I wanted to eat at AZ because Ive read such conflicting opinions, and had to see for myself. From this one experience, Im on the side of the pros.
I made a reservation through Open Table, which is easy. Except that OT assumes no one eats alone their minimum reservation number is 2. Since Ive read that some places refuse single reservations, I figured okay; when I get there Ill tell the truth and see what happens.
Got to AZ right on time for my 6:00pm reservation, and while there was some hesitation at my confession that I would be alone, there was more of a problem that the dining room and kitchen were not really open yet (in spite of a stated start of 5:30). But I was soon escorted up to the top floor, and given an inside corner booth from which I could see almost the entire room. Attractive, soothing room. Loved the gentle waterfall near the bar, and the open roof on a not-too-warm night. I warned the waiter right away that I would take notes, but only for my own use; not to worry.
Started with a TinA louiZe which I hoped would be the same as the Tina Louise at Kaffeehaus (since turned into Candy Bar) it was close, and maybe even better: vodka, sake, & ginger liqueur, garnished with a slice of candied ginger.
The breads were more Middle Eastern and South Asian than expected: 2 wedges of Missy Roti (which the busser said was naan), a plain very thin flatbread, and what might have been the same flatbread with Syrian zataar. Served with 3 spreads: a very sweet pineapple chutney; curried cauliflower and lentils (I could have eaten nothing else and been satisfied; YUM), and a very creamy spiced white bean puree.
Amuse: yellow tomato gazpacho (puree), with a glob of veg and avocado and some shrimp. Strong tomato flavor, good contrast to the creamy texture. This seemed to be consistent from dish to dish: one strong acidic flavor contrasting with a soft texture, rather than multi-layered flavors.
NOTE 1: I had explained at the start that I would want recommendations on wine and choices of food. I got very good advice, and some special treatment in response. I have no trouble dining alone.
Appetizer: I finally chose the Maine Scallops with Taro Puree, Mushroom Ragout, and Summer Truffle. Scallops were perfectly seared and sweet; taro smooth; ragout had chanterelles and possibly honshi-meiji, in a tart jus. The slices of black truffle had no perfume or flavor (oh well). NOTE 2: as he cleared my plate, the waiter asked if the music was too loud (actually it WAS); no, I said, Im focusing on the food but in any case they turned it down so it was barely audible (my preference).
Surprise: Appetizer #2: a taste of the Grilled Octopus, Squid, & 3-Melon Salad with Jicama and Yuzu-Lemon Vinaigrette (which I had also expressed an interest in having): very tender baby octo and squid, first boiled with corks then grilled lightly; melons were perfectly ripe and sweet; garnished with caramelized lemongrass (in fish sauce?). Excellent.
With the apps: a glass of Sauvignon Blanc, the provenance of which I didnt note. But it worked.
Main: Lapsang Souchong-Smoked Chicken (a frenched breast) with Roasted Peaches and Baby Bok Choy; garnished also with chix/black trumpet mushroom filled fried wontons, and micro beet greens. Sauced very lightly with the chix jus; peaches were more acid than sweet, making a good contrast; the bok choy was sautéed, which intensified the flavor. Chicken was very moist and tender.
Wine with main: ½ bottle of 1999 Renwood Zinfandel Almador County Old Vine suggested by the waiter; worked really well. A very nice point: they have LOTS of halves!
Dessert: Plum Brioche Tart with Plum Ice Cream; very strong plum flavors in both the compote and the ice cream; again, tart vs. creamy. Shavings of white chocolate on top (unnecessary as far as Im concerned).
Surprise dessert #2: again, because I had trouble deciding: a Stone Fruit Soup with Mascarpone Ice Cream, a Farina/Mascarpone cake topped with cubes of Roasted White Peaches, and a Sesame Tuile filled with a mascarpone cream. Rich, tart, fruity, creamy, yum.
As I left, one of the managers asked for confirmation that You post a lot on Chowhound, right? Well, yes, but not under my real name. Good guess, then.
Overall: I had an excellent meal, excellent service, and found the ambience quite comfortable. This was good food well-prepared and presented, with ingredients from all over; not any kind of misguided pan-Asian fusion as some have said.
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