Google “Michael DeMaria” and the first result you see will be is for “Trattoria M,” his stillborn Tempe eatery that died in the same era as breast implants funded by home equity loans. The next entry is for Michael’s catering company and the third is for a clinical psychologist with a keen interest in the healing powers of the Native American Flute. So, someone PLEASE tell me why the restaurant description on the Heirloom menu begins with “Celebrity Chef Michael DeMaria presents…” Celebrity? In what universe? Or zip code? I guarantee that more laypeople could pick Mario Batali out of a line-up than Michael DeMaria, yet none of his restaurants refer to him as a “celebrity chef.” So, as I said in reference to Chef Matney in my review of Eddie’s House, if you’re going to proclaim your own celebrity then you damn well better deliver the goods.
Heirloom delivers on some levels, and falls short on others. The room has received some new paint and sofa-art since its prior life as an outpost of Flo’s Hong Kong Market. And the emphasis is on fresh, local ingredients with a “farm to table” mentality. In Foodie-Land, where I like to spend time to avoid reality, this usually means that 1.) Burrata Cheese will appear somewhere on the menu 2.) Root vegetables will suddenly be glamorous and 3.) They’ll hail their green practices. (“Menu printed on recycled paper, using soy ink, from heirloom soy beans that breathed purified air that was blessed with the soothing sounds of the Native America Flute.”)
Yes, they have the en vogue salad of the moment, Heirloom Beets. ($9) The White Asparagus in Dijon Emulsion with Pastrami and Egg ($12) was absolutely divine; I loved the traditional pairing of pastrami and mustard with the freshness of the asparagus and the egg yolk brought the whole dish together. But the Burrata Cheese on Heirloom Tomato, Basil Sprouts and Parmesan Lavosh ($12) was marred by an Heirloom tomato that was not yet ripe and could have spent a few more days in the sun. Yet it was not as woefully sad as the Burrata served to us for lunch at Prado.
The Short Rib Cannelloni on Caramelized Onion, Bleu Taleggio Fondue and Beef Broth ($12) was delicious, savory and beautiful to look at. Same with the Pan Fried Walleyed Pike on Portobello & Cabbage Slaw with Dill Aioli, but at $18 the delicious crust and delicate preparation could not possibly make me forget that I was eating 4 – 5 oz of fish for the price of an entrée, served a la carte. Good food (or, great, even) is not so good when it is served in small portions at high prices with B+ service in the barely-gussied-up surrounds of a failed Chinese restaurant.
Damn I’m starting to sound negative and crabby. It wasn’t all piss and vinegar. The Veal Cutlet with Lump Crab, Asparagus & Bearnaise ($25…yikes!) was delicious, if not a bit predictable and out of place on the menu. And the Grilled “Rib-eye Mignon” with Roast Tomato, Beech Mushroom and Crispy Shallots ($26…more yikes!) was a safe nod to carnivores, yet still respectable. But the Salmon Cake on Ginger-Wasabi Green Pea Puree & Pea Shoot Salad had no flavor of salmon and tasted like there was way more “cake” than “salmon.” Not to mention WAY too many syllables in the name.
For dessert, the Chocolate “Speckle” Cake with Rasberry Sauce ($8) disappointed with a comically small portion size and forgettable flavor, but it was fun to vandalize it with my name. But let me go on record by saying that the Peach Pie “A La Mode” with Caramel-Balsamic Ice Cream ($7) was absolutely fantastic, a great value, and the part of the meal that I think about the most. One of the best desserts I have had in recent memory.
Actually, scratch that thought.
What I think about the most is the fact that they had the nerve to serve me bottled ice-tea. As someone who is prone to drink between 5 – 8 glasses of iced tea during a meal (no sweetener, lots of ice and extra lemon..thanks), I cannot afford a $2 per glass iced tea budget when I’m simultaneously paying $18 for a guppy-belly-sized portion of Pike. First, the PastaBar folks want to charge for an extra piece of bread, and now this? Seriously, brew your own tea. Subway can do it, and so can you. And you can even stick to your mantra and buy it from China Mist. Hey, they started in Scottsdale! It's local!
I really wanted to love this restaurant but I’m afraid that I didn’t. The menu needs focus, the portion sizes need to be increased (or the prices decreased) and the China Mist guy needs to swing by for a sales call.
Maybe that Native American Flute dude is the celebrity that the menu was referring to.
Additional information and photos of the meal are availalable at www.ericeatsout.com
20775 North Pima Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85255