Restaurants & Bars 9

Going To Hawai`i In My Mind [Roy's PHX]

Bill Hunt | Jun 3, 2008 12:56 PM

Going to Hawai`i in my mind

It was a lovely Spring evening in Phoenix, and my wife decided that she wanted to head out and try the Roy’s in the J W Marriott at Desert Ridge, http://tinyurl.com/59t43z

Now, we’ve dined at most of the Roy’s locations around the US, both on the Mainland and in Hawai`i, and have always had good service and food. This was a new location for us, and basically replaced the Roy’s in the Esplanade, on Camelback. Actually, the Roy’s on Scottsdale Rd and Indian Bend was the first restaurant that we’d dined at, when we moved to Phoenix.

One enters the J W Marriott complex, and then the main lobby area, to descend a large staircase to the patio/pool level. Roy’s is located just to the right, past a bar area. That night, there was live music, on the patio level, and the hotel was crowded – always a good sign, this late in the “season.” We had early reservations (6:30PM) and were asked if we wished to dine inside, or out. On such a lovely evening, al fresco was our choice. There appear to be two patio dining options, but we did not actually see where the other one was located, as it seemed to be over a little rise and around the corner. Had my wife not seen servers delivering food, just out of our sight, we probably would not even have known of it.

The patio, where we were, was about half-full, and the interior dining spaces a bit less so. In some of the other Roy’s venues, the one complaint that I have had, has been the noise levels. Maybe it was the diners, or the layout, but this location was very quiet, even considering the number of people on the hotel’s patio, with the live music, and the families playing in the pool and the lawn adjacent to it. This patio area is on the north side of the main hotel building, and is in the shade. The temperature was perfect.

I’m fairly familiar with the menus at Roy’s, though each location has some latitude in adding dishes and the exec chef also has latitude in the interpretation of many dishes, just not the Roy Yamaguchi “signature” ones. We were quickly presented with our menus and a choice of water for the table. I’d just started to look over the menu and wine list, when our server, Sara, arrived to discuss the menu items and point out some of her favorites. We listened, made some mental notes, and thanked her.

Looking over the “starters” list, turned up some dishes that we’d recently had at the “Fight Night Founder’s Dinner,” with the food hosted by Chef Yamaguchi. While very good, we were looking for something a bit different. While we discussed our possible choices, I started delving into the wine list to see what might work the best.

Our choices were made: Crispy Kalua Duck Spring Rolls (Thai green papaya salad & citrus nam pla), Crispy Spicy Ahi Sushi Roll (ginger wasabi buerre blanc), Hawaiian Style Misoyaki Butterfish (Chinese sizzling soy vinaigrette) and Cucumber & Jalapeño glazed Hawaiian Opakapaka). I am a big pushover for opakapaka (Pacific pink snapper) and we used to have our fishmonger in Denver get it about three times per year. I also have been known to order it several nights running, when we’re in Hawai`i. Back to the wine list I went. I didn’t find any bottles that just screamed at me, considering the order, so I went to the b-t-g selections. Roy’s has always had a good b-t-g list, and the choices pair pretty well with the fare delivered from the kitchen. Since my wife is more of a Chardonnay drinker, than a fan of Sauvignon Blancs, I started us with the Sanford Santa Barbara County Chard and the Au Bon Climat “Roy’s Cuvée” Chard. Jim Clendenan is a respected winemaker, and has done several cuvées for Roy’s, over the years. I’ve been delighted with all that I have had.

As the starters arrived, I ordered two glasses of Caymus Belle Glos “Meiomi” Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. I know Chuck Wagner, owner of Caymus, and know his portfolio. This was a new wine to me. I do not know if he’s acquired property in the Sonoma Coast sub-AVA, or if he’s sourcing fruit from another’s vineyard.

We began splitting up the Sushi Roll and the Spring Roll, working to get sauces for each, onto each other’s plates. The portions were larger, than we expected. Chopsticks were furnished for these, though they were a little too tapered on the tip to be good enough for these dishes, especially in the hands of one, such as myself. I usually use a bit of brute force, and an inelegant style, when using chopsticks. My tennis doubles partner, back in New Orleans, who was 1st generation Chinese-American, would always cringe when I’d start, but he had to admit that I managed to get the job done, just not quite how it should have been accomplished. My wife, with a much better technique, than I, did some better, though also admitted that the rapid taper hindered her use of the little sticks. All of that aside, both rolls were just spectacular. They were crisp, where they should have been, and light and soft in the right places. The textures were perfect, as was the flavor. The accompanying sauces and condiments were good, though could have been in slightly greater abundance. Hey, that is a very minor quibble, but they were so good, and added to each dish.

The ABC was the lighter of the two Chards, being a tad more “Burgundian,” than the Sanford. Though Sanford is not known as a producer of “big” wines, in a side-y-side, it seemed quite a bit “bigger.” Both went well with the starters and wife even needed a re-fill, which we actually shared. Now, Sara knew that we were going to share this Chard, and wanted to bring a new, clean, empty glass. Since this was the wine, that my wife had just finished, I told her that it wouldn’t be necessary, as I’d just pour half from what would become my glass, into my wife’s empty one. I only asked that she take away my empty ABC Chard glass. Why am I mentioning this, you might ask? Well, b-t-g selections are looked down upon, by far too many restaurants. I’ve had the server take away the Riedels and bring our b-t-g wines in what amount to “jelly jars.” Not cool ! I’ve had instances where the b-t-g glasses were tiny, compared to what those, purchasing full bottles were getting. Also not cool ! Roy’s gets it. To the point of wanting the patron to have the same glassware, and a clean version, regardless if they are selling one glass, and having to clean two. Had my wife not had the same wine, I’d have accepted Sara’s offer. While I’m talking about stemware, Roy’s is good. It’s not great, but does have appropriately large bowls and thin lips on the mouth. It’s real juggling act, for a restaurant to get great stemware, and then have to handle it, and wash it. That takes time, and time is money, just like covering the breakage factor. While the glasses were much more than adequate, I could see them being kicked up that proverbial notch. If not, it would not be a problem, as they were nicer than many and were more than appropriate for our wines. As a side note: I think that the Dr Loosen, Ch. St. Michelle “Eroica” Riesling would have gone well with both. Since it’s done in a style almost equal to a GR Spätlese Riesling, the sweet fruit would have worked well with the spices, especially where there was a touch of heat.

With perfect pacing, our mains arrived. Our PN’s had been delivered, when the additional Sanford Chard had, so it had been opening up, plus we’d been playing with it a bit, to tryout with or starter dishes. The consensus was that the Chards went better, even with the duck. I had expected the PN to really love the duck, but the spices clashed a bit – not bad, just not perfect. It was similar with the ahi, though was a tad better a secondary match.

Again, the portions were very nice on both mains, and after admiring the presentations, went about deconstructing the two dishes, to share. My wife’s butterfish was sitting atop a bed of slaw and was delicious with the Chinese sizzling soy vinaigrette. The Hawaiian Butterfish is the black cod, or sablefish. In the Gulf/Caribbean region, what we called butterfish were in the same family as pompano and amberjacks. The piece of fish was very moist, and flavorful with a thin crust on one side. Very good indeed and I’m glad that our server had highly recommended it. I cannot quite say the same for my snapper. It was good, and well-prepared, but just not as fresh as I would have liked. Maybe I’m being a bit too critical of this dish, especially as opakapaka is one of my all-time favorite fishes and I eat it at almost every opportunity. It was also a touch dried out, which probably would not have happened with the exact same prep and cooking time, if it had just come off the boat. It was, in no way bad, but had a bit to go, to be perfect. It is fitting, that my dish was not 100%, and my wife’s was. She is the one, who’s always short-changed with regards to entrées, even if she orders the exact same, as I do. Several of my reviews have featured this unfortunate aspect of our travel dining experiences – she always gets the lesser. Well, not this time. She doesn’t think that she made up much ground here, as she thought that my opakapaka was just fine. Yikes, maybe I’m becoming a “snapper-snob... “

The Caymus PN went very well with both of these dishes. Considering their spices, and their flavors, I think one could have paired almost anything from a light Burg to a full-bodied Santa Rita Hills PN – maybe even a Syrah. The Sanford Chard also did nicely, as well.

No room for dessert. We were quite full. As I stated, the portions were more than adequate. We both had to struggle, a bit, to finish our entrées. Next time, I think that we might just go with three starters, or possibly one starter and two entrées. Or, just come hungrier? The meal came to just over US$200 with 2 starters 2 entrées and 5 b-t-g wine selections, from the higher-end of the wine list.

Was this the perfect Hawaiian night of dining in Phoenix? Well, not quite. We only needed to have the “Trades” blowing through the palms a bit and Keali`i Reichel singing “Lei Hali`a,” or Israel Kamakawiwo`ole singing Hawai`i 78, or Maui Hawaiian Sup`pa Man. Then, it would have been perfect – oh, and maybe the opakapaka fresh off the boat on Pier 38.

Of all of our Roy’s dining episodes, this is probably the best. The only other, that comes close was the Waikoloa restaurant, when their exec. chef was a young lady from New Mexico. Her take on some of Roy’s dishes was outstanding. Still, that was one of the louder restaurants in the chain. The only other, that has the Desert Ridge’s quiet ambiance is the restaurant at Spanish Bay/Pebble Beach.


5350 E Marriott Dr, Phoenix, AZ 85054

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