Resto the Story
"Urban. Latin. Sexy. Chill."
That caught my eye when I checked out the online menu for Ticoz, a self-described "resto-bar" that opened last month on Seventh Street, just north of Camelback, in the same strip that houses tiki treasure trove Go-Kat-Go.
I'm not sure if those four words qualify as a slogan, but they do come across like a mission statement one that tries too hard, like the menu. On all four counts, Ticoz doesn't entirely live up to its own hype.
Don't get me started on "urban." Is this another luxury condo development or something? I see that word and automatically think "wanna-be." As for "Latin," well, perhaps "gringo" would be more appropriate, given the mostly white clientele and Americanized eats. "Sexy" is spot-on for my gay friends, questionable for anyone else. And "chill" is not the word to describe the loud electronic beats pulsating from the stereo system on a Saturday evening. Unfortunately, it's a better descriptor for the somewhat sketchy service I got.
I don't entirely blame our beleaguered server for the snafus on one of my visits. He was a trainee shadowing a more experienced staffer, who hardly showed her face at the table not a good example for the new guy. I was irritated when they brought appetizers but scurried off before noticing our empty sangria glasses. Later, when one of my dining companions got the wrong entree, both waiters had again disappeared suddenly, and we had to flag down another server. With two people waiting on our table, I would've expected twice the service, but we ended up with half. I felt the same kind of disappointment with the food, which promised so much more than it delivered.
Ticoz is ambitious, I'll give it that. There's outdoor seating on the patio, a cozy bar area with stylish mood lighting, and a sleek dining room outfitted with red leather chairs, leafy potted plants, and mirrors along the saffron-colored walls. It was an appealing atmosphere on weekend nights, when the place was abuzz with customers. At lunchtime, though, the drama was entirely absent.
Word's out about Ticoz in the gay community, because the scene ranged from tables of sharply dressed middle-aged guys to shaggy-haired twentysomething couples in flip-flops and Abercrombie tees. The drink list wasn't as extensive as the one at Amsterdam (where you could miss an entire drag show if you took the time to read the cocktail menu from cover to cover), yet I suspect the proprietors of Ticoz (who also own Fez, down on Central) would love to lure some Amsterdam regulars with their lengthy list of fruit-flavored mojitos, margaritas, and martinis. For cocktails and a little socializing, this place is doable.
Ambition extends to the menu as well, but with that, Ticoz is going overboard. It's okay to offer burritos and tacos who doesn't in this town? But by pushing the Latin theme so much, they're setting patrons up for disappointment with food that lacks authenticity, not to mention spice.
Exhibit A: the pork torta. Slathered in goat cheese and served on grilled flatbread, the carnitas filling tasted more like lamb than pork. It was cut into finger-food-sized wedges and arranged around a pile of passion fruit coleslaw. Thick bread and avocado and mayo were conspicuously absent. The presentation was fine, and I wasn't offended by the taste, but why call it a torta? It's not a believable stretch.
I expected chipotle corn fries to have some kick, but the waffle-cut versions at Ticoz were surprisingly less spicy than ordinary seasoned fries. My beef grilled burrito was unremarkable, no better than Baja Fresh. And a few of the entrees came with absolutely awful rice and beans that would insult any lover of Mexican food: weirdly granular beans with a dry helping of Minute Rice (I swear that's how it tasted).
Salads were spared the overbearing Latin treatment, to better effect. The crunchy passion salad combined arugula, lettuce, dried plums, jicama, radish, onion, oranges and cashews in a tangy passion fruit dressing, while pineapple salad was a mix of lettuce, spinach, onion, carrot, roasted red pepper and macadamia nuts with blood orange vinaigrette. Funny its only flaw was the pineapple, a few limp rings of straight-outta-the-can stuff. And I have no idea why the addition of bland grilled chicken chunks or shrimp came on a separate plate rather than on top of the salad.
Cocoa chicken strips sounded interesting, but they were so salty and their fried coating was so dry that I had to force myself to choke down a couple of bites. "Spicy" calamari were buried in too-thick cornmeal batter that wasn't at all spicy, although the jalapeño-lime dip that came with them was decent.
A few offerings were truly solid. Guacammus a creamy blend of lime-tinged guacamole and garlicky hummus was a tasty novelty, accompanied by fresh, warm tortilla chips and grilled pita. The chicken flautas were crisp, with moist filling seasoned with chipotle and cinnamon. Lettuce wraps were a welcome departure from the ubiquitous Asian-style preparation, with nuts and dried fruits to add sweetness and crunch to chunks of chicken. And sweet corn tamales were served sans corn husks, topped with fork-tender pork.
Dessert was a total letdown. I tried boring, sugary churros with chocolate sauce and ice cream, a run-of-the-mill slice of cheesecake, and dry pineapple upside-down cake that looked and tasted like it had been sitting around for awhile.
A friend of mine mentioned that there's been a revolving door for businesses in this very location. And that's a shame, considering how eager people are for new restaurants in central Phoenix. But so far, despite its glaring shortcomings, Ticoz has already found itself a weekend crowd.
Now, the question is whether this restaurant can hang on to it.
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