The Camby Hotel, or rather “the Camby,” is a swanky new Biltmore-area hotel that debuted a few months ago in the home of the former Ritz-Carlton Phoenix. The Camby is what marketing folks refer to as a “luxury lifestyle brand,” which is more or less shorthand for a hotel designed to make your Instagram feed look really good. Its lobby gleams with trendy, copper-finished furnishings and irreverent art pieces. On the ground floor, there is a repurposed bicycle sculpture, its wheels replaced by large, round mirrors, and a pair of chandeliers by the main elevators, with the words “chandelier” spelled out in loopy, fluorescent script. There’s also a cheeky, neon “¡Ole!” sign near the front desk, where LeBron James, flanked by his entourage, posed for an Instagram portrait when the Cavaliers were in town to play the Suns a few months ago. The sign has since become the hotel’s most popular selfie backdrop. If you linger near it, someone at the front desk will, as a matter of habit, offer to take your photograph beside it. At the Camby, selfies are not merely encouraged, but aided and abetted.
Set amid the lobby’s various photogenic nooks, there is also the Bee’s Knees, the hotel’s posh cocktail lounge, an island of tufted leather and warm mahogany that looks something like a stylish young millionaire’s private drinking den. And there is a full-service restaurant, the place to bolster yourself with an egg-white omelet in the morning, or to wind down in the evening over small plates and cocktails. The restaurant is Artizen Crafted American Kitchen and Bar, its name evoking more the serenity of a day spa than a lively, upscale restaurant. Still, “Artizen” communicates both assiduously crafted food and drink, and a certain sense of calm, and it mostly delivers on both counts.
The Artizen dining room, once home to the sunny, French-leaning Bistro 24, is more subdued than the hotel’s other public spaces. You’ll find no oversize pop art prints or whimsical neon signs. It’s a rather dimly lit, sophisticated space, outfitted with plush banquettes and cool marble tabletops accented with realistic-looking faux succulents in tin copper jars. Eye-catching copper pendant lamps project warmly over some of the dining room’s cozier tables. (If you notice a running copper theme, it’s an homage to the five Cs of bygone Arizona heritage — copper, cattle, citrus, cotton, climate — the motif cleverly rendered across much of the hotel’s interior design.) Artizen also has a fine outdoor patio, mostly deserted during the middle section of the calendar year, and a long, handsome bar that houses an elaborate-looking, Japanese-style slow-drip coffee brewer.
Thursday and Friday nights feature live music, with a singer-guitarist crooning a tasteful selection of Top 40 hits over dinner service. But during the low summer season, the dining room more likely is going to be sparsely populated. It’s not a bad way to go, if you don’t mind losing the theatricality and noise of a dining room at full capacity. But there are downsides to being one of only a few tables. During a recent slow Sunday dinner service, for example, the dining room was running on what appeared to be a skeleton crew of bartenders and servers, the small group providing our table with a sort of tag-team dinner service. With no central point of service, dinner orders arrived staggered, with entrees arriving before appetizers. Even with these snags, though, service at Artizen is likely to be approachable and friendly.
The Artizen menu was designed by chef Dushyant Singh, who trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York, and cut his teeth at various resort kitchens around the state. You won’t get the full breadth of chef Singh’s modern, sometimes idiosyncratic menu if you come for breakfast or lunch, where conservative options like omelets and burgers tend to prevail. Dinner, meanwhile, offers a sort of New American menu full of the old standards — there’s a cheese board — with a few inspired excursions into Arizona-inspired gastronomy.
The dinner menu is largely devoted to shareables and small plates, with the most popular starters being the house salumi and cheese board, and the roasted vegetable board. Both are fine, especially if you only need something light to nibble on — say, nicely roasted heirloom carrots paired with a very good harissa sauce, or slightly charred Brussels sprouts that you can dip into a creamy smear of hummus.
More interesting, and far quirkier, is the Artizen Salad, a mix of locally grown spinach and frisée wrapped in red quinoa and a slightly sweet aged balsamic vinaigrette. Soft, dainty nubs of fresh Crow’s Dairy goat cheese add a pleasing creaminess to every forkful, while caramel corn – used in place of traditional croutons – add audibly crunchy pops of texture and sweetness. Even better, there’s the house grilled asparagus salad, which is less salad than it is sublime small plate. The lightly grilled stalks are glazed in a subtle teriyaki sauce, and paired with a very good, very rich lemon aioli.
The house steak tartare, meanwhile, is quite unlike the raw, relishy, eggy dish of other fine dining menus. Chef Singh’s version involves roasted bone marrow, the minced raw steak served right over the hot, silky meat butter, and then topped with pickled cholla buds. The tiny cactus buds, sourced from Tucson, are pickled and slightly shriveled, so that they resemble something like bite-size gherkins. The cholla buds are a small revelation — tiny, crunchy blasts of flavor and acidity that cut right through the richness. It’s a fine plate, at once rich and refreshing. Still, the experience of the dish is somewhat dampened by the effect of placing the minced steak over the hot marrow. On a recent dinner visit, the steak got partially cooked, and the dish lost some of the raw appeal of traditional tartare.
If you make room for only one plate, make it the diver scallops. The beautifully seared mollusks are mounted on a bed of slightly sweet chorizo, which is itself centered on a neat, golden puddle of lobster-saffron emulsion. Take the mildly sweet scallop, with a bit of the sweet chorizo, and a dab or two of the golden sauce, for one of the richest, most delicately balanced bites on the Artizen menu.
Slightly more conventional, but no less delicious, is the house-made tagliatelle carbonara. The fresh pasta is spun into a neat little nest on your plate, and bathed in the rich, herbal sauce, which is deliciously mottled with salty, chewy nubs of pancetta. You won’t complain.
Parmesan-and-arugula-crusted lamb chops, finished with a sweet and tangy tamarind reduction and a small supply of beautifully crisp polenta fries, offer more of the same fine dining pedigree. It’s a lovely plate, although modest in portion and not as exciting as what you’ll find on the small plates side of the menu.
Still, there are unequivocal duds, such as the duck tamales, which were so soft and crumbly on a recent visit, a spoon was required. And it’s difficult to rationalize $55 for a plate — even when that plate bears a prime porterhouse steak, dripping in foie butter.
In the end, Artizen feels a bit too cloistered and rarefied to be anything but a special treat, more a destination for culinary amusement than steady sustenance. It may be the place to come for an impeccably made martini and a bite of beautifully seared scallop, or maybe a fancy pour-over coffee enjoyed with brunch on the patio. But it’s not exciting or welcoming enough to demand your wholehearted devotion.
Do snap a picture of that beautiful cocktail, though, if only to prove you were there.
Artizen Crafted American Kitchen and Bar
2401 East Camelback Road
Hours: Sunday through Thursday 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Steak tartare $16
Grilled asparagus salad $12
Duck tamales $19
Parmesan arugula crusted lamb chops $30