World Class Dining Service
The best thing about doing this column is that there are really no rules. Our original idea for Kindred Spirits was to feature libations we’ve discovered and while we’ve certainly done that, we’ve ranged a bit beyond those parameters from time to time as well. So as a companion piece to Carol’s great feature about our stay at El Portal in Sedona, Arizona, I’ve decided to comment on something near and dear to my heart...being really nicely treated at restaurants.
As I’ve gotten older and admittedly less tolerant of bothersome things, little irritants can taint an otherwise good experience and I’ve particularly noticed this at eateries. But I must tell you, I really don’t think I over-expect. I simply want a well timed, non-obtrusive experience from our server and while it’s a bonus if they really know the menu and the wine list, it’s not necessary for me to have a good experience. Just don’t make me feel rushed and if I do have a special need or request, don't behave as though you haven’t just been asked for a kidney.
We got a large dose of exceptional restaurant service while on our Sedona, Arizona vacation in June 2012 and because that helped to make the whole trip better, I decided to devote this Kindred Spirits offering to that happy fact and to acknowledge and to thank those folks in this format. As I wrote, there are no rules but I will include the wines we had with those experiences because happily, they were all quite good as well.
Red Rock BBQ, Sedona
We arrived in Sedona on Monday June 4th after the Allegiant Air direct flight to Phoenix from Peoria. It was a long day, as travel days tend to be, and after checking into our wonderful digs at El Portal, we took the short walk to downtown Sedona to find Red Rock BBQ, the fairly informal place I’d scoped out before we left for what I hoped would be a typical Southwestern barbeque dinner. It did not disappoint and we both loved our meals which included a glass each of this surprisingly nice Merlot...the only red on the limited wine list. So the food and wine were first rate, but it was our server Alfredo who set the bar pretty high for the rest of our vacation. First off, he was nice...just plain feel-it-in-your-bones nice. He timed the meal perfectly, returned to see how we were doing after we got our food and was there with water refills without requiring a look from us. He asked where we were from but didn’t make us feel we were being interviewed. And he seemed genuinely interested in us. Again, maybe one of the “nicest” servers we’ve ever run across. Oh, and since we were just having one glass each that night, when we told Alfredo that we collect labels, he went to the bar and fetched us the empty bottle from which this label was harvested. This simple meal started our holiday very nicely and we thank Alfredo and all the folks at Red Rock BBQ for that.
Ken's Creekside, Sedona
We wanted to do a “fine dining” meal while in Sedona and upon a little Internet investigation, I found many, many options before we arrived. Based somewhat on proximity to El Portal but mostly on the patio seating overlooking the water, we settled on Ken’s Creekside and we did indeed have a very “fine” experience. And while the food and this Jordan Cabernet were both top notch, it was once again the service that made the evening special. Our server Jeff seemed to have a deep knowledge of the menu and wine list but beyond that, he knew a lot about Sedona, the flora and fauna as well as everything else Carol managed to ask. But what impressed me most was the ritual he performed when we ordered an after dinner drink Jeff recommended...Absinthe. First off, Absinthe has an interesting history which I won’t go into here but Jeff did provide us with enough background to make me Google it that evening. It’s worth a look if you get a chance. But the real treat was the service procedure which included an elaborate ice water dispenser and a sugar cube.
Jeff spent a lot of time with us through the course of the well-timed, delicious meal and while the restaurant wasn’t overly busy that Tuesday evening, I have a feeling that attentive service is just Jeff’s modus operandi. He continued the very pleasant trend that Alfredo had started the previous night and we are very grateful to Jeff and all the staff at Ken’s for another noteworthy dinner experience.
New York Pizza Department, Gilbert, AZ
Since we were flying out of Phoenix early on Friday morning, we chose to drive the 2 ½ hours back to the city and stay near the airport on Thursday night. And since we had wined and dined ourselves quite appropriately throughout the week, we decided that maybe just a slice of pizza and a glass of wine might be in order for our last dinner in Arizona. Just down the road from our Hampton Inn we found New York Pizza Department (NYPD) and it seemed like a good choice to accomplish our goal. After we were seated, our server Lori introduced herself and asked what we would be drinking. I explained to her that we collect wine labels and asked if she would check to see if there were any by-the-glass options that had about two glasses left in them so we could collect the empty bottle again. She said, “I’ll check” and after a minute or less, Lori returned with five options for us. Thankfully, we picked this Chianti because it turned out to be the best wine we had on the trip. As was the case with Alfredo and Jeff, Lori displayed a true penchant for her work and capped off the trip with yet another extraordinary dining experience. She was attentive without being intrusive and had a great personality, making us feel very welcome. We thank Lori for this great memory.
I know that the next time we go out to eat we could have a much different experience from those we had on our Sedona vacation. That’s why, I suppose, I felt compelled to write about these three great meals and the servers who made them special. Next time you get treated well at a restaurant, please remember that it doesn’t always happen. When you get an Alfredo, a Jeff or a Lori, don’t take it for granted. I know I never will.