Cafe Reviews

Cart Blanch

Page 2 of 3

And some dishes require a wide berth. Shepherd's pie is a flop, a pile of salty, cheese-topped mashed potatoes burying a smidgen of ground beef. The chile-cheese tamale is too dry, as well as too light on the chile and cheese. Veggie fried rice is strictly for the health-obsessed. I can't believe anything in this mix of brown rice and veggies was fried. On the upside, it's so lacking in flavor that it must be good for you. The ratatouille, meanwhile, won't remind anyone of southern France. It's composed principally of zucchini, and seasoned principally with air. Somebody forgot to cook the potato in the zucchini potato pancakes. I don't know what seasoning is in the chicken noodle soup, but it's the wrong one. And charging $8.29 per pound for tuna salad is unconscionable.

If you're clever, you can make the $3.99-per-pound salad bar work for you. Bypass the usual suspects, which provide no bang for your bucks. Instead, fill your plastic container with artichoke hearts, palm hearts, white-meat chicken and roasted peppers.

Whole Foods isn't the cure for the summertime blues. But if you pick your way wisely through the prepared foods, it may make one day seem to go a bit faster.

Wild Oats Market, 7129 East Shea, Scottsdale, 480-905-1441. Hours: 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., seven days a week.

I don't know who trains the wonderful staff at this Wild Oats branch, but he or she should take a bow. These are about the friendliest, most eager-to-please employees I've ever encountered in a supermarket. The workers behind the hot-entree and prepared-salads sections plied me with tastes. The sushi maker brought out samples. Another employee urged me to try the soups.

Too bad I can't get that enthusiastic about the food. It's expensive. Most of it is barely mediocre. Some of it is awful.

Wild Oats goes in for hot-entree theme nights. Monday night is Italian. Don't expect to be wowed. Spinach artichoke lasagna isn't very energetic, but at least it's passable. However, neither the eggplant parmigiana nor the chicken breast topped with sauce and cheese has any flavor, Italian or otherwise.

Tuesday means Mexican. If the flabby spinach enchilada and tasteless chicken burrito I had are representative, I'd advise you to make a run from the border.

Wednesday, it's Asia's turn to be abused. The leathery chicken breast in a one-dimensional peanut sauce will make you wonder what the Asian food craze is all about. Lo mein noodles are a starchy mess. Only a vegetarian could love the honey-sesame tofu. The stir-fried "veggies"--actually, they're 99 percent onions and green pepper--are a waste of money. The sweet-and-sour turkey log is better, but only in comparison.

Friday brings seafood. At $14.99 a pound, the overcooked chafing-dish halibut isn't my idea of value, although the coconut curry sauce showed a bit of spunk. Shrimp scampi, though, is irredeemable: small, lackluster shrimp tossed with rubbery noodles in a forgettable cream sauce.

The cold salads also don't do much to move the needle on my excitement meter. Ginger chicken salad features big, unappetizing hunks of poultry with no ginger bite. Curried rice noodles are DOA. Brown rice biriyani, flecked with peas, carrots, corn and an occasional cashew, is health food in disguise. So is the dreadful mustard honey tempeh, whose appeal, at $7.99 per pound, surely must be limited to famished, high-income vegans.

I can only guess what the profit margin is on the couscous salad, which rings up at $6.59 per pound. No doubt it's staggering. Still, goosed up with oranges, raisins and chickpeas, it gives you some return on your dollar. So does the turkey curry salad, heavily mortared with mayo and celery, but with just enough curry punch to keep it interesting. The sushi, too, is a worthwhile option.

Soup, however, is what Wild Oats does best. A couple of cold ones can lift you out of the summer doldrums. Cream of banana, sweetened with honey, is weird, but entertaining. The cucumber soup is outstanding, refreshingly accented with mint, dill and scallions. The hot, hearty turkey Dijon, spiked with an offbeat touch of maple syrup, tastes like something you'd eat at Thanksgiving. But it's yummy now, too.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Howard Seftel