Nadeem Raja’s Arizona Grill is one of the category leaders in the upscale ‘restaurantscape’ of Karachi. As such it has a reputation to protect especially when it comes to Ramadan deals. Today’s consumer empowered by the social media has become extremely unforgiving. One false move on the restaurateur’s part and before you know it, the whole wide networked world is talking about it.

We checked out Arizona Grill’s stamina for dishing out the perfect iftar dinner by visiting on the very last day of Ramadan’s gastronomical orgy.  Apart from a few hiccups, the iftar bonanza is something you could rely on to tantalize your taste buds.

The purely continental iftar dinner is something which Evolution restaurant is credited for coming up. Although Evolution was a latecomer to the foray of upscale restaurants, it revolutionized the iftar dinner by offering its main entrées as part of the buffet offering. Before it, the restaurants refrained from including the expensive items and instead used the standard buffet items to fill up the table.

Evolution came and upped the ante, as well as the prices. In 2002 when the prices for a buffet iftar used to be somewhere between Rs.200-350, it came up with a buffet costing Rs.500 which was astronomical by that era’s standard. Of course today 500 bucks would fetch you only the cheapest buffet in town.But in those days 500 bucks was a great deal of money.

That didn’t deter the consumer from thronging the place. There was limited space for moving about what with the buffet items taking up half the space, and people were falling over each other trying to get their hands on the steaks and the pastas. It was complete mayhem. We know this for a fact because we checked out Evolution’s iftar buffet back in 2002 when it was first introduced, and we can safely conclude that Arizona Grill’s offering pales in comparison to that buffet both in terms of taste and the number of items on offer.

However, whether that offering holds good even today is  a big question mark since we haven’t checked on Evolution’s quality standard since 2007.

Notwithstanding the comparison with Evolution, Arizona Grill’s iftar dinner buffet is a force to be reckoned with. At Rs. 895 plus tax equal to Rs.1056, it may not have the most number of items on offer, roughly around 35, it’s the weightage of certain items that tips the balance in its favor. Here’s the complete listing of the offering:

Iftar Items
1. Chicken Wings
2 Samosa
3 Spring Roll
4 Pakora
5 Chana Chaat
6 Fruit Chaat
7 Dahi Barey
8 Egg n cheese sandwich
9 Beef sandwich
10 Chapali kebab
Dinner Items
11 Hot n Sour Soup
12 Black Pepper Steak
13 Chicken Shashlik
14 Beef Chilli
15 Chicken Mushroom
16 Vegetable Chowmein
17 Fried Rice
18 Sweet n Sour Prawn
19 Fried Fish
20 Country Fried Chicken
21 Pasta a la Pesto
22 Mushroom Lasagna
23 Mashed Potatoes
Desserts
24 Vanilla Ice Cream
25 Malt Cake
26 Cheese Cake
27 Egg Pudding
28 Apple Crumb
29 Bread Pudding
30 Fresh Fruit
31 Chocolate Mousse

In addition this, there were about 3-4 salads and two sauces, one with the chicken wings and the other with the fish. Both were sumptuous and could be had easily with the other items as well.

The fish was by far the best item on offer. It was golden crisp just the right amount without any hint of over-cooking. The same cannot be said of the sweet n sour prawn which left the impression of something which is slightly burnt. The same goes for the beef chili. In fact no one so much as touched this dish which even looked uninviting. The country fried chicken was quite good, just a tad short on salt, which was the case with the pasta as well. It not only tasted devoid of the requisite herbs that give a pasta its exquisite taste, but any other worthwhile meat ingredient.

The chicken mushroom was delectable, so was the shashlik. The steak was a bit on the bland side. Not the best steak Arizona Grill offers otherwise anyway. The lasagna was palatable as well loaded with mushrooms and stuff.

The iftar items were your standard affair. Nothing remarkable about them.

Coming to the desserts, the malt cake was scrumptious. The verdict on cheese cake could go either way – depends on how much you prefer the sweetening factor to sour. The Sports Bar iftar dinner offers the perfect blend in its cheese cake. Arizona Grill’s version was dominated by the cheesy part with even the base almost non-existent. If you prefer your cheese cake that way, then your’re gonna love it.

The apple pudding was surprisingly horrible. The mousse was simply divine.

We do feel that Arizona Grill could change this experience from being just pleasant to delightful from next year by just tweaking a few changes at little or no investment:

  • The salt content wasn’t upto the mark in many instances. It was either too low or too high. Just by ensuring the appropriate salt level, the taste of the dishes could be enhanced manifold.
  • Drop the beef chili. No one was interested in it anyway. Introduce either chicken steak or better still ‘chicken and mushroom crepe’. It already is a smash hit at its sister brand Roasters so Arizona Grill won’t have any trouble adding it here as well.
  • Both Shashlik and sweet n sour prawn taste essentially the same having the same reddish sweet gravy. A better option would be to remove the shashlik and introduce prawn tempura instead. No other restaurant is offering two prawn dishes. It would help Arizona Grill stand out from the crowd, especially since people love prawn dishes. And if it can afford to include its heavenly divine battered fried shrimps, that would be fantastic.
  • Ensure the prawns are not overcooked. Also since it’s the prawn pakora-style, it’s better to make it bigger.
  • Improve the level of service by focusing on even the minor things. We had one short date on our table. We asked at least three waiters for the extra date before it arrived. It wouldn’t cost a fortune to place some extra dates on each table.
  • One glass of lemonade is too stingy on the part of Arizona Grill. It doesn’t cost much, and it would help increase its standing in the eyes of its customers by offering unlimited drinks of the lemonade or any sherbet for that matter.
  • Replace the bland branded vanilla ice cream with a homemade version. Or maybe have a brand alliance with Hot Spot or some other well-known ice cream parlor and offer that. It would go a long way in enhancing the value of the overall dessert experience.
  • And now the worst part about their service. There was no prayer space. None at all. There was this tiny ‘dasterkhan’ on which you can offer your prayers one at a time and of all the places, right at the entrance where people were coming and going. Even if majority of your customers don’t pray, it doesn’t mean you can ignore this essential part of an iftar deal. There are always going to be a few who would. And the least you can do for them is to buy a decent Jaanamaz for them  and a secluded space to pray. This was the worst arrangement we found at any Karachi restaurant, upscale or otherwise. Even Fuchsia fared much better on this count.

In spite of all its shortcoming, Arizona Grill’s iftar deal was one of the best deals we tried this Ramadan.