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And if you're looking for fish, the Moroccan ahi brings a moist slab of tuna together with the heady aromas of lemon, garlic, cilantro and saffron.
One bit of advice to the kitchen: "al dente" is a concept that applies only to pasta. The white beans that came with the veal chop, the red lentils accompanying the tuna and the potato gratin paired with the lamb all came significantly undercooked.
The kitchen doesn't need much advice with dessert. If the chocolate fondue sounds too rich, the orange granita makes a refreshing alternative. It's shaved ice doused with Chambord and fruit, more suited to July than January, perhaps, but still satisfying. So, too, is the hazelnut cake or the apple pie in a puff-pastry crust.
7677 N. 16th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85020-4434
Region: North Phoenix
I'm no psychic. But it seems to me Zinzibar is good enough to make it no matter what part of the boom-bust cycle we're in.
Lantana Grille, Pointe Hilton at Squaw Peak, 7677 North 16th Street, 997-5850. Hours: Lunch, Monday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.; Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m.
The folks behind the Pointe Hilton resorts put their heads together to dream up a theme for their new restaurant at the Squaw Peak location. They came up with a good concept: "Foods of the Sun." That means flavors from the American Sunbelt, Asia, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean.
The execution usually, but not always, keeps pace with the concept. The appetizers show particular flair. The "sea" part of the Sea and Sky quesadilla is filled with jerked shrimp and grilled onion; the "sky" side features smoked duck and papaya. You don't get more than a thimbleful of each ingredient, but the effect is still pleasant, especially if you dip into the terrific three-chile salsa or smoked pineapple sauce. Baby-back ribs in a snappy pineapple-ginger-hoisin sauce also furnish gnawing delight.
The Calypso Combo is a first-rate appetizer sampler, but the pricing is way out of whack. This starter is a breathtaking $18.95 for two, and a still-hefty $24.95 for four. (That's $9.50 per person for the first two people; $3 each for diners three and four.) And why aren't the luscious conch and crab cakes, the moo shu chicken crepe and the beef sate, three of the platter's four items (along with baby-back ribs), available individually, instead of only as part of this combo?
Because this is a resort restaurant, it can't alienate the beef-loving guests who stay here. So the menu has to offer slabs of steak and prime rib. But the chef's heart is clearly elsewhere. It's certainly in the outstandingly moist pancetta-wrapped swordfish. It's also in the grouper, a firm-fleshed Caribbean species that's poached in fragrant coconut milk, wrapped in banana leaves and teamed with a smoked pineapple relish.
The pasta with heavenly wood-roasted vegetables is close to magnificent. Eggplant, squash and portabella mushrooms are paired with rotelli, then baked in a light red-pepper sauce and coated with smoked provolone and crumbled feta cheese. The feta, however, is a mistake, throwing off the balance between the earthy veggies and smoked provolone.
There's a misstep, too, in the paella platter. I don't mind that it's a version, not a duplication, of the traditional Spanish recipe. So what if it's not made with Valencia rice, or if mussels, clams, shrimp and chicken share space with swordfish and salmon, or if the promised sausage turns out to be a meatball? What's harder to overlook is the thick coating of melted cheese. Ugh. It's an awful touch, one that overpowers every other flavor.
That same tendency to heap on one too many ingredients holds back the Jamaican-jerked rotisserie chicken. The bird itself is beautifully juicy, and the jerk spices give it some zip. So why the kitchen feels compelled to heap on a mound of basil-cilantro pesto is beyond my understanding.
Like some of the entrees, the desserts occasionally cross the line between innovative and loopy. I'm still not sure what to make of the mango-ginger creme brulee, adorned with a scoop of chocolate mousse and caramelized berries. (Incidentally, doesn't anyone in this fancy resort know how to spell "brulee"?) You're better off with a simple sweet, either the homemade ice cream or fruit-flecked pineapple pound cake.
Lantana Grille still needs some tweaking and fine-tuning before it comfortably settles into a foods-of-the-sun groove. But this kitchen seems to have enough imagination and skill not to turn the groove into a rut.
Cheese fondue for two
Chocolate fondue for two
Sea and sky quesadilla
Pasta and vegetables
Grouper in banana leaves
Pineapple pound cake