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An extended dance remix of the Stone Roses' track "Fool's Gold" was blaring out of the sound system as I tried fruitlessly to flag down my waiter on a recent visit to The Vig, a sleek new watering hole in Arcadia.
How appropriate, I thought to myself, noting the song title as I mulled over the disconnect between the restaurant's trendy atmosphere and the lame meal I'd just finished. There's been nonstop buzz about The Vig since it opened in late December, and, after a few visits, I'm at a loss as to why.
Public Enemy's "Don't Believe the Hype" would make a far better soundtrack here.
4041 N. 40th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85018
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: East Phoenix
Asian chicken salad: $8.95
Vig Azz Burger: $8.95
Miso Hungry Glazed Salmon: $11.95
Sunday through Tuesday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Wednesday and Thursday, 11 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 11 a.m. to midnight.
To be fair, people who live in the neighborhood are probably thrilled to have a hip hangout at a corner once known for a Taco Bell and a dive bar. Nowadays, the cluster of parking spaces out front resembles a Mercedes sales lot, and the valet is busy even on weeknights. Inside the concrete-block building, a pair of flat-screen TVs flank glowing bottles of booze behind a long bar. Wood panels climb the walls above a row of booths, and at the end of the room, tables and chairs extend out to the patio, where there's a fireplace, heat lamps, and a patch of green for bocce ball.
One of my friends moaned that The Vig is "so L.A. in the early '90s," but I have to say the vibe is the one of the few things going for it. It's an image-driven restaurant, like a little chunk of Scottsdale that tumbled over the border into east Phoenix. Not surprisingly, the well-heeled, middle-aged clientele has plenty of look-you-up-and-down attitude. That doesn't really bother me I don't begrudge them a spot to see and be seen.
What kills me is how much attention was clearly given to everything but the food. Who cares if your guests enjoy their meals as long as the lighting's flattering? The majority of the dishes I tried ranged from boring to bad, and the few that succeeded only confirmed my suspicion that The Vig is a bar trying too hard to be something fancier.
On the disaster end of the spectrum, there was the marinated bistro tenderloin, a pathetic piece of beef so offensively salty that it tasted like someone fished it out of the ocean. The only way I could make it palatable was to load up my fork with garlic mashed potatoes or some of the bland sautéed vegetables that came with it. That same sorry mix of limp, julienned carrots, zucchini, and squash accompanied several of the dishes, and, even worse, it was thrown into a bowl of overcooked rotini and weak, watery cream sauce and somehow passed off as an entree called "Pasta Vegetables Please." Um, no, thank you. Food like that belongs in a nursing home, not in a dining establishment that wants to be taken seriously.
A house-smoked salmon appetizer looked nice when it landed on our table four slices of bread were topped with chilled, creamy remoulade and rolls of salmon propped up with toothpicks but one bite revealed an awful truth. Although the menu said the dish was served on toast points (which you'd expect to be crisp, right?), the dry, chewy texture of the bread could only be called stale. And the halibut ceviche, described as "Anything but Traditional!", lived up to that promise in an unexpected way: There was hardly any halibut in it. After my friends and I ate the few lone fish chunks, the parfait glass it came in was still three-quarters full of soupy tomato sauce with a few bits of celery and scallion thrown in. Without the fish, it resembled a half-assed version of salsa, which certainly didn't make up for its side of cold, straight-from-the-bag tortilla chips.
As for the mediocre fare that didn't provoke my ire, the "Miso Hungry Glazed Salmon" was edible ennui. How many times have you had salmon with a tangy coating, accompanied by rice pilaf and a pile of sautéed vegetables? (Yes, those same predictable veggies.) I felt like I'd eaten this dish hundreds of times at weddings, on airplanes, in boring little cafes where I didn't have high expectations and simply needed to quell my hunger.
I felt the same way about the chicken manicotti, a honkin' big slab of chicken Parmesan with a single ricotta-stuffed manicotto buried underneath, as well as the salads I tasted. The "Vig Modern Building Salad" was an unexciting but fresh mix of baby greens, tomatoes, feta, and candied walnuts, while the Asian chicken salad was a rote rendition, topped with mandarin oranges, almonds, red pepper, and chunks of grilled chicken.
Things improved in the sandwich department. The "Hot Chick" grilled chicken with melted provolone, tomato confit, and a dab of avocado cream wasn't bad. The "'New' New Yorker" was straightforward, piled with pastrami, coleslaw, provolone, and Thousand Island dressing. On both accounts, I would've preferred them to be sloppier and cheesier, but they were passable.
After all of this complaining, I'll still give props to a few things. First, servers were mostly friendly and down-to-earth, although way too busy. The Vig did a decent burger it's called the "Vig Azz," perhaps in tribute to Roaring Fork's legendary "Big Ass Burger" with smoked Gouda, grilled onion, peppered bacon, and arugula on top of an Angus beef patty. It was juicy, full of flavor, and served on a soft artisan bun. The shoestring fries here were pleasingly crisp, and the "Vings" were undeniably addicting, a dozen grilled chicken wings slathered in spicy sauce that were just as good as conventional fried hot wings.
Let's face it, though: That's standard bar food. Although I wouldn't recommend The Vig to anyone looking for an exciting new restaurant, judging The Vig solely as a place to schmooze and get intoxicated, it's fine as long as you don't mind paying five bucks for a pint of Kiltlifter.