Foie's in the 'hood

Arcadian bacon awaits diners at new east Phoenix neighborhood find

Reviewers, of course, aren't allowed to ask for menu items to be adapted in any way, and this is a good thing: It opens up so many experiences that might otherwise be overlooked. At first glance, for example, aged sherry vinegar might seem to be an odd addition to French white bean soup with smoked ham hocks, particularly in a lavish drizzle as it comes here. It's wonderful, though, sweet on one visit, sharp on another, but in both presentations adding welcome electricity to a subtle dish.

Along with a couple of salads -- poached pear and Roquefort, and spinach with bacon, caramelized onion and sherry vinaigrette -- Hoobler wheels out a Mediterranean antipasto plate that's ample for sharing. Divvying is easy enough -- the plate is entirely dull. The primary character is a thin wrap of oily prosciutto surrounding a parcel of soft, bland fontina cheese, assisted by squishy roasted red peppers, hideously salty cold grilled eggplant, mixed olives, a splash of balsamic and baby greens in a sweet vinaigrette. A tiny slab of toast spread with sopresatta, a creamy Italian cheese, is the most interesting part.

Pass on the lobster and black truffle risotto, too. Surely the dish we receive is a mistake -- the appetizer is horrid, almost rancid with fishy lobster and what seems to be an overdose of black pepper. Thank goodness our $11 brings only a few mouthfuls of the mess.

Chef Michael Hoobler has found a new home at Restaurant Arcadia.
Erik Guzowski
Chef Michael Hoobler has found a new home at Restaurant Arcadia.

Details

Appetizers:
Mussels: $9
Foie gras: $12
White bean soup: $7

Entrees:
Grilled pork chop: $21
Pan-seared sea bass: $24
Lamb shank: $23
Maine lobster: $26

Dessert:
Profiteroles: $5

480-945-4503. Hours: Dinner, Wednesday through Monday, 5:30 to 10 p.m.

5620 East Thomas

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Weird, because the lobster that centers a pasta dish on another evening is gorgeous. It's not much of a meal for $26, bringing only a few ounces of sautéed Maine meat tucked under a miniature claw, but every bite is savored. A few spoonfuls more come tucked inside dainty mezzaluna (half-moon) pasta pockets, paired with a beautiful, buttery sauce and a side of asparagus spears.

Tortellini's another expensive proposition, securing just a small handful of roasted eggplant and goat cheese-stuffed pasta bundles for $17. A mild pomodoro sauce (light tomato) doesn't stand a chance under the overwhelming presence of so much goat cheese, either.

And don't plan on leftovers with the olive roasted free-range chicken breast -- this bird's bust is an A-cup. What there is of it is great, however, stunningly juicy and crusted with lots of the zippy fruit. A side of gold mashed potatoes is pleasingly creamy; sautéed organic spinach could benefit from garlic, lemon, something.

Other entrees need nothing else but a knife and fork for satisfaction. I covet my companion's Niman Ranch pork chop, moist, bone-in and bursting with solid piggy notes. An accompanying cake of creamy polenta has been spiked with mascarpone, arriving deftly salty and grainy alongside haricots vert (green beans) plus tart apple chutney.

Grilled beef tenderloin, too, impresses -- a generous cut, competently cooked to medium-rare and topped with a chopped tomato-shallot jam. Hoobler fans know he likes Roquefort with beef, and it's here, the pungent blue cheese blended in a high-impact pie of thinly layered potato slices.

Hoobler also favors fava beans with sea bass, and the legumes do add a nice bitter touch to the mild swimmer. This is great fish, a nice-size portion pan seared golden brown and moistened with buttery sauce, wild mushrooms, baby carrot, tomato confit and a sprinkle of radish sprouts.

Arcadia takes a careful hand with lamb shank, too, gently braising it and teaming it up with a delightful goat cheese risotto and sugary glazed baby carrots.

While chefs may not appreciate diners who dismantle their dishes, they apparently have little problem with guests who are willing to pay more to experiment.

Such customers are leading a new trend powering the popularity of side dishes ordered in addition to the main course plate. Hoobler's happy to accommodate, with all sides available à la carte. Folks who think that the Roquefort pie would be just the thing alongside his shrimp and smoked prosciutto with bucatini (pasta) and Parmesan cream may be delusional, but they can have it for $5.

Most diners won't be too stuffed after dinner to take on dessert, and profiteroles (pastry puffs) with vanilla bean ice cream and chocolate and caramel sauce fills the gap nicely.

Hoobler's got a big toque to fill -- he's essentially competing with his own legacy now. The comparisons are inevitable, and as of yet, Restaurant Arcadia doesn't quite match the Royal Palms' level. But give him time to develop a fresh personality all his own. Too many T. Cook's would spoil the broth, after all.

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