What The Jester Had For Dinner: AZ88, Scottsdale AZ
Through my time on here, I have noticed that legendary reviewer Seth Chadwick and I have more than a bit of synchronicity. There have been more than a couple of times that one of us has reviewed something, and the other had just recently either been to that restaurant or had some other similar experience. You know how Seth Chadwick's most recent review was of Blu Burger Grill? Yeeeeeeeah... Like Bette Davis uttered in All About Eve, "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night."
My experience started off well enough, meeting up with a bunch of my friends from work. We got a banquette table big enough for all of us. The whole place is very modern and comfortable, with sleek, reasonably comfortable furnishings all over the place. I'm glad they weren't very busy; the combination of cathedral ceiling and lack of soft surfaces would surely make it almost impossible to hear anything when the place is hopping. I looked through their cocktail menu and noticed one of their feature cocktails was the legendary Sazerac, a combination of rye whiskey, a dash of Herbsaint (a New Orleans creation made as a substitute for absinthe), Peychaud's Bitters, and a little bit of sugar to mellow things out. If you haven't had a Sazerac before, I can tell you it is certainly worth seeking one out. Don't do it at AZ88, though. They put too much sugar in there, making it taste more like a whiskey punch. Thankfully, there wasn't so much sugar that it wasn't drinkable, just enough that the noticeable flavor was just sweet instead of the desired balance of sweet and strong. I could have sworn they put some Sprite in there (heaven forbid), but maybe my taster was just off.
Our server was obviously new to serving; he half-heartedly asked if we wanted appetizers, then sort of wandered off. An off-duty server from AZ88 was sitting with us, and *she* ended up taking our order instead. If a brand new server is THIS green, he has no business trying to wrangle a table of 8 on his own. He really should have had some kind of help instead of just getting thrown to the wolves like this. I can't fault him for this, but he certainly left me plenty to fault him for nonetheless. I ordered their Burger Au Poivre II (a pretty steep $11.50), a peppercorn-crusted burger with a burgundy wine sauce, topped with blue cheese and bacon; thankfully, AZ88 will let you do your burger medium-rare, and that's exactly how I ordered it. I waited a while for my burger, my drink sat empty, and eventually my burger arrived. It was well done. The accompanying fries were both overcooked and cold. I already wasn't happy from the lack of server attention, this did not make things any better. I sat for a few minutes, trying to get the server's attention. He got a drink order from the girl next to me, I tried to signal him and thought I made eye contact with him, and he left. He brought the lady's drink, and left again. The off-duty server (you might notice I'm not mentioning the off-duty server's name, there is a reason for this you'll find out soon enough) noticed that I was absolutely steaming at this point. She then took the burger back to the kitchen to get remade. At this point, I was very much ready for another drink. I went against my good judgment and ordered something that tends to be a bit tricky to make, a classic cocktail called the Monkey Gland. It's a mix of gin and orange juice, with a dash of Pernod and a dash of grenadine, served straight up. It's a simple enough cocktail, but there's a twist that will trap all but the most seasoned bartenders; Pernod is a particularly strong liqueur. Use too much and it will completely take over the drink. The bartender used too much, and you couldn't taste anything but Pernod. To compound the problem, the bartender barely shook the drink before pouring it, and therefore was a good bit warmer than the ice-cold that I was expecting. There are few things in life less pleasant than warm gin.
When my remade burger came out, the burger was done to the right temperature and everything was hot, but the fries were oversalted almost to the point of inedibility. The burger itself was dominated by the blue cheese, and the beef was almost flavorless. I think the bun was specially made for them, as I hadn't seen one like it anywhere else, but it was flabby bread that threatened to surrender to the juices from the medium rare burger, and offered no substance or flavor of its own to add to the burger. The one shining part of the burger was the bacon; nice, thick-cut bacon with some good smoky flavor of its own. I somehow ate half of the burger, but I was feeling too vitriolic at this point to want any more food.
I finally managed to get the waiter's attention, and did get a glass of water from him to quench the excess sodium on the fries. He was quick to get the water (it would have been nicer if he offered some at the start!), but the glass was eight ounces at most. It's water, it's free, could you at least give me more than three swigs? I drained it in five seconds, and by some miracle caught his eye so he could get me another. After the second water, I never saw him near the table again except to get me a box for the rest of my burger. At this point, I wrote off the complete meal as a loss. I went for the manager (I would have asked the server for the manager, but I wasn't about to wait another twenty minutes for him to appear again). I explained to him how everything was off for me and the server was still much too wet behind the ears. I got something that resembled an apology, along with an explanation that this was the server's first night on the floor. The manager said he'd be over at my table in a few minutes. He never came. Instead, he sent the off-duty server over with a revised check that comped my ridiculously screwed up burger. Hey, Manager! If you say you're going to do something, you really should do it, especially if the person you you were talking to is not a happy camper. I understand that bad things happen all the time; the true service level of a restaurant is most evident when taking care of an angry customer. At this absolutely essential point of service, you failed. Miserably.
My Sazerac was eight dollars, the Monkey Gland was a whopping eleven bucks. Apparently, a pour of their house gin is 9 dollars (and they don't even have the decency to use a name-brand liquor at that price! I don't even WANT to know how much it would have been if I asked for Tanqueray), and for the privilege of rinsing the ice with Pernod, they charge 2 dollars. Two bucks for half a teaspoon of Pernod? You have absolutely GOT to be kidding. The markup on that is something like 20 times the cost. Even with the comped food, I felt like I was getting way, way overcharged. But then, this is the heart of downtown Scottsdale, where people somehow think that because they're paying too much, the place must be really great.
The very last straw was when I was paying up, still incensed at the combination of pitiful service and overpriced everything. I was grumbling at how I felt ripped off by the experience, and then the off-duty server opened her yap, and said in a very snide tone, "Well if you don't like it, you don't have to come back." I was ready to tip the off duty server quite nicely for being so helpful during the meal, but after mouthing off to me like that, I decided my money would stay right in my wallet. Damn right I won't come back! I'll go over to Delux, where they serve up much better burgers for less, pour well-made, generously sized cocktails, and the servers don't act like I'm making their social hour difficult by expecting a refill on my water.
Ratings below are on a scale of 1 to 5, 5 being high. Occasionally, zeros and sixes may be awarded for exceptional cases.
Scottsdale Civic Center (south of Indian School and Drinkwater)
Food: 1 (I hated it)
Service: 0 (Not Acceptable)
Atmosphere: 4 (I liked it)
Overall: 1 (I hated it)
Value: 1 (Very poor)
Kid Friendly: 2 (Not a good idea)
Open for: Lunch Mon-Fri, Dinner, Late Night
Is it just me or does the primary issue in most of the recent threads revolve around service? I know the job market is tight - but is there really no ability to hire, train, mentor and then turn loose a server? I must say I would rather a restaurant tell the wait will be longer to assure quality service then end up with someone who doesn't have a clue. And, can I mention that you really need to have an ability to think and plan to be a good server! These are both skills I fear the average 22 year old is lacking, sadly. Thus, it is the management of restuarants responsibility to properly train staff and this includes the obvious steps of service that one would assume anyone who has been a server (or, heck anyone who has eaten in a restuarant) would expect.
I think it has been a bond ever since Cafe Lalibela. :o)
I am only sorry that you had this experience. AZ88 has been on my radar, but I think I will just let it fall off for now.
The treatment you received is inexcusable. A green waiter is one thing, but it doesn't take a seasoned professional to know to fill the water glasses every now and then.
And you are correct about Pernod. It overpowers when used incorrectly and $2 for that privilege was just over the top. It isn't liquid gold.
The more I read about gourmet burgers in Phoenix metro, the more I thank the powers that be that Delux is exactly 3.5 minutes by car from my computer.
I hope your next meal shines, my friend.
You've made me very glad that I just had a martini the last time I was at AZ88. Three of our party of four are old enough to remember Ike and were made to feel quite unwelcome and decidedly "unhip". AZ88 must be too trendy for the likes of us, so we took our business to Roaring Fork where we had a great meal (and large cheque). Remembering this makes me think of the shopping scene in "Pretty Woman" where the salespeople realize their error in ignoring our heroine.