Cafe Reviews

Seasons Eatings

Acacia at the Four Seasons, 10600 East Crescent Moon Drive, Scottsdale, 480-515-5700. Hours: Dinner, nightly, 6 to 10 p.m. (to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday).

My dining companion and I are debating whether to order wine this evening. Not whether we want it, because of course we do. But whether we should, because the drive home from the new Acacia at the Four Seasons Troon North is a good half-hour. Along dark, winding streets lined with sharp cactus and big, scary boulders. Through open desert where suicidal bunnies are known to leap from the lush landscape in front of cars with inattentive drivers.

At first, we decline any alcoholic beverages. But the Four Seasons is a world-class resort, my companion comments, a chain renowned for its multistar ratings. And Acacia is the high-desert enclave's flagship dining room, I rationalize. Likely most diners visiting this upscale retreat will want to know about Acacia's wine service, and really, it's my duty to clue them in.

Thus convinced, we ask our server about dry white wines by the glass. Rather than bring the wine list, she raves about the Acacia (no relation) 1997, adding that a half-bottle would be a great choice, giving each of us just a little more than a glass to enjoy. Ah, economy of scale, I figure, and nod eagerly.

She returns to pour my "taste," a full quarter-goblet, and then, gasp, notes a speck of cork floating in the golden liquid. It's truly tiny; I barely see it myself even after being told it's there. But I agree to let her remove the glass and make it right.

When she returns, however, she's simply got a new glass, and the same half-bottle. A good fourth of my wine serving has gone down the drain with no offer to replace it. Looking back, I should have protested. But, at the time, it seemed small -- improper service, no doubt, but not really worth a complaint.

When the bill comes and I see that this dram has cost us a whopping $31, it's no longer small, but an insult. Acacia Chardonnay, after all, is a pleasant enough California wine, but I've seen recipes from its own vineyards for Acacia Chardonnay Daiquiris (mix with Meyer's dark rum, lemon and lime); and Acacia Chardonnay Margaritas (mix with dark tequila). Hardly serious enough for $15.50 a glass and certainly too expensive for our server to throw away.

The error is a surprise. Training at this world's leading operator of luxury hotels is impeccable -- it's what has kept the properties repeatedly in Travel & Leisure's Top 100 World's Best Resort awards. Many details are obsessive (one evening, a busser keeps moving our bread basket back after we nudge it from the inconvenient center of the table, then shyly admits he's been told it must be placed exactly in the middle. Plates, even bread saucers, he adds, are only presented with the decorative half facing left). The Maitre d' tells us the resort tries to hire people with at least four years' experience, and that most of the staff has been onboard since last December's opening.

So perhaps our wayward wine server is a newer employee, like the waiter who loudly exclaims, "Good Lord, no questions?" when we're not confused by the menu, or another server who leans so close to me at face level when talking that I shrink back in my cushy leather chair. Another newcomer might be the server who applauds my choice of a dish with nage, then incorrectly tells me, "You know, that's just a fancy-schmancy name for butter sauce." Or even the one who pulls out a flashlight to spotlight our entree in the softly lit dining room. Or maybe the valet, who calls out, "Is this youze guizes?" as he sprints past, waving our car keys in the air.

Perhaps we've just caught the resort on a difficult evening, because to be fair, I should point out that most of the faux pas occur during a single visit. Yet, it's our first sojourn, and the oversights are jarring enough that as regular upscale diners, my companion and I would not have returned here.

I know that it takes time to work out bugs in such a massive undertaking as a resort opening, but after five months, come on. This is, after all, as The Four Seasons' own literature boasts, a rare jewel of renowned luxury. One evening, Congressman J.D. Hayworth stops at our table, gripping our hands in his huge, meaty paws and enthusing, "Isn't this restaurant great?" He doesn't know us, but maybe thinks he should: it's that kind of place.

Acacia does look quite presentable. We're welcomed with lavish polished wood floors, wood rib-and-beam ceilings and a massive two-way fireplace. There's little view of the sprawling Sonoran desert when seated inside, though, with vistas blocked by casitas and concrete patios. Dining outside is greatly preferred, with sumptuous sunsets fading to sparkling city lights. But the patio is morbidly dark (here is where the flashlights come in handy), and I don't see any misting systems anywhere -- wonder what management will do when the desert soon fires up its wicked dragon breath.