Do you know the restaurant-related saying “Too bad you can’t eat the view”? A variation of that snotty remark – just substitute “view” for “ambience” – flits through my mind while dining at Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen in the new Andaz Resort, a luxury makeover of the former Cottonwoods Resort in Central Scottsdale.
I love everything about the soothing atmosphere and playful midcentury design of this Hyatt-owned boutique hotel. Andaz has anchored itself to the Cattle Track Arts Compound, an 80-year-old artist community around the corner, and the compound’s creative imprint is felt throughout the property, right down to the brightly colored earthenware serving dishes. Even the name Weft & Warp exudes an artsy flavor, referencing the two sets of intersecting threads woven together to produce fabric. It feels a world apart from the bustle of Old Town just down the road. And from the instant I lay eyes on the modern casitas and sprawling grounds, dotted with palms and cottonwoods, I’m enchanted, imagining many happy food moments at this neatly contained little paradise that sits five minutes from my house.
But as much as I appreciate the culturally rich elements that compose this tapestry of old Arizona and new, I can’t scare up much enthusiasm for executive chef Adam Sheff’s updated spin on Southwestern cuisine, a melding of Spanish, Mexican and Native American ingredients and preparations that often feels more like a culinary re-hash of the ‘80s than an invigorating reinterpretation of a rich regional cuisine.
The spell is broken early on, beginning with cocktails that – despite cool names and trendy ingredients – aren’t competitive with those found at local bars and restaurants where cocktails reign. The Desert Departure (Arizona Distilling Co.’s Mission vodka, Clear Creek Mirabelle plum brandy, lemon, yuzu, green tea syrup) sounds heavenly but tastes a bit one-dimensional, evoking citrus more than anything else. And while the Eastside (Fords gin, lime, cucumber, mint) is certainly decent enough, the bottom line is: After $29 worth of cocktails, I’d like to feel revved up, not vaguely disappointed.
Our first bite of food, however, turns me back around. From the small plates section of the menu come Medjool dates, stuffed with crème fraîche and strewn with crumbled pistachio. They’re addictive little mouthfuls of nutty, creamy, crunchy sweetness that I could joyfully put away by the dozen ($1.50 each). Emboldened, I fully expect to love a small cast-iron skillet of puffy blue cornbread topped with tomato-jalapeño jam just as much, but I don’t. The jam could use a little sweetness to offset the acidity of the tomato and the heat of the pepper, which prompts the question: “Why offer an average version of a popular dish that will automatically invite comparisons?”
Aside from luscious mushroom soup (the hit of the evening), there’s really nothing from the small plates section that squarely hits the mark. Watermelon chunks combined with local Crow’s Dairy goat cheese, basil and crispy chicken skins would be more effective if the watermelon were actually sweet (it’s a little too early for watermelon to be at its peak), but the combo is interesting enough.
My friend and I have high hopes for braised lamb belly, which arrives in a pale green puddle of butter lettuce sauce (a decidedly forced ode to spring that tastes as exciting as it sounds), sided by citrus-olive salad. But the preparation simply isn’t that great. Like almost everything else here, it lacks something – spice? offsetting sweetness? – to push it beyond musky mediocrity.
But the biggest fail is a cruelly eye-pleasing, citrus-dressed buttercrunch salad, combining leafy, Bibb-like lettuce with radish slices and a smattering of small, strangely awful trout roe, whose only resemblance to salty, clean-tasting salmon eggs is their orange color. We barely touch it, not that our server notices or cares.
Shareable entrees don’t work out much better. Whole trout, cooked on a cast iron griddle until it’s nicely crisp-skinned, tastes like mud, possibly a sign of its farm-raised origins ($24).
Accompaniments of grilled lemon, cauliflower and pecan romesco add a pleasant spark, but I just can’t get past the fish’s murky undertone. House bacon sauce sounds like a winner with bone-in Kurobuta pork chop, and to my mind, it’s a far more successful entrée – even if a moat of runny black bean purée seems a bit cliché ($32).
Carefully composed desserts look adorable, but their taste isn’t all that compelling. The mesquite tart joins crumbly, mesquite-flour sable cookies with chocolate-coffee custard and cajeta caramel ($9), while Queen Creek olive oil cake comes gilded with pine nut-goat cheese ice cream and winter citrus – even though it’s not winter and this is purportedly a seasonal menu. I don’t know… they feel like typical hotel desserts to me: putting more emphasis on the prettiness of the plate than the palate of the diner.
And “hotel food” is precisely the phrase a second buddy of mine utters without prompting after a similarly unimpressive breakfast. How do you mess up avocado toast with fried eggs, fresh cress and pretty edible flowers? Easy. Add preserved lemon, which bears the bitter taste of rind. Do we have to reinvent the wheel here when fresh lemon would be so much better? I like dirty hash browns well enough – the spuds amped up with mild green chile pork and topped with a fried egg – but they don’t really offer much value for the $14 price tag. My pal and I also expected to be a little more wowed by a blue corn pancake short stack, ladled with creamy orange-poppy seed custard and offered with rye whiskey syrup. It’s good, but not $16 good.
I wanted to love Weft & Warp, and having read the menu before my visit, I fully expected I would. But nothing is quite as it seems. The so-called seasonal menu doesn’t respect the seasons, and Sheff’s Southwestern cuisine – or as the website says, “Sonoran,” a term that makes no sense culturally or geographically – doesn’t add anything new or exciting to the Southwestern canon. I don’t get it, but maybe I’ve lost the thread here.
Weft & Warp Art Bar + Kitchen
Cuisine: Southwestern/Modern American
Contact: 6114 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-368-1234, scottsdale.andaz.hyatt.com
Hours: Breakfast daily 6:30 a.m.-3 p.m.; lunch daily 12 p.m.-3 p.m.; dinner nightly 5:30 p.m.-10 p.m.
Highlights: Crème fraîche-stuffed Medjool dates with pistachio crumble ($1.50 each), mushroom soup ($10), watermelon with goat cheese, basil and crispy chicken skins ($8), Kurobuta pork chop ($32), mesquite tart with chocolate-coffee custard and cajeta caramel ($9)
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