Musical Lairs

Jerked prime rib, on the other hand, sported some genuine Caribbean flair. It was a massive, bone-in cut; the only defect was a higher-than-normal gristle-to-meat ratio. Side dishes of excellent sweet potatoes and greens provided a pleasant boost.

If the music and entrees don't tempt you to linger, maybe dessert will. Ignore the supplier-provided cakes and go straight for the homemade sweet-potato pie. It's absolutely smashing. I wish the rest of the food could have jump-started us the way this treat did.

I'm rooting for All That Jazz. It's the kind of place that can bring a taste of cosmopolitan sophistication to downtown Phoenix. Right now, it's got the courage of its musical convictions. I'd like to see it have the courage of its culinary convictions, too.

Azz Jazz Cafe, 1906 East Camelback, Phoenix, 263-8482. Hours: Dinner, Tuesday through Sunday, 5p.m. to 1a.m.

One of the problems I have with AzzJazz Cafe is that I'm not quite sure what its culinary convictions are.

Some of the dishes are holdovers from the restaurant's former South American incarnation, when it was called Evita's. Among these are empanadas, sausage with chimichurri sauce, and filet mignon in a sherry cream sauce. Other items, including escargots and shrimp scampi, suggest a continental touch. Shrimp cocktail and prime rib, on the other hand, sound like typical American fare. This is not what I'd call a craftily constructed menu.

A couple of Evita's distressing practices persist in its new jazz-cafe form. One is the staff's refusal to replace used forks and knives with clean ones. It's not very classy to clear a plate and reset the table with food-smeared cutlery. A second continuing problem is the bread--a mushy, over-the-hill loaf that doesn't even meet thrift-store standards.

Azz Jazz Cafe certainly has the right look, however. It's done up in basic black, from the tablecloths to the music notes hanging from the lights. The performers, perched between the bar and the dining area, are almost close enough to touch from any seat in the house.

The food isn't quite as snazzy as the setting. The musicians don't play old-fashioned snoozers like "On the Banks of the River Wabash." So why does the kitchen send out yawn-inducing appetizers like artichoke dip and peel-and-eat shrimp, which date from approximately the same era? The salmon mousse, oddly served in a cup and accompanied by tortilla chips, is more bizarre than trendy. I can't imagine it receiving anything more than polite applause.

A salad course arrives between appetizer and entree. You can profitably use this interval to concentrate on the music.

Happily, most of the main dishes are good enough to reclaim your attention. Best of all, by far, is the pork: two small medallions embellished with apples, raisins and walnuts, set in cognac sauce. Teamed with twice-baked potatoes, it's a tasty platter.

Filet mignon flambe isn't too far behind. I enjoyed it at Evita's, and I enjoyed it here: a soft piece of tenderloin, topped with mushrooms and smoothed with a creamy sherry sauce. But I couldn't get too enthusiastic over the routine scoop of rice that furnished the starch. The plate also cries out for some veggies.

Tournedos of chicken boursin is a little more problematical. First, you have to get past the ridiculous name (tournedos of chicken?), as well as the expectation that you're going to encounter any boursin cheese. You also have to get past the presentation, which seems to be modeled on the World Trade Center's twin towers.

However, once you forget about what it's called and close your eyes to its looks, you'll probably appreciate the column of chicken breast, artichoke and mushrooms set on a bready "crouton," doused with brandy sauce. The number of boring chicken dishes in this town is almost beyond counting. Thankfully, this isn't one of them.

Trout is disappointing. The taste isn't subtle; it's nonexistent. An uninspired wine sauce doesn't help.

Desserts are strictly "why bother?" The made-elsewhere cheesecake, the indifferent homemade flan and the white-chocolate mousse that tastes like cafeteria pudding will send you home singing the blues.

As we were leaving Azz Jazz Cafe, the proprietor searched out the women in our group, grabbed their hands and pressed his lips to them. It's a nice touch. Now he needs to face the music, and press his attention to tuning up some of the fare.

All That Jazz:
Callaloo
$6.00
Bay Island
red snapper
16.00
Sweet-potato pie
5.00

Azz Jazz Cafe:
Artichoke dip
$7.50
Medallions
of pork
12.95
Filet mignon flambe
14.95

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