Cafe Reviews

Mother Load

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You may want to show some restraint along the way. That's because desserts conclusively demonstrate the advantages of delayed gratification. Among the highlights: rich German chocolate cake, lemony crema Catalana, chocolate mousse pate and a pear mousse tart. And the pain au chocolat works at dessert time, too.

One minor misstep: The $27 brunch tag doesn't cover other mealtime necessities most of us take for granted. Sure, I can understand why champagne costs extra. But I can't understand why iced tea ($2.50) and coffee ($2.75) do. Why not charge $29.95 and let folks drink all the iced tea and coffee they want?

A mother is pretty much genetically programmed to love you no matter what. Taking yours to brunch at Bistro 24 will only heighten her affection.

Navajo Restaurant, Marriott's Camelback Inn, 5402 East Lincoln Drive, Paradise Valley, 948-6644. Sunday brunch: 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.

If Mom prefers a more opulent brunch, the Navajo Restaurant's Sunday spread should satisfy her every whim.

The Southwestern lodge setting is elegantly comfy. Mom can inspect the cowboy art and Native American pottery, as well as the intricately crafted ice sculptures, including one skillfully carved into the shape of a grand piano. Through the big picture windows, your family can gaze on fountains, towering saguaros and Camelback Mountain. All the while, a wandering tribe of mariachis furnishes musical accompaniment.

The brunch here gives you an opportunity to get some exercise. That's because you aren't seated in the same room with the food. This is one brunch where it really does make logistical sense to carry two plates on each trip.

It makes gastronomic sense, too. This lavish spread offers something for every taste.

The seafood is especially tempting. Jumbo shrimp and iced crab claws are just the beginning. You could make a meal out of the wonderful mussels marinated in a tomato-basil sauce, sashimi-style charred ahi tuna and a variety of sushi with all the fixings.

Several salads are also worthy of Mom's attention. Steer her past the potato salad, tomato-basil salad and seafood pasta salad. Instead, let Mom put together her own antipasto from the terrific assortment of Italian meats, artichokes, yellow tomatoes, roasted peppers, olives and shiitake mushrooms. Or she can save herself time and labor by digging into a Caesar salad, a cucumber salad with toasted cumin, or fresh mozzarella with tomato and basil.

The Navajo Restaurant brunch has more themed areas than Disney World. No sense making a special trip over to Omeletland--why bother with something you can easily fix yourself at home? Walk past the waffle area, too, unless you a see a batch being freshly made. Otherwise, the waffles quickly turn lukewarm and spongy. But the blintzes, stuffed with farmer cheese and moistened in fruit sauce, are just right.

Do consider pulling into the pasta section. However, encourage Mom to cover her eyes. That way she won't see just how much butter, oil and cream the chef uses as he tosses fettuccine, artichokes and roasted peppers in a garlic cream sauce.

The south-of-the-border spread is hit-or-miss. The lackluster beef enchiladas and fajitas are strictly for tourists. And who would come here to fill up on chips and salsa? But the Southwestern paella shows some spunk, gaily festooned with sausage, chicken, shrimp, crab and mussels.

Does Mom require a heavy dose of animal protein? She's come to the right place. At the grill station, she'll find scrumptious rack of lamb, seasoned with rosemary. She'll want to pick up these tender beauties and gnaw right to the bone. If she prefers beef, a chef will carve slices from a huge New York strip loin.

A couple of chafing trays also provide hot entree pleasure. Both the artichoke chicken and grilled salmon in lemon cream sauce go significantly beyond the institutional.

Desserts demonstrate the kitchen's commitment to quantity and quality. You can practically hear the dessert tables groaning under the weight.

Let's hope Mom has the good sense to wear an outfit with an elastic waistband. That's about the only way she'll be able to handle treats like chocolate fondue, berry trifle, Linzer torte, pecan pie, cheesecake, chocolate fudge, apple cobbler, chocolate mousse Bavarian and Haagen-Dazs ice cream. If she's too sensible to gorge on sweets, she can get a nutritional thrill from the first-rate fruit assortment. It includes a variety of ripe melon (even though it's not melon season) and mutantly large berries.

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Howard Seftel