Cafe Reviews

Aqua Lunge

It's a drizzly winter evening, the kind that often brings on melancholy.

But not for us. Tonight, we're lounging like emperors at Café Blue, reigning over booths of sleek platinum cloth as we exchange witty repartee on politics, fashion and friends we don't like so well. The rain spits and sputters outside, but the dining room glitters, seemingly stretching on forever, repeating patterns and people reflected in strips of silvery mirrors. Life's smooth this night, because we look absolutely marvelous, all our flaws smudged to youthful blurs in the cool glow of blue neon lights zipping like racecars around the eatery's walls.

This is Scottsdale's newest entry into the trendy Old Town restaurant scene, and man, does it make us feel with it. How can we resist, seduced by light jazz music swirling, dipping and diving among the charcoal-garbed dinner guests around us (so much more in vogue these days than black). As the music flows, so do colors -- a glass wall hung with a fish separates us from the bar, and it's inlaid with a neon light. Blue blends to green, which yawns into yellow, which slips to pink. When we sit beneath the partition, the light saturates the clear, clean Vodka in our martinis.

Nibbling on Maine lobster, slurping oysters on the half shell, savoring crispy roasted duck with fruit and pulling at tangles of linguini and clams, we study our beautiful selves in mirrors -- the glass is placed at head level, and again in larger rectangles hung like paintings on each wall. I love every bit of it. The concept is funky, ultra-thematic, almost cliché in its reach for coolness -- yet it all comes together gorgeously.

The success is no shocker, given that Café Blue is brought to us by Jim and Irma Valli, founders of Marco Polo, a popular supper house that was a head-scratcher when it opened in 1989. Fusion was still taking its baby steps then, but Marco Polo came sashaying in on stiletto heels, merging the flavors of Italy and China to deliciously dramatic results.

With a menu hopscotching among Continental, Asian, Italian and lots of seafood, Café Blue promises another racy ride. It's a Manhattan-meets-Milan experience, and even in its infancy it delivers admirably.

Café Blue has been open a little more than a month when I visit, its debut pushed from December to January because of construction delays. Some might say this is too soon for a review, on the rule that eateries should have a few months to work out any bugs in the kitchen or with the service staff.

That's a sympathetic thought, but hardly realistic. Until restaurants offer "warm up" menu pricing, I'm not about to forgive "warm up" mistakes. Who among us is humanitarian -- or stupid -- enough to happily pay $27 for a grilled veal chop, then chuckle when it arrives ruined because the kitchen staff doesn't yet know its way around their new stove?

Besides, the Vallis are professionals. Aside from some minor tweaking needed -- the City of Scottsdale made the restaurant take down its signage temporarily, so diners have to keep their eyes peeled for a tiny, laser-printed piece of paper stuck on a valet's marker -- Café Blue is operating purely in the pink.

Accents here look like they've been designed by Michael Graves, one dining companion muses, and she's hit it right on. Graves is the famous architect who now designs techno-look toasters, lamps and such for Target. We see the style here in opaque pink, yellow, blue and green plates, soft blue glasses and teardrop-frosted glass lamps. The geometric style crops up even with the bread presentation, served on a sleek silver tray that's perched atop a squat, platinum pedestal.

The tray comes bearing good crunchy garlic toast one evening, buttery and served with a plate of Kalamata olives and marinated carrot chunks. On other nights, we find hot, crusty sourdough and epi (French bread), dunked with creamery butter.

Café Blue's pride and joy is fresh seafood, displayed on a large bed of ice behind the appetizer "SeaBar" in the entry lounge. A whole snapper winks as we pass by, surrounded by a varying selection of oysters, shrimp, mussels, crab and lobster. The best is a selection of them all, our server says, encouraging us to order the sampler. This would be a great way to go if we weren't ordering dinner, too. Instead, save this hefty treat to be savored solo, perhaps with a cocktail during SeaBar's soon-to-be all-day dining option, or as a terrific happy hour treat.

This is not seafood to be gulped, anyway. The menu pricing is tricky, luring us in with little "each" notations by its daily selection of oysters on the half shell, oysters Rockefeller, shrimp cocktail and crab claw cocktail. When your server asks how many shrimp you'd like in your cocktail, keep in mind that they're $4 "each," and add up fast. As nice as the crustaceans are, that's more than I care to pay per piece.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet