Five Palms

Five Palms offers steaks with sticker shock

2013-10-31T00:00:00Z 2013-11-01T22:54:22Z Five Palms offers steaks with sticker shockBy Kathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
October 31, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Brace yourself.

You may have to mortgage the house to dine at Five Palms.

OK, that’s an exaggeration. But so are the prices:

A rack of lamb for $69. A 2-pound, dry-aged porterhouse is $123. And the 2-pound Kobe-style tomahawk steak (tomahawk is a ribeye with the bone in)? That baby will set you back $169.

Is it worth it? Well, that depends.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start with the restaurant’s entryway.

The big double glass doors of the two-story restaurant, the one-time home to Terra Cotta, are opened for you as soon as you are spotted approaching.

Instantly, you are taken with the stained glass. The rich, dark woods. The ostentatiousness of it throws you back to another time, when the economy was good (at least to some) and money flowed freely (at least for some).

Five Palms has options — you can eat upstairs in the casual and frequently packed Nino’s Bar & Grill, or in the downstairs bar. Both have simpler menus and more attainable prices.

Then there is the fine dining arm on the east end of the building. That was our destination.

Owner Nino Aidi has totally remade the restaurant, which opened in March. There are floor-to-ceiling windows. Sliding doors open to the patio. Elaborate stained-glass ceilings are backlit so that every gorgeous detail is clear. And flat Van Gogh prints on the wall and small battery-operated lights on the tables, flickering like candle flames. Those last two were so oddly out of character — with so much attention to detail, you’d think that original art and real candles would be a given.

On one of our two visits, a strolling violinist wended his way through the two rooms of the upscale dining area. But here’s another odd thing: He played along to recorded music, ranging from “Que Sera, Sera” to “Hernando’s Hideaway.” Oh, how we longed to hear him play a bit of Chopin or Satie — without the background music.

And then there’s this: The violin, the recorded music, the diners — it was bustling on our most recent visit — and the acoustics meant intimate conversation was impossible.

But nothing, absolutely nothing, compared to the sticker shock we experienced.

Our first visit, in August, had us studying the menu a long, long time. Not because it’s so intriguing, but because the prices were so, well, outlandish.

We chose the least-expensive steak on the menu at that time, the 16-ounce ribeye for $46. We were sure, positive, we’d get a thick, juicy piece of meat that was packed with the full flavor a good ribeye can offer.

Instead, it was a thin, thin steak, cooked the requested medium rare but so tasteless that we had to wonder if something was awry with our taste buds. Nope, we decided as we shared bites, it was the steak, not us.

The Chilean sea bass ($38) was cooked beautifully, but was so buried in an Andalusian sauce that it was hard to taste it. Traditionally, the sauce is a mayonnaise base with a bit of tomato paste and other spices. This sauce had tomato chunks, some shellfish, no mayo, and a touch of heat — more of what you might find in a paella. Not that it was bad, it just wasn’t expected. And it did not serve the sea bass at all, masking the mild taste of the fish.

When we returned earlier this month, the sea bass was still on the menu, but the sauces had been taken off — maybe restaurant’s chefs and management realized that fresh fish — which Five Palms flies in daily — rarely needs much more than some butter and a few squirts of lemon to shine.

That return visit was a happier meal; perhaps because we were prepared for the prices and had resolved to try the signature dishes.

One of those, the Wagyu ribeye, was sublime. Of course, at $89 for the 1.125 pound steak, it’s hard not to feel obligated to enjoy it. Wagyu is a breed of cattle bred to create beautifully marbled, rich tasting meat. It is a relative to Japan’s Kobe beef, but raised in this country.

While this ribeye was thin (though not as thin as the steak we had on the first visit), the meat was buttery and rich. It demanded to be savored.

As did the rack of lamb ($69). Four chops constituted the “double rack” and the meat was tender and a bit earthy, as lamb is wont to be. It was sublime.

The delight with the meal was tempered by the Caesar salad. Though the menu says it is for two and made tableside, it was brought to the table already prepared. Because it was to be the entrée for one, we figured the “for two” would satisfy that one. Here’s what we got: A plate with three crisp romaine leaves on it, and a few airy croutons on top of that. A drizzle of dressing. If there were anchovies, they weren’t decipherable. Here’s what it cost: $16. Yup, you read that right.

The tomato soup was just as confounding. The bowl set us back $13, and it tasted like water with a bit of tomato sauce.

We shared a dessert — the retro bananas Foster. It was $11.99 a person — for two (all flambéed desserts require a minimum of two) the sticker price was $23.98. Now, bananas Foster are always a treat to watch as the waiter melts the butter, adds the brown sugar, tosses the bananas, and then flames the rum and banana liqueur until the alcohol is gone. It’s served over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. It’s tasty, as well. But not $23.98 tasty.

Service wasn’t particularly sophisticated, but it was mostly attentive. The by-the-glass wine list is small, but Five Palms has a retail store where you can buy wine by the bottle and have it with your meal.

So, back to that question: Is it worth the price?

Well, if you don’t care what you spend, maybe, though we can think of other restaurants in town that offer more rooted elegance, exquisite meals and prices that are high, but not nearly as high as these.

As for that Wagyu steak, next time we’ll buy our own and cook it. That way, we could feed a family of four for about the same price.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@azstarnet.com or 573-4128.

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