The Hunt for Good Escargot in Metro Phoenix
You think of them, perhaps, as garden pests. For me, they are a favorite meal. I eat snails. With a glass of good rosé and the proper amount of French bread, escargot are on my comestibles short list.
Jackie Mercandetti Escargot with bone marrow from Peite Maison in Scottsdale.
I've eaten them in sauces and in phyllo purses, wrapped in sourdough and cooked into stews, and once, very memorably, in a mediocre cassoulet at a place called Patin Couffin in Fayence, a small Provençal village. I remember more about Virginie, the transsexual septuagenarian who ran the place, than I do the cassoulet, in part because her English was so good and because she noticed that my hair was in dishabille and, licking the palm of her hand, patted it back into place. (Also, she sat down at our table, advised us against the fish course, and never stopped talking. Also, there was the part about how she used to be a man and now she was an old woman in a halter top.)
Escargot is a French tradition. Typically served as an appetizer in either their own shells or a dimpled ceramic dish made especially to coddle butter-and-garlic-drenched mollusks, escargot are land snails grown specifically for eating. Their tastiness varies from species to species; the best snails are those known as Helix pomatia, as they're the fattest and the least musky-tasting. Elonga quimperiana, smaller and more chewy, are popular in Italy and France and not often served here.
Still, a surprising number of local restaurants serve escargot, and most that do -- I know this because I go looking for snails -- are in Scottsdale. (No surprise there.) If you haven't eaten snails, but like mussels or conch, you might consider trying escargot. The texture of snail meat is similar to those of shellfish, although unlike them the cooking method and accompaniment of snails can change their taste considerably.
Snails usually are prepared one of two ways. Escargots à la Bourguignonne are removed from their shells, prepared and cooked in "snail butter" (which doesn't contain snails; it's drawn butter with shallots and herbs and sometimes white wine), then either returned to their shells or placed in that dimpled escargot plate and baked in an oven. Escargot à la Provençal, a rarity on any menu here in the Valley, is usually made with petit-gris snails in a garlicky tomato sauce that's dense with parsley.
The escargot de Bourgogne at La Petite France, tucked away in an unpretentious shopping mall in Scottsdale, is close to perfect. Served traditionally in simple drawn butter, they were offered warm, rather than hot, when I ordered them there most recently. Otherwise, they were exquisite, spiked with white wine and seasoned with shallots, garlic, and parsley and served with plenty of crusty French bread.
7001 N. Scottsdale Rd, Scottsdale, AZ
2502 E. Camelback Road, Phoenix, AZ
10135 E. VÃa Linda, Scottsdale, AZ
7167 E. Rancho Vista Drive, Scottsdale, AZ
7216 E. Shoeman Lane, Scottsdale, AZ