A Feast for Lunch

Feast has been a Tucson tradition for decades.

When Doug Levy first opened his own place, after helping establish The Dish as a go-to dining spot, Tucsonans had never eaten anything like the food he made. The place was tiny with maybe six tables. It was designed as a uptown get-and-go kind of place. In fact, he used the phrase “Tasteful Takeout’ as his pitch. A limited amount of each dish was made each day and when that ran out, that was that. Levy also was an early proponent of using fresh local ingredients to create an ever-changing menu.

Feast is in a larger space these days. Bright and open the rooms are comfortable and understated chic. And even though, Feast is located on Speedway Boulevard, one feels far removed from the hustle and bustle.

Wine was also a major player in Levy’s way of doing things. I can almost say that Levy helped elevate the way we drink wine in Tucson. The wine book is extensive and would be at home at any formal dining room in the world. and yet it is friendly and unintimidating. This year Feast was named Wine Enthusiast‘s Top 100 Wine Restaurants in America.0

The food also continues to impress.

We ate lunch there yesterday and loved every bite…the only regret was not being able to try all the tempting choices on the menu.

We began with the Happy Hour special – an amuse bouche of Ruby trout mousse with pear and almond cream paired with the 2015 Lechthaler Pinot Grigio, Alto Adige, Trentino DOP.  This was just a bite, but I took my time with it making sure I had a bit of the mousse and cream in each bite. Give me three more, please.

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A fried chicken salad followed. Big bites of crispy white meat were tossed with baby spinach, watermelon and Parmesan panna cotta with fresh dill dressing and toasted almonds. Delightfully different, this was light and refreshing salad, a perfect meal for our summer heat.

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We finished off with the chocolate polenta cake, a delightful take on one of my most favorite desserts. IMG_1203

Thanks Doug Levy for your years of feeding hungry Tucsonans (and for all that great wine.) If you’ve never been to Feast, I suggest a trip as soon as possible. If you have been, well, you know what to do.

 

P&P throws open the doors

When I heard that Prep & Pastry was moving on down the road to a bigger space on Campbell Avenue, I had some misgivings. Could this cozy little spot retain is vibe in a newer, brighter building?

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Well, I found out the answer is YES!

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As we speak P&P is holding its soft opening. I just happened to drive by and see all the cars in the lot and made a u-turn to see get a closer look.

The place is going full-tilt boogie and while the decor is decidedly more modern and open, the vibe is still there and so is the great food and fun service.

They’ve done a great remodel. White walls, cool tiles, a tine bar area, a shady patio out front.  Any remnants of the former occupants is long gone. This it totally their space.

I had the Simple Breakfast with the house bacon. Thick slices of toast, huge chunks of home fries and an insanely good house made strawberry jam made this dish anything but simple. The bacon was beyond my expectations (thick sliced, dusted with sugar and who knows what else. I’m going back for the bacon alone,

Good luck Prep & Pastry…..you guys made the right move.

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GUT+Summer=Insanely Good Food

Well, local foodies, they’re at it again

Gastronomic Union of Tucson aka GUT is having the first of their Summer Dinner Series.

Called El Tour de Kino, the 5-course dinner will feature foods Padre Kino discovered in his travels in the Primera Alta, which is basically Southern Arizona. You may know Kino from San Xavier del Bac, one of the many missions he established.

GUT is a gathering of local food folks who want to promote all the culinary wonders found in our city. Chefs from the leading restaurants in town come together to promote Tucson and one another. Their dinners happen mostly in the summer when things slow down.

Held at The Carriage House, these events are a great way to sample the cooking of many local chefs under one roof. Diners get to meet the chefs.and hear what inspired them to create their dishes. Potent potables are paired with each plate.

The dinners are fun and tasty and a Tucson treasure.

The dinner is  $75 per person and reservations are a MUST!

Here’s the menu and the list of chefs:

El Tour De Kino Dinner Menu

Passed Hors d’oeuvre
  • Boqueron – with crispy silver fish, piquillo pepper, sobrasada crema, and Barrio bread
  • Apple and quince Strudeltaschen – with Käsekrainerwurst and blackcurrant gastrique
  • Sonoran Gordita – with fiore di capra and guajillo salsa
  • Callo de Hacha Crudo – with watermelon granita, Seville orange, and peach
First Course (Duo de Tostadas Pequeñas)
  • Skate – pickled baby clam, abalone chorizo aioli, nopalitos, jicama, and chiltepin masa
  • Braised Beef Cheek – with machaca flakes, Tohono O’odham squash purée, red wine verjus, chiltepin en escabeche, and Kino’s Sonoran wheat toastada
Second Course
  • Mesquite Bnocchi Parisienne – with duck prosciutto, duck mattone, fennel kraut, and pickled eggplant
Third Course
  • Spanish Surf and Turf – braised lamb shank, charred octopus, pickled piquillo romesco, crispy saffron bomba, and pea tendril salad
Dessert
  • “Apple Strudel” – spiced local goat cheese mousse, goat milk, and Del Bac cajeta

The team effort was massive, too. More than 20 local chefs and collaborators pitched in to make it an incredible evening of fine dining.

Participating Chefs

  • Erika Bostick-Esham of Fonda de la Hermanita
  • CJ Hamm of Saguaro Corners and Mulligans
  • Izaak Morhaim of The HUB
  • Gina Skelton of Casino del Sol
  • Vanessa Moon of Old Pueblo Provisions
  • Nichole Correa of Batch Cafe and Bar
  • Eric Catalano of Hilton El Conquistador Resort
  • Jose Almanza of El Taco Rustico
  • Anthony Rocco DiGrazia of Rocco’s Little Chicago
  • Brently Singletary of Zona 78
  • Janet Jones of Tanque Verde Ranch
  • Matt Kraiss of Culinary Ronin
  • Devon Alsakkaf of The Coronet
  • Michael Estelle of Mountain Oyster Club
  • Rick Davis of Saguaro Corners
  • Carla Valdivia of Pastry Chef and Culinary Consultant
  • Ian Guernsey of Motor Town Coney Island
  • Brad Matson of Ermanos Craft Beer and Wine Bar
  • Rica Rances of The Parish
  • Ken Foy of Dante’s Fire
  • Max Provost (Private Chef)
  • Adrian Castillo of The Hub
  • Marcus Van Winden of The Dutch
  • Devon Sanner of The Carriage House and DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails

The Carriage House is located at 125. S. Arizona Ave. For more information, call (520) 615-6100 or visit carriagehousetucson.com.

 

Peru in the Neighborhood

Last week my three best foodie friends and I celebrated birthday. The birthday person gets to pick the restaurant and Karyn picked Villa Peru.

I’ve been meaning to try this place ever since it opened almost two years back and who knows why I haven’t, but I’m glad we went. Located in Joesler Village on River Road at Campbell Avenue  -less than five minutes from the house – Villa Peru has been getting rave reviews. We had a pleasant evening, The company was fun and charming, as usual and the food was outstanding. Service was top notch, some of the best I’ve had in Tucson recently.

Service begins with a tiny bowl of cancha salada, roasted corn and plantain chips served with a fire-popping green salsa. The pisco sours paired beautifully with the salty, crunchy snacks. They were impossible to stop eating,

We lucked out in that Villa Peru was holding its Ceviche Fest with a long list of freshly made ceviche to choose from. I do not remember what choice was called but it was heavenly. All types of seafood – shrimp, scallops, squid, fried squid and more – were dressed in a bright lemony marinade. This could’ve been a meal in itself and was a large enough portion to satisfy the four of us.

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Karyn ordered the aji de gallina, a classic Peruvian shredded chicken served with a creamy aji Amarillo sauce. The rest of us ordered the Chupe de Camarones, described as a shrimp chowder. I know Karyn enjoyed her chicken, but she missed out on the delightful “chowder”.

The blend of flavors and textures was intriguing, The broth was creamy but not thick with just a hint of heat. The shrimp kept their heads and were cooked tender and sweet. Puffs of Peruvian corn and tender potatoes add some substance and a balance of sweet and savory. Somewhere there was an egg, although it seemed to melt into the other ingredients. I’d order it again in a heartbeat.

We let out fabulous server choose dessert. His choice was perfect, piccarones, traditional warm pumpkin and sweet potato fritters, spiced chancaca -cooked down raw sugar with a little cinnamon (I think) syrup. They disappeared in a flash.

I’m so glad I finally ate at Villa Peru. I will be back for more of everything.

Most of the pics were lifted from their website. Thank you.

So Long and Fare Thee Well

Having spent the good part of the last five years researching and writing about historic restaurants in Tucson and Arizona, I was especially touched when I heard Lotus Garden, Tucson’s oldest Chinese restaurant, was closing.Dinningroomsmall-555x518

I included Lotus Garden in ‘Historic Restaurants of Tucson’ and wrote about the place years back when I was working for the Tucson Weekly in a special issue not as a review.

Both times I spoke with Darryl Wong, the elder son who at the time was head chef and general manager. He told me the story of his parents, Tom and Lillian. He called them the definition of the American Dream.

Tom came to America to work at his relative’s neighborhood market (now the Anita Street Market. He eventually bought the store and then met Lillian through friends.

Eventually they decided to open a restaurant and when they heard a space on East Speedway was for sale, they took the leap. Tom was the second person to get a business loan from the relatively new Small Business Administration. He paid it off in record time.

These days son Dan is the chef and manager. Darryl is teaching at Pima College. Lillian is still working at the restaurant daily although in a limited way.

There are many wonderful stories about the restaurant. People have wonderful memories as evidenced in all the postings on social media. They remember special meals and events. They remember to great food. They remember the great hospitality.

In many of the comments people bemoan the fact Lotus Garden is closing and they can’t understand why they don’t stay open if the business is good.

I’m am sad when a restaurant closes, especially one with the reputation and history that Lotus Garden has. Fifty years is a long time for any business to be open, even more so a restaurant. Add the fact that it has been owned by the same family and you have a wonder, an anomaly, an exception to the rule.

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But if I’ve leaned anything from my work, it’s that a restaurant closure isn’t always a bad thing. Dan and Darryl have been working at the restaurant since they were in their teens; they are now on the far end of middle age. Lillian is her the late 80’s.

The time has come to move on, to kick back, to enjoy the fruits of their labors. There is a solid plan in the works for Serial Grillers to open there with the assistance of Red Desert BBQ.

We can be sad about Lotus Garden closing but in truth, we should thank the Wong family and wish them well in the next phase of life.

Thank you, Darryl, and Dan, Lillian and Tom. Thank you and have a wonderful future.

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Summertime and the Living is Global

If you’ve lived in Tucson for any length of time and you enjoy good eats than you know a couple of tasty tidbits:

One – Tucson is a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. With this designation Tucson has enjoyed a huge growth in tourism and world recognition. Foodies now travel here not for the weather but for the food. Our chefs have traveled to other Cities of Gastronomy to share out foods and to learn about the foods in those cities. Tucson has many ways it celebrates being a City of Gastronomy.

Two – Janos Wilder has led the way in all things food for decades. Janos introduced Tucson to making the most of our local ingredients. He was instrumental in helping the city get the designation. And he is a champion of our culinary wonders.

Three – Every summer Janos brings it all together by taking us on a world tour of UNESCO Sister Cities with his Downtowns Around the Globe dinners and classes. The classes are the kickoff to each month-long dinners. The dinners are three courses beginning at $38 ($2 to $3 more for certain entrees.) Dinners are held at Downtown Kitchen+Cocktails

This summer diners can tour Tsuruoka, Japan, Panama City, Panama and Burgos, Spain.

Japan is the first stop (May 21-June 24th) with the class held at The Carriage House, the event space located behind Downtown Kitchen+Cocktails where the dinners are held. Cost is $70 and includes the cooking demonstration, dinner and the recipes.

The culinary tour of Panama City, Panama will begin on Wednesday, June 26th with the class and dinner on Friday, June 28thBurgos, Spain begins on Wednesday August 21st, with class and dinner on Friday, August 23rd.   Price per person is $70.  Reservations can be made at carriagehousetucson.com or by calling Megan Noli at 520-615-6100.

Reservations for dinner are a must.

 

DOWNTOWNS AROUND THE GLOBE: SISTER CITIES OF GASTRONOMY

Tsuruoka, Japan

MENU

 

Choice of Appetizers

TSURUOKA MUSHROOM SOUP

pickled shiitake, enoki, crimini, and roasted oyster florets in mushroom/ginger broth seasoned with soy, sake, green onion, cellophane noodles, tofu, bok choy 11

HIBISCUS CURED HAMACHI CRUDO

carrot-coriander puree, prickly pear ponzu, candied jalapeno, furikake w/ toasted pepitas, radish, shiso 14

HIYASHI COLD RAMEN SALAD

slow roasted corn, scallion, tamago, cucumber, shredded iceberg lettuce, char siu pork,

chilled sake-poached shrimp, sesame-miso dressing 12

 

Choice of Main Courses

ANKAKE PORK + SHRIMP DONBURI

rice bowl with thinly sliced pork loin + shrimp stir-fried with summer squash, gai lan, bok choy, shiitakes, spinach, ginger 23

MENTAIKO RAMEN WITH ROASTED OYSTER MUSHROOM

cod roe, butter, kobayaki glazed chicken 23

YAKINIKU JAPANESE BBQ PLATTER

thinly cut quick grilled short rib with smoked salt, rice; cured pork belly with tempura; dark meat glazed chicken yakatori with pressed, seared tofu; dipping sauces and pickles 26

 

Dessert

BLACK SESAME + EDAMAME ICE CREAMS

Blueberry compote, sweetened wasabi whipped cream 8

 

Offered at DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails:  Three Courses: $38, for the Hamachi Crudo + 2  for the Yakiniku BBQ Platter +3

 

Syrian Delights

One of the marvelous features of Tucson is how we celebrate our multiculturalism. Newcomers  who are unfamiliar with Tucson assume this means Mexican but once they settle in, they realize that our fair city is home to people from around the world. People who bring pieces of their home to share and celebrate.

This of course means food. Foodies can find restaurants from Italy, France,  China, Vietnam, Ethiopia, Peru and a map-full of places. Food festivals are also a big part of the culinary scene in Tucson and on any given weekend you’re likely to find a food and or drink event or two.

So it is fitting on the weekend that kicks off one of the biggest  annual everts- The Agave Festival – that the SEMA Foundation would hold the Pop-Up Syrian Souq and Bazaar. Sema was founded in 2004 to ‘build bridges among local communities and to foster mutual understanding among individuals from different walks of life.” They have charitable programs, outreach programs, educational programs and cultural programs.

The emphasis for this pop-up event was Syrian sweets but stuffed grape leaves, roast chicken, gyros, hummus, rice prepared numerous ways as well as gorgeous crafts could be found. The aromas were heavenly and the people were excited to share their foods.  IMG_1163Funds raised went in part to ELFA, a soon-to-be non-profit organization that offers resources for a whole range of live skills for youth and refugees. There was music and dancing (although I missed that part.)

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I brought home some goodies.

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I hope SEMA has more of these Pop-up events. They are a true measure of the wonderfulness that is Tucson.