A new era of dining has come to Southern Arizona. The finest cuts of meats, fresh seafood, and a wine list second to none, coupled with outstanding service in an elegant dining room create an evening unlike any other. The Tucson culinary scene starts here and so does your perfect dining experience.
—PY Steakhouse website
When I read this description on the website of PY Steakhouse, the new upscale dining space at Casino del Sol, I was blown away.
"A new era of dining"? The Tucson culinary scene starts here"? "Perfect dining experience"? Really? I have been fortunate enough to eat at amazing restaurants around the world, and I can probably count on one hand the number of dining experiences I've had that have approached "perfect."
Was our dinner at PY Steakhouse one of those meals? No, it wasn't—and that over-promising prose almost made our nice, enjoyable meal at PY seem like a disappointment.
Our evening started with cocktails in the lounge, located at the nexus of the casino, hotel lobby and convention era within the newly opened portion of the expanded Casino del Sol. Garrett ordered a nice Sazerac, while I had one of the best Manhattans I've ever enjoyed, made with Woodford Reserve Bourbon. It was happy hour, before 7 p.m., so these amazing drinks were only $6. The service was great, too; the evening was indeed off to a perfect start.
We then moved to the smallish but lovely dining room. Whites and cream colors dominate, accented by browns and fresh yellow flowers at every table. The kitchen is open, so diners can watch the cooking action if they so desire.
The menu features the appetizers, salads, steaks and seafood entrées one would expect at an upscale resort steakhouse, as well as some "local and sustainable, farm to table inspired" seasonal dishes. We decided to start with the smoked crispy pork belly ($8) and chile charred tuna sliders ($9), before moving on to soups: the roasted sweet onion soup ($7) for me, and the smoked corn and lobster chowder ($8) for Garrett. For main courses, Garrett went with the seared jumbo diver scallops ($25), while I went big—specifically, the 22-ounce T-bone "signature dry aged" steak ($44). We also got two sides (each $5): the green chile au gratin potatoes, and the gorgonzola mashed potatoes. (It's important to note that since this particular resort is tribe-owned, there's no sales tax, which effectively makes everything 8 to 9 percent cheaper.)
Throughout the night, the service was impeccable (except for a mysterious wait for our check, and a failure to offer us the soufflé for dessert—which takes 30 minutes to prepare—in advance). Our water glasses were never empty; cocktails were offered and swiftly delivered; the meal was appropriately paced. The complimentary chefs' amuse, a warm purple potato salad, gave the meal a fine start.
Unfortunately, the meal hit a figurative pothole with the appetizers. While the tuna sliders were fantastic—complemented nicely by a mango salsa—the pork belly was a total dud. If you can't cut pork belly with a fork, there's a problem, and we indeed had a problem. There were nice, smoky flavors in there, and I loved the accompanying guajillo-chile applesauce, but the pork itself was a stringy mess. Something went wrong here.
As for the soups: The chowder was revelatory. The potato, bacon and leek were all appropriately proportioned, and the lobster was prepared perfectly. Garrett enjoyed tweaking the flavors with the three house sea salts offered by PY Steakhouse—with merlot, chipotle and truffle; the latter was amazing. Meanwhile, my onion soup was merely decent, although the PY servers earned style points by pouring the broth into the bowl at the table. Whereas the chowder was enhanced by the sea salts, the onion soup needed salt. I was also confused by the Manchego cheese crostini which came alongside, topped with two mounds of onions: The soup was already packed with onions, and I wanted to dip the bread into the broth ... so what was I supposed to do with the onions on the crostini?
Both main courses were good, if flawed. Garrett's scallops were cooked to perfection, and I thought the English pea parmesan risotto with saffron sweet-corn cream was splendid, although Garrett wondered where the saffron was; we couldn't taste it at all. The biggest downside to the otherwise fine dish: some grains of sand in the scallops.
My steak was prepared at medium-rare, as requested, and it looked delicious. All of the meats at PY come with a fine selection of sauces, including a corn saffron sauce, a tomato compote and a garlic sage sauce; they were fun, but unnecessary, because a good steak does not need enhancement.
I was slightly disappointed, however, to find a vein of gristle running through one end of the steak. I grew up on a cattle ranch, so I know that gristle happens, but it was still a bit of a bummer to find in a $44 steak.
The sides were hit-and-miss. The hit: the mashed potatoes, which were wonderful. The miss: the au gratin potatoes. Where was the green chili?
For dessert, we decided to share the bread pudding ($9). The bread pudding itself was a pure delight, but the cinnamon gelato on top was a problem: It was so hard that it was nearly impossible to penetrate with a spoon. Seeing as the hard scoop was sitting on soft bread putting, it was a mess waiting to happen.
So, does the Tucson culinary scene start at PY Steakhouse? No. (I am not even sure what that statement means.) Has a new era of dining come to Southern Arizona? Lord, no. But is PY Steakhouse a lovely place for a special occasion? Most definitely. I'll be back.