Cafe Reviews

SECOND HELPINGS

High and Mighty: That's the impression I get from Top of the Rock, the fine-dining restaurant at the Buttes resort, at 2000 Westcourt Way in Tempe. This place continues to deliver one of the best food/setting/view combinations in town.

It has a circular room, perched on top of a butte. No matter where you sit, you get a spectacular 360-degree Valley panorama. Inside, it's just as attractive. Boulders, trees and cacti are artfully pulled together, while the wood-beamed ceiling creates a desert-lodge effect.

And the food keeps pace with the setting and view.
The breadbasket sets the tone. You get three kinds of fresh bread--crusty asiago cheese rolls, red chile corn muffins and cracked wheat rolls flecked with pine nuts--served with prickly pear and macadamia nut butter. It sure looks like Top of the Rock is paying attention to details. The wine list confirms it. As far as I know, Top of the Rock is the only place in town that offers half glasses of wine, served at half the per-glass price plus a quarter. This way, guests can sample some premium wines without paying too great a cost, either financially or physiologically. Try a Mondavi Sauvignon Blanc for $3.60, or a Phelps Cabernet for $4.

The eclectic fare with a Southwestern flair is just as rewarding. I'm glad to see the kitchen hasn't fiddled with the lobster Napoleon ($9.25), one of my favorite appetizers. It's a blend of lobster and boursin cheese, schmeared between won-ton wafers. Almost as effective is the duck roulade ($6.95), an egg roll served with a mound of raspberry-braised onions and a red chile sweet-and-sour sauce. Saut‚ed forest mushrooms ($7.25) come packed in puff pastry and drizzled with cream.

The main dishes are divided into two sections. We passed on the tame-looking "mesquite broiler" options--you can get grilled fish and meat anywhere. We figured most of the chef's energy would be directed into the "chef's creations."

And we didn't regret the choice. Pan-seared sea bass ($20.95) is luscious, a moist, lightly crusted slab coated with cilantro pesto, and served with a wedge of polenta and ratatouille in a chipotle beurre blanc. The vegetarian tamale ($15.95), two corn husks crammed with couscous, mushrooms, tomato and cheese also is well-executed. Old favorites like tea-smoked duck breast ($21.95) in a fruity cherry compote and pesto-crusted rack of lamb ($24.95) bathed in feta cheese and pine nuts are also still going strong.

The dessert menu (all $4.95) has been revamped. It ranges from the simple (Ben and Jerry's ice cream) to the offbeat (poached pineapple and lemon custard layered on macadamia nut phyllo dough) to the heart-stopping (white and dark chocolate cream wrapped in a shell of bittersweet chocolate, moistened with a white chocolate sauce).

Top of the Rock has a real "special occasion" air to it. If you've got something to celebrate, or just find yourself with some disposable income, this is a good spot to dispose of it. Call 225-9000.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Howard Seftel