MOOD FOR THOUGHT

Although there's no geographic consistency, that's not much of a shortcoming. The food is consistently good, and offered at reasonable prices, too. But you'd better keep your eyes firmly glued to your plate. That's because this must be the most charmless-looking place I've come across this year. It's inoffensiveness is almost offensive. From the drab, bare peach walls to the vapid potted greenery, Alexi's Grill doesn't have a bit of sparkle. Insipid elevator music and a lifeless view of the parking lot don't help. If the dining room had a magazine rack, you could mistake the customers for patients. You couldn't help thinking that instead of a good meal, they'd come here for a good flossing and a set of x-rays. I used to think I was impervious to this sort of morose setting. I'm not. I wouldn't waste time hammering this point if Alexi's fare exhibited the same lack of character as the surroundings. But much of the food sports a zest wholly at odds with the decor. Not the breadbasket, though. Surely the operators can do better than these indifferent garlic rolls. On the other hand, you can strike gold in the appetizers, particularly if you opt for the scrumptious melanzane Alexi. It's three thick slabs of grilled eggplant belligerently loaded with garlic. I was ready to order this as a main dish and head straight for dessert. Escargots capelli, six out-of-the-shell snails saut‚ed in garlic over angel-hair pasta, is also a winning way to edge into dinner. But wave off the waiter when he comes around with the grated "Parmesan" cheese. It's that fluffy, flavorless white stuff that not even a hungry mouse would touch. Meals come with soup or salad. Lackluster lentil soup won't rev anyone's engines, but the house salad, zipped up with a nifty honey-mustard dressing, will get you out of first gear. And that's where you'll have to be when the high-powered entrees arrive.

The kitchen has found a quirkily appealing way to pep up grilled sirloin. It cuts the meat into strips and throws it on top of penne pasta, bathed in a fragrant red-wine sauce sharpened with tomatillo and Gorgonzola cheese. This is a first-rate multicultural combination of ingredients. The zippy snapper Veracrusano also got me hooked. The fish is taken off the flames at just the right moment, and covered with the rich flavors of cilantro, olives, lemon, capers and tomato. Sides of roasted potatoes, along with grilled squash and carrot, also make a good impression. A chicken Genovese special showed skill with poultry. Delicately breaded chicken breasts sit in an aromatic garlic white-wine sauce, surrounded by artichokes and mushrooms. Chicken, apparently, doesn't always have to be dull. Neither do desserts. A picky friend, who makes desserts for the restaurants at a high-toned Valley resort, initially turned up her nose at the cräme caramel. "We wouldn't send this out," she said, pointing to a crack in the foundation the same way Marcia Clark might point to O.J.'s bloody glove. Still, she admitted after a spoonful, it tasted wonderful. And the chocolate suicide cake, an impossibly rich confection, got high artistic marks, as well as a good technical score for being served on a chilled plate. If you've got a night planned downtown, Alexi's Grill is worth keeping in mind for dinner. Just keep your eyes closed.

Location Info

Map

Alexi's Grill

3550 N. Central Ave.
Phoenix, AZ 85012

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Central Phoenix

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