I wish I could supply one of my favorite pieces of opera to accompany this review. It is a delightful piece that just exudes everything that I could say about T. Cook's (http://www.royalpalmshotel.com/tcooks...) at the Royal Palm Resort in Phoenix: rich, great execution, delicious and almost perfect.
My fiance J. is in town this weekend and, as usual, we planned a "date night" where we get dressed up, make reservations at some incredibly romantic restaurant and warm up the debit or credit card for a big splurge. My friend Barbara had decided that I should take my better half to T. Cook's. "It is marvelous and you need to trust me on this one," she said. I did and I am glad.
We arrived with 8 PM reservations. We were greeted by two staff who got us a wonderful table for two in the center of the dining area, overlooking the entire dining room. The interior of the restaurant was fabulous, with what would best be described as a combination of Mediterranean and Southwestern decor. Oddly, it works and make for a romantic setting, especially with the lights dimmed a bit for atmosphere. It is just perfect, but I would suggest that individual candle be placed on the table for that last "umph" of romance.
We sat and were made comfortable and waited only a short few minutes before a staff member brought us water and a wonderful bread with a pesto sauce and olive oil for dipping. Shortly thereafter our server arrived and took our drink order. I had a regular iced tea while my love had a green iced tea flavored with some exotic flavors. They were accompanied with a bowl of various sweetners, but we opted for the simply syrup that was served to sweeten our drinks.
The menu was filled with delightful choices and we wrestled with what we wanted. We finished off a couple of glasses of tea and several slices of the bread before I had decided what I wanted. The server made several suggestions and then took our orders, encouraging us to relax and tell him if we needed anything including less or more time between courses.
We chatted the minutes away and our appetizers arrived on beautiful plates. My fiance had opted for the Beef Tartare ($12.00) and I went with the Jumbo Lump Crab Cake ($12.00). The report from the other side of the table was the Beef Tartare was very nice and rich. It was sandwiched between two toasted pieces of thin bread and surrounded by small greens. My crab cake was tasty and the tomato coulis added a nice supporting taste to the crab. After we finished our appetizers, we discussed our choices. The verdict was that the appetizers were very good, but not outstanding. I think what was missing was a bit more impact to the taste. Both appetizers seemed rather mellow. A bit of spice to either would have gone a long way.
The next course featured two very different salads. I am a pushover for Maytag blue cheese and my salad featured a mix of organic greens, candied pecans, strips of fresh pear and crumbles of Maytag blue cheese ($11.00). It was fantastic. It was truly a wonderful salad, but what made it spectacular was that the pear strips were not mushy or overly sweet. Instead, they had a mild sweetness and were very crunchy. My other half had the Heirloom Tomatoes with Goat Cheese ($12.00). The report was equally favorable. The acidic tomatoes were delicious with a faint taste of black pepper and were topped with goat cheese that had been whipped and made light as a feather. It almost resembled creme fraiche. The cheese was a perfect, salty accompaniment to the tomatoes. Just excellent.
Along with the tomato salad, J. had the wine flight ($16.00) which consisted of three 3 ounce glasses of wine. The choice was made to pair the wine to the salad, entree and dessert courses. J. opted for a Pino Noir Rose to match the salad. It was excellent.
Our entrees were delivered after a brief respite and I was exceptionally pleased at our choices. I had decided to go with the Pork Tenderloin with Sauteed Spinach and an Apple Garlic Tart ($31.00). This was incredible. The port was tender and moist and sat in a small pool of a rich reduction of stock and Port. It was accompanied by a small serving of sauteed spinach with a nice hint of garlic. Both were excellent and complimented each other perfectly. What stole the show, however, was the Apple Garlic Tart. Wow! Just wow! I had never thought of an apple-garlic pairing, but it worked... and how. A small pastry shell was drizzled with a bit of olive oil and minced garlic and then thin slices of apple were laid on top and the tart baked. Just amazing.
J. is always a huge fan of lamb, so the Grilled Lamb with Lamb Tajine and Artichokes was ordered. It looked outstanding. Meaty pieces of lamb on crusty pieces of sliced potato and situated on a lamb tajine was rich with sweet, spicy and savory overtones. The artichokes added a nice balance with the meal. J. opted for the Syrah wine to go with this dish and reported that the two were a perfect match.
After our dinner, we knew that we had to have dessert. Dessert menus were presented and after much debate, we opted for the Cocktail Mousses in Chocolate Flutes ($18.00). This was a dessert for two and featured three champagne flutes made of chocolate (one white, one milk and one dark) filled with three different mousses (one Margarita, one Daquiri, and one Brandy Alexander). At the base of the flutes were small wedges of various cheese and some fresh fruit. We toppled over the flutes and cracked the chocolate and tried each one. All were very, very good, but the stand out was the daquiri selection in the milk chocolate because there were banana overtones to the mousse and it fit the chocolate perfectly. J. chose a Tawny Port and I couldn't pass up the Orange Muscat ($6.00). It was a stellar finish to a wonderful meal.
The entire evening of great food was $161.07 including tax. We both agreed that this was not out of line with the quality and selection of the ingredients. The service was spot on, being attentive, but not overbearing. Even better was the patience our server had in answering all of our questions about the wine and various aspects of the meal. He was professional through and through.
I know there had been some talk recently about a review by one of Phoenix's restaurant critics pretty much giving T. Cook's a tongue lashing, but from my perspective, I saw nothing that didn't make this evening anything other than perfect and romantic and just what two lovebirds needed. Our minor suggestions about the appetizers were just that and did nothing to detract from what was one of the most pleasant meals I have had in some time. We were very, very pleased and couldn't have asked for much more.
As we departed, we met the manager and then walked out into the courtyard which was made for holding hands and sneaking a kiss.
It was a night J. and I won't forget anytime soon.
(inside the Royal Palms Resort)
5200 East Camelback Road
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Dress: Business casual, but this place was made for dressing up
Notes: Reservations are strongly suggested