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The side dishes were just as disappointing. The fries weren't hot or crispy; rice pilaf was unbelievably salty; and there was no escaping the inevitable ear of corn, harvested six months ago and cooked to a mushy, tasteless pulp.
Desserts come from Landry's and are designed to give the masses a sugar high. There's nothing subtle about either the chocolate overdose cake or peanut butter pie, both of which take dead aim on your sweet tooth.
By giving seafood-starved desert dwellers what they want--a variety of crabs at a fair price--Joe's Crab Shack figures to make lots of dollars. Still, until the noise is toned down, service improved and attention paid to all the culinary details, Joe's Crab Shack doesn't make sense.
1604 E. Southern Ave.
Tempe, AZ 85282
Casey Moore's Oyster House, 850 South Ash, Tempe, 968-9935. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m., seven days a week.
Set in a lovely old house just a few minutes' walk from the bustling Mill Avenue strip, Casey Moore's is a rare oasis of dining serenity in Tempe.
That's because most of the student patrons congregate downstairs, smoking, drinking and flirting in the energized bar area and patio. Meanwhile, their sensible parents are dining upstairs in one of two cozy rooms, eating on linen-draped tables, where the first-floor fumes and tumult can't reach them.
The place lures them with more than quiet and clean air. There's good quality adult fare here. Naturally, the menu offers the inevitable chicken finger and mozzarella stick appetizers, and fried shrimp and chicken teriyaki entree snoozers. After all, students don't know better. But if you order right, Casey Moore's delivers one of this university town's more pleasant dining experiences.
The trick is to stick with the ocean fare. In particular, keep your eyes focused on the two or three daily aquatic specials.
Nibbling on oysters will get you primed. The ones on the half-shell are briny fresh, while the memory of the oysters Rockefeller, smothered with spinach, bacon and a creamy cheese sauce, makes me salivate as I write this. If oysters make you queasy--"He was a bold man that first eat an oyster," wrote Jonathan Swift--reel in the Cajun shrimp, firm butterflied crustaceans doused in a chile-spiked sauce. It's spicy, but nothing we Arizonans can't handle.
If your budget can't handle starters, don't despair. Meals come with soup or salad, and the kitchen isn't merely going through the motions with either one. The soups are especially hearty: The beef tortilla model is almost thick enough to be a beef stew; the French onion soup is not too salty and topped with real Gruyere cheese; and the clam chowder is rich and creamy. A loaf of six-grain dark bread also helps tamp down hunger pangs.
The seafood specials exhibit a certain creativity. Take the excellent sea scallops, nine big, juicy mollusks tossed with lots of artichokes, mushrooms and spinach in a sun-dried tomato pesto sauce. They're served over penne pasta topped with crumbled feta cheese. It's a substantial dish, as tasty as it is filling.
On another evening, expertly grilled salmon was teamed with cilantro linguini and vividly colored steamed broccoli and carrot. A pair of purees, gingered papaya mango and roasted poblano, demonstrated a deft touch.
Grilled ahi tuna adorned with a white-wine goat-cheese sauce didn't come off quite as well as I'd expected. The flavors aren't really complementary, and the tuna got somewhat overwhelmed. But I have nothing but compliments for the side dish, irresistibly thick and flavorful chile-mashed potatoes.
Orange ginger shrimp skated dangerously close to the culinary edge. Seven meaty shrimp came partnered with pasta, and gilded with artichokes, spinach and apple. The apple, however, wasn't nearly as odd as the moistening agent, a tangy-sweet, heavily gingered citrus sauce that threatened to bury every other flavor. Sometimes with seasoning, as with architecture, less is more.
Desserts, we were told, come from Upper Crust, a reliable Valley supplier whose cakes and pies can be counted on to bring meals to a happy, if not ecstatic conclusion.
At Casey Moore's, you can count on three things: The staff won't sing you "Happy Birthday"; the other diners won't perform the "Funky Chicken"; and the kitchen won't follow the path of least culinary resistance. You won't hear any complaints from me.
Joe's Crab Shack:
King crab legs
Casey Moore's Oyster House:
Orange ginger shrimp
Sea scallops and pasta
Grilled ahi tuna