Mountain Majesty

At Ventana Canyon's Flying V, the food and atmosphere shine--but at least one waiter needs customer service training

I will go back to the Flying V. The delicious food and the stunningly beautiful atmosphere were enough to wow me--and "wow" is not a word I use lightly.

But if I end up getting the same waiter I had last time, I will ask to be moved to a different section.

I visited the Flying V, the mid-range restaurant at the Loews Ventana Canyon resort, on a recent Friday evening. My buddy Rene joined me, and we arrived about 10 minutes before our reservation time. After a brief wait, a pleasant hostess seated us on the large, wooden deck. (The weather was too wonderful to sit inside, we decided.)

The atmosphere at the Flying V is one of its many strong points. The interior brings to mind the greatest aspects of the word "cozy." While there's plenty of space to move around, the earth-tones stone and the fireplace (surrounded by several comfortable chairs) lend the place a sort of lodge feel, with red wall sconces adding in a bit of color. But as nice as the interior is, the patio is the place to dine, weather permitting. From our table, Rene got a view of the resort and the mountains behind it; I got a view of trees and Tucson's lights. We both got a view of the large fountain adjacent to us, and the sound of running water provided a wonderful soundtrack for the evening.

We were intrigued by the selections on the dinner menu. Meats and fish dominate the choices, although there is something for everyone, including oven roasted blue corn poblano relleno ($16) and vegan chilaquiles, with summer squash, spinach, eggplant, soy crema and tri-pepper coulis ($18). The lunch menu leans a bit more on salads and sandwiches, such as the mesquite grilled guajillo shrimp and spinach salad ($18) and the portabello mushroom "burger" ($12).

As Rene and I debated the appetizers, our server approached and asked us what we'd like to drink. This led to a conversation between the waiter and me that went something like this:

"So, is there a house specialty drink?"

"Well, we have excellent margaritas."

"Wonderful. I'll have one."

"Great. What kind would you like?"

"Well, what kind do you have?"

"We have (some huge number) of tequilas."

"OK. Well, then, what would you recommend?"

"Um ... how about I go and get you a drink menu, and you can look at what we have?"

NOW we were getting somewhere. But this raises the question: Why didn't we get a drink menu in the first place?

Anyway, he returned with the elusive drink menu, and something immediately caught my eye: The Flying V Margarita ($8.50), which the menu describes as "our house specialty." This raises question No. 2: Why didn't he tell me about this in the first place, seeing as it was exactly what I asked for? Anyway, he took down my order, then Rene's order--the prickly pear margarita ($9.50)--and then asked: "May I see your ID, please?"

I was unsure if he was requesting just Rene's ID, or if he was requesting mine, too. Thus, as Rene dug into his pocket for his driver's license, I asked him if he wanted to see mine, too.

"No," he said, coolly.

A bit of background: Rene is about three years older than I am. Oh, and I am approaching a milestone birthday, which means the aging process is on my mind a wee bit more than normal. And let's just say that while this waiter made Rene's night--he couldn't stop laughing for about 15 minutes--I was less than thrilled.

But onward and upward. We got our drinks, both of which were splendid. Rene's prickly pear margarita was sweet and peppy, while mine--a mix of Jose Cuervo gold, Grand Marnier, Royale Montaine and fresh lime juice--was rich and powerful. A traditional margarita, this was not, but I wasn't complaining.

For appetizers, Rene and I split the venison nachos ($10). Rene got a Flying V "blue" salad ($9) and I ordered a bowl of the southwest chicken and chowder ($6). For entrées, Rene selected the mesquite grilled buffalo tenderloin ($32), and I chose the Flying V surf and turf ($32), pairing a 5-ounce filet mignon with grilled Guaymas prawns.

After ordering, I got a chance to take it all in: the fountain gurgling; the city lights twinkling. Rene unsuccessfully trying to stifle his laughter. Ah, good times.

It took the delivery of bread and the venison nachos to finally shut Rene up. With queso asadero, black beans and pico de gallo, they were fairly standard, with one exception: the handful of slices of venison filet. They were delicious, and surprisingly, they went along well with the rest of the accoutrements. The venison was high-quality and well-prepared, not the slightest bit gamey. My only complaint was that there was nowhere near enough venison to call these "venison nachos," as the bulk of the dish had to be eaten sans the star ingredient.

Up next came Rene's salad and my soup. My chowder was quite good, although I could not taste any of the applewood smoked bacon touted on the menu, along with poblano chiles. There could have also been more chicken; corn dominated the dish, which is fine, because I love corn. However, I was jealous of Rene and his salad--he reveled in the contrasting flavors including pear, apple, Gorgonzola cheese and a blueberry vinaigrette dressing. I took a bite to see what all the hoopla was about, and it was fantastic.

After the salad plate and soup bowl were cleared, and following some nice conversation, the entrees were delivered. My filet was a perfectly cooked, fine cut of meat, and the prawns were large and delightfully juicy. They rested on a bed of herbed mashed potatoes; my plate was cleared, and I was stuffed. Rene loved his mesquite grilled buffalo tenderloin, which came with smoky corn and guajillo sauce. Surprisingly tender and juicy, the meat proved to be a satisfying meal, Rene noted.

We debated dessert, and even took a gander at the dessert menu, but Rene and I were both far too full to go on. The food, the atmosphere and the alcohol all satisfied us, putting a smile on our faces. Even a mediocre waiter couldn't ruin that.