Cafe Reviews


Planet Hollywood, Biltmore Fashion Park, 2402 East Camelback, Phoenix, 954-7827. Hours: Lunch and Dinner, 11 a.m. to midnight, seven days a week.

The Hollywood big shots have come and gone. The Arizona Republic has found other stories for page 1. The flacks have called off their public relations assault. Finally, the incredibly irritating Planet Hollywood ballyhoo seems to have abated. After three months, the restaurant has settled down to its real business: feeding the fantasies and bellies of the star-struck masses, while lining the pockets of its millionaire proprietors. So how's the food? Does it matter? Like Mount Everest, Planet Hollywood attracts people just because it's there. If you come here at prime dinner hours, you might even consider bringing along a Sherpa guide. That way, he can regale you with stories of exciting Himalayan expeditions while you pass the time in endless lines, waiting to get seated. Diners who've been to Disneyland will recognize the crowd-management techniques. First, you'll spot a phalanx of employees, whispering importantly into walkie-talkies at the entrance. Then, you'll be directed to the line snaking along the building. This outside line feeds an inside line, which eventually leads to a pathologically perky hostess, to whom you'll give your name and group size. Then, you'll wait some more. But this is Planet Hollywood, so at least you'll be able to wander around and see some really cool movie memorabilia. Right? Wrong. I know we're in Phoenix, not London or New York or any of those other sophisticated centers of culture that also boast a Planet Hollywood. I don't expect A-list items like Judy Garland's ruby shoes or Bogart's trenchcoat. I can even understand why our provincial outpost doesn't merit Mrs. Doubtfire's bra or an E-flat from The Piano. But what kind of rubes does Planet Hollywood take us for? Can't we yokels expect something better than a Bruce Willis costume from the 1988 bomb Sunset? (I once tried to walk out of this film. Nothing unusual about that, except I was 33,000 feet over Ohio at the time.) Don Johnson's bloody shirt from the 1990 turkey The Hot Spot is another conversation stopper. A piece of twisted metal, purporting to come from the bus carrying Richard Kimble to the death house in The Fugitive, is highlighted as if it were the Shroud of Turin. And an arrow fired by Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves would have taken on a richer meaning had it actually felled the producer. In fact, if it weren't for the two shrunken heads, featured in 7 Faces of Dr. Lao, that stared down on our table, the trip down Hollywood's memory lane would have been a total loss. The rest-room scene is actually more entertaining than the decor. Both the men's and women's rooms come with an accommodating attendant, armed with enough toiletries to stock a Walgreen's. If you didn't have any insecurities when you came in, the deodorants, mouthwashes, colognes and skin creams displayed here are bound to raise them. I'm surprised there wasn't a Rogaine stand. And five minutes of sinkside observation indicated that few American males these days completely trust their natural charms. Take away the long lines, the Hollywood glitter and rest-room diversion, and you're left with an ordinary burger-salad-sandwich-pizza place. Even the hunger brought on by an hour's wait doesn't do much for the appetizer munchies. Fried chicken strips breaded with Cap'n Crunch is not a terribly effective way to get rid of $5.75. The basket of queso and chips was oddly out of whack: We'd only gotten through a quarter of the chips by the time the small dipping bowls of cheese, salsa and guacamole were empty. We pointed out the imbalance to the waitress and asked for more. She said she was supposed to charge for additional servings, but she recognized our just complaint and brought us refills gratis. In fact, service is one area where Planet Hollywood really has its act together. It's prompt, efficient and friendly, no mean feat in this high-energy atmosphere. That Planet Hollywood intends to orbit around glitz, not gastronomy, is evident from the ho-hum main dishes. The baby back ribs have little character, and the barbecue sauce has little bite. The beef and shrimp combo fajitas have that same generic timidity, with nothing to make you sit up and take notice except the high-profit $12.95 price. The 12-inch pizzas, which sport a thin, tortillalike crust, are a better alternative. The Creole version, slathered with a zippy mustard and topped with blackened shrimp, andouille and plum tomatoes, is reasonably satisfying. The Planet Hollywood burger, served on a kaiser roll and not a mushy bun, passes the basic test, especially if you spring for the nippy blue cheese and crisp bacon extras. But the French fries never should have gotten into our galaxy--they tasted like they'd been sitting in the kitchen since Sylvester Stallone's last hit.

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Howard Seftel