Harmony and Grits

The bulldozers have been busy on the north side of Camelback Mountain these past several months, churning one of the Valley's legendary resort properties into dust. Gone is the historic John Gardiner's Tennis Ranch. Arriving soon is the mystically named -- and cosmically inspired -- Sanctuary. With it comes a New Age-themed restaurant named elements that's said to be "floating high on Camelback Mountain."

The place is promised to be so happening and so sophisticated-spiritual that the press kit I received contains a bizarre bag of "harmony rocks," representing earth, the first of the restaurant's "four ancient elements." Apparently, the new property offers not only high-end resort accommodations and a spa, but a dining experience that celebrates "earth, fire, wind and water." Oh yeah, and food.

The concept sounds pretty cutting-edge, but are Valley residents ready for a favorite Southwestern landmark -- dating to the 1950s -- to go over-the-top harmonic Asian? This place has a highly genteel past, after all. Designed by a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright, the private membership tennis resort was a favorite of celebrities, including Edgar Bergen, Johnny Carson and Liza Minelli. For the more recent generation, Gardiner's was a high-end tennis spa, a top pick for upscale parties ($10,000 minimum) and a classic restaurant with which to impress guests.

When elements opens in March, however, we'll be looking at a seasonal "all-American menu accented with the flavors of Asia." This means weird blends such as foie gras with Chinese five spice, blood orange glaze and mango relish; and more approachable favorites like grilled sirloin with bleu cheese baked onions and roasted shiitake mushrooms. That's strange enough for a restaurant, and even more daring a concept to carry an entire resort. Yet, as the script with my harmony rocks waxes philosophic: "Somewhere between magic and mystical, legend and myth, there lies a power within each of us so compelling, it knows no limits, boundaries or frailties." Whatever. Stop me now, but I'm envisioning meals served by waiters practicing tai chi.

Rubin Fanwhich: Esquire's December 2000 issue names Lenard Rubin's Medizona one of the 22 best restaurants in the country, and the only winner from Arizona.

Esquire gushes that "Rubin works a Mediterranean palette with finesse and daring . . . the interaction of such dishes can be risky, but in Rubin's hands they are sure bets to impress guests who love intense, gutsy cooking."

Aw, shucks.


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