Roux Confessions

Blackened red snapper is deftly prepared, a substantial, juicy slab zestily coated with Cajun seasonings. The kitchen also puts together a marvelous coq au vin, tender chicken stewed in a fragrantly winy sauce studded with mushrooms and pearl onions.

It's hard to believe the same chef is also responsible for the snoozy crayfish etouffee, perhaps the signature Cajun dish, which isn't nearly as rich or flavorful as it should be. The shrimp creole is too one-dimensional--it's got bite, but almost nothing else. And I'm still wondering how I let the server talk me into one evening's special: a second-rate New York steak, only partially redeemed by a homemade barbecue sauce.

Desserts aren't bad, but that's about as ringing an endorsement as I can muster. One of the joys of bananas Foster is watching the liqueur-soaked, sugar- and cinnamon-glazed bananas get flamed up tableside. For some reason, though, Cajun House prefers to perform ignition back in the kitchen, out of sight. The chocolate mousse, meanwhile, is insufficiently chocolaty, and the light bread pudding, topped with a too-sweet lemon-rum sauce, comes in several notches below the town's best models.

Cajun House is a grandiose project. I'd come back here to drink. I'd come back here to enjoy high-quality entertainment. I'd come back here to stare at the retractable roof. I'd come back here to soak up the hormonal energy. I just wish I were as eager to come back here to eat.

Genevieve's Bistro, 15414 North Seventh Street, Phoenix, 504-9855. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Tuesday and Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.; Sunday brunch, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The folks behind Genevieve's Bistro have all the right instincts: Set up a reasonably priced, white-linen-tablecloth restaurant in a growing, thriving neighborhood that otherwise offers few casual fine-dining alternatives. But while Genevieve's proprietors got the strategy right, they haven't been able to execute it. The New Orleans-themed fare simply falls short.

Would you trust an Italian restaurant that couldn't spell "spaghetti" correctly on the menu? Well, I quickly lost confidence when I saw "beignets" mangled here. It wasn't only the spelling that was mangled. The artichoke-beignet appetizer was supposed to come stuffed with crab and cream cheese. But I couldn't find a sign of either of them.

The spinach-artichoke dip, served in a hollowed-out sourdough "bowl," looks like it wandered in from a 1978 fern bar. Salmon cheesecake is another starter that had me scratching my head. It's a heavy cheese spread bulked up with salmon, and seasoned with capers, shallots and dill. Only the spicy baked shrimp showed some appetizer oomph, five shrimp dusted with spicy Cajun seasonings and coated with honey.

Entrees are pallid. Surely, the chef can do better than the seafood pasta, an indifferent mix of shrimp, crab and scallops tossed with angel hair in a soulless cream sauce. Creole penne sounds lively enough: "red pepper pasta tossed with a melange of vegetables. Served in a cream sauce and topped with pepper jack cheese." But it's just a bunch of carrots and squash in a dull sauce that had no hint of cheese.

The lightly breaded chicken breast used in the coq au vin and apricot chicken had a dismaying institutional look and taste. And neither the coq au vin's wine-and-mushroom sauce nor the apricot chicken's fruity glaze contributed anything memorable.

Bayou filet also produced nothing but yawns. Sliced filet mignon is "rolled in Cajun seasonings," according to the menu, but if it is, there aren't enough of them. The menu also promises "crisp cranberry sauce," but like so many of the ingredients in so many of the dishes, it failed to show up.

What did show up, as a garnish on several platters, was a whole habanero chile, the hottest pepper on the planet. Just touching one of these babies to your lips can make you bounce around the room as if you're on a pogo stick. Our server told me to beware, lest, like one poor soul he failed to warn, I unknowingly take a full bite. That unfortunate diner, I was told, thought she was having a heart attack.

Am I missing something here? Why is a deadly habanero doing garnish duty? What's next, a pretty bouquet of belladonna and jimsonweed?

The single best item here is the Irish coffee cheesecake dessert--rich, creamy, cheesy. Why couldn't anything else match it? The bread pudding certainly couldn't.

Genevieve's Bistro needs a major overhaul. To fulfill my professional obligations, I ate here twice. As things stand now, there's no need for you to come even once.

Cajun House:
Cajun popcorn
$7.95
Blackened snapper
16.95
Bananas Foster
5.95

Genevieve's Bistro:
Spicy baked shrimp
$8.95
Apricot chicken
12.95
Seafood pasta
16.95

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