Up, Up and Olé

Gecko Grill succeeds with gringo-friendly Mexican fare and American barbecue

In fact, Blue Agave is such a mess, the only thing that could drag me in again is the soothing serenades of crooner David Grossman, a first-class singer who performs in the bar on Tuesday nights. Even then, several shots of tequila would be required.

Blue Agave wants to be a hip gathering spot -- witness the bar in the entry area, and the high-tech decor of polished concrete floors, metal agave sculptures on orange-sponged walls and a showcase wall of blue backlit plastic. The bar does good business, actually. Yet Agave wants to be an eclectic restaurant, too, at least to look at the newly complicated menu -- flat grilled shrimp and fried poblano peppers with chipotle ranch dipping and guava barbecue sauces?

But it doesn't want to do the work. Without exception, the food is flawed, arriving incomplete, inaccurate as described on the menu and in some cases simply awful. Service is amateur hour, with plates slammed unceremoniously in front of us (Who gets the tuna? our party of two is asked, when we're one of only three parties in the place). The place isn't even clean.

No flash in the pan: Gecko Grill serves satisfying, gringo-friendly food.
Erik Guzowski
No flash in the pan: Gecko Grill serves satisfying, gringo-friendly food.

Location Info

Map

Gecko Grill

835 N. Gilbert Road
Gilbert, AZ 85234

Category: Restaurant > Barbecue

Region: Gilbert

Details

Gecko Grill, 835 North Gilbert Road, Gilbert, 480-892-8099. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 11a.m. to 9 p.m.

Spinach enchiladas: $6.45
Two of a Kind Tacos: $7.25
Tampiquena: $7.95
Louisiana hot link: $4.75
Half rack baby back ribs: $8.35

Blue Agave, 4280 North Drinkwater Boulevard, Scottsdale, 480-429-1123. Hours: Lunch and dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to midnight; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to 1 a.m.

Baja tuna rolls: $6.45
Beef tenderloin relleno: $9.95
Beef chimichanga: $8.95
Tuna sandwich: $7.95

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Who's managing the host stand, cluttered as it is with a Windex bottle, boxes of crayons, picture hangers, a staff scheduling book, unopened bills and newspapers? Probably the same guy responsible for maintenance -- the floor positively crunches as we step over fallen tortilla chips. The silverware is grungy, cloth napkins are sometimes rolled, sometimes wadded and the exposed insulation batting hanging from the ceiling is creepy. Even takeout containers arrive trampled, the aluminum boxes crushed on the sides and haphazardly crimped on top.

This is supposed to be a place for cutting-edge, beautiful-people Scottsdale?

Chips are wonderful, it's true, scalpel thin and salty. But how are we to eat them, served with little cracked-plastic jars of salsa? Our server tells us to "just dunk them," but these chips are too large to navigate the rims, and we're not about to plunk our eats into condiment containers that obviously aren't changed out for each table. Why bother, anyway? The odd tomato purée has no oomph whatsoever, and a supposed hot sauce is like a chile-spiked, sludgy barbecue sauce. Ick.

I don't know what to make of a Baja tuna roll appetizer except tracks. Seared ahi has been rolled in Spanish rice, dunked in chipotle cream, wrapped in a flour tortilla and cut into egg-roll-size bites, then plunked into a neon-purple pool of sangria rimmed with dots of wasabi jalapeño cream. Yes, it's as ugly as it sounds, the dry tuna edged with what vaguely looks like fur. It's just plain weird as the tortilla slowly wicks up the purple pond like a paper towel. Oddly, the whole thing doesn't taste too bad, once rescued from its bath.

Tortilla chili, however, is as dull as its presentation. More broth than stew, it ripples with butter-heavy tones clunked up with bits of dry chicken here, bits of green chile there, sprinkles of navy beans and what might be flecks of chorizo.

Someone in the kitchen is sadistic with sauces, strangling a passable chicken breast, mushroom and sun-dried tomato enchilada in a horrifically bitter coat that's supposed to be roasted red pepper. And char-grilled tequila herb chicken (from the old menu but available on request) smacks of neither condiment, instead coming with a careless topping of sautéed white onion and red pepper (not the promised cucumber and cilantro). Rice studded with past-its-prime pico is a throwaway, and how does current cuisine translate into sides of almost raw steamed cauliflower and broccoli blasted with cayenne?

A massive relleno is packed with bring-us-to-our-knees fire, purportedly poblano but rabid with heat. Too bad, because the beef tenderloin, rice and cheese stuffing is fine, and a topping of creamy chipotle sauce is fabulous.

Messing with a chimichanga leads to no good end, either. We get two split, petite triangles fried to a greasy turn and drizzled with pale orange crème. Stuffings are subpar: sweet-toned beef chunks, dry chicken or flabby shrimp salvaged only by mounds of cheeses and sour cream. So where's the sauce on the fish taco? Sure, a premier version needs no gilding, but this heavily breaded, fried halibut à la Long John Silver's wouldn't sink under a ladleful of the promised creamy chipotle sauce and lime. It's not a taco, anyway, but a wrap, cut in quarters and weakly decorated with smidgens of avocado and shredded purple cabbage plus sides of musty rice and parched refrieds.

We're offered a cocktail list at lunch: good thing, since our plates are so poor. An ahi sandwich is simply okay, overcooked and paired with fries done up in old oil. Shrimp pasta taste (at this point, thankfully) of nothing, just a bland toss of so-called jalapeño fettuccine (not linguini as stated), tiny, under-cleaned shrimp and oily cheese chipotle glue.

Blue Agave owners can keep reinventing the menu, but until the management, kitchen and maintenance crew get in the game, it's a waste of time. Hot pickup spot or not, for good eats the Blue Agave doesn't deserve another date.

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