I Have Arrived in the Valley of the Sun

Much to the chagrin of my friends and coworkers, I am spending the week in Phoenix, Arizona at the Cattle Industry Annual Convention. This is the annual meeting and policy making session of the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association, the Cattlemen’s Beef Board, and the American National Cattlewomen. These are great organizations, and this is a great meeting. I’ve spent most of the day in the media room working on stories and interviews with some key NCBA leaders, audio of which is available at BuckeyeAg.com for your listening pleasure.


Phoenix is a beautiful city for what its worth, primarily because they weren’t kidding when they called it the Valley of the Sun. It’s hard for me to picture this city on an overcast day. By the time I was out of the shower this morning, the sun was out and as bright as if it were high 12. The Convention Center here is phenomenal, an expansive three building complex that doesn’t appear to be terribly old, and with every modern amenity. Great place to have a convention.


I’m staying in the newly opened Phoenix Sheraton Downtown. The Sheraton is literally two blocks from the Convention Center, a 10 minute cab ride from Sky Harbor Airport, and is one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever visited. A Starwood Property, it borrows heavily from my favorite hotel chain, the Westin. Lindsay and I look forward to our annual November pilgrimage to NAFB Convention in Kansas City, partly because we love staying and working in the Westin Crown Center. This hotel reminds me of the Westin in that the room features what, if it were a Westin rather than a Sheraton, would be called the “Heavenly Bed” and “Heavenly Bath.”


The architecture is fabulous, and breakfast this morning at the restaurant District in the lobby was exceptional. The staff in particular were impressive, with everyone from the hostess to the waitress to the bus staff calling me by name.


I had the pleasure of joining NCBA Field Representative Mark Wellman for breakfast. We both would have been dining alone, but I invited him to sit with me and catch up on business. Mark is doing an exceptional job for NCBA, and I shared with him how impressed I’ve been with his presence at Ohio Cattlemen’s Association functions. Mark has been at every major OCA event I’ve attended since his tenure at NCBA began, and he’s doing a great job providing support for OCA in its membership efforts.


Oh, and he could be brothers with my dear friend Mike Carper, Ohio Cattlemen’s Association President. Who, by the way, is also doing a great job as OCA President. Mike was recognized at this year’s OCA Annual Meeting for his outstanding recruiting efforts, and Mike has done a tremendous job leading the Board of Directors and the Association this year. He is now in his second year as OCA’s Chief, and I suspect the Association will look back on his tenure with fondness years after his retirement. I’ll have audio with Mike on the website later in the week.


By the way, as I know you look forward to my insights on the local cuisine, so allow me to share my review of last night’s spot for supper. Chuck Zimmerman of AgWired.com and I decided we were at a Cattle Convention and we needed a steak. Checking with my friend Concierge in the lobby, we were told Kincaid’s down the street was the place to go. The atmosphere was certainly great – After a short two block walk in the refreshing evening air, we climbed the steps to the terrace of the Bank of America Building. The room was excellent, with very comfortable booth-style seating, and while the place was obviously busy with Convention patronage, we were seated almost immediately.


Our server was excellent – very attentive, very honest with his recommendations, and with a great personality. He guided us through the menu, which was also very impressive in the number and variety of selections available. Deciding to whet our appetite with the fruit of the seas, we settled on appetizers of Fresh Oysters on the Half-Shell, which were Blue Point flown in fresh from Maryland.


These were our first disappointment. While the shells suggested that these should have been fulfilling specimens, these were actually very small oysters with very little flavor. The cocktail sauce was fine, but then again its hard to screw up cocktail sauce. They did, however, serve a red-wine vinegar with the oysters as well, and that was an ill-advised pairing. Overall, we were displeased, and decided we should quickly move on.


The French Onion soup was my side selection over the house salad, again, based on the recommendation of our server, and I was pleased to tell him that unlike his call on the oysters, he hit it out of the park in recommending the soup. It was prepared in exactly the manner a French Onion Soup should be, with a reasonable amount of crouton, but not so much that the broth itself is completely absorbed. While I would have accepted a bit more cheese, the crock was sealed with a very flavorful variety, and I was very satisfied with the dish.


My entree selection was the bone-in Ribeye, which was served medium-rare with red jacket mashed potatoes and onion straws. The straws were good, and I typically don’t care for them, so this was a pleasant surprise. The spuds, on the other hand, were very chalky, definitely lacking the creamy warmth I expect in good mashed potatoes. A bit more butter and heavy cream – and salt – would have made all the difference.


The beef itself appeared to be of a good cut, with great marbling but not a lot of waste. The trim was perfect, and the appearance of the char was spot on. While the meat itself was tender as a mother’s love, the seasoning of the meat left something to desire. I doctored the steak tableside with salt and pepper, but a little more seasoning pre-grill would have helped considerably.


Desert, on the other hand, was another home run. The pear bread pudding – admittedly not a combination I would have considered – was perfect in every way, and served with an exceptional vanilla bean ice cream. The vanilla sauce, which I prefer to the carmel sauce many places serve with bread pudding, was also great, although I prefer it to be served warm, which this was not. The pear slices were actually right at home in the warm gooey pudding, which featured a crust that was the perfect brownness atop the slice.


So, on a course by course scorecard, Kincaid’s was really two and two, with the oysters and entree being either a complete or partial disappointment, and with the soup and desert courses being almost flawless. It was a good time, certainly, but I’ll probably research a different spot for tonight’s culinary endeavor.


ABN Radio’s coverage of the Cattle Industry Annual Convention is sponsored by the Ohio