Bars & Nightlife Featured Food, Restaurants & Dining Fara Illich January 27, 2010

Visually impressive, the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown is worth a visit.  Sleek and chic, the hotel boasts 31 floors of meeting spaces and guest rooms, amazing city views, and tons of amenities.
Unfortunately, we didn’t find that their signature restaurant, The District, to be one of their bragging points.
DistrictIt is unfortunate because the restaurant is stunning in its appointments.   This is a place where you should want to host your most important lunch meetings, tie up loose ends of business agreements over cocktails and appetizers, or have lingering cocktails, lunches or dinners with great family and friends.
I’ve visited the hotel for a few conferences, and have to say the place is a great meeting place. While this blog isn’t about conferences or meeting spaces, I offer this note because the food and service at the conferences I’ve attended were solid – hot meals delivered on time, with great service, and pretty delicious at that.
So, how the Sheraton couldn’t get the good-food-and-great-service bit down to a science in their signature restaurant was a complete conundrum when we lunched at the place.
When we arrived at The District, there was more than ample seating space available.  In fact, the restaurant was probably only about 30 percent full.  Yet, the hostess told us we might be better off sitting in the bar area for quicker service.  Still, we wanted to sit by a large window area in the restaurant–proper to watch the Downtown foot traffic–and so were seated where we liked.
That was the best part of the service we received at The District.  It went downhill from there.
The hotel promotes the restaurant as an “American kitchen” with a “delicious seasonal menu showcasing artisan products and sustainably farmed produce from local growers and merchants.” 
Helen starts the lunch off with an odd comment. 
“What’s up with these placemats?” Helen asks.  “These rubbery placemats look like tangled hair pulled from a bathroom drain,” she added.
Ann and I laugh out loud.
“I mean really, how on earth can these hairy looking things be cleaned once people have eaten their food served over them,” she continued.  Interesting point. (I should note our placemats were clean, and the entire restaurant sparkles.)
As far as the menu goes, The District offers American fare – which seems like staid and true “bar food” fare – but here, trumped-up with fancy extras.
Helen orders a salad that sounds yummy, with fabulous basil vinaigrette.  Ann orders a burger, medium-well.  I order the fish and chips.
Here is what ruined our lunch experience – it took a total of 40 minutes from the time we placed our order to the time it arrived.  Mind you, the place was not packed with diners, it was not over-burdened by large tables – it was NOT BUSY.  We complained at least two times about the lag in our service, with promises that our food was just about to be served, yet to no avail.
When the food finally arrives, it comes in a ton of dishes.  There are so many dishes on our table, it makes eating a navigating experience.
Beyond the architecture of dishes housed on our table, Helen’s salad is mediocre, at best, she says. The dressing has little basil flavor, if at all.  Ann’s burger is pretty good.  The fish and chips are not worthy of ever ordering again.  The batter has a burnt flavor and the fish is completely ‘mush’ on the inside.
While we complained to our waitress about the slow service, there seems to be a real lack of empathy.  Yet, we are met with a manager at the end of our lunch who offers us a free dessert. Pressed for time to get on with our other appointments of the day, we can’t indulge.  In the end, they offer a small discount on our tab.
Our experience may have been a singular, unfortunate situation.  Maybe their service is generally efficient, the basil vinaigrette rocks, and the fish and chips have an amazing golden, crispy batter encasing fresh, delicious and flakey fish inside.
But first impressions hit hard.  The Crazies and I have decided that we will make a visit again soon just to give it a second chance.  “I’m not holding my breath,” says Ann. 
This place has all the trappings of a great place to hang, dine, and drink, if they could only up the ante on service and quality. Kind of like they do for the huge conferences…