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But Capers is moving in the right direction: The menu is small and manageable, the room is comfortable and the food has some imagination. If the honchos can punch up the staff, muscle up the side dishes and turn desserts into a sweet science, Capers can be a contender.

Remington's, Scottsdale Plaza Resort, 7200 North Scottsdale Road, Scottsdale, 951-5101. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.; Dinner, 5 to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

I don't know what it will take to turn Remington's, Scottsdale Plaza's featured restaurant, into a contender. If this place were a fighter, the boxing commission wouldn't let it enter the ring. Remington's gets its name from a Frederic Remington sculpture, "Coming Through the Rye," which is stationed just outside the dining area. Inside, it's an upscale-looking room, with plaster pillars supporting overhead beams, and a curved ceiling painted to resemble a cloud-speckled blue sky. Our group admired the pretty glass globes with floating carnations parked on every table. Just as the eyes are considered the window to the soul, I've always thought the breadbasket is the window to a meal. Good bread, goes my adage, means good food to follow.

Well, thinking about the tasty bread here arouses in me the same emotions John Bobbitt must feel when he recalls first gazing into Lorena's eyes: a charming experience, but hardly a reliable indicator of things to come. The appetizers started the journey down the culinary slope. Stuffed mushrooms Aztec sounds pretty exciting. But it's just supermarket-variety mushrooms, topped with a slice of ho-hum chicken sausage, moistened with innocuous mole and red pepper sauces. Cashew chicken fritters and onion soup were just as unremarkable. Somehow, my guard slipped, and I let the waiter talk me into ordering caesar salad, a $5.25-per-person error in judgment. No hailing this pile of kitchen-prepared greenery. The main dishes aspired to mediocrity, but couldn't reach that lofty height. We concentrated on the specialties, too, so the quality of the nonspecialties can only be left to the imagination. The Texas mixed grill won't enhance the reputation of the Lone Star State. It featured three boring grilled shrimp, the same chicken sausage that decorated the stuffed mushrooms Aztec and three miserly chunks of beef brochette.

About halfway through the course, the manager dropped by with a bowlful of extra meat. "Your portion looked small," he told my astonished friend. It was a gracious gesture that couldn't completely wipe away the kitchen's ineptness in sending out such a puny platter and charging $21.95 for it. And, it's my sad duty to relate, the meat was chewy. The smoked rack of lamb took entree honors by default. It wasn't very memorable, but I couldn't find any glaring deficiencies. That wasn't the case, however, with the Sedona grilled quail and Santa Fe roast pork. The quail was meaty enough, but salty to the point of inedibility. And the pork, stuffed with spinach and mushrooms, was so off-putting that I had to restrain an impulse to flee. The look, taste and texture were completely wrong, reminding me of pressed meat. Dry as dust, it crumbled at the first touch of the fork. Desserts are embarrassing. Even the waiter looked abashed. The dessert tray featured exactly one cake, an indifferent chocolate raspberry; flan; a less-than-intense chocolate tulip filled with an unpleasant, runny, pistachio mousse; and bowls of berries. In a meal filled with low notes, these hit some of the lowest. At this point, there's only one way to view Remington's--as a last resort.

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