Second Helpings

Safe Mex: I'm not a venture capitalist, restaurant entrepreneur or restaurant consultant.

But if I were, I know exactly what I'd be doing with my time, money and energy: developing an upscale, white-linen-tablecloth, Mexican seafood restaurant. It's a sure-fire idea.

Why Mexican and seafood? Well, first consider the Mexican part of the equation. We're only three hours from the border. Locals start eating Mexican food almost as soon as they're weaned. Meanwhile, the 11 million visitors who come to the Valley each year expect to find some south-of-the-border elements on local restaurant menus. In short, both natives and visitors are comfortable with Mexican-themed cooking, as long as it's not too far out.

Why the seafood element? That's easy. Seafood is probably today's most popular restaurant menu item. Women, especially, are fond of it--fish doesn't have too many calories or fat grams, and it's not too filling. And because we're in the desert, seafood has another attraction--it's scarce. Phoenix seems to have way fewer seafood restaurants than other comparably sized cities. That means less competition.

Combine the two elements, and you give potential customers twice as many reasons to visit your restaurant.

Why a white-linen place, catering to the disposable-income demographic? For the same reason Willie Sutton robbed banks: That's where the money is. The kind of customers this place would attract aren't diners who regularly troll the avenues looking for cheap ethnic gems. These are folks who are scared off by Spanish-speaking servers, Spanish-language menus and tables topped with cheap wood laminate. They're the same unadventurous folks who go to P.F. Chang's for fork-and-knife Chinese food.

These patrons want to be reassured and pampered, and they're willing to spend. That's why my staff would be trained to be gracious, knowledgeable and polite, full of "Yes, ma'ams" and "Yes, sirs." I'd keep the piped-in Mexican music down, and the decor-sophistication level up.

I'd also be very careful about what came out of the kitchen. I'd go easy on the squid, octopus, ceviche and head-on shrimp. And nothing on the menu should have enough chile firepower to singe a newborn's tongue.

Look for jumbo Guaymas shrimp, diver-harvested scallops, crab, flounder, snapper, sea bass and salmon. They'll be cleverly prepared in gringo-friendly style: wrapped in a banana leaf; steamed in foil in a wine sauce; grilled and ladled with olives and onions; flambeed in tequila; combined in a mild stew.

No rice and beans, either. Instead, there'll be grilled fresh veggies, fruit-flecked quinoa and skillet-fried yuca. And I'd have a senorita rolling out fresh corn and flour tortillas right on the premises, along with lots of nifty salsas.

For dessert, how do tequila cheesecake, Aztec chocolate cake with papaya ice cream and banana cajeta cream pie sound?

Finally, I'd set up operations in a fancy shopping/entertainment complex. The new Scottsdale canal project would be perfect.

--Howard Seftel

Suggestions? Write me at or New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,


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