Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Restaurant Makeover: It's easy to confuse change with progress. Let's hope confusion between the two doesn't break out at one of the Valley's premier dining spots, the Chaparral Room at the posh Camelback Inn.

For umpteen years, folks went to the Chaparral for the kind of old-fashioned continental elegance they couldn't find elsewhere in the Valley. The menu featured classic dishes like beef Wellington, steak Diane, sole meuniere and lobster Thermidor. Desserts were prepared tableside and often theatrically flamed. Tuxedoed waiters catered to a dressed-up monsieur and madame's every whim. No, it certainly wasn't trendy, but the food and experience were always superb. I never left the Chaparral Room without a twinge of regret, wishing I'd been born 40 years earlier, and a lot wealthier.

If you have a soft spot for this kind of meal, it's nostalgia time. That's because you're going to have to be satisfied with memories.

Management has recently spent millions freshening up the resort--the inn looks great. But part of that refurbishing includes the Chaparral Room, which is reopening after several months of extensive remodeling.

The new setting is described as "frontier moderne." The formal service and tableside preparations are gone. "Casual" is in.

I suppose I can handle these changes. But I'm not very enthusiastic about the kitchen's new direction. The classic menu has been jettisoned, replaced by "new American" cuisine. The remodeled fare, I'm told, will feature fresh ingredients, embellished with Southwestern, European and Asian touches. In other words, the retooled menu will probably read like every trendy menu in town. (If I see ahi tuna in a ginger-soy sauce here, I may run screaming into the night.)

Now, I understand management's predicament. Too many guests have been leaving the resort to eat elsewhere. Most of them probably never even heard of beef Wellington or cherries jubilee. And the Chaparral Room's suit-and-tie formality probably hasn't made them feel any more at ease.

Still, I'm distressed. Sure, the food, the service and the look were about as cutting edge as a coonskin cap. But everything was so beautifully done. The Chaparral Room used to be special, unique, memorable. Can the magic carry over? I'm crossing my fingers. But I'm also lowering my expectations.

Eggs-ceptional Deal: Do the words "free food" make your heart race? If that's the case, set your alarm clock for 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, November 10.

That's when all four Valley branches of First Watch, a topnotch breakfast destination, will be hosting a "Free Omelet Day." From 6:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., any omelet you order is free.

What's the catch? It's your conscience, if you have one. First Watch will be collecting donations for St. Vincent de Paul's kitchen. The money will go toward buying Thanksgiving turkeys and trimmings to feed the poor and homeless.

First Watch is at 1 North First Street, in downtown Phoenix; 61 West Thomas; 9645 North Black Canyon Highway; and 4422 North 75th Street (next to Don & Charlie's), in Scottsdale.

--Howard Seftel

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Howard Seftel