Saturday, June 9, 2007

Chelsea's Kitchen

Ever since I moved to Phoenix, I'd hear Chelsea's Kitchen mentioned every now and then. I'd seen some very positive reviews and wanted to try it, but for some reason I'd always forget. Tara wanted to do something Friday night and after not finding anything that struck our fancy, we started thinking about dinner. None of the usual places struck any chords. Then I happened to remember Chelsea's. I called to see how busy they were and the hostess said the back patio was about a 30 min wait, but there was immediate seating inside. They don't take reservations. It's first come, first served. We got into my car to head down, but ran into some difficulties, which upset me since I'd just taken into the dealer for it's 15k mile maintenance. The a/c was being obstinate, and well, it's Phoenix. A/C isn't something to trifle with. Plus the tire rotation I asked for resulted in a horrible high-speed shimmy. We came back home and switched to Tara's car. After that, we got there fine. (Tara has added some comments and they appear in parentheses and italics.)

Chelsea's Kitchen is a sister restaurant to La Grande Orange. It's located just north of Camelback on 40th Street. LGO is a few blocks south. CK is right on the canal and the patio faces it. We drove in behind an Escalade who managed to snag the last non-valet parking spot, so we drove to the valet stand and let them do their thing. We inside past some heavy misters and a small front patio with full tables. After a short wait at the hostess stand while two guys apparently fruitlessly tried to sweet talk the hostess into immediate patio seating, another hostess was happy to hear we wanted to sit inside and took us to a table.

The first impression was of noise. It was really loud inside. Loud, bassy music played over speakers and the nearly full restaurant added tons of voice noise. I was sitting next to Tara and we still had trouble being heard short of yelling. (Loud music is a turnoff to me now that I'm getting older. I like to be able to hear my dinner date when he talks to me during dinner. A friend had told us a few months ago he went on a date there, but I don't picture it being a great date place due to the noise alone. The patio is very nice, though, and thinking about it now, I can see why people wanted to sit out there. It was a gorgeous night.) When Tessa our waitress said the specials, I barely caught any of them. She took our drink order of a Coke for Tara and lemonade for me and we perused the menu. The shrimp ceviche appetizer sounded good for me and Tara got a Caesar salad. Several of the entrees looked good. We were both tempted by the Howie burger (caramelized onions, gruyere cheese, lettuce, and a dijon mustard sauce) and the Dixie Pan Fried Chicken (crispy all white meat chicken served warm with mashed potatoes and the daily vegetable. The roasted pork tacos sounded good too. We ended up with Tara getting the fried chicken and I got the Howie.

Our drinks arrived in the form of a glass of ice and can of Coke for Tara and a glass of lemonade for me. CK doesn't have free refills on any level. When my lemonade was empty, the waitress asked if I "wanted her to put in another order of lemonade." I guess that was her somewhat cryptic way of telling me it was free. She did bring glasses of ice water with the new lemonade, though. Still, being bled for refills in a desert climate didn't leave a good impression.

Shortly after that our appetizers arrived. Tara's description of her salad was "shrug". She said it was dry and not nearly enough dressing. (There were long strips of shaved Parmaggiano Reggiano on top of the salad, which were good, although they were somewhat difficult to taste. The croutons were homemade, but rather bland. Overall, it was a disappointing salad. I love Caesar salads, but I like them best when the flavor of the dressing bursts on my tongue. This wasn't even close.) She was underwhelmed. My ceviche was good. It came in a parfait cup in the middle of a plate of tortilla chips. The chips seemed like they might have come from a bag and more than a few seemed a bit stale. There was a bit of a burn to the ceviche, but not too bad. Over all I enjoyed it but would have preferred fresher chips.

Our entrees were a mixed bag. My burger came with a side of fries. The burger was good sized and tasted very good. The problem was it was messy. The combination of lettuce on bottom and slippery, slightly rubbery cheese on top made it nearly impossible to keep the patty from sliding out the back. Add the dijon sauce and caramelized onions that made a juicy, drippy mess, and it was a chore to eat. A man at the next table ate his with a knife and fork. I ate it my with my hands, but before I'd eaten a third of it, the bun was reduced to a soggy, flat mess. I probably woudn't get it again. For the about the same price, Delux is just down Camelback with their very similar Delux Burger on a demi-baguette. It's a much better burger on all counts. The fries were of a thinner cut and average. (I tried a bite of the burger and it was okay. I never put any kind of sauce on meat, except barbecue. I like to let the flavor of the meat speak for itself. I couldn't detect that much flavor in the meat itself. Gruyere is kind of an oily cheese and it was gloppy. Sloppy burgers are a turnoff for me, too. You shouldn't have to eat it with a knife and fork, in my opinion. By the time he was done eating it, his plate looked disgusting with globs of cheese, onions, and sauce everywhere. The sauce was oozing between his fingers too. I found myself being thankful that it wasn't our first date. (haha).)

The chicken was horrible. When she set it in front of Tara, I couldn't believe how tiny the portion of chicken was. Imagine two pieces of chicken about the size of large rubber superballs fried. The batter wasn't crispy, but the chicken was bone dry. Due to the thickness of the pieces, they had to be fried for a long time and dried out. For $16, the entree was laughable. The potatoes were bland as well. Tara did like the vegetables, a mix of carrots and asparagus. I just felt like I was robbed having to pay that much for the dish. (The fried chicken also came with a "cinnamon roll" that was very weird. It was like a crunchy croissant shaped into a swirl, and I struggled to find any cinnamon flavoring in it. It was just very strange. The chicken was the biggest disappointment, though. I likened it to being the size of three McDonald's Chicken McNuggets mushed together into a big ball. I can't even think of what part of the chicken is that size or shape. Maybe between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball? The batter wasn't crispy at all and didn't seem to have much flavor, and the chicken was almost hard to swallow because it was so dry.)

Our bill came to $54 before tip. We felt like this was a ripoff. The dishes were average at best, barely edible at worst. Combined with the no-refill policy and overly noisy atmosphere, we won't be going back. Service was adequate. No complaints there. Tara asked me to let her add comments of her own, which she'll do shortly. Considering other options in the area, CK will be voluntarily forgotten this time.

Side note: Before we left CK, I saw a hot fudge sundae being delivered to another table. After this debacle of dinner, I decided to head down the road to Baby Kay's for their Bourbon Sundae. We go there enough that our waitress knew us by sight and I recognized her as well. I explained that we needed something good after having a bad dinner and she was surprised what happened to us at CK. After she brought the sundae, which tasted fine to me, Tara said swore it was just plain vanilla ice cream instead of the usual butter pecan. It tasted fine to me. I asked our waitress and she confirmed it was butter pecan, but a generic instead of the usual brand (Dreyer's she thought). She seemed to think we were disappointed, but we assured her that it was still a great sundae. Still, she insisted that she wouldn't charge us for it due to the bad luck earlier. She said we were good customers who came a lot, so it would be fine. I repeatedly asked for a check but she refused. I explained that since the empty bowl had scrapes in the glass from our spoons to get the last of it, we obviously enjoyed it. She was adamant, though. I did leave a tip for her almost the price of the sundae. (I told him several times that I was in no way disappointed in the sundae. It was delicious, but it didn't taste like it usually does.)

(Overall, it was a disappointing night for us. We both had high hopes for Chelsea's Kitchen. I should note that we didn't have any problems at all with the service. Our server was very nice and attentive without being overbearing.)

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