Cafe Reviews

Razz'll Dazzle

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A daily special suggests that the chef can improvise, too. He deftly encrusted mahimahi in polenta, herbs and mustard seeds, then drizzled on a smooth, red bell pepper sauce. Thick mashed potatoes and a bundle of winter veggies tied in a band rounded off a platter that was as pretty to contemplate as it was to eat.

Desserts keep up the momentum generated by the appetizers and entrees. Chocolate pate is irresistible--a fudgy slab of white and dark chocolate. Even better is flan, whose recipe, our waitress confided, came from the chef's mother. If so, he should put her on the payroll. It's a marvel: creamy custard glazed with pineapple on top and crusted with coconut on the bottom, surrounded by fresh berries and a tablespoon of chocolate sauce.

Not everything is perfect. On busy weekend evenings, reservation times get backed up. The breadbasket isn't as compelling as it should be. And white wine gets served in a ridiculously oversize glass that's better suited to housing goldfish.

But it's easy to overlook these blemishes. Razz's is a big-time place whose biggest problem, as far as I can tell, will be coping with success.

Different Pointe of View, Pointe Hilton at Tapatio Cliffs, 11111 North Seventh Street, Phoenix, 863-0912. Hours: Dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 6 to 9:30 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 6to 10 p.m.

Different Pointe of View wasn't broke, but management decided to fix it anyway.

First, the decor. This elegant place used to have a polished, art-deco look, with lots of chrome and marble. But corporate headquarters evidently thought the setting a bit old-fashioned and out-of-place in the 1996 desert Southwest. Maybe it was. But at least Different Pointe of View sported a distinctive style.

Now it's got a Southwestern theme--desert colors, mammoth pots with cactus and abstract regional art. And it looks like every other Southwestern restaurant in town. Thank goodness the decision makers couldn't fiddle with the fabulous view of twinkling city lights stretched out beyond the big picture windows.

Second, the service. Different Pointe of View used to set the standard--smooth, professional, knowledgeable. And on one visit, that's how it still was. But the service was unbelievably ragged on another visit: a 15minute wait for a menu; a 20minute wait for bread; wineglasses not removed; a server who had to ask us "who got what," then setting the dishes down with a hash-slinger's "Okay"; and no one checking back with us at any point during dinner to see how we were faring.

The worst moment of all? Walking past the captain and ma”tre d' on our way out, and not getting a "Thank you" or "Good night" from either of them. I guess dropping a hundred bucks on dinner doesn't buy politeness the way it used to do.

Finally, the fare.
The menu is still divided into two sections. The "Classical Cuisine" part is basically unchanged--look for appetizers like oysters Rockefeller and escargots Bourguignonne, and entrees like filet mignon, rack of lamb and shrimp Proveneal.

But the section called "Razz's Cuisine" is gone, replaced by "Regional American" dishes. Perhaps the new chef is still feeling his way, but at the moment the fare has more misses than hits.

Sometimes the appetizers work, as with the quail stuffed with cornbread and chorizo, in a scrumptious red chile mole, gilded with avocado salsa. Three small wild boar chops, glazed with tamarind and accompanied by a mound of green chile rice, also pressed the right buttons.

But rock shrimp fondue, served in a crock with goat cheese and artichoke, needs work--one measly rock shrimp isn't enough to name a dish after. And four puny crusts of grilled bread couldn't begin to handle the goat cheese and artichoke load. How exactly are we supposed to eat this?

The main dishes don't operate on all cylinders--something invariably holds them back.

Take the peppered ahi tuna, magnificent slabs of perfectly cooked fish, done in by asauce fashioned from charred tomatoes and balsamic vinegar that's astringent enough to make your toes pucker. Too bad, because the side of yellow bell pepper pasta could have been a star in its own right. Panroasted duck, freshened with apples, is pleasant enough, but the risotto accompaniment tasted as if it had been seasoned only with air.

An unexceptional sea bass with tomatillo sauce inspired mostly yawns. It certainly can't compete with my memory of another fish dish I had here under the former regime, a magnificent hunk of albacore tuna crusted with macadamia nuts and wheat germ, in a mango-pineapple-pepper salsa, that still sets my heart racing when I think ofit.

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Howard Seftel