The wedding plans are well underway and I have found that every time I do something to scratch off the list of “to dos” for the wedding, another three need to be done. It is like a never ending Whack-A-Mole.
Thankfully, J. was in town to help select the stock we needed for our invitations. Due to the expensive costs of having them done by a printer, we opted to make our own. So, we zipped off to various stores finally settling on a very nice heavy stock of paper complete with a beveled edge and fancy envelopes. We were happy.
After some other shopping for the wedding, we decided to take some time for ourselves and I suggested we head to North Scottsdale. Although it was a bit of a hike and cost a considerable sum in gasoline, we made our way up to the Spotted Donkey Cantina at El Pedregal hoping for a nice Mexican or Southwestern meal. We parked on the wrong side of the plaza, but since we were early for our 8 PM reservation, we strolled along the area and enjoyed each others company talking about the wedding and the honeymoon (in Montreal, by the way).
We found the entrance to the Spotted Donkey and entered. We gave our names and noted that we were a few minutes early. Our hostess indicated that our table would be ready momentarily. So, we waited a few moments and then were taken to a table in the back of the restaurant near a smoked glass window. The back of the restaurant was rather dark, but we made due with the lighting and reviewed the menu hoping to find some great delights.
Our struggle through the appetizers was due to everything sounding so good. I was a bit surprised to see that some chips and a couple of salsas would have set us back a whopping $6.50, so I passed that up. Instead, J. and I decided to split an order of the Chile Fried Sweet Onions ($7.50) and a bowl of the Red Chile Tortilla Soup ($8.50). Our server arrived and took our drink order. With both decided to have an Iced Tea ($2.00 each) and ice water. Our server retreated from the table and returned a few minutes later with our drinks. We then place our appetizer order and then onto the main course.
For our entrees, I opted for the Pulled Pork Challupas ($15.00) and J. was intrigued by the New Mexican Green Chile Meatloaf ($14.50). At this point, I asked the waiter to withhold any avocado from the Challupas as the menu indicated that challupas came with guacamole. He nodded and left the table.
We had barely gotten through half a glass of tea before our Chile Fried Sweet Onions arrived. The large mass of thinly sliced onions were coated in a thin batter and flash fried. They were mounted on the plate, all intertwined and served with a “Green Goddess” Buttermilk dipping sauce. We both dove in and to say I was disappointed would be an understatement. The rings were incredibly greasy and just heavy due to the residual oil. Blech. Not even the dipping sauce could help them, but I wasn’t sure if that was due to the grease or the fact that the dipping sauce was watery, thin and almost devoid of anything resembling flavor. This was a very bad way to start our meal.
As we were picking at the onion rings, our Red Chile Tortilla Soup arrived. The wide, shallow bowl contained a promising deep, red broth in which a mound of crispy tortilla strips floated in the center and topped with a sprig of cilantro. We each grabbed a spoon and dipped them in for a taste. I really wanted to enjoy this bowl of soup, but I nearly had a panic attack when I could see a large chunk of avocado floating in the soup in my spoon. J. immediately knew there was a problem and said, “Well, that spoils the soup for you.” Yeah, it did. I did a little exploratory surgery and discovered more avocado was hidden under the mound of tortilla strips. The description most certainly did not contain the word “avocado” or “guacamole” but said something about Mexican crema and a chimi churi sauce. Sadly, our server didn’t make the connection between my comment about having an allergy to avocados and the soup which contained them. I did manage to get some of the taste of the soup from the outer edge. The taste was okay. Smoky, somewhat sweet and rich, I did like the taste, but wondered why it was served lukewarm.
While the soup issue was problematic, even more troubling was the runner who arrived with our entrees during the second spoonful of our soup. Instead of asking if we wanted our entrees to be held until we finished our soup, he took the lip of one of the entree plates and pushed the soup toward the center of the table and then set our plates in front of us without so much as saying a word, although he did grunt a little. Charming. Honestly, is it really that difficult for restaurants in this Valley to train food runners to check to see if a table is ready for their entrees? Additionally, the time factor was beginning to bother me as we went from ordering to entrees in less than 10 minutes.
J.’s New Mexican Green Chile Meatloaf was … interesting. I found the look to be unappetizing and I don’t think J. was thrilled with the appearance either. The meatloaf was a mixture of beef, pork and veal, cooked, sliced and then piled upon a mount of cheddar mashed potatoes and covered with a chorizo gravy. The meatloaf was then dotted with strips of grilled zucchini and served with some very long broccoli spears. J. took a bite and then paused. “There’s no spice.” My brain couldn’t really put that together with the name of the dish. Hatch green chiles and chorizo gravy should have given this dish a nice, healthy kick. So, I took a bite and sure enough, the restaurant had managed to removed anything resembling spice from this dish. Bland, bland, bland, bland and bland. Adding to the bizarre nature of this dish was a very odd texture that was a cross between wet sandpaper and paste. J. abandoned the dish pretty early on.
My Pulled Pork Challupas weren’t much better. Three challupas were on a long, narrow plate and piled high with meat and accompaniments. I don’t know how, but the Spotted Donkey managed to make pulled pork tasteless. There was no seasoning at all to the meat. I don’t understand how that is possible unless the pork was slow roasted with nothing but itself for flavor. The meat was moist and tender, but I was bored senseless by this dish. Even the chile rojo, salsa fresca and sour cream couldn’t save this dish from putting my tastebuds to sleep. I gave up after 1.5 challupas.
At this point, I wanted to get our bill and leave. Of course, that was nearly impossible as our server was too involved with the pretty people next to us to even refill our drinks once, much less get us our bill. He finally passed by and I was finally able to flag him down. He returned with our bill and said nothing. Not a word. Not thank you. Not goodbye. Just dead air. (For the record, J. and I are not “pretty people” and thank the Great Maker daily than we aren’t.)
The damage was $53.76 including tax and was a complete waste of time and money. We paid our bill and got up to leave. I looked at my watch and from seating to bill, we were just over the 30 minute mark. And it had taken us 40 minutes to get there.
As we passed by the hostess station, our server was there and I turned to him. “You might want to tell your food runners and kitchen to slow down. We were here less than 35 minutes.” He just vacantly looked at me.
“Yeah, you weren’t here very long. Thanks for coming.” Then he turned and walked away. The deer in the headlights look from the hostess summed up my thoughts exactly. We got into the car and made the 40 minute trek back to East Phoenix.
A few days later I called the Spotted Donkey and told the person who answered the phone that I had a customer service issue from the weekend and would like to speak to a manager. “The manager isn’t here right now. Can you call back later?”
Well, I could have, but decided to simply chalk up my losses and reminding myself that if I am going to travel that far again, I am just going to go to Binkley’s.
The Spotted Donkey Cantina
34505 North Scottsdale Road
Scottsdale, AZ 85266
Dress: Resort casual
Hours: None posted on website
Notes: On the east side of El Pedregal.
Alcohol: Full bar.