From Canada to China, the word “province” describes a geographical and political division within a country, similar to an American state. There’s another meaning of the plural “provinces” to describe outlying areas of a nation beyond the capital city and financial center. Strictly speaking, neither meaning really applies in the heart of Downtown Phoenix, but the word does fit well with a theme of geographically named hotel restaurants along Van Buren. If the nearby Sheraton has a restaurant named District, why not establish a Province at the Westin just a few blocks away?
Located not out in the provinces, but instead right at the crossroads of Central Avenue and Van Buren Street, both Province and the Westin are not as obvious as their prominent address might suggest. That’s because this particular hotel is not a standalone structure but instead one occupant of a tower shared with tenants such as Freeport McMoRan and the Arizona Commerce Authority. The restaurant is found to the left after entering from Van Buren. Central Station with its light rail platforms, bus bays, and bicycle racks, is right across the street.
The dining room’s placement behind the lobby on one side and the valet parking zone on another renders it largely detached from the street outside. Maybe that’s why a recent renovation added a mural depicting Downtown Phoenix, including an image of a train just like those operating out of sight only a few hundred feet away. Other touches added by the changes in design and decor include an expanded bar with more tap handles for craft beer. The restaurant’s patio is, like the interior, secluded, making it a better fit for private events than streetside cafe-style dining.
In the first five years of its existence, Province has had several executive chefs and has sometimes seemed undecided about what approach to take with its menu. With the recent hiring of Marco Garcia, a change that took place around the same time as the renovation, Province has settled on familiar American fare with some Mexican, Southwestern, and even Asian influences and a few creative touches. The abundance of chicken, salmon, and steak on the menu lies mostly within the safe realm of hotel food, but the execution is well above average.
Popcorn has been appearing on local menus recently as an appetizer, and Province’s version of the movie theater staple is an appealing appetizer that pairs well with the restaurant’s new level of interest in craft beer. The exploded kernels are tossed with chili lime salt, a bit of tajine spice, toasted pepitas, and crispy bits of serrano ham. A hummus of the day is both supple in texture and subtle in taste with a gentle infusion of added flavor such as lemon and a generous portion of naan for dipping. Daily soups have included a thick chicken tortilla and a tangy, spicy tomato.
Salads include the increasingly common kale Caesar, although Province’s kitchen gives this item some distinctiveness with tender, small leaves and a little crunch from rye croutons. The chickpea chop salad is a hearty Mediterranean mix with garbanzo beans, kalamata olives, grape tomatoes, and pita chips over a bed of romaine and mesclun lettuces. An Asian chicken salad looks stereotypical at first with its crunchy topping of fried wontons. The roasted Brussels sprouts that lay beneath, however, add an unexpected level of flavor and substance to the mix.
The lunch menu focuses heavily on sandwiches under the heading of “need two hands.” Among the more inventive creations are a Buffalo chicken sandwich in which the poultry is topped with spicy mayonnaise, celery slaw, and blue cheese between two halves of ciabatta. Additional heat is found in a harissa turkey burger with red pepper aioli, Havarti cheese, and arugula served within slices of challah. One additional choices at lunch is a serving of blue corn enchiladas, The crisp tortillas full of tinga seem closer to taquitos in form, but the avocado crema on top defines the dish.
Hotel restaurants often struggle with the tension between keeping things unintimidating for guests staying on site and trying to be interesting enough to lure local customers into their dining rooms. To that end, the dinner menu begins with the least threatening entrees imaginable — Scottish salmon and herb chicken — before moving onto popular red meat entrees such as short ribs and steak. All are well-prepared, but the most interesting fare is found toward the bottom. A grilled sugarcane shrimp skewer is a more adventurous dish with a bit of Vietnamese influence.
Sides dishes such as beluga lentils with quinoa, Brussels sprouts with bacon, and street corn go well with most the menu, and any three can be ordered together at a discounted price. Desserts, like the entrees, begin with the familiar. A chocolate pot de creme and a banana cream parfait are both sufficiently satisfying, but the serrano cheesecake with a hibiscus glaze adds flavor and just a bit of fire to the end of the meal. The W.P.D.(Westin Phoenix Downtown) donuts combine lemon curd and blueberry preserves as a fruity counterpoint to the accompanying chocolate.
While Province is now paying a lot more attention to its own well-chosen beer and wine selection, its cocktails and non-alcoholic juice drinks are dictated by a Westin corporate menu. There’s nothing wrong with that per se, but it does show that this restaurant still has more opportunity to define its own niche. The recent changes to the decor and the menu are helping this hidden restaurant emerge from its cocoon inside the hotel. If this approach continues, Province may attain some of the prominence associated with being in the heart of the city rather than “the provinces.”
333 N. Central Ave., Phoenix Az 85004
Van Buren / 1st Avenue (eastbound) and Van Buren / Central (westbound) stations