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The Ventana Room Is Gone - Who's Next? [Tucson, AZ]

Bill Hunt Dec 11, 2009 07:07 PM

Over my years in the Valley of the Sun, I've had the pleasure to dine at the Ventana Room at the Lowe's Ventana Canyon in Tucson, AZ. I've done a review of each visit, and loved each. My last trip found some glitches, in both the food and the service, but it was still very good - just below the "excellent" that other trips elicited. It's now gone. It seems that it was a victim of the economy, especially regarding high-end dining at AZ resorts.

We lost the Arizona Room at the Wigwam Resort (Litchfield Park, AZ), and several other restaurants, Mary Elaine's, the Marquessa, and more.

Times are changing, and in my book, not for the better. Some of these have been replaced by steakhouses, and some with famous chefs. My question would be, how many steakhouses does Phoenix, or Tucson need? Most that I have dined at, have not been worth a second trip. It's not that their steaks were not good, it's just that I can do better on my grill, and for US$60/main, I expect something special. None has even come close to delivering that.

Now, I am not advocating supporting a high-end restaurant, just for posterity's sake, as we are all feeling pinches on our dining-out budgets, but I worry that soon the entire dining scene will be either a Morton's or a Chili's. To me, each is an "adult McDonalds," just at different price-points. Is this what we really want?

I will miss the Ventana Room, and feel fortunate that there are still a few other fine-dining options in Tucson for our travels there. In Phoenix, we've lost some gems, but there are still a few chef-driven restaurants that offer some form of culinary innovation.

Just a sad lament,

Hunt

  1. hohokam Dec 14, 2009 08:08 PM

    Fortunately, a thriving and expanding contingent of high quality chef-driven restaurants occupies the middle ground between the shining temples of resort-based fine dining and the culinary badlands of TGIMcFunster's. All is not lost.

    1 Reply
    1. re: hohokam
      d
      danhanshan Feb 7, 2010 09:22 AM

      I think hohokam makes a good point. While no one likes to see a good restaurant go, too many of our better restaurants cater to a resort crowd for whom money is no object, and this limits their customer base. I'm willing to pay more for a top quality meal, but some of these places are still charging 40 something an entree, which just feels outdated to me in a world where bistro-style restaurants are taking more risks with equally good ingredients for less than half the price. All of the one-Michelin-star or Gourmet Top 50 restaurants I've visited were cheaper than some of these Tucson resort restaurants. Janos is a great restaurant, and I'd love for the next Thomas Keller to open the next French Laundry in Tucson, but I think the local food scene will be better served if chefs try to embellish the niche occupied by Feast, Armitage, and Poca Cosa.

    2. lawyerbriefs Dec 13, 2009 07:42 PM

      I find Janos and The Grill at Hacienda del Sol very nice alternatives. I happened to have dinner twice in a 9 day span at The Grill and enjoyed both meals greatly. Excellent food, wine and service with a little less pomp and circumstances than what had been offered at the Ventana Room. Still, it's sad when institutions close, especially those where special occasions were celebrated.

      2 Replies
      1. re: lawyerbriefs
        Bill Hunt Dec 14, 2009 04:28 PM

        We also feel that Janos is a good one. We've dined there many times, and all have been very good to excellent. I do not know The Grill at Hacienda del Sol, but will make it happen on the next trip.

        Now, friends love Anthony's, but I see little here about that restaurant. It was going to be one of our three: Ventana Room, Janos, and Anthony's. Obviously, if we do that golf trip, we need to fill in for Ventana Room, and will look to The Grill.

        Thanks,

        Hunt

        1. re: Bill Hunt
          lawyerbriefs Dec 15, 2009 04:34 PM

          I have not been to Anthony's in years and no one I know goes. Fabulous wine list and the food was decent when we last went ~ 10 years ago, but I don't think it's in a class with Janos or The Grill. Service at The Grill has been kicked up a notch in the last several months. Friendly, but more formal than it used to be. Janos remains wonderful too!

      2. c
        Claudette Dec 12, 2009 01:12 PM

        Wow - I'm sorry to hear that, but am not surprised, given how most restaurants seem to be less than full these past couple of years. I know that our dining budget has been greatly reduced by both bad circumstances and choice. Although I enjoyed the food and wine at the Ventana Room, the extravagance was unsustainable for us. But we'd never consider Morton's or Chili's as an alternative, especially now with your hilarious "adult-McDonald's" adjective.

        4 Replies
        1. re: Claudette
          Bill Hunt Dec 12, 2009 06:32 PM

          I understand the cost of dining. We were very lucky in that we were down there twice per year, and were still able to manage it. Obviously, that was not enough. On our last experience, the restaurant was only about 1/4 full, even though we had a large table. Also, the service had slipped by then, even with the low volume.

          We had plans to do Janos, The Ventana Room and Anthony's on a couple's long weekend with golf each day. Guess we'll have to look for a "third" now.

          I am so sorry to see them go, but as I look around, I feel that many more will bite the dust. I just hope that AZ can woe some world-class chefs, and build the chef-driven higher-end restaurant market back up.

          Still, we lost a gem here, and others around the state. Like I mentioned, how many high-end steakhouses, with absentee notable chefs, does AZ need?

          Hunt, with a tear in his eye...

          1. re: Bill Hunt
            c
            Claudette Dec 12, 2009 07:55 PM

            Bill, to replace the Ventana Room, try Primo, Melissa Kelly's restaurant at the Starrpass JW Marriott. Once in a while the food can be uneven, but generally it's great. The food's much better than at the AZ Inn, Anthony's, and McMahon's, even though the wine list is not as good as theirs. I had a great time, and wine, at Sullivan's (even though it's just a steak house). Please report back - I love reading your reviews.

            Here are recent threads on Primo:
            http://search.chow.com/search?query=primo&search_board_id=6&search_boardgroup_id=3&sort_mode=newest&type=Topic&from_date=1+year+ago

            Primo - http://primo.jwmarriottstarrpass.com/
            Sullivan's - http://www.sullivansteakhouse.com/

            -----
            Ventana Room
            7000 N Resort Dr, Tucson, AZ 85750

            1. re: Claudette
              Bill Hunt Dec 13, 2009 06:18 PM

              I greatly appreciate that alternate. We have some pretty decent J W Marriott restaurants, up in PHX.

              Once, the restaurants at the major resorts, of the day, were a real draw in AZ. Times have changed. Maybe they are changing back - or maybe just another "executive chef's" ultra-high-end steakhouse? Like either city needs any more of those.

              Appreciated,

              Hunt

              1. re: Bill Hunt
                c
                Claudette Dec 14, 2009 10:31 AM

                Bill, the JW Marriott in PHX is a zoo (I've only had breakfast there, so can't say too much). The one in Tucson is much smaller, more adult-oriented, and quieter, and Primo is owned and operated by Melissa Kelly. She's not always there, but the food is pretty consistent.

                I agree with lawyerbriefs - Janos and the Grill at Hacienda del Sol are both very nice alternatives, and none of these are steakhouses.

        2. 4culiniarians Dec 12, 2009 09:15 AM

          Oh boy, ditto from another Valley of the Sun resident. Lowe's Ventana was a cool, high end joint and I've had the pleasure of being there, maybe twice, guess there won't be a third. I concur on the sad lament and love your "adult McDonalds" moniker. Based on all that, I'd rather cook at home. Sad...

          4C...

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