Monday, August 6, 2007

Fenix - Phoenix

A bit over a year ago, one of Tara's friends in Minnesota sent her a link to a review of a Phoenix restaurant done by a local blogger, Seth Chadwick, who runs the Feasting in Phoenix site. I can't remember the restaurant in question, but we searched through the site and found that our opinions on other places we'd been to were very similar. We've since used his site to find new places and many of them have become favorites. He's also a frequent poster on the Chowhound boards. Over the past year, we've commented on his posts both on his blog and CH, and vice versa. A few weeks ago, he sent me an email asking if Tara and I wanted to join him sometime to review a restaurant. We jumped at the opportunity. Eventually we settled on Fenix at Camelback and 40th Street. One of my friends had absolutely raved about their late-night menu, and she liked it to the point that she went there three times in one week. Last Thursday we met Seth there for dinner.

Fenix serves traditional French fare, despite sharing a name with a Mexican chain I used to go to in Dallas. It's a nice restaurant, but it was very dark. We got there just as the sun was going down and that made it seem darker. We parked and entered the restaurant. The hostess was warned that we were joining a friend, and she pointed to the back of the restaurant. Seth got up from the table and greeted us. After shaking his hand, he turned to Tara, cupped his hands, and asked "Ready for dessert?" Tara and I both cracked up at his reference to one of our favorite reviews of his, detailing a horrific experience at a once renowned Phoenix restaurant.

We sat at the table and proceeded to start chatting. When the waitress showed up to take drinks a few minutes later, I realized we hadn't even touched our menus. Tara and I both stuck with water while shockingly Seth ordered a Diet Coke. Tara and I gave the menu a cursory glance, as we'd both decided what we went before we came. We'd checked their online menu ahead of time. Tara and I both started with the onion soup. She got the coq au vin and I got the duck a l'orange. We also got a side of the mac and cheese. Seth got the pallaird of pork, a mixed field green salad, and a side of fries.

We waited and discussed many things: Seth's various friends he does reviews with, beehive hairdos, restaurant experiences, Minnesota fine foods, and the ability of hummus and falafel to precipitate the destruction of Western civilization.

A waiter dropped off a basket of rolls with chilled butter. Two rolls had sesame seeds on the outside and one was plain. I took the plain one and Tara and Seth took the others. The rolls were crusty and outstanding. I just wished that they had been warmed more due to the rock-hard butter. It was hard to spread.

Our onion soup and the salad arrived a few minutes later. Our soup bowls were very hot, but unfortunately the contents were luke-warm at best. The soup did have a really good flavor, but the cheese and bread were one huge glop due to the low temperature. We were disappointed, when just a few more minutes in the oven would have made this a standout. Seth was very happy with his salad. He really liked the dressing and the freshness and simplicity of the presentation really appealed to him. The only downside was that a few minutes after our soup bowls were cleared, Tara and I each received a smaller side salad that came with our meal, but wasn't mentioned on the menu. I'd read a review of Fenix that mentioned them but forgot to tell Seth. They were the same as his, but just on a smaller scale. If he'd known, he would have ordered a different appetizer.

Our main dishes arrived and looked very good. At least, they would if we could actually see them. Both Tara and my dish had dark sauces, and in the low, low lighting, I honestly couldn't tell what I was eating. I was mostly going by feel. My duck was a huge portion and did taste good. I'd never had duck a l'orange before, so I can't compare it to anything else.

Tara "really wanted to love" her coq au vin, but didn't. She said the chicken was a bit dry, but the sauce made up for it. I tried it and it was ok, but again, never had it and can't compare it to anything. Seth said his pork was bordering on tough, but that the reduction it had was "brilliant." The side of mac and cheese was bland for my tastes. I make my mac and cheese from scratch with extra sharp cheddar, so it could just be a personal taste. If you prefer yours with less of an edge, you might enjoy this. Seth's said his fries were perfectly cooked, but devoid of any type of seasoning. He salted them liberally and said that helped, but he really loved them with the remnants of the sauce on his plate.

Our waitress came back and asked if we were interested in dessert. I asked to see a menu and she produced the sample tray. There were three desserts on it, but the one that caught our eye was a chocolate profiterole. Tara and I decided to split that and Seth passed on dessert. The profiteroles were great. Three balls were covered in whipped cream and a delicious chocolate sauce. Tara and I devoured them in short order and I found myself scraping my fork on the plate to get the last of the chocolate.

Our service throughout the meal was outstanding. Our waters were always refilled as was Seth's Diet Coke. She was very friendly and her French accent added to the atmosphere. We sat around at talked long after we finished eating and before we knew it, it was 9:30 and we had to go home. Both Tara and I agreed that if a group was going to Fenix and we were invited, we'd go, but we wouldn't venture there on our own.

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