And Now for Something Completely Different

El Berraco has been open for about a year and a half but I must confess I’ve never been there.

So. when my foodie/writer friend, Edie Jarolim, asked me and our third partner in crime, Karyn Zoldan to accompany her to do some research for an upcoming article, I jumped at the chance.

El Berraco is owned and operated by Benjamin L. Galaz, of BK Tacos and Sonoran Tacos, which is located up the street and on South 12th Avenue.

The exterior is a replica of a submarine with portholes for windows. The interior is also nautical, but in a funky, hip way. Galaz did most of the work himself. On two large screens, you can check out rotating pictures of various dishes. There’s a reason for these displays but that will be our secret.

The menu is packed with seafood dishes from the Pacific Coast with Latin influences or maybe its Latin with Pacific influences. The website calls it a “new authentic and innovative concept” and that it is. Either way the dishes are clever and tasty.

There are familiar dishes and then there are unique dishes and that begins with the chips. IMG_0041Instead of the normal salsa of tomatoes and such, El Berraco pulverizes chiles adds spices and other secret ingredients resulting in a thick, creamy dip.

These were accompanied by huge michaladas, trimmed out with a spicy sprinkle of tajine.IMG_0042

Benjamin suggested the trio of ceviche. The Peruvian had a mix of fish, the spicy consisted of scallops and shrimp and the tropical shrimp bas mango and other fruit and is both hot and sweet.IMG_0047

We also ordered the El Octopus, a gorgeous and perfectly seasoned whole octopus that had been grilled to perfection. Tender and spicy it came with cilantro rice, all fluffy and green.IMG_0049

Benjamin also served us a dish call Shish! a kabob of grilled shrimp, tuna, pineapple and red and green peppers. which came with cilantro rice.IMG_0051

We had to have tacos but there are so many to choose from we let Benjamin decide. He served us the El Pastor shrimp. He explained the shrimp was marinated then grilled and served with pina salsa, a guacamole cream and pickled onions.IMG_0052

Somehow, we found room for desserts, two desserts. A coconut flan and churros with ice cream chocolate sauce and pecans.IMG_0054IMG_0053

Thank you, Edie for invite. Thank you, Benjamin for all the wonderful food.

I’m going back to El Berraco soon and I bringing friends.

The Fox is Back!

Sam Fox hasn’t opened a restaurant in Tucson for a while but starting Wednesday Tucsonans can enjoy one of Fox’s finest concepts, Culinary Dropout.

We attended the soft opening last night (the second of a two-day party) and were astounded by the whole experience.

Located at the site of the old Grant Road Lumber, the building is divided into three huge areas. There is the patio with a roof, so diners get the best of both worlds – you can eat outside but still be inside, a main dining room, a state-of-the-art kitchen. There is also an area with yard games and a stunningly sexy back room for private parties.

A shared bar separates the patio from the main dining room.IMG_0040

We ate indoors in the massive dining room. The ceilings are high and the walls on three sides are all windows, with the one wall giving diners a full view of the sparking new kitchen. The staff never stopped.

Service was top-notch, but it always is at a Fox Restaurant. Meghan, our server, was enthusiastic, friendly and she knew her stuff.

There’s a nice wine list and a full slate of beers for every taste. The cocktail list was well-built.IMG_0559[1]

We began with the antipasto board. We weren’t given choices – the list had so many options, that I must return just to try them – but what we got was tasty: thinly sliced salami, crusty bread, unique olives, asparagus spears, manchego cheese, a sweet pepper, bread sticks, pimento cheese, mostarda…. was there more? I can’t remember but we ate all of it. Sorry no photo.

Entrees were a bit surf and turf. John had the 36-hour BBQ pork ribs and I went with the rainbow trout. It was tough choosing form all the comfort food options.

The ribs were perfectly cooked with just a slightly spicy dry rub and sauce on the side.IMG_0038

The trout was topped with a beurre blanc, crunchy green beans and toasted slivered almonds, a trout almondine for the 21st-century.IMG_0039

Dessert was a take on s’mores. We were lucky to get it because we were told (by good buddy Matt Russell, whose company Russell Communications handled the PR), that they’d run out of it at lunchtime. I saved a little for breakfast.IMG_0561[1]

Anyway, I really can’t wait to go back when things aren’t so hectic (although, for a soft opening everything ran smoothly.) I have no idea how many people were there but the crowd included other restaurant owners, well-dressed couples, families, hipsters and a couple of other food writers – you know who you are.

I highly recommend Culinary Dropout.

 

Good Eats and Plenty of Them

This was a weekend of firsts and it’s not over yet.

On Friday, we popped into Seis’ Kitchen for lunch. I didn’t take any photos but did enjoy my meal of three carne adobo tacos with a side of calabacitas.

The room has gone a major makeover now that dining is fast casual. The once sushi bar that sits in the middle of the room is still there but now it is used for liquor. Everything else looks new with an unfussy, modern style.

On Saturday, we went to dinner at Dolce Vita. At first, we were the only people in the place – usually a bad sign – but then literally in a matter of ten minutes the place filled up with couples, families and groups of friends. Many seemed to be old time customers of the original Dolce Vita that was open for nearly forty years on Broadway and Pantano. The owner filled in as busser – a good sign. Service was great – another good sign.

There isn’t a website yet, I recommend they get one up and running soon. And please include a menu.

They don’t have their liquor license yet, victims of the stupidity of the various local regulations required to open a business and get all the proper permits. It’s a lament you hear from many small business owners in town. For some unknown reason, the powers that be make it tough for people to open small businesses. One day, I will write a scathing essay on the inane, archaic ways the city, county and state treat small business owners but until then…

Only days ago, we had been talking about how you just don’t see escargot on menus anymore but there they were, served either stand alone or stuffed in mushroom caps and topped with mozzarella. We opted for the second prep. We loved them and wolfed them down in a flash.

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Our entrees were linguini with clams, white sauce (another dish I’d been thinking about lately) and baked manicotti with a side of homemade sausage.

Entrees come with soup or salad. We both chose salad which was a goodly portion of mixed greens, red onions, a tomato and a pepperoncini pepper. IMG_0028 We couldn’t finish them but they were good. You also get a pasta salad with the house vinaigrette. It was tasty, but we left most of it for leftovers.

The portions of the entrees were generous. The manicotti was tender and gooey with baked cheese. IMG_0033The sausage was perfect. Topped with a hearty red sauce, the two pieces were slightly spicy with a soft hint of fennel. They tasted truly homemade. Like the sausage I ate growing up.IMG_0032

The linguini had tons of tender clams redolent with garlic. Looking at the photo, you’ll see mussels adorning the plate, but this dish was a fine example of how this dish should be prepared.IMG_0034

We were fully sated and still had food on our plates, but decided to see the dessert menu. In a very old fashioned, but extremely clever idea, the desserts are brought to the table for you to examine. It’s impossible to say no, so we took tiramisu home and ate half within minutes of walking in the door.

We’ll definitely be back.

Tonight another new place – Culinary Dropout, the newest Fox Restaurant Concept in Tucson. Stay tuned.

Happy Anniversary

Things to do today:

Go to any one of the El Charro1008411_10151518850727599_2123068391_o restaurants and get 95 cent specials in celebration of El Charro’s 95th Anniversary.

El Charro is the oldest family run Mexican restaurant in America.

Chimichangas were first served there.

It used to be located on 4th Avenue where Caruso’s is.

Carlottta and family carry on the tradition of their Tia Monica with love and good food.

 

Campbell Avenue Welcomes a World of New Eateries

Living off Campbell Avenue has allowed for some great eats over the years.

Every cuisine is mere minutes away; every price point is available. Some of the city’s finest places are within shouting distance. Over time restaurants have closed, of course. Some have moved to a different address but stayed on Campbell. Any way you look at it, Campbell Avenue is truly a restaurant row.

One would think any more restaurants are unnecessary but in the last few weeks three different restaurants have opened one stop light away from the house with another getting ready to open next week.

In Joesler Center on the northwest corner of River and Oracle, Villa Peru Restaurant opened. There have been several other restaurants in that site, so I hope these guys can make it. The web site promises “authentic” Peruvian food, organic ingredients, contemporary American service culture (whatever that might be) and a modern design aesthetic. All I know is that the food sounds fabulous with papas, ceviches, grilled meats and seafood. I’ll report back once we dine there.Ceviche+Mixto+2Aji+de+gallina+3

Then in the same plaza, although not open just yet is Seis Kitchen. This is one I am really looking forward to visiting. Seis has some of the best carne asada I’ve ever had. Can’t wait.b9d6bcfc713f2906da432c6e055caafc

Two restaurants have opened in the plaza on Ft. Lowell & Campbell (the name escapes me.)

One is a long time Tucson favorite, Dolce Vita. The original DV was an eastside classic red sauce Italian joint for decades. They closed a couple years ago but I guess they just couldn’t stay out of the kitchen. They are working on their liquor license and as soon as That happens I’ll be there.

Then in the former sushi restaurant –  I should say former sushi restaurants since several have resided there – is a place called Seafood Time. Weird name, I think, and the menu is a little odd with an assortment of seafood and sides. As far as I can tell, you pick a seafood, you pick a side, you pick a heat level and then everything is served family style. Asian lettering is on the website so I am guessing the influence is Asian. Again, I’ll write more after I eat there.4c9a61aee73b094819e61fdba2cfba1e

Pie, Oh My!

I finally got around to eating at Pie Bird Bakery & Cafe in the Transamerica Building downtown.

Off the beaten path from the rest of all that’s happening downtown this little eatery is open from 7am-3pm weekdays and brunch on Sundays.

Offerings include simple breakfast fare like oatmeal and egg sandwiches and salads, sandwiches and quiche at lunch. And a pleasant assortment of beautiful baked goods.

Decor is bright and cheerful (as is the counter service) and utilizes baking tools as decor. I sat beneath a collection of rolling pins; one wall was decorated with pie plates. A large common  wooden table dominates the small dining room. Large black and white floor tiles add an old timey touch.

I went all pie with a ham and cheese quiche and a huge slice of raspberry/rhubarb pie. The quiche was fab. A eggy filling was light and had just the right amount ham. It came with a small salad with my choice of dressing (I opted for poppy seed.) IMG_0014

The pie was outstanding, Rhubarb pie is one of my favorites but all too often when restaurants have it on the menu, the pie is sweetened up which defeats the whole purpose of a rhubarb pie. You want a little sweet, but this pie is meant to be tangy.  These guys did it right.IMG_0011

The place was pretty busy with a mix of the downtown crowd. I will go back; i want to try a bigger salad or a sandwich.