MOTHER LOAD

Etienne's Different Pointe of View, Pointe Hilton at Tapatio Cliffs, 11111 North Seventh Street, Phoenix, 863-0912. Brunch hours: Sunday, 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

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Pointe Hilton Tapatio Cliffs Resort

11111 N. Seventh St.
Phoenix, AZ 85020

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: North Phoenix

For flower shops, it's Valentine's Day. For airlines, it's the day before Thanksgiving. For department stores, it's the day after Christmas. And for restaurants, it's Mother's Day--the single busiest day of the year. So make your Mother's Day brunch reservations pronto. Wait until the last minute, and the McFood drive-through lane may be the only place able to feed Mom before Monday. They say a mother's love is unconditional, but you wouldn't want to test that theory by picking up a bag of Egg McMuffins on her special day. Assuming you have the smarts to plan ahead, Mom's probably going to be in a pretty good mood wherever you take her. But I'm certain that the brunch buffet at Etienne's Different Pointe of View will have her positively beaming. Setting, food, service--she's in for the total brunch experience. First, she'll have her breath taken away by the magnificent view through Etienne's huge picture windows. Perched on a hilltop, the restaurant offers a sweeping Valley vista. Follow Seventh Street snaking its way past downtown skyscrapers right up to South Mountain. Focus a bit closer, and you can take in the cascades of colorful flowers on the patio and the surrounding Phoenix Mountains Preserve. Throw in a bright spring day, and brunchers will involuntarily quiver with one of those all-too-rare "Ain't life grand" feelings. The swanky room, with a vaguely art-deco look, is just as elegant as the view. A three-tiered dining area means there are no bad seats. And the accommodating pianist will be happy to play Mom's favorite melodies, as long as they're not by Nirvana or Snoop Doggy Dogg. The food is just as fetching as the setting. Some buffets try to overwhelm you with sheer quantity. But really, how many different kinds of pasta salads do you need? Etienne's keeps the offerings manageable, while generally keeping the standards high. Veterans of brunch warfare know to skip the first wave of dishes when they make their initial assault. That's because management puts the less expensive belly fillers there, hoping to waylay hungry novices. Etienne's is no exception. You can confidently march past the breads, bagels and muffins, the unexceptional cheese tray, and the raw vegetables. Don't waste time trying to locate the giant bowls filled with shrimp and crab legs, either. Unlike most other upper-end brunch parlors, Etienne's doesn't have them. But it does have an eye-catching Mediterranean seafood salad, a mix of clams, mussels, shrimp and marinated fish with a briny, fresh taste that's definitely worth a stop. A couple of other tempting plate fillers hang out in the same neighborhood. It goes against my every brunch instinct to nibble on fresh fruit, but the Grand Marnier sauce by the fruit platter changed my mind. Sesame cucumber salad also had a bit of originality. But I can't begin to fathom why Etienne's bothers to put out an ambrosia salad, a church-picnic monument to deficient taste. As you might expect, brunch offers the usual omelet station (but, surprisingly, no pancakes or waffles) and a first-rate carnivore stop featuring juicy prime rib and lean ham. But make sure you steer Mom over to the hot entrees while she still has an appetite. These are clearly the most captivating dishes here. Eggs florentine are like eggs Benedict, except spinach substitutes for ham. A respectable hollandaise does its part to turn this hackneyed brunch item into a credible temptation. There's nothing hackneyed, though, about the rest of the hot plate lineup. The most compelling treat? Duck cakes in a mildly sweet cherry Cabernet sauce are the hands-down winners. If I ever came here under no obligation to taste everything, I'd make these my appetizer, main dish and dessert. Close behind is a poultry dish cleverly marketed as "Indonesian chicken." Actually, it's more like McNuggets for grown-ups: moist pieces of breaded, deep-fried white-meat chicken perked up with an irresistibly zippy mango curry sauce. Etienne's shows some imagination in its beef dish, combining tender strips of gristle-free meat with spaetzle, doughy German dumplings in a rich sauce. Lean roast pork is another tasty source of animal protein, fashioned with caramelized onions. The one item that inevitably suffers from prolonged stay in a hot chafing tray is fish. At even the fanciest bruncheries, Sterno-warmed seafood quickly turns a bit rubbery. Etienne's grilled ono tuna is no exception. A zesty red pepper sauce provides some mitigation, but can't completely solve the problem. Desserts are just about as accomplished as the entrees. Make sure Mom gets a piece of the flan cheesecake, an outstanding treat. Etienne's also breathes life into familiar sweets like pecan pie and banana cream pie. Somewhat lighter, but no less caloric, is the excellent trifle, a high-butterfat blend of pound cake, fruit and pastry cream. Plan on lingering. Etienne's well-trained staff furnishes such deft service that Mom may refuse to go home even after she's filled up. I saw European-suited managers who didn't act like they were above keeping the buffet platters neat and tidy. A relentlessly charming employee standing behind the entrees patiently explained to curious brunchers just how each dish was prepared. Silverware is replaced and napkins are folded after each visit to the buffet line. And even the busboy who kept me awash in champagne, juice and coffee had been reliably informed about exactly what ingredients make up a trifle. Will Mom still love you even if you don't spoil her with a trip to Etienne's? Probably. But why take that chance? Garden Terrace, Red Lion's La Posada resort, 4949 East Lincoln, Paradise Valley, 952-0420. Brunch hours: Sunday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

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