Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Phoenix, Arizona – Part Two

Over the years when I was travelling for work, I became more and more anaesthetised to the ‘joys’ of restaurants and nightlife and, despite my still tender years, I’ve really come to appreciate not going out all the time. Indeed, for a few years, I delighted in self-catering villa holidays and cooked myself most of the time. It’s only more recently that I’ve returned to hotels, but I apologise now that the information I can offer on bars and restaurants in the hotel and Scottsdale is limited by my continuing preference for ‘staying in’. I also find that my appetite is somewhat suppressed in the Sonoran Desert heat.

The ability to avoid going out to eat every single night is enhanced by the flexibility afforded by having a rental car for at least the 24 hours immediately following arrival at Sky Harbor. Just off East Indian School Road at Miller, for example, you’ll find a perfectly serviceable Fry’s supermarket, at which you can stock up on provisions to bring back to the hotel. The trick here is to go to the Customer Service desk first and pick up a VIP Club Loyalty Card. You’ll have to fill in the form attached (but a UK address will ensure that you never make it onto the database) and you’re good to go. You’ll then see that, for many products, there are two prices shown – one for cardholders and one for non-cardholders. The savings can be significant; look out especially for great cardholder deals on wine. You’ll have plenty of space in the cupboards back at the Canyon Suites, the fridge is a full-size one that you can push the hotel’s contents to the back of and, if you don’t want to walk through the lobby with your booty, then just forego the free valet parking and drive yourself into the underground spaces and come straight up in the lift bypassing Reception. Turndown service includes any ice you may need and, of course, you can request more at any time.

If you do intend heading out, beyond the hotel’s own eateries, then the choice is wide. There are plenty of bars and restaurants clustered around the Old Scottsdale, Waterfront and Fashion Square areas. The best of them all, without a doubt, is Mastro’s at City Hall, which is a first class steakhouse with live jazz most evenings. You can eat in the booths of the front bar area or the more traditional tables which take up the rear and largest portion of the building.

Your Ambassador will organise a table but do bear in mind that it is busy every night of the week. If you have a particular date in mind, then make use of the pre-arrival email offer which you will receive from your Ambassador, to ensure that you get your preferred time. The free limo to Fashion Square will drop you at Mastro’s, which is next door.

The service style is very New York – busy, professional with dedicated teams of servers who each have their own specific roles. The menu is extensive and identical in both bar and restaurant, but the principal word of warning is that the portions are huge, even by US standards.

MCC, the aforementioned veggie, was happy to cross the threshold of this temple of bovine cuisine, but of course the menu was hardly skewed to cater for those with a strict ‘no bones’ philosophy. There is fish, but that’s mostly a no-go in this case too. The starter and sides offer does provide a number of choices however, and this is where things can start going obesely wrong. An appetiser portion of toasted cheese ravioli proves to be the size of a large main course anywhere else. The chopped salad side is yet bigger. The single portion of fries comes in a tureen and the ‘off-menu’ (but seemingly always available) lobster mash is likewise of gargantuan proportion. The beef, filet mignon and signature bone-in filet is, frankly to die for.

When we can make no further impression in that which is placed before us, we signal to our server that the war is over and that we can take no more. Naturally, she offers the dessert card. Declining politely for fear of imminent admittance to the nearest Bariatric Ward, we accept coffee and begin the slow process of digestion.

At which point, one of the army of servers arrives with plates and cutlery, swiftly followed by another one who lays in front of us a ‘Warm Vanilla Cake’ with ice cream. As we move to (half-heartedly) suggest that there has been some mistake, our principal server glides by to advise us that this is a complimentary gift from The Canyon Suites Ambassadors. Amazingly, we find room. The bill tops out at USD250 for three including a tip, plus wine and it’s a USD15 out-of-hours ride back to the hotel with one of the limo companies who hold cars outside the restaurant.

If your desire is more to watch motorised America go by and are looking for something casual, then the outdoor terrace of The Bungalow is a decent enough place. For an all-American sports bar with good food at very good prices then head for The Yard House in Fashion Square. It’s next to Crate and Barrel and the Valet Parking Plaza. There are useful happy hour promos and there is some ‘outdoor’ space – but it is not open air. Likewise, the Kona Grill (Pacific Rim) and Z’Tejas Grill (Mexican/Southwestern) opposite the Yard House are also worth a try.

For a respite from the heat, the free limo is primarily offered as a way of getting to and from Fashion Square, which is currently being extended to include a new branch of Barney’s New York. There is already a wide selection of ‘classic’ US stores including A&F, Kenneth Cole, Express Studio etc., complimented by some more high end offerings like TUMI, GUCCI and Yves Sant Luigi. (I made the last one up – but you know what I mean).

The Biltmore Mall is a short drive away too, but not on the free limo run and, therefore, as yet unvisited.

If your tastes are more outlet than couture, then there are two options in the Greater Phoenix area – but both will realistically require a car. The bigger by far is Arizona Mills (below), which is an easy (outside of peak hour) drive around the loop freeway to a site on the Southern side of Sky Harbor in Tempe. There is a decent selection of the outlet stalwarts and, if that’s what you’re looking for, you’ll do fine there. The other, smaller, outlet is Outlets at Anthem which is North of the metro area and, at least in my experience, not so easy to find.

The selection of retailers is complimentary to Arizona Mills – you’ll find a Bose and Ralph Lauren store here but not at AM, for example – but the centre is built in ‘Hacienda Style’ so it is open air and therefore not such a good choice for a midday haven from the nuclear-powered grill in the sky.

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