Fine Dining in Wickenburg, Take 2

Mike and I enjoy a great dinner…in Wickenburg!

To the people reading these blogs — especially lately — it might seem that I spend an awful lot of time and words thinking and writing about food and restaurants. You need to understand that Wickenburg is a small town in a relatively remote area and fine dining is not something that’s in demand — or apparently understood — by the general population. Although there are restaurants where you can get a good meal, getting a fine dining experience in town is a bit tougher. That’s hard for a transplanted city girl who was accustomed to getting any kind of food she wanted any time of the day or night.

Hopefully, when they start selling all the expensive housing they’re building around town, rich people will move in and there will be enough of a demand for fine dining to open a few new restaurants. In the meantime, I’m waiting.

But last night, Mike and I had dinner at one of the town’s three remaining “American Plan” guest ranches: Rancho de los Caballeros. We’d been eating at Los Cab (as the locals call it) occasionally for the past five or more years. During that time, they underwent a change of kitchen staff, with at least three different chefs. Los Cab’s dining room is the closest you can get to fine dining in Wickenburg and sometimes it’s pretty darn close — close enough to convince me, anyway.

Last year, I was quite disappointed. Mike and I ate there three times and it just wasn’t cutting it anymore. The menu had gotten boring and the service just wasn’t what it should be.

One of my pet peeves in a fine dining restaurant is having a server or busperson address us as “you guys.” I’m talking about a greeting like, “How are you guys today?” Or a question like, “Would you guys like anything else?” I call this the You Guys syndrome. While it’s perfectly acceptable in a place like Screamers, for example, where you walk up and order a burger at the counter and they call your name when it’s done, you don’t expect it in a place that has a dress code. Yet sadly, Los Cab’s staff was suffering from the You Guys syndrome.

How are they supposed to address people, you might be asking? How about “How are you this evening?” or “Would you folks like something else?” Duh. It doesn’t take much imagination. But if the young folks that make up the staff aren’t properly trained, they don’t know they’re doing something that’s not quite up to par. So I can’t blame them.

Last night was our first meal at Los Cab this season and we were suitably impressed. Service was excellent, the menu was interesting, and the food was good. And I didn’t hear a single “you guys” during my entire meal. What else can you ask for?

I mentioned the menu. Los Cab changes its menu daily. This is because all guests staying at the ranch eat all meals there. If you’re there for five days, you don’t want to see the same menu every day. Especially since the menu is somewhat short. Last season, the chef experimented with a single menu and revolving specials, but he saw the light and switched back to the seven menu system midseason.

Last night we had the Friday menu.

I started with a mixed appetizer definitely designed for daring city slicker types — it included fried cactus, home made jerky, and grilled rattlesnake. Unfortunately, they were out of rattlesnake — it is out of season now, you know — but the jerky and cactus strips were very good. I wasn’t too keen on the dipping sauce, which tasted a bit too much like soy sauce for me. Mike had the Tortilla Soup. He said it was a different recipe and a bit spicy but good.

For our main course, I had grilled venison served with tabbouleh and pear slices. It was very good, although I think a little more sauce wouldn’t have hurt it. Mike had roast duck breast atop a smoked portabella mushroom. It was an interesting preparation — most times we’ve had duck, it’s been paired with a sweet sauce, like a cherry or orange glaze. This had a more smokey sauce that was definitely different. We shared a bottle of wine with dinner. (In case you’re wondering, it was served properly in the correct glasses.)

For desert, we shared creme brulee and something called Chocolate Lasagna. The creme brulee wasn’t my idea of a creme brulee, which is an eggy custard served very cold with caramelized sugar still hot on top. (Frank’s in the Myrtle Beach area made the absolute best when we used to do down there about 10 years ago.) This was a more pudding-like concoction served over fresh berries in a thin sugar cookie crust with vanilla creme on the bottom. Very good. The Chocolate Lasagna was chocolate cake layered with marscarpone. It wasn’t my taste, but Mike gobbled it up. Of course, we had that with coffee and tea. My coffee was very good — I’m so picky about coffee — although the bean was a bit darker roast than I prefer. At least it was brewed to the proper strength, fresh, and hot.

What’s nice is that Los Cab has a fixed price menu that includes three courses — appetizer/soup, entree, and desert with coffee. Alcohol is extra, of course, but they don’t nickel and dime you for entree accompaniments or beverages (like one Wickenburg restaurant that gives you free “dessert” — a tiny scoop of half-melted ice cream — but charges you $2 for the coffee you drink with it). And this year, Los Cab accepts MasterCard and Visa — previously it was a cash-only restaurant.

After the meal, the restaurant manager brought our check and asked how everything was. I told her it was great. We talked about last season when both she and the chef were new. She said it was like opening a new restaurant back then and that they had to work out the kinks. I told her that so far, this year was looking much better than last and that we were looking forward to coming back on other days to sample the rest of the menu.

If you live in or visit Wickenburg, you really owe it to yourself to try Los Cab’s dining room for your next special occasions. You’ll need reservations to get in. Because all guests eat at the restaurant, they open up tables to outsiders only if tables remain after all guests have been seated.

So yes, you can have a fine dining experience in Wickenburg. Thank heaven!

What do you think?