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Food for Ascension, Tucson

October 21, 2014 4 Comments

On 7th Street near 4th Avenue in Tucson stands a Moorish style building complex that has housed a dance/movement/or yoga studio as long as I can remember. Today the space is serving as a gallery, coffee shop, and farm to table restaurant as well as providing space for movement classes and other events. Today I tried Food for Ascension for the first time and I am very happy I did. This place has several qualities that set it apart from other restaurants in the area. The fact that all the food comes from no more than 150 miles away is notable. The pure plant based recipes sometimes include eggs, but substitutions can be made for vegans and the gluten free people. The menu is short but several daily specials as well as a good selection of small plates provide more than enough variety. I could not choose, so I ordered two entrees knowing I would bring some home with me. Servings were generous. My server suggested the half order of biscuits and gravy because she could tell I was going to have plenty of food.  She was right about that.

biscuits and gravy

biscuits and gravy

She brought a bottle of water, which I always appreciate, and I enjoyed the wonderful view while a waited for my root and seed burger.  At this intersection it is possible to see a least a little of three different mountain ranges that surround out city.  Being upstairs to dine is truly a pleasure, especially when the weather is perfect like it was for lunch today.  The domes and the downtown skyline view, along with 4th Avenue bustle make ascension to the upper deck a super treat.  Perched above the noise of the street with plants and servers who make you feel very well attended is like finding a secret hide away in downtown.  I plan to go often to try everything on the menu.

root and seed burger

root and seed burger

I can report that the innovation and care is obvious in the food preparation.  Both burger and biscuits arrived hot and beautifully presented.  I made my way through about half of each of them, and was super satisfied as well as stuffed.  The root and seed burger had great texture, unlike the mushy veggie burger that can sometimes happen. This flavorful version had a nice char and crust on the outside which is a big plus.  The fresh greens on the plate had a lemon vinaigrette dressing that made it work as a salad, but also was tasty when applied to the sandwich as extra stuffing.  The oyster mushroom gravy on the sage biscuits was delightful. The sage flavor is strong in the biscuit, but it is complimented perfectly by the rich gravy.  It is highly evocative of Thanksgiving, with no turkey involved.  I loved both the dishes, and may have trouble choosing between them the next time I order.   I packed the rest..well, the gravy was kind of gone…to take home for Bob to taste.  I am excited to return with him next time because I know he will like it, and they do have some very rich desserts on the menu that will make him happy.  I was way too full to try any of that today.  I have found a new favorite spot, and am a little surprised it took me so long.  Food for Ascension has been open for about a year.  If you have a chance to try the food, as well as the fabulous ascension, I recommend it.  Take the upgrade, Tucson!

Penca, Downtown Tucson

September 8, 2014 1 Comment

Our Sunday brunch today was exciting new and different. We went downtown to Penca, a restaurant we have been wanting to try.  We both loved our experience and want to return very soon and often.  The cuisine is labeled Mexico City style, but it is also a very fine example of fresh combinations and very artful mixology.  Our favorite Mexican restaurant in Tucson burned to the ground a few months ago, so we have been hunting for a new one.  Penca wins for many different reasons.  The decor is post industrial modern with as much of the old building in tact as possible for style.  The design successfully tells you that the place has a unique flavor and point of view.  It is refreshing after so many meals in the corny Mexican restaurant decor with pictures of parrots and Javier Solis. (not that I want to get rid of that forever).  The open kitchen also sends the smells of the kitchen wafting through the space in just the right way to make you hungry.

The restaurant is housed in a building that was once owned by the Graham Truck Company.  The brick openings  still visible on the walls are large enough for vehicles to pass.  The  designer did a great job of keeping the industrial feel with plenty of metal features.  I particularly love the swiveling doors that can create privacy in an area in the back for parties or events.  The mural on the wall is the street view of the building in the past.  They warm up the room and the acoustics by using wood for tables, walls and the bar.  It feels spacious because the ceilings are high.  The exposed duct work becomes a design element and sets a modern tone.

We arrived before the crowd arrived and therefore had very personal service.  The chef dropped by our table to chat, which was fun and informative.  He let me know that the dish I had ordered, the corn cakes with chalula butter and jalapeño syrup with a side of 2 eggs and some black beans, was his favorite on the menu.  He also told me to get a side of Chalula to add to the flavor.  This was the perfect suggestion for me because although the butter had some heat, and the syrup also, the complete sweet and heat balance was brought out by using that extra hot sauce.  I loved the whole thing. Bob had to help me finish after he enjoyed his own pork hash breakfast.

One reason we favor this as our new Mexican restaurant is the creativity at the bar.  When I was first told about the place my friend mentioned the tepache, a pineapple drink with a slight fermentation that is made in house and used in some of the cocktails. I ordered a bourbon and tepache, the preparation of which you can see here below.  The flavors were really intricate, including the bitters sprayed on the top, making it both pretty and giving a distinct bitter note to the first few sips.  They also make their own shrubs, and a pineapple shrub (they refer to it as pineapple vinegar) was used in my drink as well.  Bob reported that the Bloody Mary he had with his has was spicy and went perfectly with his food.  This is a pleasant departure from the usual margaritas and mojitos.  We are planning to go back again soon early on Sunday to repeat this super dining delight.  I want to try the tacos, and Bob wants to have the corncake special.  Compared with places we dine with similar gourmet offerings, the pricing at Penca is generous.  We were pleasantly surprised at the bill and I had to take my beans home because we both were so full.  If you enjoy delicious food and inventive bar service, try Penca.


Posh Dining

December 15, 2013 4 Comments

Our first meal at Posh in Scottsdale was so memorable we have wanted to return for more.  The first two weeks of December are low season in tourism the world around, so we made the trip our holiday party.  The menu lists assorted groceries on hand, and the guest indicates any type of meat not desired in the meal.  I am a vegetarian, which is all they need to know about me.  The chef then creates culinary  improvisation around the guest’s wishes.

We like to sit up at the bar because we talk to the chefs and watch while they are cooking the food.  The night started with fresh potato chips with seaweed and drinks.  Each plate was packed with flavor and art.  All the presentations are appealing and imaginative.  Bob enjoyed the exotic boar bacon and perfectly cooked scollops.  The ginger wasabi slaw on top of ramen noodle cakes were a highlight, but all of mine were enjoyable and unusual.  We know when we come to enjoy our dinner at Posh we will be given a sensual treat and be served with impeccable professionalism. It remains on a very high pedestal in my mind.  The experience is superior to regular menu/dining in many ways. I have tried combinations I would not have ordered, but discovered I like.  It is more of an adventure than just a meal.  You can choose as many courses as you care to taste, add extras, and wine pairings a la carte.  When you go home they give you a tiny take home sweet to remind you of what a jewel of  a restaurant it is.

Party in Cape Cod

April 26, 2013 2 Comments

Four friends who have never met in person gathered yesterday in Falmouth, MA to meet, eat, party and fully enjoy each other. Our host, Chico, lives right next to the beach and is a really excellent chef. He prepared a seafood extravaganza that lasted all afternoon. Deborah Elizabeth lives in Boston.  Christine lives in Australia. I live in Tucson. We planned this for months since Christine was in this hemisphere for a visit. The meal included bay scallops raw and scampi style, raw oysters, salad, bread and spicy dipping sauce, mussels, clams…and then…. we all had to take a break. We walked along the shore to do some digesting for an hour or so…and then there was lobster and NY cheesecake. The entire meal lasted, including the walk, about 6 hours. It was luxury that few ever experience.
Since Christine was basically on a drive by, she stayed in the hotel with me last night and we set out for breakfast and one last photo shoot and shopping trip in Falmouth village. We both love blooming trees, so there was much to shoot. One dip of her feet in the Atlantic, and she had to drive to Newark to return her car for a flight back tomorrow. I have rarely packed so much in to a 24 hour time frame. It was memorable. We found a perfect day, a perfect place, and a perfect meal to share with each other. Our extreme compliments to the chef and host for the best day.

Civilized Dining Near Death

February 27, 2013

seasonal food

seasonal food

“The preparation of good food is merely another expression of art, one of the joys of civilized living…” Dione Lucas

Survival depends on finding a source of nutrition.  Today there is a trend to look to restaurants for food service.  In the distant past the household was challenged to grow, kill, store, and otherwise provide the food for a family.  Now by driving through, it is possible to leave the drudgery of dietary delicacy decision making to the folks at Dairy Queen.  Restaurants now exist in giant chains with processed ingredients provided by the central supplier.  This has given rise to a slew of cooking shows and networks, and celebrities.  These celebrities enjoy food and know how to prepare it.  That is why they are out of the ordinary in 2013. They remember, or have been trained, to eat and enjoy a variety of seasonal foods.  They may have even visited a farm. No wonder we regard them as very special beings.

The McRib is not a seasonal food, although Americans believe it is.  The pumpkin spice latte is not either. Pumpkins themselves are seasonal, growing outside in fields and needing to be picked at a certain time. Latte flavoring is forever.  It is possible it will remain in your organs forever also. How is it possible that America is so far removed from grow it, kill it, eat it, that they have no idea where their food has been, or by whom it has been handled?   I am not a stuffy or a picky eater, which might be challenged, since I am a vegetarian.  What I want when I pay another entity to feed me is attention to detail, each and every detail.  I want to feel the careful work that has been done to please my palette every time I put a bite into my mouth.  When I cook that is what I hope to achieve.  Of course, I do not always succeed, but there is never a doubt that I have made the effort. I would rather fail royally in my own kitchen than to be fed by the careless.

Pastiche for the Humane Society

February 3, 2013 5 Comments

A local Tucson restaurant, Pastiche, opened recently on a Monday evening for a special event to support the Humane Society of Tucson. We dined and enjoyed the idea that a hefty portion of our check total was being donated to our Humane Society.  I do love this place, but had not been recently.  It was a delightful dinner, a good cause, and a reminder to support the businesses that add value in the community by giving on a regular basis.  The food is wonderful, and the wine list most impressive.  Pastiche provides a chic atmosphere and fine dining without pretense.  Service is excellent.  I plan to go again soon.  The Beth-mopolitan cocktail is worth a visit, all by itself.

Groupies of the Chef

January 9, 2013 2 Comments

We have a new favorite restaurant in Tucson. It was recommended to us by a friend, so my neighbor Heidi and I went on reconnaissance. We enjoyed a lovely lunch with gourmet touches and warm service the week before Christmas. I decided to take advantage of a special offer on gift certificates, and purchased three for 2013. I received a 30% discount which always makes me feel smart and happy. Lodge on the Desert is creating a seasonal artisanal menu that suits me perfectly.  I am a dedicated groupie of Ryan Clark who tickles my tastebuds exactly the way I like.  Dining out is a rare special occasion, so I need to make it count.
Christmas brunch was pure delight. Now I can return for two more blow out gourmet dining experiences when the season changes. The chef is brilliant, the cuisine local and contemporary.  This is my idea of ideal dining, right in the ‘hood. Chef Ryan Clark is a local treasure.  I am looking forward to tasting our next meal in his restaurant.

Christmas Dog Party

December 26, 2012 3 Comments

When we arrived for our Christmas party for two at the Lodge on the Desert we were greeted by a festive group of dogs and their owners who clearly came to be of good cheer. These jolly folks gather to eat outside at the Lodge on the Desert because the canine companions are welcome to join in the fun. The Retriever in the fancy dress was given an order of scrambled eggs, which we were able to observe from our seats just inside the doggie patio. A rip-roaring good time was had by all. We are more than pleased to have chosen Lodge on the Desert as our restaurant of the year for 2013. We don’t go out to eat very often, and look for a superior quality that sets a place apart from the rest. Tucson’s reigning Iron Chef is on the job there, and was willing to adapt for my vegetarian requests. He was personally riding the range on Christmas, and waved to us at our table as he walked across the patio. Our food was superb, as was the service. I will detail the gourmet delights for you at another time. For now, if you love your dog and want to party, this is my highest recommendation. My coon hound Artemisia was none the wiser that her parents celebrated Christmas dinner at a dog restaurant without her. I will appreciate it, gentle readers, if you keep this as our little secret. She howls at other dogs, and at food, therefore would be too loud and rowdy at a food centered event. We do love to see quiet well-behaved dogs enjoy the restaurant privileges the Euro dogs take for granted. I believe this hotel, with a recent remodel that has brought back the charm, will build a reputation for hospitality and gourmet dining among the human and the canine connoisseurs of elegance and good taste.

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