp and his definition of the Parker character so precise that the familiarity doesn’t bore or bother me. It’s odd to compare Stark’s hard-boiled crime writing to P.G. Wodehouse’s upper-class comedies of manners, but they share that attribute – they could almost recycle plots without losing readers, because of the quality of their prose and the way they crafted and developed characters. Als

Next up for books: I’m almost through D.H. Lawrence’s Sons and Lovers and also have Dan Koeppel’s Banana: The Fate of the Fruit That Changed the World in my suitcase.