SCOTTSDALE, Ariz.--Have you ever fallen out of love? It doesn't happen with a thunderclap or a lightning bolt, but with an incremental realization that the spark is gone, the light is out. She may still be beautiful, but you notice the wrinkles: no one makes sure the row of chairs are properly aligned opposite the banquettes, the barman skips the orange twist in the apéritif, the server's little black dress is a little too revealing.
But the biggest disappointment was the food. No longer like a real French brasserie, neither offering classic preparations and predictable flavors, nor challenging tradition with inventive and lively recipes, the two dishes we oirdered tasted like they had been phoned in, covered with the same dense, wine-dark sauce. Should a portion of short ribs (the cheapest cut of meat at the butcher's, and by the way where were the bones?) braised in pinot noir cost $32, no matter how tender? Returning to the black goo atop the meat, what saucier's apprentice stirred and ladeled it? Where was the guiding hand of the master?
And that side dish of potatoes baked in garlic-nutmeg cream? A diner asks only that the nutmeg be used sparingly, not in great grated chunks.
The room remains elegant, the lighting flattering to the first-date singles, chirpy gal-pals and suburban regulars whose cheerful chatter bounces from tiled floor to pressed-tin ceiling. We've been coming here since it opened and have written glowing comments for years. The decor and ambience have always been so reliable. Alas, the magic of previous visits has finally faded.
Like pandas (albeit pandas with a camera), we ate, shot and left.