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.