Fickle Fare

BY Riki Altman-Yee | June 26, 2017 | Feature Features

The new El Panzón y Frida, found at the fringe of Scottsdale's nightclub district, delivers an unpredictable experience.
Grilled rib-eye with chimichurri over a sizzling Himalayan salt block

“I’m just keeping you honest, panzón,” Frida Kahlo (played by Salma Hayek) says to her unfaithful hubby in the 2002 movie bearing the surrealist’s name. “Panzón” often translates to “potbellied,” so she did not intend to flatter.

Like Kahlo, we all know it can be tough throwing compliments when disappointment arises, even if the scales typically tip toward affection. So it was with our dinner at El Panzón y Frida: Though the encounter was satisfactory overall, it was tough overcoming little snafus.

For starters, the location is ideal for clubbers seeking a late-night snack or hipsters looking for beer and tapas before hitting the scene, but it was less than desirable for mature diners desiring an intimate dinner or a sophisticated, subdued experience.

Inside its flowing floor plan is a mishmash of materials that work together in fun tandem, including a poured concrete floor, tin tile and fake foliage wall, metal chairs and bricks. Frida’s face looms large on a back wall, watching as diners ponder the menu comprising primarily shared plates. According to the restaurant’s website, the dishes were designed to reflect “the current whims of the chef.”

Apparently, the night we dined there, Paula Martinez, who began her culinary career in Mexico, was feeling quite whimsical. How else could one explain offerings like large gyoza stuffed with carrot and sweet potato swimming in a beet-tinged pool, orange beef taco bites and tomato soup? We threw caution to the wind and ordered fried olives stuffed with herbed goat cheese and anchovy. Served with a mixed salad and a bowl of remoulade, their crunch, salt and zing encouraged us to experiment more. But were we ready for worms?

“The fish cakes are crusted with Buffalo worms,” our server explains. “I swear if I stood outside with samples and blindfolded people, they’d love it.”
After some debate and double-dog-daring, my tablemates waited in not-so-eager anticipation before the server returned, bearing only our appropriately prepared grilled octopus and a deconstructed feijoada, which was supposed to be Brazilian stew with black beans, rice, chicken sausage and more (the tomato-broth base made it more like soup). The dried worms, we were told, never arrived from the United Kingdom, so the server convinced us to try bone marrow with house chimichurri instead. We waited in vain, as we learned it was also eighty-sixed. The only thing that kept us from cashing out right then was the scent of smoked lamb pastrami on local rye, stacked high with smoky housemade lamb bacon, silky Gruyere and sweet caramelized onions. We scarfed down two helpings and chased it with a seasoned, crispy fried Cornish hen in a date glaze that, unexplainably, was served atop a glob of aji verde.

We then contemplated a “dessert taco” constructed with popcorn ice cream and candied cherry tomatoes. Heck, we dodged the worm encounter, so why not make the sacrifice?

The server returned, red-faced, with the news that the taco dessert was also unavailable. By the time the meal was over, we had acquired two cards offering complimentary dishes and copious apologies from the server and manager. The gestures were welcomed and proper, but, as much as we did not want to out this group that apparently was trying so hard, the bottom line remains: Honesty rules.

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