Second Helpings

Wright's and Wrongs: The Arizona Biltmore has been a resort gem ever since the Hoover administration. A recent multimillion-dollar renovation has polished up this jewel even more.

But management has never put much effort into its signature restaurant, Wright's. Yes, the prices are just as high as they are at resort rivals like Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician and Marquesa at the Scottsdale Princess. But the level of culinary craftsmanship has never been anywhere close.

Every chef who's headed the restaurant has run into resistance, trying to put interesting and compelling dishes on the staid, take-no-risks menu. The Biltmore executives have always been content to try to fill Wright's with resort guests, a captive group with plenty of disposable income. Why bother spending the money, the thinking goes, making the effort to put Wright's on the culinary map? That's why Wright's has had so much trouble hiring chefs, and keeping them on the job.

And that's why locals stay away. I've been told that at Mary Elaine's, 80 percent of the diners are non-resort guests. That's a staggering number. I doubt if even 8 percent of Wright's customers come from outside the Biltmore.

Maybe--maybe--the Biltmore's bosses are finally having second thoughts about their neglect. A new Director of Food & Beverage, Jeff Barba, has recently come on board, lured from T. Cook's at the Royal Palms. A few months ago, he was seen dining with T. Cook's talented young chef, Michael Hoobler, and rumors started flying that Hoobler was going to jump ship.

It turns out that Hoobler isn't going anywhere. But his lieutenant is. Matthew Leonard has just taken over the reins at Wright's, which, incredibly, has been rudderless during the entire tourist season.

The Biltmore people assure me that Leonard will have a free hand to create his own menu and make Wright's a destination spot. I've heard this talk before. Still, I'm looking forward to stopping in next fall and giving the place a try. That is, if Leonard, like his frustrated predecessors, hasn't already left in disgust.

Vox Populi: A disgruntled reader wasn't too happy with my lukewarm review of Fog City Diner a few weeks ago. "I really think you missed the boat on this one," he told my voice mail. "What's your problem? I've had great food there."

Then, he diagnosed my problem for me: "You've been hanging around Vincent's too long."

I wish. I'll leave a discussion of Vincent's merits for another occasion. But as far as Fog City Diner goes, I don't have any second thoughts: What started out as a smart, trendy, cool restaurant in San Francisco 15 years ago is an upscale shopping mall restaurant in Scottsdale in 1999. Some of the dishes are mediocre. Some, especially several of the "Large Plates," are quite good. But this is not a place where I'd ever consider spending my own money. To put it bluntly: You can do a lot better at dozens of other restaurants in town.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at hseftel@newtimes.com or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

 
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