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I'm glad I brought my press materials on Ice Restaurant and Bar to dinner tonight. Otherwise, I might wonder why in the world I had decided this would be a nice place for a sophisticated meal.
What made me think that Ice -- a loud, obnoxious nightclub serving food one step above sludge -- was a good choice for a culinary experience?
I've been lured in by a creative -- and entirely inaccurate -- marketing pitch. There it is on the press release: "Innovative American Cuisine with French, Italian and Asian overtones."
Grilled salmon: $17
Black pepper-crusted fillet: $23
Frozen Ice martini: $5
Hours: Lunch and dinner, Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Dinner, Saturday, 5 p.m. to midnight
Ice has been more than four years in the making, the release crows, before finally opening in April as the "ultimate in dining and entertaining" for Scottsdale's "hip dining scene." And later, when I check Ice's Web site, I'm welcomed to "Scottsdale's newest fine dining" experience.
Now, I'm not swayed by a marketing agent's pithy description of the property -- sizzle sells. But the sample menu I was sent included interesting appetizers of rosemary-skewered lamb, Korean boneless beef short ribs, steamed black mussels and escargots. Entrees promised delights like char sui duck breast, coq au vin and grilled lamb chops.
Yet the paper menu I'm studying now has exactly none of those items. In fact, there are three entrees, total: chicken, salmon and steak. The remaining choices include fancied-up salads, pizzas, pastas and sandwiches.
Maybe Ice really is just a bar. Maybe the marketing folks simply got a little excited and promoted the food more than they should have.
But there are tables filling the first two floors of this three-story building, nicely set with white linen napkins and candles. And the meals here aren't priced like bar food; appetizers hover around $10 and entrees range from $15 to $23. No, Ice is intended to be a restaurant first, and a bar second. It's just that somewhere along the way, the concept has veered way, way off course.
I'm on guard as soon as I enter the white building, trimmed in blue fluorescent lights. Several of the staff, including our waitress, are hanging out on the front sidewalk, leaving me standing next to the hostess stand in front of an odd sculpture of melting ice blocks on a silver pan. It's obvious they're surprised that I'm here for dinner, even at 7 on a Saturday night. The same thing happens each time I visit, and then I understand why -- there aren't many people ordering food, and in fact, several groups of older, nicely dressed folks come through the door, look around and leave.
Ice sure looks hip, with a modern industrial interior designed by James Beard award-winner Janis Leonard. The first floor boasts a centerpiece bar topped by a dramatic wine display, surrounded by uncomfortable stools. Diners and drinkers alike kick back on slick chrome-and-blue-leather furniture that wouldn't be out of place in the Jetsons' living room. It may look cool, but it's hardly comfortable: Booths have odd, convex chrome backs that make settling in awkward, and plush velvet cube seats sit so high that only Twiggy could comfortably squeeze her legs under the table top.
The second floor -- reached by metal staircases linked via catwalks and open to the space below -- houses larger tables and a patio bar. The third floor is actually the roof, containing another bar beneath a geometric trellis of blue neon.
Yet I don't think looks are what scares off our potential fellow diners. More likely it's the brain-crushing music that sends them scurrying away. Ice's press materials tell us to expect progressive jazz and light grooves, but we're assaulted by techno-beat and '80s music played at what must be the highest level Scottsdale's zoning permits. I like the Violent Femmes and Elvis Costello as much as anyone, but not throbbing through my skull during dinner. (It seems like the acoustical attack is going to get worse, too -- flyers on our table promote a new, "Mix-it-Up" virtual DJ, an interactive touch-screen kiosk; and Coyote Ugly Mondays, with girls brought in to mimic the antics of the movie chicks). Add to the blend the click-clack clump-clump of women in platform shoes on the metal catwalk right above our heads, and we're in for a very noisy night.
So by the time the shrieking bachelorette party arrives -- complete with a three-foot-tall inflatable penis -- my dining companion and I are numb. We're too overstimulated to care, even when a waiter on the second floor takes off his shirt and leaps around; or when, on a later visit, we walk past the upstairs bar to witness two male strippers doing a thong dance around yet another bride-to-be. This is fine dining? I hardly think we'll be seeing these kinds of antics at Vincent's any time soon.
I don't know where, if anywhere, we'll be seeing such a bizarre wine list, either. More of a crib sheet than a full list, it reads like a purveyor's garage sale, with a meager selection of labels few people will recognize. What are all those pretty bottles winking at us from above the bar, then? Selections also are overpriced for the quality of the wine offered.