My wife and I have eaten at The Gathering several times in the last six months, most recently on a week night in mid November. This restaurant is part of the hotel complex at Cliff Castle Casino in Camp Verde, just off I-17 about an hour north of Phoenix. We keep coming back because we are generally satisfied with the quality of the food but there are issues which can make dining at this restaurant both unpredictable and disappointing.
The menu is small, and prices are typically in the mid- teens or low twenties for an entree, salad and two sides. The presentation is usually attractive. Obviously, the current chef is making an effort to position The Gathering as a somewhat up-scale dining experience in the area. A creative touch is the incorporation of southwest cuisine (i.e. cactus flavors) to feature a menu with a regionalized flare. The fresh fruit garnishes on a dessert we ordered rivaled what you would expect to see on a magazine cover.
Now for the "unpredictable and disappointing." Service ranges from excellent to poor, depending on your server. On one occasion, there were only three tables in the restaurant but it took 35 minutes (yes, over a half hour!) for our salads to appear. On another occasion, service was timely and excellent. On several occasions our water glasses remained empty for the duration of the meal despite a bus boy walking by our table multiple times. Other tables received a bread basket with their salads. When I asked our server about it, she said "the bus boy should have brought that."
When I asked our male server if the house white wine was chardonnay, he looked confused as if he had never heard that word before. He just shrugged his shoulders. That's an unacceptable response for a restaurant with a leather-bound wine book with selections in the $20 - $40+ range. How about a response like, "I'm not sure, but I'll find out for you right away."
I once ordered one of the house specialities (stuffed chicken breast ) which turned out to be a generous portion stuffed with amazing southwest flavors. I ordered the same item a month later. What I got was a small, luke warm piece of chicken (about half the size of the original) with hardly any of the flavorings of the original entree. In contrast, my wife's entree was piping hot and delicious.
Once, the restaurant was out of the evening's special an hour after it opened. On another occasion, we asked to speak with the manager and were told by the hostess, "Right now, we don't have a manager."
On many occasions, the lighting for dinner is bright enough to resemble a fast food restaurant even though the decor suggests fine dining in a relaxing atmosphere. The soothing music playing in the background is appropriate until you realize it's a radio station and every 20 minutes you hear annoying advertisements at twice the volume of the music.
If you are fortunate enough to get the right server, order the right entree and are not concerned with some of the other issues mentioned above, you can have a very pleasant dining experience at The Gathering. Since it's one of the very few restaurants in this remote area and is associated with the casino, it will most likely survive. However, stronger and more consistent management could make The Gathering excel.
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