The Arizona Kitchen, The Wigwam Resort & Spa, 300 Wigwam Blvd, Lichfield Park, AZ, 623.935.3811, http://www.wigwamresort.com/index.html
It was that time of the year again - Angelita’s Amigos Golf Tournament time. Since we live in N. Phoenix, and the shotgun start is 7:30AM, we got our room at the Wigwam. It was next door to the one we had two years ago, and directly downstairs from last year’s. As per normal, we made reservations at The Arizona Kitchen.
Last year, they had just opened their new steakhouse, Red’s, and I thought about dining there, but I’m just not a “steakhouse guy.” Oh, I love my beef and 90+% is cooked over some sort of fire, but I can do some wonderful things with a tenderloin and have a better selection of wines, than all but a very few restaurants in the city. We’ll do Durant’s, and then a few others, but usually for events, or functions. The Arizona Room, it was.
Last year, I reported on a wonderful evening with the chef’s tasting menu. This year, that menu just did not do it for either of us. Instead, we went á la carte. I looked over the wine list, and it seemed much smaller, than in years before. I summoned our server, a helpful and attentive gentleman, named Brandon, and asked if they had a “reserve” list, or similar. He explained that Red’s Steakhouse had a sommelier, and a more extensive wine list. In a moment, the sommelier from Red’s was at our table. I asked about any white Burgs, and he mentioned a Puligny Montrachet. My notes seem to have gotten damp here, but it appears that it was a Joseph Drouhin ‘05. I wish that their wine list was online, just to verify this.
I started off with the Star Anise & Thyme Seared Foie Gras (prickly pear - Riesling syrup, Granny Smith apples) and got a glass of Bonny Doon Vin d’Glasciere Muscat for the liver. Wife labored between the Braised Kobe Short Ribs, but finally chose the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake (Huitlocoche & poblano relish with Guajillo chile aïoli). She stayed with the Puligny Montrachet.
Both dishes were wonderful. As fate would have it, this was about the 7th order of foie gras, that I’d had in a month. Can’t wait to visit my Cardiologist! This was one of the most flavorful iterations of the month and so much closer than New Orleans, DC, London, or Las Vegas. My wife’s crab cake was very good, but there had been a few recent, and better ones. Still, very nice, and I think that she may have been in withdrawal from NOT ordering the Short Ribs.
Our next courses were the Smoked Corn Chowder (roasted poblano crema and piquillo pepper confetti) and the Southwest Caesar (chile croutons, chipotle Caesar dressing and ancho parmesan crackle).My corn chowder was good, but seemed to lack depth and the layers of flavors, that I had anticipated – good, but not great. [Aside: if you have not had a Kahuku (Hawai`i), or Olathe sweet corn chowder, with a nice white Burgundy (Chardonnay), from a good négotiant, or producer, you have not lived.] The Caesar was OK, but nothing that my wife was really excited about.
For our mains, we chose the All Natural Cedar River Filet Mignon (mulato chile poached fingerling potatoes and roasted pepper coulis), and Achiote Rubbed Kurobuta Pork Tenderloin (roasted garlic mashed potatoes, mulato chile and a Medjool date adobo sauce). I added a glass each of Pinot Noir and a Zin (notes have all bleed together here – note to self: keep dining notes away from liquids!). My beef was very, very good, and wife’s pork was quite good, as well, albeit a tad dry.
Where most of these dishes came up short, was with the seasonings. I love my cuisine to be layered in flavors, just like my wine. I liken this to an onion, where you “peel” away the layers, to reveal another flavor. The copy, on the menu, led me to believe that we’d get those layers of flavors. My previous two visits to The Arizona Kitchen also led me to that belief. This night, it was almost as though the chef was afraid to really let the ingredients work, and they all seemed too muted, too homogeneous, too “dumbed down.” I wonder if the diner survey cards have been coming back, that there is too much heat, or too much flavor. Now, I enjoy heat, if it’s appropriate for the dish. At the same time, I really love flavors and spices, used wisely. I got the feeling that we were experiencing Southwest cuisine, as it might be served on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, or maybe Wisconsin. The kitchen was just not being true to its roots The “life” was being omitted, for some reason.
The meal was good, but was not up to the setting of the bar, that I had come to expect. Going back to other meals there, I did not encounter anything (the foie gras was the exception), that was at the level of the Deep Fried Cheese Stuffed Squash Blooms, from previous visits. Nothing cried out, that THIS was the real deal.
I looked around, and the restaurant was empty. Now, I am used to closing down many restaurants, even in Europe. It’s nothing for my wife and me to invest in a four hour dinner, especially if the wine’s good, and we do not have to drive anyplace. I was getting a bad feeling. Had Red’s Steakhouse taken all of the Arizona Kitchen’s clientele? Was the little heat wave, that we were experiencing, costing diners? This was the same time of the year, that we’ve always done the Wigwam, but this seemed to be a dead Saturday night.
We walked over to Red’s, just to have a look, and fill in the blanks. It was virtually empty, as well. What struck me as slightly odd, was that the bar areas, both the one in Red’s and the one in the lobby, between the two restaurants, was filled to capacity, and more young folk were filing in. The music was loud, and everyone seemed to be having fun. Where had they eaten, before heading to the Wigwam?
I hope that what we observed was just the post-season lull, and that the kitchen was spent, after a busy “season.” The Arizona Kitchen is a rare find and, when they are on, they are really great. This was not one of those times, but we’ll be back, and can only hope that the dinner survey cards show that people really, really enjoy SW cuisine, as it should be, with life, with soul and some seasonings.