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Tale of Two Visits

Good luck figuring out what sort of experience you'll have at Saguaro Corners

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Let's say you visit a restaurant twice. The first time, the service is solid, the food is good and the experience is generally satisfactory. The second visit, everything goes wrong. Dishes are ordered and never hit the table. The service, while well-meaning, is a mess. The food that does make it out is lukewarm (at best) and disappointing.

The question is: Which experience is the one that's representative of the establishment? After I went to Saguaro Corners Ice House one Friday night, I mentioned to a few people that I was excited to go back to try some of the dishes I hadn't tasted. After the far less successful visit on a Sunday afternoon for lunch, I wondered if I had just experienced the worst (ostensibly) professional meal I'd ever eaten in Tucson. The problem was that the good experience wasn't great, and the bad really was that bad.

When you walk up to Saguaro Corners on a night they have music on their large covered patio, it's easy to see the far-eastside place's appeal. A classical-ish guitarist held court in the corner and while he ended up performing a vaguely-flamenco-inspired version of "Stairway to Heaven" at one point, the cool temperatures and pleasant away-from-the-city atmosphere made up for the schlocky choice in covers.

As this was the "good" visit, everything went smoothly. Two people at the table tried the blood orange cosmopolitan ($7) from the cocktail menu and were pleased with the balance of sweet and tangy flavors. We ordered the four-dips sampler ($6.99) from the appetizer menu and enjoyed tortilla chips with the bright, citrusy pico de gallo; smokey and somewhat thin red salsa; the low-grade spicyness of the queso fundido and the corn-accented guacamole. My chimichurri steak was fine, although the sauce could have used a bit more acid, and the fried potato wedges served underneath felt a little undercooked and generally unnecessary. My wife had the roasted root vegetable and fruit salad ($8.99) and while she liked the mix of well-roasted and smoky turnip, celery root and beets with mesclun, mushrooms and pineapple (I guess that's the fruit involved), when she wasn't super thrilled with the flavor of the dressing and asked the waitress what was in it, she couldn't answer and didn't seem inclined to investigate the matter further. Turns out it was a roasted tomato vinaigrette (I tasted it and that wouldn't have been among my first 10 guesses), but maybe that was an omen warning us of our next visit. We closed with the utterly forgettable Nogales fruit cup ($4.99), a cucumber-heavy take on the red Solo cup full of chile-and-lime-doused tropical fruit. I like cucumber, but it just didn't live up to the expectations set by the version served at Pico de Gallo on South Fourth.

However, when we went back about a week later for lunch on a Sunday afternoon, the missteps that we decided to mostly overlook on our visit took over. The host grunted his way through greeting us and led us to a table in the restaurant itself, an unspectacular room with windows facing the desert outside. With bird feeders and such out there, animals apparently stop by to be gawked at by diners, but we didn't see much of anything. Just ordering food was a problem. We tried ordering "poppitos" (their take on jalapeno poppers), but those were out of stock. My wife asked for the brisket sandwich. Also out of stock. Moving on, we asked about the fried chicken to be told that we couldn't order that for lunch. I get it, sometimes items run out. But when we had to search through the menu just to find something we wanted that they actually had (this is a bit of an exaggeration, but that's how it felt), we probably should have just left at that point. We eventually found some items they could bring us, but even that turned into a fiasco, as our second choice in appetizers, the "latin wings" never showed. What did make it to our table was across the board disappointing. My son's tortilla soup ($5.99 for a bowl) was made up of bland chicken broth, what seemed like canned tomatoes and scant appearances of shredded chicken and a few strips of green chilies. Note that I didn't mention tortillas in that list. They weren't there. My wife's Aztec cheeseburger ($11.99) was mostly a disaster. The promised "chorizo queso fundido" was sparse (at best), but most shamefully, the burger itself was definitely overcooked (she asked for medium and got a patty thoroughly grey in its interior) and appeared to be an individually frozen disc in the first place. If you're charging $12 for a burger, you have to make them yourself. There should probably be some sort of law to that end, in fact. Remind me to ask Al Melvin if he'd champion something like that in the next legislative session. My tacos—carnitas, calamari and papas, from a menu that changes each week—were the best thing on the table, but even then, the carnitas were overly sweet and the calamari was disgustingly rubbery, although I probably shouldn't have ordered seafood on Sunday in the first place. We tried to order dessert, but when our waiter came back to ask if we needed anything for the second time forgetting to bring us the menu we asked for 10 minutes earlier, we just gave up.

Will we be back? Probably not, considering I doubt we'll be able to wash the memory of our most recent visit out of our minds. If the management finds a way to provide visitors the experience we had the first night consistently, you might find it worth a try, but don't say I didn't warn you if you experience your own fiasco.

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