In fact, the place has a bit of an updated fern-bar look, from its brick walls and green plants in clay pots to its swirling ceiling fans and huge, exposed ducts. And from the patio, diners can watch denizens of downtown Tempe swarm from the nearby parking garage over to Mill Avenue.

We looked suspiciously at the potato skins and chicken wings on the appetizer list, and then over toward the entrees. When seafood restaurants offer as many landlubber dishes as Mill Landing does--steak, chicken, pasta--I start to worry a bit about their commitment to fish. Sure, I understand that they're trying to offer something to please everybody. But I'm not sure I want the cook working on Cajun-style blackened strip-loin steak while my fish is grilling. You simply can't please everyone--why try? (In contrast, Famous Pacific offers one steak plate and one chicken dish.) Cajun shrimp sounded like the tastiest appetizer option. Six chewy shrimp arrived in a very peppery sauce, strangely escorted by strips of celery and carrots that looked as if they had wandered off a platter of hors d'oeuvres.

Happily, a terrific loaf of thick sourdough bread made mopping up the sauce less a function of hunger than an exercise in enthusiasm.

As at Famous Pacific, meals come with soup or salad. The chowder is full-flavored, but not with the briny taste of clams. It's just as well--the clams were rubbery. Instead, the predominant flavor is bacon, pleasant enough, though not the taste I was angling for. The dinner salad is entirely nondescript, a heap of greens and sprouts swimming in a house dressing that should be sent to its room. Searching for greens, I tried the caesar salad, an extraordinarily garlicky concoction unaccountably burdened with a zillion unwelcome olives. No hailing this caesar.

The fresh-fish main courses--all generous-size hunks--didn't have the uneven quality of preparation we found at Famous Pacific. Unfortunately, though, they didn't go past the range of nothing special.

Most disappointing, because of our heightened expectations, was salmon Tuscany. Mill Landing calls its salmon dishes "Signature Entrees." Salmon Tuscany boasted broiled salmon topped with a feta-cheese sauce, spinach, mushrooms and cream, and champagne flamb‚. My mental picture of this dish, though, had no correspondence with reality.

No problem with the salmon itself, but diligent excavation unearthed not a trace of spinach. And many minutes of single-minded tasting revealed not a hint of feta or a soup‡on of champagne.

It seemed to be nothing more than a piece of salmon covered with lots of uninteresting mushrooms.

Also fresh this day was dark-fleshed ahi tuna, a large, thin slice broiled in garlic butter. Thin slices of fish can be easily overcooked, and Mill Landing was not quite up to meeting the challenge.

Best of the lot was Alaskan halibut coated with a mild teriyaki butter. But it, too, had spent just a bit too much time under the broiler, the flames drying up its meaty moistness.

All dishes arrived with a small portion of wonderful, roasted red potatoes, cunningly cut into the shape of mushrooms, and barely cooked mixed vegetables. And as far as I could tell, the jaw-breaking broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and zucchini also came completely untouched by any herb or seasoning agent susceptible to human powers of discovery.

Desserts are made elsewhere. As with the salmon, we fell prey to the mental picture conjured up by the waiter's description of the white-chocolate Grand Marnier truffle. Instead of the exotic confection I was dreamily digesting, it resembled the candy-coated creamsicle that I used to buy from the Good Humor ice cream man when I was a kid. And with about the same amount of Grand Marnier. Pondering the expensive mediocrity of Mill Landing's fare--nothing horribly awful, we agreed, but nothing to rouse us out of our seats--we decided to sit a while over espresso. Big mistake. The espresso is genuinely awful.

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