Good Things Come in Threes

In my last post I mentioned that we ate at two ‘new’ restaurants (new being new to us.)

Well, now there’s a third restaurant to add to my first timer list.

Kukai is a minute fast casual Japanese restaurant located in the Mercado San Agustin Annex aka MSA.

The annex is built of storage containers that have been hobbled together to create a maze of shops and restaurants. It’s a little confusing but once you figure out the plan the whole thing makes sense. All food  (there is a veggie burger place on the opposite side of the complex) is ordered at a window and you eat at one of the mix and matched tables and chairs.

The people behind Kukai are owners of Samurai, a favorite of mine and many others for ages. Samurai has legions of fans and on most nights tables are filled and there is a long line of to-go orders.

Kukai has some of the same dishes as its mother restaurant, but here the offerings lean heavily toward appetizers and quick bites. Sushi, rice bowls and ramen are on the menu but it is the bites part that is the most intriguing. Onigiri, rice balls, are stuffed with a whole list of things: grilled salmon, tuna mayo, umeboshi (pickled plum), takana (pickled greens), noritama (furikake),  pork belly, gyu (beef) and unagi. They are presented wrapped in sea weed, although from the pic you can see the wrap is laid open for a exquisite presentation. Other apps include shrimp tempura, edamame, fried squid legs, miso soup and more.

But what drew me here, in addition to my love for Samurai, was the takoyaki. I have Andi Berlin to thank for piquing my palate for this dish. When she wrote about Kukai she mentioned takoyaki and how it’s relatively new to Tucson but is a pretty common dish every place else in the world.

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The menu describes takoyaki as deep fried pancake balls stuffed with octopus. That’s a little misleading because the dough did not seem pancake-like to me. It was soft and more like very light fried mashed potatoes. A nib of octopus is in the center and then the balls are topped with Japanese mayo, tonkatsu sauce and aonori. Tastes and textures come together in a most luscious way, sticky, sweet, savory. Each ball is about two bites big There are five to an order which I thought would be enough considering I also ordered a rice ball with salmon.

I confess. I have a new addiction. Give me more takoyaki! NOW!

I should have ordered another order before I finished the first.

The onigiri was also top notch with perfectly sticky rice. smoky grilled salmon inside and a snappy wrap of seaweed. Again, I should have ordered more. The presentation was beautiful.IMG_1146

Next time, and believe me when I say I will return SOON, I’ll order two takoyaki and several onigiri and tempura and a rice bowl and….

 

Time for Something Different

Admittedly we eat out often.

Call it an occupational hazard, if you will, but  our frequent dining out has as much me not wanting to cook dinner like I used to back in the day.

As with most people we tend to eat at the same places. We like the food, the atmosphere, the service and usually the places we frequent are close to home. We live two blocks off of Campbell Avenue (in Tucson), a street that can proudly claim to be restaurant row.

So, in a bit of bravado we decided to try two new places last week for dinner. New to us and relatively new to Tucson.

The first place we went to was Smokey Mo, a Kansas City BBQ joint on First Avenue. The building once was home to long-time fave, Shari’s, home of some of the best burgers and shakes in Tucson.

Anyway, it was early so the place was relatively quiet. The redo included enclosing what used to be the ‘patio/order counter/ front window of Shari’s. The space is small and cozy with minimal décor. Good music played overhead. Service was honestly friendly and fast.

We ordered the full rack of pork ribs, potato salad, cornbread and collard greens. The food arrived at the table in a timely manner and was all served in Styrofoam, typical of good Q joints. By now other customers showed up who looked like regulars.

Other options include brisket, tri-tip and a turkey melt (on my list for our next visit), wings, tacos and burgers. Other sides include slaw, baked beans, fries, mac & cheese (also a future choice.)

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Big, meaty and tender the ribs were slathered with a sauce that was a perfect blend of smoke and sweet. The meat pulled away at the first bite. We ate our fill and then brought a pile of ribs home. The cornbread was tasty and crumbled in the best way, no need for butter here. The potato salad was a good-sized scoop and was chilled as though it had been kept in the refrigerator. It was a perfect blend of ingredients with the emphasis on the taters and not tons of onions, peppers and who-know-what found in too many places today. I love the greens as well although I should have ordered more cornbread to sop up all the potliker at the bottom.

Then on Saturday after our water heater blew, we had to turn off the water main which made cooking and clean up a hassle so we headed to east to Speedway and Wilmot, to check out Divine Bovine Burgers, the newest burger addition to town. Owned and operated by Ben Rine, who for years owned the highly successful Brushfire BBQ until he sold his share last year, DBB is an ode to burgers.

As with Brushfire, Rine wants to bring the best flavors to his food so the burgers are a blend of chuck, brisket and short rib. The mix gives the burgers the perfect mix of taste, texture and juiciness.

With a menu full of interesting burgers and sides and buckets of beer, if you don’t find something you like here then you are a sorry soul.

The burgers come with clever names and a wild mix of toppings. Or you can build your own burger. Toppings include all the usual itmes but you’ll also find raspberry jam, white cheddar, goat cheese, candied bacon red peppers. a balsamic reduction and peanut butter (ah, shades of the old Bum Steer) to name a few. Sides include mac n’ cheese, fried cheese, house made potato chips, hush puppies and more.

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One nifty touch are the triple-fried Kennebec potatoes that can be ordered with house beef gravy. Wet fries are not really a thing in Tucson just yet but we used to eat them all the time back in my husband’s hometown in upstate New York. Poutine is a glorified take on this dish. DBB’s version exceeded our expectations and would give the wet fries at the Burger House in Lewiston a run for their money. I didn’t get a pic., sorry. A cheese sauce is available as well.

Served on soft brioche buns the burgers were big, juicy and messy. I had the Magic Mushroom Burger with the work. My side was the fried cheese – that’s a trick from my home, Wisconsin. John opted for the house burger with everything and that was truly “everything.”IMG_1120

Burgers are served in a basket; sides in containers that are either made from recycled materials or can be recycled, I’m not sure which.

Beer – and the choices are plentiful – are served in buckets. Soft drinks are from the Rocky Mountain Soda Company, an all-natural soda company out of Colorado. The cola, one of ten or so choices – was almost floral in flavor and didn’t have that lingering stickiness in regular sodas.

The room is bright and airy and in spite of every table being filled and a line that never stopped, the noise level was just fine. The vibe is fun and cheery. Families were having fun as were the folks who had one of those buckets of beer on their table.

We’ll certainly go back to both places not just because we liked the food, vibe and service but Divine Bovine Burgers and Smokey Mo both have so many other intriguing menu options we still need to sample.

 

Tonight, Tonight…well, really this afternoon, this afternoon but that doesn’t have the right ring

Arizona Chimichangas

Happy hour

BOOK SIGNING

@DOWNTOWN KITCHEN & COCKTAILS

THURSDAY MARCH 21, 2019

4 P.M. – 6 P.M.

IMG_1081With Special Happy Hour

BEEF CHEEK & FRIJOLES MANEADOS WITH CHILI COLORADO AND SALPICON MINI CHIMIS

$6.

Rita Connelly will be signing copies of her new book, Arizona Chimichangas. Her other titles Lost Restaurants of Tucson IMG_1087 and Historic Restaurants of Tucson will also be available.

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A Evening to Remember and more…

Janos Wilder and his team have always played a major role in Tucson’s culinary scene, not just in the food and hospitality they’re known for but as promotors of the all things Tucson.janosheadshot-1-246x300

Instrumental in Tucson becoming a UNESCO City of Gastronomy, the team continues to be active in creating a bond among the chefs, restaurant owners, makers, bakers and even a humble food write or two (more about that later). Thanks to the UNESCO designations, Tucson chefs have been able to take the flavors of Tucson to sister Cities of Gastronomy world wide.DSCN2091

As part of Tucson City of Gastronomy, on March 27th, at Janos’ Carriage House, chefs will come together for the 4th Annual Downtown Chef’s Table. This event is a true meeting of the minds and talents found in our many wonderful kitchens as well as proof that Tucson is a one-of-a-kind city. Tucson Chefs are proud and happy to work together to bring the flavors of Tucson to local diners and the world.

This year’s participants include:

Chef Brian Smith of Maynards Market & Kitchen

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Chef/Owner Carlotta Flores of El Charro/Charro Del Rey/Charro Steak

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Chef Gary Hickey of Charro Steak/Charro del Rey

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Patricia Schwabe and Bryan Eichorst of Penca

Chef Tyler Fenton of Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink

Chef Angel Valente and Chef Mahmoud “Moody” Elbarasi of Augstin Kitchen and The Coronet

Chef Janos Wilder and Chef Devon Sanner of Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails and The Carriage House DSCN2081

 

Chef Ivor Cryderman of 1055 Brewing & Sausage House

Cocktails and hors d/oeuvres begin at 5:30 followed by a multi-course dinner, wine-paired sit down dinner beginning at 7:00. The chefs will all be there to talk about their dishes. Cost is $150 per person 9tax & tip included.)

From a personal point Janos has been a major supporter of my work.

When Lost Restaurants of Tucson

was published Janos and Devon – with the help of my friend Norma Gentry – held a dinner at Carriage House bringing together chefs and dishes from the restaurants featured in the book. I was honored and humbled by the whole evening.

Now Janos is again showing his support for the food writers in Tucson, namely me and my new book Arizona Chimichangas.

On Thursday March 21st, I will be signing and selling my books during Happy Hour at Downtown Kitchen & Cocktails. They’re even making a special chimi just for the evening.

I am beyond thrilled and I hope you all will try and make it.

I also hope that you attend the Downtown Chef’s Table Dinner on the 27th for a chance to experience and taste some of the best food from the best chefs in Tucson.