Though the newly renovated T. Cook's and The Mix Up Bar debuted over a month ago, the resort hosted an official grand re-opening event last night. If you've been impatiently holding your breath to find out just how they could have improved on the Old World charm of this well-loved local haunt, answers are finally here.
And if you were wondering what new Executive Chef Paul McCabe's "updated menu of New American cooking" will taste like, the simple answer is very good.
The new design, led by Haley Balzano of Phoenix-based creative design team Bar Napkin Productions, kept the rustic charm for which for the restaurant has always been known, adding a modern feel by way of a bolder color scheme and other touches throughout the dining room and patios. There are a few beautiful elements, including the black and white tiling on the back wall and ornate iron chandeliers in the main space, but to say we won't miss the old-school glamour of the original design would be a lie.
And the outdoor dining area got a face lift, too, though those changes will be less noticeable than those inside. In addition to the large back patio, T. Cook's will be able to offer a new private dining area within the property's Orange Grove.
As far the new Mix Up Bar, imbibers will have plenty of space to lounge inside at the small (in a cozy way) bar. The space offers an assortment of rich leather couches, wingbacked chairs and those "intimate" nooks for which the property is known. The most interesting aspect is "The Study," a semi-private room decked out with candles, rustic bookshelves and Old World literature.
On the food side of things, McCabe's menu seems to be a well-edited selection of dishes. Guests at Wednesday night's event were invited to visit tasting stations, each of which were plating miniature versions of dinner menu items.
The venison tartare appetizer with juniper, smoked onion sabayon, and piñon atop a seeded cracker was nice, but we'd be happier to go back for the roasted beet salad, with caramelized yogurt, pistachio brittle, Valdeon bleu cheese, and Mandarin oranges. And it seems McCabe has an appreciation for game, one of the other standout dishes had to be his antelope. The restaurant is sourcing the meat from Broken Arrow Ranch in Texas, where the free-range animals are raised on hundred of acres of land -- these are truly wild animals -- and killed humanely. McCabe offers the antelope with acorn squash puree, lobster mushroom, and a smoked potato croquette.
Our favorite dish of the night had to be the sweet corn agnolatti, with Maine lobster, chanterelles, roasted corn, summer truffles, and a brown butter and orange sauce.
The Mix Up Bar's drinks, courtesy of mixologist Kim Haasarud, truly deliver on the promise of being "garden-to-glass." There's a Blackberry Bramble Shurb with Hendrick's gin, Crème de Mure, blackberries, local blackberry balsamic vinegar (from Outrageous Oils) and lemon that's the perfect balance of fruity and sweet. For something dangerously good, opt for the Wild Saffron, a concoction of organic rye vodka, fresh pineapple juice, lemon and saffron simple syrup that might have you wondering where the booze went -- in a good way.
The bar also will have four beers on tap and a nice selection of mostly California and Arizona wines available by the glass or bottle. You'll be able to order some bar snacks (also from chef McCabe) and if you do, definitely go for the lobster corn dogs. They may be a little heavy on the batter, but it's worth the risk. Other menu options will include oysters, salads, foie gras bratwurst and charcuterie, including a trio of interesting-sounding jerkys.
Whether you like the makeover or not, there's still nothing lacking from an evening spent sitting outside at the hotel's courtyard where bar guests will also be able to drink and dine. With good food and presumably good company, we're betting T. Cook's and the new bar will still be a popular place for locals and tourists to escape.
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