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Like the art style for which it's named, Mosaic restaurant is a complicated creation, composed of many tiny details to form an elaborate whole. The result is a visual dazzler, from the restaurant's sleek interior design to its menu reading like a voyage around the world. Yet just like a mosaic, this upscale new eatery's beauty remains on the surface, small glittering chips that when pried away leave emptiness and an uninspired foundation.
All the elements for a first-class culinary portrait are there. The package is pretty, the plates appealing and the menu concept refreshing. Plus, Mosaic knows it niche, reigning over an under-served area flush with upper-income residents and resort visitors who will pay $28 for a petite portion of chicken with preserved lemon, cracked green olives and saffron rice (the Four Seasons is just down the street).
Yet there's been little turnout for this gourmet gallery showing. Since opening in July, Mosaic's primary customers have been other local chefs, with our top names spotted prowling the restaurant, sniffing suspiciously around its luxe environs while trying to figure out how the place will fit into our highly competitive collection of high-class eateries.
10600 E. Jomax Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85262
Region: North Scottsdale
Five-spice roasted quail: $14
Muscovy duck breast: $12
Grilled asparagus salad: $10
Sake-steamed salmon: $26
Grilled rack of lamb: $32
Pork loin: $22
Angel food cake: $7
Perhaps the damp reception is partly because of Mosaic's summertime opening. Perhaps it's partly because of a soft economy going softer. Likely it's something less obvious, something that Mosaic is lacking. Call it the je ne sais quois that gives an independent eatery its heart and soul. Chalk it up to the love we're supposed to feel as soon as we pass the threshold. It's not there. In its infancy, Mosaic is almost too pretty, too stiff and too formulaic to be great art. What this place needs is some of the whimsy that makes a destination experience memorable: the distinctive stamp of a chef whose personality is every bit as important an ingredient as anything on the menu.
The chef-owner of Mosaic is Deborah Knight, yet we'd never know there was a single artist in residence. She's not a welcoming character at the front door, or a white-toqued spirit who stops by tables to schmooze (in fact, it's hard to get anyone's attention as we linger in the foyer). She's invisible on the menu, too, with no true signature dishes or hints that we're anywhere other than another classic resort restaurant or tony chain. Nothing gives us that feeling that makes a chef-owned restaurant so enthralling: that we're part of the dream. There's a vague feeling of déjà vu with many of the dishes and a feeling that Knight is holding back.
A graduate of the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Knight trained at Scottsdale's former 8700 Restaurant and the Miraval Health and Wellness Spa in Tucson. Other stints have included a position as sous-chef at Colorado's Zagat-award-winning European Cafe, and a private catering business. Staff seemingly outnumber guests, including a sous chef, pastry chef, certified Sommelier and a manager well known in the Valley for his upscale affiliations.
There's some effort made at infusing unusual character in the decor: Mosaic showcases the creations of Valley artists on its cream-colored and white-block walls. Art's for sale, but in a friendly touch, Knight doesn't deduct commission. Design, including a dramatic mosaic logo embedded in the entry floor, is from Phoenix native Kathy Parks and Gay Cutter. And there's a trio floor plan designed to appeal to everyone, with a formal, Biltmore-reminiscent room lined with cherrywood wine cabinets; a more casual, airy dining salon; and a clubby barroom that begs to be populated by distinguished gents puffing on cigars. Yet the overall effect is cold, overly coordinated and almost unwelcoming.
The menu seduces like an all-out global orgy, with 30-plus dishes spread over four courses, plus three separate tasting menus (including vegetarian), but it fails to come together. Descriptions alone make me ravenous and restless: exotic mushroom terrine with lightly pickled wakame (Asian) sea vegetables, or grilled tenderloin of rabbit with sprouts-shoots salad, parsnip-carrot puree and roasted shallot vinaigrette. While dishes keep our attention through every precious bite, ultimately the anticipated spark fails to ignite. Note: "Precious"-dishes here are truly dainty. Unfortunately, they are without the boisterous character of other small-portioned offerings such as those served at Gregory's World Bistro and Vincent Guerithault on Camelback, and it's not uncommon to leave Mosaic vaguely unsatisfied after a three-course meal. Better, but expensive at $85, is the Mosaic tasting, which is five courses plus an intermezzo, and $30 extra for paired wines.
A welcoming platter of bread does make a fine first showing, featuring fat cubes of buttery garlic glistening on biscuit-like pillows, or wonderfully salty onion focaccia. Sometimes, the chef sends out an amuse -- perhaps a demitasse of gazpacho, a saucer of chilled avocado cream soup or an elfin dish of mandarin orange segments, purple onion curls and pickle sprinkled with dill in a tart olive-sherry dressing.
Some starters shine. Clever construction (it looks like a little Frank Lloyd Wright-inspired cabin of crisscrossed Lincoln Logs) makes for a fun cold white asparagus salad. The tidy pile comes sprinkled with chopped red and yellow bell peppers, red and yellow micro-cherry tomatoes, field greens and a splash of fiery harissa (red chile) vinaigrette that eats into the core of the asparagus spears.