Thursday, April 14, 2005

What The Jester Had For Dinner: Elephant Bar, Chandler AZ

The Music I'm Listening To: "Destiny" by Zero 7, selected by LaunchCast (I rated this song 85)

Fabulous decor,
But high prices ruin this
Friday's wanna-be.

Yeah, the synopsis of the restaurant review is in haiku. Be glad I didn't whip out my iambic pentameter. Besides, if I whipped that out I might get arrested. I went out with a friend of mine to the Elephant Bar by Chandler Fashion Centre*. We decided on it by what seems to be one of my typical methods: We got in the car, and drove around largely at random until either something we passed looked tasty, or we thought of something. My friend mentioned Elephant Bar, and since it's been on my try-it list for a while, I figured we might as well go. Upon walking in, we are greeted by what TGI Friday's would have looked like if the creators had just been on an African safari- all kinds of artwork on the walls, ceiling painted with animal prints, and lots of safari artifacts (lots and lots of steamer trunks) placed up high on the walls. This bodes well that they paid attention to what the place looks like. What does not bode well is that the whole decor is extremely busy, with your eye bouncing around from place to place on the walls. Often, the more spectacular the atmosphere in a restaurant (whether it's the interior decorating, a nice view, or beautiful bodies inhabiting the joint), the less ambitious the kitchen gets... but more on that in a moment.

We ordered drinks; my friend got a Mudslide and a mango Tazo iced tea, I selected their signature martini**, the Tropitini, a concoction of the vodka of your choice, piƱa colada mix, and mango puree. It was reasonably tasty, but weak to the point that I think I paid $6.50 for pineapple juice straight up. My friend's Mudslide was tasty enough, but certainly could have used more ice cream than ice in it. As for the Tazo tea, it was as good as always, but three bucks a bottle? That's how much the much more pretentious Republic of Tea brand goes for anywhere you see it!

The menu itself is much like the decor- so busy that you don't know where to look. A zebra print pattern leads your eye down the menu pages, swaying side to side with a feeling that you're missing half the menu and getting a bit seasick at the same time. Now, with an intensive African safari theme to the restaurant, you may expect to find a menu with influences from Morocco to Egypt, and everything in between. This excellent opportunity is completely missed, as the menu goes for Pacific Rim and Caribbean influences! Ah well, I'm sure the wonks in marketing for the place still have their jobs. My friend got a chicken quesadilla (sans tomatoes), I eventually decided on one of their specials, the Jamaica Mojo Grilled Shrimp Salad. The entrees came out, we dug in, we found the quesadilla to be the same damn thing you get whether you're at TGI Friday's, Applebee's, Chili's, or any of the other casual clone restaurants. How do The Powers That Be ensure such cross-brand homogeneity? The mind boggles. My salad was certainly... interesting. Remember the "interesting" I talked about yesterday? This was the Aunt Boris interesting. The salad was your standard spring mix (can you escape this stuff anymore? Not even five years ago you were lucky if the salad greens were anything but iceberg lettuce, now it's frisee, radicchio, kale, endive, and goodness knows what else!), mixed with dried cranberries and walnuts, tossed in their "sweet and zesty" (the restaurant's words, not mine) Jamaica Mojo dressing. I'm not quite sure how to describe the dressing. I think it consisted of little more than honey and balsamic vinegar, reduced to a syrupy consistency. The ingredients of the salad were all very assertive, needing a careful touch with the dressing to make sure that it doesn't take over the entire salad. Alas, like so many restaurant salads before this one, it was very overdressed and tasted of nothing but the dressing. The shrimp were tasty, but had two very serious presentation problems. For starters, they offered the shrimp on skewers. While it makes for a pretty plate, it makes the shrimp seem less like a salad ingredient, and more like a side order. To make matters worse, the shrimp didn't have the tail end removed. Again, while this does look pretty, it makes it hell to eat. The easiest way to eat tail-on shrimp is by hand; while this works for eating the shrimp on their own, when it's a salad ingredient, it keeps the shrimp separate from the rest of the dish. So, back the dish went to the kitchen, and I ordered the other item I was pondering, the Smokehouse BBQ Chicken Sandwich. This was better, likely because it didn't stray too far into original territory, only being adventurous enough to put onion strings and ham on a de rigueur chicken sandwich. About two thirds of the way through this very generously sized sandwich, I noticed they were playing Eurythmics's "Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This)" on the sound system. Anywhere else, I wouldn't have batted an eyelash. In a place that is quite intensely themed like this, it was like hearing the same song in a fancy restaurant. There are all kinds of music they could have done that would fit the theme better (the CDs from Buddha Bar in Paris come to mind very quickly), but instead went with the DirecTV Party Favorites route. Sigh. At least dessert was excellent... we went down the street to Angel Sweet, home of the best ice cream on the planet.

On the bright side, our server at Elephant Bar, Kara, was wonderful. A bit overenthusiastic at times (I think more and more that this is a requirement to work in a place like this, being on Prozac and caffeine at the same time), but friendly and eager to please. I'd love to go back to see Kara again, but with overpriced, lackluster food like the kitchen sends out, I don't know if I want to go back anytime soon.

*Yes, I know that the official name is Chandler Fashion Center, with "er" at the end instead of "re". I like the idea of something that's the middle of something being the center, and a place where people go to find something being a centre. Since CFC is not the middle of fashion in Chandler, I hereby proclaim it a centre.

**More usage footnotes! Exciting, huh? I'm a serious cocktailian, and have realized there are two different kinds of martinis out there- the Martini with a capital M is gin (or vodka), vermouth (or not, if you prefer extra-dry martinis), stirred over ice (or shaken), served straight up (or on the rocks), with an olive garnish (or lemon twist). Yes, that's a lot of variations. It's just the nature of the beast. The martini with a lower-case m is a modern invention, and more of a category of drinks. These are generally fruit flavored (sour apple is very popular), and always served straight up in the classic Martini glass. Years ago, these were simply known as cocktails (and indeed the older ones such as the Pegu Club Cocktail are still known as such), but martini has taken over, largely due to the cosmopolitan air it provides, while cocktail sounds kind of frumpy.