I feel really bad right now.
That feeling stems from the fact that I hate writing reviews like this. However, I am just going to lay it on the line: I am far off in Disappointmentville after my trip to Blue Iguana in Tempe.
My tale of woe begins when Madge called to invite me to dinner. Boris had gone to Chicago on business and Madge was going to be joining him for a weekend of fun and frolic including a chance to see Wicked and the King Tut exhibit. Madge said she wanted to treat me for dinner and that she had some place in mind. Shortly before the end of my workday, Madge called to say that she had changed her mind and wanted me to pick a place to go for dinner.
Several people had recommended Blue Iguana in Tempe, so I was eager to try this place. I did a little research and it had a great review from the Arizona Republic, so with the recommendations and the great review, I was ever hopeful. Madge is always more than happy to accommodate my Mexican food craving. So, off we went.
Blue Iguana is in a Tempe strip mall on the southeast corner of Scottsdale Road and McKellips. The bright neon sign caught my eye and we made a quick U-turn to double back and hit the parking lot. We parked the car and I noticed the restaurant had patio dining. Madge and I walked in and were told by a server to take a seat anywhere. The place isnt very big, so we took a table up front. About five other tables were occupied and we sat for a minute taking in the atmosphere.
The place has several booths and tables as well as a bar in the middle of the restaurant. The kitchen is slightly open-air and we could see the cook working feverishly. Our server arrived and presented us with menus and took our drink order. Both Madge and I each had a Diet Coke ($2.00 each). We reviewed the menu and it had some very interesting and inviting selections.
Our server returned with our drinks and we placed our order. We decided to start with the Queso Flameado ($7.95), a mixture of melted cheese, chorizo and mushrooms. Since Madge is very anti-fungus, we asked that the mushrooms be held, to which our server said would not be a problem. I decided to go with the Carnitas del Puerco ($9.95) and got the Pozole ($1.50 add on) to go with it. Madge wanted to try the carnitas as well, so she chose the Carnitas Chimichanga ($7.95) and got a small bowl of Tortilla Soup ($1.50 add on) to go with it.
At this point, I knew something was wrong. Our server seemed to be operating somewhere between frenetic and panicked. It was so apparent, it stated making me feel very uncomfortable. Two other servers were canvasing the floor and they also seemed really anxious. When a foursome of people said they would like to sit outside on the patio, the three servers looked at each other as if the evening had just taken a horrible, horrible turn for the worse. Our server disappeared and then quickly walked back into the dining room and mentioned something about chips and salsa and disappeared into another room.
Our server returned with a bowl of chips and a small dish of salsa. The chips were warm and the salsa was dark in color. Madge and I both liked the chips and the salsa was decent, with hints of chipotle and a bit of sweetness. Madge said she would have prefered the salsa to be a bit chunkier. Still, we found the salsa tasty and it had a nice lingering spiciness to it. We then asked our server for two waters, which seemed to make him that much more nervous.
I saw the cook set Madges soup up on the serving counter and, sure enough, Madges Tortilla Soup was the first thing to arrive at the table. The soup was in a small bowl on a larger plate and was accompanied by a wedge of lime. Atop the soup rested a scoop of a mixture of tomatoes, jicama, cilantro, and onions. The final dressing was two avocado slices and some sour cream. Madge liked the soup and said the broth was good and it was loaded with chicken. I inquired about my first course and the waiter walked over to the cook to find out what was going on.
The cook looked at the ticket and seemed confused. The pozole comes with the entree, he said. Um okay. I didnt realize that somewhere in the rules of Mexican food, pozole is served with the entree. I thought that when you are offered a choice of a salad, soup or the pozole, it arrives prior to the entree. Now, I know.
Next to reach our table was the Queso Flameado. A small cast iron skillet housed a serving of melted cheese and chorizo. The tomato and jicama mixture made an appearance atop the queso along with a drizzle of sour cream. It was served with six small flour tortillas. Madge scooped up some of the queso and put it into a tortilla and took a bite. Madge then proceeded to pull the mushrooms out of the queso. I took a bite as well. The queso was okay, but the chorizo lacked a good kick of spice and was relatively bland. The queso was also loaded with mushrooms, despite our request. The tortillas were decent. It was evident that I enjoyed this dish more than Madge.
We finished the queso and waited for our entrees, and I was getting more nervous about our server. He was either going to have a heart attack or go postal. The arrival of the patio party had really set him on edge and he was nervously pacing quickly across the dining room. Our drinks would sit empty for stretches of time, only to be replentished when he would show up at the table unexpectedly and ask if we wanted refills. Additionally, we would be subjected to a server who had no concept of clearing away the used dishes.
I also watched as two dishes were placed on the serving counter and was hoping that it wasnt our meal. Unfortunately, Lady Luck was still on the Memorial Day holiday as our server grabbed the two plates and made a beeline for our table.
My Pozole was set in front of me and I knew things were getting worse. This clearly wasnt an add-on dish, but was the full serving of Pozole ($5.95). A huge bowl of the stew was in front of me surrounded by corn chips. I was hoping that my Carnitas would be close behind. So, to entertain myself until then, I ate my Pozole. It was terrible. The dish was completely one-dimensional. The meat had no flavor. The hominy was undercooked. Everything tasted like broth. And, in a bizarre turn, a large clump of shredded lettuce had been placed in the center of the stew and had sunk to the bottom.
I could tell by the look on Madges face that she was less than impressed with the look of her meal. Her Carnitas Chimichanga was on a platter surrounded by beans and rice. Atop her chimi was another scoop of the tomato and jicama mixture. That was topped by lettuce and some queso fresca. Her beans were topped with some cheese and tortilla strips and the rice was topped with yet another appearance of the tomato and jicama mixture.
She cut into her chimi and stopped cold. Its a burrito, she said. Sure enough, her chimi was actually a burrito. The tortilla was as soft as the ones served with our Queso Flameado. It has not been deep fried at all. Madge cut into her burrito to reveal our next bizarre turn. The filling was a mixture of some rice, a dusting of meat (Madges word), and a large scoop of the tomato and jicama mixture.
Somewhere, there is a farmer missing and entire shipment of tomatoes and jicama.
Madge took a few bites and was not impressed. She said the whole thing tasted of tomatoes. She then decided to peel off some of the tortilla and try the enchilada sauce. She took a bite and then invited me to try the enchilada sauce. I took a bite and knew that Madge wanted confirmation of how bad the sauce was. The enchilada sauce was nothing more than watery tomato sauce mixed with chili powder. To top it all off, the cook had burned the sauce and the taste was abysmal. Madge flatly said, On a scale from 1 to 10, I would give this an awful.
I was only holding out small hope that my carnitas would arrive, but was rather thankful it didnt. I wasnt sure I could handle another mediocre or bad dish. I gave up all hope when I saw the cook leave the kitchen and saw that all of the remaining people at the restaurant, including those on the patio had already been served their meals.
We simply gave up and asked for the bill. Our server returned with the bill and only then did he begin removing the used dishes. Our bill was $29.57 which included tax. Service was bad and I only wish I knew what had put the staff into such a tizzy. I stared at the bill and saw where part of the problem was. Our server input our selections wrong into the computer. We got a large pozole, no carnitas, and a burrito. The miscommunication coupled with the bad entrees made our excursion to Blue Iguana a total wash.
We paid our bill and departed. I was profusely apologetic to Madge for the meal. I wasnt sure what the problem was at Blue Iguana. Was the owner on vacation? Did the ownership recently change hands? Was it just a horrible night for the servers and cook all the way around? Or, had the restaurant just jumped the shark. Sadly, Blue Iguana was awful with only a few faint points of hopeful light. We got into the car and headed back to Phoenix.
Along the way, I felt bad about our experience not only because of the bad food and lousy service, but because the people who had recommended Blue Iguana to me will feel bad that I didnt have a good time. They will feel bad because they care. Then, I will feel bad for them because I care.
Too bad Blue Iguana didnt seem to care.
1849 North Scottsdale Road
Tempe, AZ 85281
Notes: Madge, my apologies.