Evita's is as expensive and confused as a South American country in political and economic flux. Unless major changes are made in a hurry, I don't see how it will last. Richard's makes no bones about being a traditional American restaurant, as in North American, these United States, amber waves of grain, red-white-and-blue, Mom and apple pie, long may she wave. The funny thing is, at its core, Richard's menu is nearly identical to Evita's.

Here you'll find surf and turf, New York-cut steak, filet mignon and seafood, in addition to other American" favorites like prime rib and old-fashioned chicken pie. Because Richard's chef has worked extensively in Valley Italian restaurants, chicken cacciatore, shrimp scampi and some pasta dishes are also offered. It is a classically eclectic menu, the kind many of us grew up with in the Sixties, the kind our parents still find comforting.

Unfortunately, it is not entirely well-executed. Crab-stuffed mushroom caps in cream sauce are salty. Except for those moments when the flavor of cognac comes through, the sauce is undistinguished. Parsley flakes and black pepper are two big ingredients in this dish. They show up repeatedly throughout the meal.

A surf-and-turf wanna-be comprised of scampi-style shrimp and filet mignon is acceptable, but unexceptional. The shrimp in this combination are small, forgettable and drowning in garlic butter. The filet mignon is watery and has the texture of once-frozen meat. Evita's beef was much better. As for the old-fashioned chicken pie, my dining accomplice complains that there is too much chicken in it. Where are the vegetables?" he moans. There must be a whole chicken in there." Eventually, he uncovers some potatoes and carrots, but they're too little, too late, for a man who will no doubt become a strict vegetarian in a matter of months.

Chocolate-swirled cheesecake is roughhewn. Both my accomplice and I prefer the plain, New York-style cheesecake for its interesting sour topping-a chef's secret, according to our waiter. The best thing I eat at Richard's is-believe it or not-a chilled shrimp cocktail. The four large shrimp we receive are firm and meaty. The slightly chunky cocktail sauce is packed with horseradish and so good I could eat it plain. ²Our salad course also brings a certain amount of happiness. The house salad of iceberg lettuce, tomato, Bermuda onion, fresh mushrooms and red bell pepper would be even better if the house vinaigrette weren't so salty. A caesar is cursed with too many croutons, but the romaine lettuce is crisp and anchovies are available on request.

In terms of looks, Richard's leaves a lot to be desired. I don't know what this strip-mall restaurant was before it became Richard's last summer, but the decor is dull and tired-looking. Well-worn booths are covered with that ubiquitous, Southwest-style, sculpted beige upholstery. The rust-colored carpet is stained. The plant shelves near the ceiling are filled, as they always are at these places, with silk plants and woven baskets and other gewgaws. Richard's may serve a need in the no man's land between Pointe Hilton at Tapatio Cliffs and Sunnyslope. I don't know. All I know is, it doesn't seem to be serving anyone on this dead Friday night.


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