SHORE THING

You get a choice of only two side dishes. There's not much to say about the baked potato. But the peppy rice pilaf, flecked with wild rice, almonds and pineapple, indicates that someone back at corporate headquarters is paying attention to details.

Our server encouraged us to finish up with the made-on-the-premises mud pie, but the dessert didn't match the hype. It's an indifferent wedge of coffee ice cream on a cookie crust, glopped with less-than-fabulous whipped cream. The rich mousse pie, fashioned with good bittersweet chocolate, is a tastier and very caloric alternative.

The Chart House isn't skating on the cutting edge of any restaurant trends. The decor and menu not only show their age, they more or less flaunt it. But I can see why well-heeled diners turned on by waterfront views, salad bars and basic animal protein are still smitten.

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The Chart House

7255 E. McCormick Parkway
Scottsdale, AZ 85258

Category: Restaurant > Fine Dining

Region: North Scottsdale

Waterfront Restaurant, 5350 South Lakeshore, Tempe, 756-0508. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Friday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Dinner, Saturday, 4 to 11 p.m.

There's water, water everywhere at the Waterfront Restaurant, a new enterprise launched early this year by the same company that runs Pinnacle Peak Patio, Bitter Root Cattle Company and T-Bone Steak House.

Inside, a fountain shoots sheets of water over metal walls. Outside, gaze on a soothing sea surrounded by expensive condos and homes. At dusk, the sun sets directly over the far edge of the lake, silhouetting paddle boats meandering across the lake and firing up a brilliant orange sky. This is desert denial with a vengeance. It's also very pretty.

Unfortunately, the food isn't nearly as slick as the setting. The six appetizers don't get any more inventive than shrimp cocktail and fried calamari. We tried perking up the fried mozzarella starter with drinks, but even this tried-and-true method wasn't terribly successful. The frozen margaritas don't have much sting, and the beer on tap was so flat I had to ask the waitress to take it away.

You're better off waiting for the soup or salad that comes with meals. The beef broth, stocked with broccoli and zucchini, is salty, hearty and tasty. The salad is freshened with a zippy vinaigrette. You can mop up both of them with some mushy, focaccialike bread.

Entrees, most of which run in the $12 to $17 range, are much less ambitious than they were when the restaurant first opened. Gone are oysters poached in cognac, bouillabaisse, braised lamb shank and chicken in white wine with capers and artichokes. Apparently, East Valley diners won't support such a menu. They want basic meat, seafood and chicken, and that's what they get.

Already very familiar with the fine quality of the company's steaks through T-Bone Steak House, we opted for main dishes you can't get there.

That meant rack of lamb, a substantial platter of seven tender chops, moistened with cognac sauce and seasoned with a scoop of tarragon. Salty chunks of new red potatoes made a pleasing accompaniment.

I'm not sure what's Costa Rican about the shrimp Costa Rica, but we all agreed it has a nice ring to it. The name, however, is a lot more interesting than the dish itself. It's just six grilled shrimp next to a mound of rice, served with a medley of zucchini, broccoli and mushrooms. There's nothing remotely distinctive or memorable about this.

Chicken is usually the dullest restaurant dish, but chicken Waldo, a holdover from the Waterfront's earlier menu, sounded promising. We looked forward to chicken breast stuffed with goat cheese and spinach in a mushroom-and-wine sauce. But the chef couldn't quite live up to the menu writer's description. For one thing, the sauce is boring. Second, to find the goat cheese, you'd need the same equipment the L.A.P.D. used to find blood on O.J.'s socks. There's really no reason to search for chicken Waldo.

Nor are the baby back ribs anything special. The meat's not fall-off-the-bone tender, and the sauce could have sported a lot more punch.

Our waitress said that desserts come from a supplier, which suggests to me that the kitchen doesn't take this course seriously. The institutional cheesecake and nondescript Black Forest cake confirmed my suspicions.

The delightful setting makes Waterfront Restaurant's culinary lapses that much more disappointing. This place could have, and should have, been a contender.

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