Someone recently asked me what restaurants needed that they are currently lacking. Without little hesitation, I said, “Focus Groups.” No, seriously. I really mean focus groups. Even if it is just a couple of the bus staff or the bartender and the host or a group of friends, I think every restaurant should whip up their menu and serve it to people and say, “So, what do you think?” (And not just evaluate the food, but get a “secret shopper” to go in and see how the service ranks.)
Alas, most restaurants would never do this, mostly because of three reasons: ego, tradition, or laziness. For ego, you get people who think that because they are a big name or are cooking grandma’s stew, things couldn’t possibly be bad. For tradition, you get the people who have been in business for years, but never think to stop and re-evaluate the food. They have been cooking the same recipes for so long, they just know they have to be good. Then, there is laziness. They serve food. You eat it. If you don’t like it, don’t come back, but what to do they care as long as they get enough people to keep the doors open?
So, to combat these things, I would love for more restaurants to use these focus groups and make sure their stuff is on par. It would go a long way to keeping the customers satisfied.
Unfortunately, the focus group was nowhere to be found when Dave the Roommate, Neil and I headed out to Los Olivos in Scottsdale. Los Olivos is an old standby in the Mexican food world here in Phoenix metro. The place has been in downtown Scottsdale for ages and everyone knows it as an Old Scottsdale landmark. I hadn’t been there in years, but my last trip and recent reports noted that the food was decent, so we headed over to Los Olivos and parked the Sethmobile before heading in.
We were met instantly by a pleasant host who took us to the very back of the restaurant to a table for four. We were handed menus and told our server would be with us shortly. We surveyed the menus and were not sure quite what to order, but we each found something that caught our eye.
Within a few minutes, one of the bussing staff brought us water and chips, hot sauce and salsa. The chips were decent. Crispy, salty and not oily, the only think lacking was some warmth that would have made them even better. The hot sauce was very good with a nice spice and a full favor of tomatoes, garlic and salt. The salsa was also good because it seemed fresh and had a good mix of tastes. Our server arrived and took our drink order. Since they didn’t have Diet Coke, I decided to try a Diet Rite ($1.95). Dave also had a Diet Rite and Neil had an Iced Tea ($1.95). Neil and Dave also decided to kick off their meals with a margarita and settled on Blue Margaritas ($6.50 each).
Our server left us and we made the final preparations for our lunch. As we waited for our server to return, I noted that the interior was nothing spectacular, but did set a tone. The white walls were decorated with art and knickknacks but the lighting was fairly low. The only exception to this was the bizarre “blue room” near the front of the restaurant that looks like you are eating you meal inside one of the mushrooms from Alice in Wonderland.
Our server returned with our drinks and Neil and Dave toasted each other with their margaritas and sipped them. The results were half-hearted. “It tastes like a plain margarita,” Dave said. “Yeah, not bad, but not great,” Neil chimed in. At least our sodas and iced tea were there to fall back on. Our server took our order and we decided to start with a Cheese Crisp ($6.25). Neil thought the Pollo Queso Crema ($11.75) sounded good. Dave loves poblano chiles and was very happy to get the Spicy Chicken Chili Poblano ($11.95), also called Combination #10. I wanted a mix of items, so I got the Combo #5 ($11.95), which consisted of a green corn tamale, a chile relleno, rice and beans.
We munched on chips and waited for our cheese crisp. When it did arrive, I was pleased. The cheese crisp was very good. The tortilla on the bottom was grilled until it started to char. The cheese on top had melted until it was bubbly. Combined with the sauce or the salsa, this was a true standout for our adventure and we gobbled it up in minutes.
There wasn’t more than a few minutes of waiting before our entrees arrived. Neil and Dave seemed very excited when their meals were sat down in front of them, but I was immediately disappointed. Quite frankly, I just didn’t get what was going on with my meal. It smelled okay, but everything seemed to be covered in this semi-translucent gravy. What the heck was that supposed to be? I have never heard of a chile relleno or a tamale being covered with a cloudy sauce before. I took a taste and it had no taste to it, except for a bit of black pepper. On top of it all, it just made everything look so unappetizing, I was expecting the worst. Alas, my expectations came true.
The tamale was horrible. Dry, flavorless and lacking in anything resembling green or corn, I simply picked at it until I gave up. The chile relleno was even worse. The breading of the relleno had the consistency of a soaked Twinkie. The chile had not been properly prepared before being stuffed with cheese and all I could taste and feel were the seeds. The rice was about the only thing on the plate that was decent. At least that was light and fluffy and had some taste. Perhaps the cooks at Los Olivos messed up and save the rice by not smothering it in the clear sauce.
Dave wasn’t dealing with things much better. In fact, he took a bite, then grabbed his drink and declared that he was finished. The chicken poblano was supposed to be a poblano chile pepper stuffed with spicy chicken and then dipped in egg batter and deep fried and topped with some sort of vegetable sauce. Dave said the whole thing was tasteless, and from my view, I could see that the vegetable sauce looked like the veggies had been cooked until they were devoid of form or color. Additionally, the poblano, like my relleno, had not been cleaned of its seeds and the chicken was dry and overcooked. I did convince him to try the rice and beans, which he said were okay, but the disappointment of wanting chicken poblano and getting a plate of tasteless left him in a grumpy mood. I felt bad for him when he finally said, “Maybe I can fill up on chips.”
Neil was the exception. His Pollo Queso Crema was a flour tortillas stuffed with a chicken breast and deep fried and then topped with a cream cheese sauce and melted cheese. He said that his was actually quite good and he finished it quickly. I did notice, however, that his tortilla had been been overfried because of the burn marks on the edge. Neil seemed less impressed with the rice and beans, however. He offered us both a bite, but we passed.
Our server returned and we asked for our bill. She asked us if we needed to go boxes and Dave said a very audible “no way.” Our bill was $65.55, which included tax. Considering how lousy this meal was, we certainly felt cheated out of our money and our meals (save Neil). Service was lacking in that our server never checked on us and we often had to flag down the bus staff for more chips and drink refills.
We left Los Olivos clearly disappointed. I am not sure what to make of our trip other than the place needs a focus group experience. I am sure some could say that we hit the place on a bad day. Perhaps, but I am not convinced. There just seemed to be too many things that were wrong. Whether that was caused from ego, tradition or laziness, I simply don’t know. However, they did fail to bring any satisfaction to the most important group of all:
7328 2nd Avenue
Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Notes: A second location is at 15544 North Pima Road in Scottsdale.
Additional photos from this review can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com