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I could eat it by the gallon, however, thrilled with its lip-burning personality, its robust earthiness, the pretty drizzle of crème and dollop of salsa fresca on top. Mild mom prefers a delightful roasted cherry tomato soup, smooth and light on the cream with a sprinkle of sweet basil chiffonade.
Mom and I also disagree about a chef's selection: Maine diver scallops a la parilla. She thinks the dark rum black bean glaze spooned over the half-dozen sweet-flavored mollusks is uncomfortably aggressive (vinegary, peppery like hot sauce). I think it's fine, the seafood admirably topnotch, tempered with sides of chunky boniato mash and nubbins of juicy mango. When our server warns that tortilla-chip-crusted chicken is spicy, he's not kidding. The big (10-ounce) breast is breaded and sliced tonkatsu style, with a roasted jalapeño-Diablo sauce that overwhelms any other flavor. A safer choice is the topnotch fire-roasted filet of beef, with a huge chunk of expertly cooked, remarkably beefy-flavored meat drizzled in a light demi-glace alongside mashed potatoes studded with smoked corn kernels and dots of poblano chile.
Some dishes are perfect examples of the freakish Miller/coffee-shop crossbreeding. A tostada salad descends to Chili's chain caliber, with its massive portioning and complicated chop of ingredients. There's just too much commotion in this messy Mount Everest of cilantro, radish, avocado, tomato, red onion, shallots, salty cotija cheese and pesto-grilled chicken breast or shrimp burying a soggy tortilla round slathered in beans. A mushroom and sweet roasted corn quesadilla, meanwhile, doesn't make sense anywhere, with the fat grilled tortilla wedges mounded atop a tasty but silly-looking landfill of Southwestern coleslaw. There's way too much harsh epazote in the smoky cheese stuffing, too, with the wild mushrooms tasting almost marinated. Green chile stew is a huge disappointment to someone who's had the real stuff this thin salty broth has fresh hominy (I know, because I saw a bag of the stuff tipped over on the gift shop counter) but is completely one-dimensional with too much poblano.
5350 E. Marriott Drive
Phoenix, AZ 85054
Region: North Phoenix
480-293-5000. Hours: Breakfast, lunch and dinner, daily, 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.
Blue Sage alternates the lowbrow (a decent if unexciting grilled steak burrito with red chile sauce) with the highbrow (a good-but-I-wouldn't-order-again complication of lacy thin gravlox cured in a barely discernible habanero-tequila blend). The burrito is good and the gravlox is okay, but what chefs put both on the same table?
It's a big mistake that Blue Sage doesn't start its meals with gratis baskets of tortilla chips. Not only will hotel guests, largely out-of-towners, associate the appetizer with Southwestern cooking, but Miller's signature is salsa. He's written books about it; bottles of his blend are for sale in the gift shop. I can buy an apron there with his salsa logo, but I can't get a taste of his stuff in the cafe. Certainly the chips 'n' dip would be better than the dry jalapeño-corn scones and chalky cornbread we get instead.
Miller has made great gains publicizing his background as an anthropologist. Food, he says, should embrace its environment. In this case, I guess, that means his diners should be prepared to feel like they're checking into a Shriner's convention. One night, the valet waves me in like I'm an airplane. Another night, I bump into a porter holding a sign welcoming a migraine management meeting. Something doesn't belong here, and I think it's me.