Cafe Reviews

The Qwest for Service

I hate Qwest. This is not a random pronouncement, but an unwavering truth. If Qwest could be whittled to one person, I'd hunt him down, strap this horrid excuse for a human being into shackles, toss him in a dark shed and subject him to the same torture he's giving to me right now: utter, maddening incompetence.

The Qwest victim could beg for water, and I'd agree most sincerely to bring it right away. Days later, I'd give him, oh, say, a radish instead, plus a bill for $1,000. A few moments later I'd tack on a late fee. As he was eating his radish -- ravenous after days of starvation -- I'd yank it from his mouth and laugh -- SORRY! The radish, I'd tell him, was being streamlined by Superior Customer Service Priority for His Convenience and thus was now unavailable. Then I'd give him another bill. And then, as he finally broke down in tears, I'd just stare at him, with a completely ignorant, entirely confused look of helpful deceit.

Feel the Spirit of Our Service. That's Qwest's new slogan. More appropriately, I think, it should be, Feel This.

How hard can it be? Qwest, that communications company from hell, could learn a lot about customer service simply by visiting Nick & Tony's. Nick & Tony's is a restaurant, a newcomer to the space abandoned by Bistecca at Scottsdale Fashion Square. At Nick & Tony's, I've found the best service I've seen in a long time. And really good food, too.

Nick & Tony's, in fact, is so pleasing that I'm betting it'll be able to survive despite its awkward location in the cave that is Scottsdale Fashion Square's confusing valet turnaround driveway. Who dreamed up this architecture, burying restaurants in a tiny cubby so they can't be seen until we're at the front door? The approach looks like a delivery bay, and it's the layout that's blamed for the failure of the first restaurants to set up in the space -- the fine Bistecca, Fog City Diner, and Hops!. Whoever the designer was, I bet he now works at Qwest.

My problem with Qwest is that the company keeps sending me bills for service I no longer use. For the kind of money it's demanding this month, I could enjoy 30 plates of Nick & Tony's marvelous meat loaf, an enormous slab of beefy bliss cloaked in a charmingly tangy barbecue sauce, topped with crunchy fried onion strings and bedded with stick-to-the-fork thick mashed potatoes. I could savor 22 plates of Nick & Tony's hazelnut crusted trout, the firm, flavorful fish in a robust charred tomato and chile rubbed shrimp sauce, or almost 17 plates of Mongolian-style ahi tuna, marinated and pan-seared with sautéed spinach, pickled ginger, Asian soy butter sauce and cilantro rice. Phone bill or fine food -- it's not a difficult choice.

Nick & Tony's is owned by Restaurant Development Group, an organization out of Chicago with 28 different operations across America (it also owns Bar Louie, next door to Nick & Tony's, in the former Fog City Diner location). Such professional management may help the restaurant survive where others failed.

Because these folks have no problem doing their job, sending out an intriguing mix of classic chophouse fare like prime steaks, designer pasta, fresh seafood and an accent of Asian delectables like an above-par Thai chicken salad (a pretty toss of roasted chicken, avocado, mixed greens, sweet-and-sour cucumber, carrots, charred corn, scallions, crispy cilantro noodles and ginger soy dressing), or a Korean beef satay of noodles stir-fried with vegetables in red curry.

At Nick & Tony's, our server is on the ball so much, in fact, that as my sister quietly asks me what a skillet filet might be, he jumps in with a polite explanation that it's two four-ounce steaks prepared in a skillet with mushroom ragout and potato crisps. He monitors our completely distracted, chattering party of five to see when we're finally ready to order, brings us silverware before we even know we need it, sends over the busboy for constant water refills and plate clearing, describes each dish as he presents it, and even offers to show us other dishes about which we're curious.

And it's not just him. Over multiple visits, a bartender cheerfully chats me up about my tee shirt ("Runs With Scissors," it says), another bartender checks in to see if I've been helped since I've optioned to go drinkless, and at dinner, a server -- not even for our table -- practically slides into home plate to refill my wine glass when he notices I'm reaching to pour for myself from the bottle ("Big no-no here," he explains with an engaging smile. "We serve you.").

I think Nick & Tony's is great. The decor is sophisticated but relaxed -- black leather booths, lots of mahogany, stacked rock slabs, glass and an exciting exposition kitchen. Magnum bottles shelved all around are subtle indicators of the extensive wine list of more than 100 American and Italian selections.

Servings are huge -- and I normally am turned off by massive plates, but these are delicious giants, perfect for large-party sharing or lovely leftovers. A lunch with Mom leaves me with snacks for a good two days, nibbling on the never-ending mountain that is the chopped salad, an enormously satisfying crisp of mixed greens, juicy tomato, charred corn kernels, cucumber, chopped egg, grilled red onion, bacon, bleu cheese crumbles, cornbread croutons and buttermilk dressing with chicken, shrimp or steak. Mom does quicker work with her more manageable but still generous angel hair pasta, lavishly decorated with grilled salmon, spinach, roasted tomato, pine nuts and roasted garlic white wine broth.

These recipes don't hold back on seasonings, either, sprucing a tender 20-ounce cowboy rib eye with chili marinade and partnering it with a trio of dipping sauces (thin Worcestershire, tart peppercorn, and sweetish mustard). And spinach ravioli is a delight, bulging with tangy feta and draped in silky tomato vodka sauce with juicy tomato relish and sprinkles of pesto crumbs.

Nick & Tony's takes some creative license with its Asian fare -- some of the poetry works, some not so much. Spicy tempura tuna rolls would be ridden out on a rail in an authentic Japanese restaurant (they're not spicy, and frou-frou with seaweed salad garnish that should be served as a separate course), yet still are friendly noshes for our rowdy group. Chicken satay is nothing like its skinny Indonesian origin, either, with vertical skewers of obese breast plumped above a salad of chunked tomato, avocado, roasted corn and coleslaw, but the meat is remarkably juicy and the accompanying peanut sauce entirely lickable.

The only thing that can chase away my bitter thoughts about Qwest is heaping mouthfuls of Nick & Tony's incredible desserts -- a slice of moist carrot cake that's the size of a shoebox, and a brownie sundae layered with custard, ice cream, fresh berries and whipped cream that's ample enough for half a dozen diners.

This is too much. In studying the one-page joke that is my so-called current Qwest phone bill, I find the word "service" written 25 times. Maybe that's why I can't get any -- all the "service" has been used up just preparing my invoice. I've got just one more thing to say to Qwest as I gleefully refuse to pay. Feel This.

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Carey Sweet
Contact: Carey Sweet