Favorite

Underperformer 

When you fork over more than $300 for dinner for two, the service and food should be perfect

Five Palms Steak and Seafood is in the building that formerly housed Café Terra Cotta in the Catalina foothills. The owners are trying out a concept restaurant new to Tucson. It features a fine-dining room; an upscale bar/lounge area; a more casual bar and grill upstairs with a large outdoor dining patio; and a gourmet shop that features wine, cheese, chocolate and various charcuterie.

The fine-dining area of Five Palms takes up about half of the downstairs. The décor could be described as "cruise ship gaudy"—there are beautiful elements to it, but it's all incredibly overdone. Think dark mahogany-colored wood, lots of plush royal blue and gold accents, stained-glass ceilings and lots of mirrors and chandeliers.

I'm always suspicious of restaurants that don't list their menus or prices online. Five Palms is one of those, and I can see why. The prices are outrageous, especially given the competition for fine dining just down the street. Our meal for two came to $322 (including tip). It included two appetizers, two entrées, a dessert for two and one glass of wine apiece with each course. I've worked at, and eaten at, many fine-dining restaurants. And for that kind of money, the food and service need to flawless.

The menu is heavy on seafood and steaks, and Five Palms offers a good selection of both. But for a fine-dining restaurant, the choice of wines by the glass is dismal. There are 10 reds and seven whites to choose from, but no vintages are listed and the prices range from $6 to $22 a glass. The by-the-bottle selection is better, but it can be difficult to order a bottle for a table when you have people ordering both seafood and steaks.

Once you're seated, one of the assistant servers comes by with a beautiful hand-cranked meat slicer and offers you Spanish Serrano ham ($9 per ounce); jamon Iberrico, which the server referred to as "black hog ham" ($28 per ounce); and Spanish manchego cheese ($3 per ounce). We decided on an ounce each of the Serrano and the manchego, which are served with crostini.

For appetizers, we opted for the escargot bourguignon ($11) and the half-dozen Fanny Bay oysters on the half shell ($18). The six escargot were served with crostini, and were garlicky, buttery, tender and not at all chewy, though a bit on the oily side. The oysters were fresh and were cleaned properly, but I was disappointed that they were served with only a lemon wedge and standard out-of-the-bottle tasting cocktail sauce.

The entrées were good, but not up to par for the price. I was debating between the four-bone rack of lamb ($69) and the 21-day, dry-aged 16-ounce rib-eye ($66), and ended up choosing the rib-eye. It came with poblano potatoes au gratin and spinach au gratin as the sides. I also ordered a side of mixed mushrooms ($11) to accompany the steak. Ted chose the Scottish salmon ($34), which comes with rice as the side. And as with any fish dish at Five Palms, you get to choose your sauce: Andalucía, Florentina, Five Palms sauce, or en papillotte (which is not a sauce). The sauce options were explained by the server because, just like at Nino's Bar and Grill, the menu has extremely limited descriptions. Ted opted for the Andalucía, which was supposed to be a spicy tomato-based sauce featuring onions, green olives and shellfish.

My steak, ordered medium-rare, was served rare. But it had great flavor and a nice char. The potatoes and spinach were dismal. The potatoes had just a fleck or two of poblano in them and were seriously lacking in seasoning and flavor. The spinach, which came in a tiny ramekin, had been murdered. It was slimy, stringy and way too runny. And it had the same lack of flavor as the potatoes.

The salmon was tasty, and cooked to flaky, moist perfection, but the sauce and the sides were disappointing. The rice that it came with closely resembled San Francisco's favorite boxed treat and contained mushy, overcooked, vaguely gray English peas and squares of carrots. And the shellfish in the not-at-all spicy sauce (one shrimp and two clams) were way overcooked, to the point of being chalky.

Dessert was the saving grace of the meal. There is a patisserie cart featuring various items each day for $10 each. And there is a selection of desserts for two on the menu, all at $11.99 per person (minimum of two people to order). We opted for the bananas foster ($23.98), which is prepared and flambéed tableside. It was absolutely delicious. The only flaw was in the service—one of the servers brought out two bowls of ice cream and set them on the table in front of us, before the bananas foster was done, so they had to remove the bowls, add the bananas and sauce, and re-serve them. It was a perfect illustration of the service errors throughout the evening: No one crumbed the table throughout the duration of our meal; servers were backhanding us when serving plates and pouring wine; no one folded napkins or pushed in chairs when one of us got up from the table; both wine and water glasses were allowed to sit empty for several minutes; and the wine was not served in varietal-specific glasses. For a $322 dinner for two, these things shouldn't happen.

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