Cafe Reviews

Calendar Grill

Our waiter at Seasons is wondering with us where the crowds are. It's 8 o'clock on a Friday night, and the spacious dining room is speckled with perhaps two dozen guests. It's like this all the time lately, he laments, and no one can figure out why.

It's a stumper. Seasons is gorgeous -- upscale, yet refreshingly comfortable. The service is excellent, paced and professional. The wine list is expansive. And the food, for the most part, is right on track for its north Scottsdale location -- creative, and emphasizing lots of fresh, organic products. Yet each night we visit, we've got our choice of tables. And recently, the eatery closed for lunch.

It's not a new problem for the restaurant. Since it opened in 1999 under the ownership of L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson, ex-New York Knick Dick Van Arsdale and Knick center Luc Longley, the place has struggled to attract a following. Customers apparently haven't found enough spark in the meat-heavy classic American menu, with beef, lamb, pork and chicken flamed from the grill or rotisserie-seared.

So a few months ago, Seasons' partner Roger Roessler wooed celebrity chef James McDevitt (he of Restaurant Hapa fame) to take over the kitchen as a consultant. McDevitt has lent his distinctive touch, crafting dishes with a more exotic Asian flair, and bringing in the popular trend of chef's tastings.

With such a high-profile chef to promote, Seasons should be blooming. Yet it's not. I've got a few ideas why -- some that can easily be remedied; some, unfortunately, that can't. But overall, I'm as confused as my waiter as to why this place isn't a bigger draw.

First, what can't be fixed. Location is Seasons' biggest problem. It's in a great neighborhood, but tucked too far in the back of a low-profile mall south of Shea on Scottsdale Road. Seasons is impossible to see unless a diner is specifically looking for the place. Hungry folks likely won't get past the California Pizza Kitchen directly in front of it, or Sam's Cafe, off to its side but fronting Scottsdale Road. (If CPK were to suddenly explode in a gas fire, our waiter knows nothing, he jokes.)

Second problem. The dining public is nuts. I know where the crowds are, it pains me to tell my sad server. They're across the street at Macaroni Grill, and down the road at the new chain-restaurant cluster in Gainey Village. Why people would prefer to sup on the safer, sleepier fare from Gardunos, Bloom, Village Tavern and the boutique Thaifoon is beyond me, but that's where the cars are.

Other challenges are easily manageable, such as pricing. Even with the McDevitt name on the marquee, Seasons commands a lot of green. It's a mini-chain of sorts, after all, with locations in Colorado and New Mexico (Scottsdale's got a different menu emerging now that McDevitt's stepped in). But at $18 for an appetizer nubbin of Sonoma Valley foie gras on toasted brioche with Concord grapes and muscat jelly, Seasons is as expensive as our premier Valley restaurants. A few bucks down might tempt the tasters.

Consistency needs to be considered, too. At times, Seasons is spectacular. Other times, it's just good -- not the worst problem to have, but good is not enough given the high prices and our high expectations.

Nothing needs to be changed about Seasons' handsome interior, however. The place is a stunner, from the grand rock-and-water-feature entry to the elegant patio that in cooler months invites with comfortable seating. Inside, it's a symphony of cherry wood and copper, with centerpieces of a wine cellar, a clubby bar area, and an open kitchen displaying a rotisserie and flame-shooting grill. The best seats in the split dining areas are on the raised platform along the back wall: Booths are spacious, comfy, and offer an opportunity to survey the scene (such as it is). The pianist, meanwhile, is magical, tickling the ivories with seductive renditions of Sinatra -- I'm practically melting as the pianist croons "It Was a Very Good Year" and "Fly Me to the Moon." He visits the tables between sets, seeking requests -- nice touch.

Dinners get off to a good start, with bread better than I remember pre-McDevitt. The purveyor has been switched from the Arizona Bread Company to Willo Bakery (while Arizona Bread is topnotch, too, it's no longer baked on-site at the shop a block away from Seasons). Crusty sesame-seed-dusted country bread is wonderful on its own; dipped in a gutsy garlic-spiked olive oil, it's nirvana. A satisfying, musky-toned kalamata bread sometimes shows up, too.

Sometimes an amuse bouche appears as well, sometimes not. One evening's gift is happily accepted, bringing crostini spread with an electrifying kalamata olive, tomato and basil tapenade.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet