Thursday 04 April, 2013

Didn’t Save Room For The Pudding! Scottsdale Dining scene has Proof

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Typically, restaurants at destination resorts tend to be reactive to trends, not on top of them, hitting the tail end of innovation, and usually with a bit of tone deafness. If the food is enjoyable without distraction, you’re satisfied. Inspiration is rare. That’s just the conservative territory of the resort realm, where gradual change is the smartest path to ensure you don’t alientate any clients.

Which is why Proof was such a pleasant surprise during my recent visit to Scottsdale, AZ. Subtitled “An American Canteen,” Proof basically assembles every sort of homey, rustic, comfort, classic, locavore, small-batch inclination that’s been running viral through the country for the last few years, and presents them in one logically-integrated Cracker Barrel meets Gastropub whole. So, you can get a “San Fran Louie Salad,” a New Orleans “Moo Fuh Lett Uh” (in Mortal and Superhuman sizes), and of course a Lobster Roll.

Wines, which include several on tap (even a New York state Riesling), are served by the glass, half or full liter carafe. Their seasonal beer list (mostly bottles) balances familiar “craft” labels like Dogfish and Anchor with a strong Arizona offering. They selected their own barrel of bourbon from Buffalo Trace. That’s the kind of curation you expect from a “downtown” spot, not a corporate hotel F&B team.

And it’s a BLD (Breakfast-Lunch-Dinner restaurant), usually shorthand for “BLanD.”

Actually, in a way it’s even more than that: the bar area is built around a big shuffleboard, there are homey lounge areas with board games and books, clear garage doors open to the (inevitable) outdoor seating. There is also counter seating for a soda fountain making a large menu of treats, with or without alcohol. Any place that my 8-year-old and I can both find fun is really as close to perfect as you could ask.

Anyway, here’s what I tried:

• Midway Thru An Old Fashioned cocktail, with their own barrel of Buffalo Trace bourbon, fig aged balsamic, orange twist, maple syrup, soda splash: Just sweet enough, nicely balanced, honored the spirit.

• Buffalo Chili smothered under crushed Fritos, cheese, chives and sour cream, more meaty than spicy, easily a meal in itself

• Fried (local) Green Tomatoes with crab remoulade: tart, crunchy, warm. Just right.

• Pretzel knots with cheddar sauce: buttery and hot, dangerous bar food.

• The local-ish Sonoran Root Beer: creamy, not overly sweet or over-carbonated ;)

• Chicken & Waffles with bacon brittle, maple butter and peach bourbon syrup.  Reread that, while I also tell you the huge juicy portion of crispy-fried chicken is brined 18 hours and set atop a fresh, light battered waffle. It’s almost certainly the best version of this dish I’ve had anywhere (they also make chocolate bacon waffles, but that was just too much for me)

• They also let me try their ‘chicken fried bacon’ that they put on the BLTs, just because I was curious. It’s exactly what it sounds like—maybe a bit silly, but okay.

• “3 Meatloaf” which is veal/pork/beef meatload wrapped in bacon, surprisingly light under thick mushroom gravy with some nice local veggies, friench fried onions and buttermilk mashed potatoes.

• The Cerealist milk shake, basically a thick and crunchy vanilla flavor (Cap’n Crunch) with Fruit Loops, Rice Krispies and Frosted Flakes tossed in at the end. For those who love cereal milk… pretty decadent.

I didn’t ask, but I’d like to think the name was inspired both by the term used for alcohol content in spirits in the US, and by wanting to “prove” that there is such a thing as an American cuisine tradition (well, James Beard and Craig Claiborne proved that years ago, but it remains a good point to be made).

Yes, it’s a room full of clichés, but every one of them is delivered with sincerity, authenticity, and just a bit of originality. Proof puts to shame every single local ‘tavern” or “bar + kitchen” or “and Co.” place I’ve visited in various cities in the last 2-3 years Every single one!

And what’s really crazy, if I haven’t made this clear, is that this isn’t in a neighborhood (particularly, my neighborhood!) but at a destination resort out in the middle of the desert, meaning it’s a 20 minute drive even for people who live relatively close by. This is a cosmic tease, and if the Four Seasons people have half a mind, they will rubber stamp this concept (with care) at many more of their properties.

I could only imagine Guy Fieri and Adam Richman dumbstruck. Which really is an appealing thought.

Proof: An American Canteen at Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale