What do the well-heeled and hungry want? Great food? To dine at Different Pointe of View, arguably the Valley's most expensive restaurant, you'd never know it. This place, long on status but short on substance, continues to pack in diners willing to pay exorbitant prices for too-often mediocre food and lackluster service. The restaurant, under the direction of a new chef and with a new menu, is reservations-required even on weeknights. Yet, except for its breathtaking view, the only thing that catches our breath about this place anymore is the steep climb from the parking lot to its front door.
I admit it's difficult to focus on little other than the incredible views of the Valley from 1,800 feet above the desert. Floor-to-ceiling windows frame a stunning view of Arizona's brilliant sunsets. And a gorgeous patio, decorated with a fire fountain and scads of flowers, sends shadows dancing across the virgin mountainscape that cradles the property and its parent, the Pointe Hilton Resort at Tapatio Cliffs. A setting like this could make cardboard taste good.
But the food these days is a letdown. The Pointe, a celebrity hotel in the '80s distinct for its Spanish-Mediterranean village architecture, is aged, and feels it. Servers seem bored. And the new menu? Despite promises of a new, energetic French-Mediterranean experience, what we get is hardly worth the high prices charged. While a few dishes stand out, most of the menu is basic meat and potatoes that sound fancy but are ultimately uninspired.
Different Pointe of View gained particular notoriety in 1995, after the addition of executive chef Jeffrey Beeson, and the 10,000-square-foot herb and vegetable garden he cultivated on the Pointe's property. Known for big, bold flavors and Southwestern flair, Beeson showcased local ingredients with creative dishes like butternut squash soup with pasilla chile and pumpkin seeds, and ancho chile chocolate brownies with cajeta ice cream. Last fall, Beeson left the Pointe to take over ownership of a newer local gem, Convivo.
Chef Ivan Flowers has stepped into Beeson's clogs, leaping from a position as the previous leader of the Le Cordon Blue School, L'Ecole, at the Scottsdale Culinary Institute. He would, he said, "delight senses and spark enthusiasm" with a new menu highlighting French-Mediterranean cuisine. He's got the background to do just that, having previously served as the chef de cuisine at the Royal Palm's T. Cook's, and as sous-chef for Mary Elaine's at the Phoenician.
Some things a new chef can't fix, of course. The place feels resort restaurant all the way, including the astronomical prices ($37 for a standard filet mignon?). It's a letdown to make our way up the side of the mountain when we enter as we do onto strip parking lots for guests, the back end of storage facilities and, periodically, pasty-fleshed, Speedo-decked visitors wandering from the pool area back to their rooms.
A half-asleep valet doesn't add elegance, either, letting my out-of-town guests wander blindly around the entry to the unmarked restaurant, until they finally stop another guest who directs them to the eatery on the third floor. It gives them ample time, at least, to admire a showcase fountain ringed with plaster pineapples that shoot water into the air.
And although the interior reflects the earthy hues of the Southwest, it limps along with dated-looking fabric, lobby chairs with leather so stiff they squeak when sat upon, and the cavernous coolness of a 300-seat banquet hall. A piano player is classy, but overall, this place needs to be refreshed.
Some things can easily be fixed, including a cocktail waitress who can't offer any wine suggestions, and upon calling over a sommelier, discovers that he can't identify the region of a label about which we're curious. "Australia, maybe?" he guesses.
How odd, considering Different Pointe of View offers an excellent wine list, featuring more than 1,200 selections stored in the restaurant's award-winning wine cellar (splurge on the rare bottle of 1890 Chateau Lafite Rothschild). The collection has received the highly coveted "Grand Award" from the Wine Spectator -- it'd be nice if the staff knew what it included.
I do like that meals begin with the presentation of an amuse-bouche, French for "tease of the mouth," a freebie nibble offered by the chef. One evening, it's a satisfying bite of prosciutto stuffed with mascarpone, red pepper and salami with a slip of toast. Another night, it's a dainty lobster and cheese Danish atop a thin circle of cucumber.
These are more interesting than the unimpressive bread, a soft white French variety to be spread with flavored butters or the innards of a thoroughly unmanageable, dried-out garlic bulb. A partnering starch is better, a changing variety of cake-like sweet and fruity slices. The basket portends of the uneven events to come.
Beyond the clueless wine service, the classically garbed staff could loosen up. While this is an upscale event, we're dining at a vacation destination that caters to families (servers wear nametags with their hometowns, for goodness sakes). My waiter does relax at one point, joining in my joke that corn-fed Cave Creek escargot are superior since they're free range. But I don't know what the chef did to these slippery little beasts after he picked them up. They're quality, usually -- I've seen them on the menus at Christopher's and Mary Elaine's -- but here, I would have identified them as figs in a blind tasting. The seven disturbingly chewy snails are braised in red wine that's turned to a thick, sweet sauce, and served with what's labeled mascarpone crostini but tastes simply like toast.
Foie gras breaks my heart. Who did this -- tortured an already weak, flabby figure by ending it with an enormously bitter edge? A thimble of corn salsa is good, tangerine-scented figs are absolutely fabulous, and 100-year-old balsamico is fine, but the foie itself is finished.
There's also better duck confit available than what we get here. The moist leg is bland, and not helped with too-chewy mushroom gnocchi and clunky cloves of sweet garlic.
A shrimp appetizer is as intriguing as it sounds, though. Three jumbo creatures have been slicked in a delightfully wicked lemon-habanero glaze, teamed with glazed mushrooms and roasted pancetta sauce. A ravioli starter, too, wins on all counts, bringing two large pockets stuffed with ample butter-braised lobster and caramelized shallots in a ghostly rich beurre blanc. More dishes like this, and we'd have a worthwhile destination for locals.
Different Pointe of View is famous for Beeson's garden, with a specialist now in charge of delivering dozens of different herbs and vegetables to the kitchen. Yet salad gets little respect. My waiter isn't willing to jest about whether he'll be flambéing our caesar salad, prepared tableside for two. But why, on several visits, is the dish created and tossed on a burner cart that likely does double duty for bananas Foster? Tacky. It's no satisfaction that the resulting dish is just so-so -- runny, flat dressing ruins fresh crisp greens.
Rack of lamb at a classy joint like this should be a no-brainer, but the milk-fed model we get is mushy. The frenched bones are meaty, but ultimately dull, married with chopped basil and garlic, braised artichokes, potato galette and haricot vert (green beans).
And there's no way around it -- the roast chicken is terrible, whispering of raw, and plain weird looking, with legs wrapped into themselves in an odd fetal hug. Duxelle stuffing has no mushroom flair and is much too wet, next to flat-flavored whipped potatoes.
Here, in the middle of the desert, Different Pointe of View seems most comfortable with fish. Coast Chilean sea bass is excellent -- moist, buttery, and cooked to a gorgeous golden color. Sides of pinto-like cranberry beans, pequillo peppers and a smoked bacon-lobster jus add savory refinement, sided with a flavorful red chile stuffed with potato and corn.
One evening's special of ahi is also wonderful, thanks to an innovative vinaigrette of strawberry and chile spiked with diced pineapple and red onion. The sauce is good enough that I forgive the cooking -- the fish, while rare inside, is too slowly seared, resulting in pale gray flesh almost to the core. Still, I'm happy, until I get the bill, and learn that I've paid $37 for the slender slab -- completely outrageous.
Salmon's superb as well, grilled and dressed with a bizarre sounding but completely effective truffle-portobella-mango salpicon (meaning diced ingredients bound with a sauce), alongside glazed asparagus and a mild citrus cream.
And if not for it's ghastly $40 price tag, I'd be completely charmed by Maine lobster, accompanied by a trio of diver scallops and truffle-scented mushrooms, in a silky lemon-lobster-butter sauce. It's fresh, quality fish, and sparked with a side of Boursin quesadillas (think creamy, cheese-stuffed wontons).
Things completely fall apart upon plating of the filet mignon, though. It's been cooked past chef-recommended and our ordered medium rare to distinctly medium well. We send it back. A plate returns, dropped in front of my guest diner, with no apology, and an almost hostile request wondering if we're better satisfied. A side of salsify, however, almost makes the experience forgivable -- also known as oyster plant, the root vegetable is spectacular, gently coated in a light, creamy glaze.
Our waiter wants us to order dessert; we're full. We order coffee, which never comes. I get up to visit the restroom, and our waiter stops me as I pass the patio, asking for my dessert order again. I decline; he then offers to escort me to the patio, forcing me to announce my less elegant destination.
The view makes so many things forgivable. But what's different now at Different Pointe of View, is that delectable scenery isn't enough to digest.
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