Cafe Reviews

Little House on the Desert

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We order the Atlantic salmon and Oregon dungeness crab cakes ($10.95), and are thoughtfully warned by our server that they are much more salmon than crab. Indeed, the two racquetball-size cakes are lush with slivered salmon that dominates the moist crab and diced red pepper. Slightly oily pea sprouts and a punch-packing horseradish confit provide the perfect sharpness.

With its sensual flavors and seductive ambiance, Lon's is a romantic restaurant, and it is here that I discover a new love. Restaurants of all persuasions now feature sesame-seared ahi tuna, but none with such passion as Poblete's. This is a coup de fishdom -- deep red medallions edged in pepper and crowned with a starburst of wafer crackers ($8.95). A light napa cabbage and jicama slaw capped with bean sprouts offers an often overlooked enhancement of taste and texture.

A lighter segue into dinner is Lon's soup of the evening, a competent French onion served one night ($7.50). In a refreshing approach, a large, flat dish of vegetable-rich beef stock is reduced almost to a glaze, topped with toast and Gruyere. Partnered with Lon's full-bodied sourdough bread and torridly garlicked butter, it's a soothing friend on a cold winter's night.

Salads easily could be split and shared, but my dining companion and I are so enamored of the flora that we covet our individual orders. His mixed salad ($7.50) is a beautiful palette of baby greens, stripes of whisper-thin cucumber and tomato, feta crumbles and clever chopstick-shaped breadsticks mantled by tart balsamic vinaigrette.

I prefer it to the chopped salad ($7), thick with romaine, tomato chunks and fresh basil, only because the salad's Parmesan blizzard is overbearing. After a bite of the accompanying harshly Parmesaned lahvosh, it's difficult to appreciate the subtle appeal of Lon's homemade Caesar vinaigrette.

Marinated mozzarella with watercress tossed in a tangy-sweet sun-dried tomato vinaigrette ($8.50) borders on bland, but by no fault of its ingredients. With such generous portioning of the naturally demure cheese, it's simply too much of a good thing after several bites. The same fate befalls roasted baby beets with endive ($9), an intimidating mound of green cabbage, jicama and candied walnuts in a chevre dressing. So intense is the sweetness of the beets and nuts that a little goes a long, long way. For full appreciation, share these dishes.

The kitchen shines its brightest with the more simple entrees. Here is the heart and soul of Poblete's concept and talent. Pan-seared trout and grilled swordfish specials ($29.95 each), for example, are so finely crafted that it pains me to even try any menu offerings other than fish. These are huge fillets, perfectly prepared and anointed with just the right amount of our cherished butter. Butter melts slowly over the roe atop my crisp-skinned swordfish, soaks into pliable fingerling potatoes and nestles in contentedly with an al dente ratatouille of red pepper, zucchini and squash. Oh, it's good!

More butter graces the half-dozen pan-seared Maine scallops ($24.95), perfect representations of how lavish scallops can be when they are fresh, firm and gently prepared. Spiked with lemon grass, the buerre blanc tempers the scallops' simple sweetness and laps against the deftly done citrus risotto and broccoli/cauliflower combo.

Rack of lamb ($25.95) is definitely an American favorite, although the best lamb, like Lon's, comes from New Zealand. Why? Because in New Zealand, it is against the law to use hormones and tenderizers. I vote to make fat illegal, too (sorry Julia), as half my frenched ribs are more blubber than meat. The remaining four ribs are lovely, however, cherry red and tender in the distinction of prime young spring lamb. The accompanying mashed potato is sturdy with chunks of roasted garlic, zipped with a ratatouille side of sautéed tomato, green and yellow zucchini and onion.

Hardly anything is more traditional than pan-roasted chicken ($20.95), although even the most skilled home cook would be hard-pressed to produce a more impeccable breast. This bird is huge, towering over a mellow celery root purée and drenched in an assertive roasted garlic jus.

While that archetype of comfort food, meatloaf, is conspicuously absent, Poblete caters to better-fed households with wood-grilled filet mignon ($25.95). The juicy cut, expertly medium rare as requested, melts under the knife. My dining companion finishes every bite, spooned up with horseradish mashed potatoes and a mild roasted onion and carrot relish.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet