Here’s another review from my secret restaurant reviewer, Sherry. This time she’s reviewing The Christmas Tree restaurant in Pinetop, Arizona.
Review of The Christmas Tree Restaurant, January 28, 2011
The Christmas Tree restaurant is a venerable old favorite of White Mountains diners. It’s been in Pinetop for many years and after closing for a couple of them, it’s open again and being operated by the daughter of the original owner (or so I’ve heard). After learning this, I expected nothing less than the restaurant living up to my fond memories of visiting this restaurant several times over the past decade. Unfortunately, that’s not how my dining experience went.
For the uninitiated, The Christmas Tree is known for its unique starter of pickled beets as well as serving warm, homemade cinnamon rolls instead of dinner rolls with each entrée. The beets are slightly sweet, slightly sour, slightly spicy and a perfect way to get your palate ready for a delicious meal. Nothing has changed here; this starter is still as good as ever. The cinnamon rolls, however, aren’t quite as good as what I remember. Instead of being light, flaky and buttery sweet, they’re dense, heavy and not particularly flavorful. They smelled better than they tasted.
Along with an entrée, diners are offered a choice of salad or soup du jour. I opted for the salad, which was quite puny; the only distinguishing ingredient was the addition of kidney beans (I believe I found 3 on my plate). My husband opted for the clam chowder, which was god but not outstanding.
Now onto the main course. My husband chose “House Favorite” beef stroganoff which, according to the menu, is made with beef filet. He received a plate full of egg noodles and the server ladled sour cream sauce with beef and mushrooms over the top (there were no vegetables with this entrée). My husband didn’t finish his plate but didn’t bring home the leftovers, either, because he said it really wasn’t all that good. In particular, the beef was tough. Made us wonder if the menu is really correct in stating they use filet and not a cheaper, tougher cut.
I ordered another House Favorite, duck with honey and almonds. It’s not often I get the opportunity to eat duck so my mouth was watering in anticipation. When it arrived, however, my anticipation quickly turned to disappointment. The plate of whole duck, sliced into thirds (I’ve never seen it arranged on a plate like a chicken…) and served with rice pilaf and sautéed apple slices, had no redeeming qualities whatsoever. The duck was cooked so long it had not an ounce of moisture left. The honey glaze and accompanying cup of sauce was so sweet it was like eating a spoonful of straight honey (which I suspect it was). The rice was a tasteless brown blob on my plate and the apples, which looked like Granny Smiths, weren’t peeled which made it difficult to eat them. The flavor profiles were all wrong, the method of preparation all wrong and the presentation all wrong; the sliced almonds on top were merely an afterthought and not part of its preparation. An entire plate of brown food certainly isn't appetizing, either.
As far as the service goes, it was good with one exception: the busboy who poured our water was asked a question about the menu and his reply was, “I don’t know; I guess so.” I asked him how long he’d worked at the restaurant and he replied, “Not long enough, apparently.” There’s no excuse for either his ignorance or his glib responses.
The only reason a diner might choose The Christmas Tree restaurant is for its ambience. Although the building is comprised of various rooms pieced together in a strange manner, the rooms are all cozy and each has a Christmas tree in the corner, along with homey Christmas decorations.
Unfortunately, this White Mountains landmark has a long way to go if it is ever to return to its former glory as one of the best restaurants in the area. For the money (entrees average about $20 each), I expected far more than just a nice room and good service. Without great food, this venture is destined to fail.
The scores for The Christmas Tree are as follows (on a scale from * to *****):