Tuesday, January 18, 2005

SWF Seeks Apple Pie for Memorable Encounter by Karyn Zoldan

Practically all my life I have been searching for apple pie like my bubbie (grandmother) used to make.

I don’t know what made that apple pie so memorable. Both my brother and I have spent our adult lives searching for this apple pie in more modern and glorious settings to no avail. In my grandmother’s capable and experienced hands, she mixed and kneaded the dough laying it neatly in a tin pie pan cutting off the extra.

Maybe apples tasted better than today and perhaps that was the key to apple pie perfection?

Peeled and sliced apples were mixed with just the right amounts of sugar and cinnamon and just maybe a squirt of lemon juice. Since we kept kosher and the separation of meat and dairy ruled, no butter or dairy products were used in the pie’s preparation. Then another crust covered the apples and a fork was used to seal the crust as well as to prick holes in the top crust so it could breathe and steam the apples.

One day I found the recipe and it was just a list of ingredients – flour, Crisco, water, apples, sugar, and cinnamon. Typical of my grandmother and mother’s fashion, there were no amounts listed. So what was the secret?

Today I ate lunch at the B-Line on 4th Avenue in Tucson and my friend and I shared the apple pie with a teaspoonful of real whipped cream. This slice of pie heaven was the closest I’ve ever come to bubbie’s apple pie.

Some apple pies drown in cloying sweetness but the B-Line’s version lets the taste of crisp apples shine through. And the crust held its heavenly own. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being bubbie’s apple pie – this was an 8. Since most apple pie attempts have never surpassed a 5, the apple pie buck has just stopped here at B-Line.

The B-Line is located at 621 N. 4th Avenue; Tucson, (520) 882-7575.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

10 Tucson Restaurants that I Frequently Patronize by Karyn Zoldan

Here are some of my favorite everyday Tucson restaurants that I enjoy and hope to keep enjoying through 2005.

Most restaurants don’t have very good coffee but the Cup Café at Hotel Congress serves Arbuckle Coffee and really good omelets and other egg dishes. If you’re not too hungry the slice of bread with an egg in the middle satisfies.

Beyond Bread also has a $3.75 breakfast before 10 a.m. where you can get an egg sandwich on artisan bread or an omelet served with potato pancakes and more delicious bread. I usually ask them to omit the potatoes and I’m still more than satisfied. Coffee is unlimited and decent.

For a country Japanese meal I go to Yoshimatsu. I so enjoy their ginger tofu bento box ($6.50) served with brown rice and other vegetable sides. Sometimes I order a Japanese beer or glass of plum wine. One of these days I'm going to try their Japanese pizza.

Sushi Ten also has a ginger tofu bento box of sorts but it’s different yet still delicious. I think the tofu is more fried at Sushi Ten. Either way, it’s a good way to eat more tofu but I wish Sushi Ten served brown rice, the low glycemic rice.

Once some guy wrote to me thru my Tucson Weekly address and we got into a discussion about Mexican restaurants. Apparently he travels to Tucson on business and likes the Mexican variety. Being from Chicago, he praised Rocco’s for as good as it gets Chicago-style pizza. I don’t eat pizza too often but one of my former East Coast friends raves about Rocco's pizza and I've watched her devour an entire pie. I have enjoyed their antipasto salad and a side of meatballs washed down by cheap Chianti on many occasions.

In 2005 I’m going to try to drink more tea and so I’ve started going to Seven Cups. I think I’ll work my way thru the menu. It’s a bit pricey for a pot of tea but the setting is restful as long as people don’t talk on their cell phones.

My favorite coffee joint is Raging Sage. Roger Sliker and family do it right from the free trade expertly roasted coffee to the creative menu of pastries. Nobody does a scone better than Raging Sage. My only wish is to come further east.

Although I think most of McMahon’s restaurants are pretty mundane, I do like Firecracker for happy hour. They do Pacific Rim fairly well and with half-priced appetizers and $1 or $2 off drinks, it’s a steal of a deal. Bamboo Club has a similar offer but sometimes going to Park Place is a hassle and I prefer the intimacy of Firecracker to the stupendous din of Bamboo Club.

Make a bee line to the B-Line on 4th Avenue. It’s a neighborhood kind of place that I wish were in my neighborhood. When my food writer friend was visiting from Boston we ended up at B-Line and she raved, no make that RAVED about their cherry pie. Everything is priced just right-on. My favorite is the tortilla soup with half tuna salad sandwich ($6.50) and a glass of good wine. I think Food TV’s Rachel Ray liked their cherry pies too.

Back to my neighborhood or near enough and back to Feast. I haven’t gone that much until recently and I like it and want to go more often and maybe it can be my hangout of sorts where I can just go alone sometime, sit at the captain’s table and enjoy a comfortable dinner or a beautiful golden setting. Their new addition was definitely worth waiting for.

Read my Tucson Weekly articles

Saturday, December 04, 2004

Charity Begins at Home with Tucson Originals by Karyn Zoldan


Having lived in Tucson for slightly over four years, I am still amazed at how altruistic the community is. Here’s an example of what the independent restaurant association contributed:

What Primavera Cooked - 2004

The third annual summer Primavera Cooks grossed $75,084 and netted over $51,000. Funds were raised by 13 sponsors, 44 apprentice chefs, 18 auction winners, wine sales, and over 400 diners. The five-month series of culinary events were hosted by 11 Tucson Originals independently-owned restaurants: Janos, Café Terra Cotta, Feast, Cuvee, Fuego, Bistro Zin, Pastiche, The Grill at Hacienda del Sol, Kingfisher, and Jonathan’s Cork. The chef of each restaurant collaborated with apprentice chefs from the community to create a menu, prepare, and execute 11 memorable gourmet wine-paired dinners. Apprentice chefs paid $175 and diners $100.

This money can do so much for the homeless, impoverished, and working poor community served by Primavera Foundation. For example: Primavera can operate the Casa Paloma Women’s Center, providing drop-in emergency relief for 20-40 unaccompanied homeless women, and temporary housing for nine women, for five months!
Primavera can cover the cost for 50 men to receive emergency shelter services including sleeping accommodations, food, and case management for a 90-day period at the Men’s Emergency Shelter.
Primavera can run a six-person sheltered, supervised, work crew with on the job training and employment for six months through Primavera Works.

The Primavera Foundation promotes economic and social justice while working to build a future in which all people are assured basic human rights, a livable income, and safe, affordable housing. The Foundation does this through community education and advocacy while providing a continuum of services that address homelessness and poverty.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Eat, Drink and Be Happy Hour

A short guide to Tucson happy hours

<>By Karyn Zoldan

I love happy hour: After being slumped over a keyboard trying to surf for a living, I yearn to share fabulous food and drink at affordable prices with good friends. It’s that time of day when I want to relish in my accomplishments or file away failures. Happy hour bridges the joys of cocktails with promising value-driven fare consumed in lieu of a traditional dinner.

Fortunately, Tucson’s cup runs over with happy hours. You can still find free food at Kon Tiki and Macayo’s but my angle is on dining well beyond buffalo wings, crunchy bar mix and institutional cheese sauce from a giant tub. Ambience, attentiveness, alcohol and action or lack of, are duly noted.

Heart Five has the least amount of curbside appeal but don’t let that stop you. Once inside, H5 radiates seduction with an imposing bar and a rope-lit dazzling display of liquor bottles ready for action. Gauzy strips of cloth and butterfly mobiles languish in the air as Norah Jones croons in the background. Chef Joseph Sotomayor, formerly of Lumé Trattoria and the Arizona Inn, prepares an extensive selection of $5 plates of gourmet food like ceviche served in a martini glass and the sublime Portobello panini. As bartender Eric recited the drink specials, he introduced us to some of the regulars. I thoroughly welcomed a soothing sour apple martini while Ginger inhaled her cosmopolitan and then a martini for a grand total of $19.

Heart Five - 61 E. Congress, 903-0911, weekdays 4-8 p.m.

Bob McMahon reigns as the unequivocal king of happy hours. Except for Smokin’, the Metro Restaurant Group offers happy hours everyday from 4-7 p.m. McMahon claims that he was first to start the half-priced appetizer trend about five years ago. He initially ran it as a special but the demand became so great, he continues to satisfy customer expectations.

I’m cannot afford to eat dinner at McMahon’s Steak House, so we tried it for happy hour instead. M&M, Ginger and I each ordered an appetizer: Juicy shrimp resembled a ballet of swans dancing over a chilled goblet filled with horseradish spiked cocktail sauce. Fire-roasted chiles stuffed with goat cheese and cilantro mirrored sophisticated chile rellenos. Stuffed shrimp wrapped in smoky bacon served with sauce remoulade and the ahi carpaccio ranked as favorites. We each savored a glass of buttery house chardonnay. At 6:55 p.m., our server Helen asked if we wanted anything else because the Cinderella hour of eating-and-drinking-for-less was ending. Now that’s service worth writing about! We split $41.80 four ways and left feeling pampered.

No one wanted beef or we could’ve savored baby beef Wellington for $5. And for you true epicureans, foie gras is on the appetizer menu and escargot and caviar will be added soon.

McMahon’s Steak House - 2959 N. Swan Road, 327-2333

Gee’s Garden Bistro really needs signage facing busy Alvernon Way alerting, “Half-priced appetizers and drinks every day from 4-6 p.m.” Although a parade of people came and went with takeout orders, we had the bar to ourselves. Gee’s could be the perfect solution for couples who go out to eat but fail to communicate. With two televisions at the bar, each with its own remote, they can have it all over BBQ spareribs and spring rolls. We watched the Food Network and learned how to make roasted plantain pie while eating exquisitely fried calamari with sea salt and spicy drums of heaven, washed down with a large bottle of Sapporo beer ($9.35 total). Try a Sex on the Beach or ripe mai tai for a change of pace.

Gee’s Garden Bistro - 1145 N. Alvernon Way, 325-5353

Kingfisher Bar and Grill is about as close as you’re ever going to get to a Tucson Cheers. Show up three times in a row and the bartender will know your name and preferences in the clubby and intimate bar. A few of the seafood appetizers are half-priced, Pacific Northwest oysters are a buck plus $2 discounts on beer, wine, and well drinks. We opted for a half-dozen chilled and grilled Gulf shrimp with condiments and a bowl of steamed mussels in Vietnamese red chile fish broth. The former was good but the latter swept my taste buds away on an ambrosial wave. Herb bread nicely soaked up the sensual juices. Include a sunshine wheat beer with lemon slice and glass of chardonnay for $18.50.

Kingfisher Bar and Grill - 2564 E. Grant Road, 323-7739, weekdays 4:30-6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m.-midnight

Sakura on Oracle proved to be the liveliest venue with plenty of women or men with their daughters (sic). The huge room with a round bar that opened to the patio boasted big televisions screens and a personable bartender. Here weekdays between 4 to 7 p.m. a dozen half-priced appetizers and drink specials prevail. We ate an ample portion of vegetable tempura and a less than satisfying salmon wheel (thinly sliced smoked wild salmon stuffed with fly fish caviar, cream cheese and capers) along with a pink martini for me and a dirty one with extra olives for Ginger totaling $16.

Sakura Teppan Steak and Sushi West - 6091 N. Oracle Road, 297-5555

Sakura Teppan Steak and Sushi - 6534 E. Tanque Verde Road, 298-7777

Honorable mention also goes to busy Bamboo Club with a special discounted appetizer menu (try the wonton nachos and grilled chicken with dipping sauces) and $1 off martinis and mixed drinks. The miniscule bar at the downtown El Charro Café already teems at the rafters with post-work revelers and local artists. A selection of discounted appetizers (the cheese crisp practically floats off the plate) and half-priced drinks are renowned. Only on Fridays, La Cocina hosts an all-you-can-eat fajita or enchilada buffet complemented by $2.50 margaritas in the courtyard of the Old Town Artisans. The action begins at 3 p.m. and remains open until restaurant employees begin to outnumber the customers.

Bamboo Club - 5870 E. Broadway in the Park Place Mall, 514-9665, weekdays from 4-6 p.m. and 10 p.m. to closing

El Charro Café – 311 N. Court Ave, 622-1922, weekdays from 4-6 p.m.

Old Town Artisans – 201 N. Court Ave., 623-6024, Friday only from 3 p.m. to closing

Before launching into happy hour, consider these happy hour tips: The more the merrier; share and share alike. Be experimental and order different foods. Tip the bartender or server well. Bring along a designated driver or drink responsibly. Don’t wait until Friday; immediate gratification is good for the Tucson soul.

(The area code is 520.)

Saturday, February 21, 2004

Bread and Breakfast by Karyn Zoldan

While other restaurants like Subway and Picurro’s Pizza scramble to use low carb wraps and low carb pizza dough, Beyond Bread continues to elevate the status of bread. Aside from their wonderful desserts and lunches, they recently instituted a breakfast menu. On a recent morning my friend Marianne and I went there and rejoiced in the carbs.

We both ordered Oscar’s omelet ($3.75) and had our pick of bread. I chose rustic and she chose to forgo the bread in lieu of an almond croissant. Surprisingly, we both chose the same ingredients for our omelet: Swiss cheese and tomato. Cheese choices included provolone and sharp cheddar. Other veggie choices were onion and jalapeno. For an extra 50 cents (each) I could’ve picked avocado, green chiles, pesto, or roasted red peppers. Two potato pancakes also accompanied the omelet. We paid and found a table; because of the hour (9 a.m.) the place was fairly empty unlike the maddening lunch hour.

Coffee is help yourself and the house blend was indeed robust instead of the usual black water found around town. A few minutes later our food arrived and the omelet was probably two eggs but that’s fine with me because I don’t need super-sizing. Potato pancakes fit in the palm of my hand, were adequately crispy, and mixed with chopped parsley. For $5.22, it was a perfect breakfast where I didn’t fill stuffed and thought all the ingredients were high quality.

Other breakfast items include Eddie’s egg sandwich ($3.75) with your choice of toast, the same choices for the above omelet and those perfect potato pancakes; and Cindy cinnamon raisin French toast. Special breakfast is served until 10 a.m. Freshly squeezed orange juice, hot cinnamon buns and muffins, and an espresso bar round the experience. Low carbs be damned.

Beyond Bread is located in Tucson at:
3055 N. Campbell Ave. 520-322-9965
6260 E. Speedway (at Wilmot-next to Bookman's) 520-747-7477

Hungry for some delicious copy2go?

Wednesday, February 04, 2004

Ode to Urban Palates by Karyn Zoldan

Boutique hotel in midtown offers a gracious setting and seasonal menu at the secluded Lodge on the Desert

Poets Corner is one of Tucson’s best kept secrets. It’s not a lyrical coffee house but rather a delightful midtown neighborhood within walking distance of Reid Park where all the streets are named after poets. I should know since I live here.

Though I often lament the lack of good nearby joints until I remember warm marble rye from Nadine’s Bakery and that blustery evening when no one wanted to be the designated driver so we stumbled home from Kon Tiki singing Grease show tunes.

Not to boast, but our answer to the Arizona Inn – Lodge on the Desert -- lies at the west end of Poets Corner hiding behind high hued walls. Before the Blenman/Elm residents protest, I’m not comparing the two just thankful that we have an unpretentious boutique hotel serving breakfast, lunch, dinner, and attitude adjustment hour within walking distance.

On a recent Tuesday evening my neighbor Ginger and I found ourselves in an empty restaurant. Why was it empty? Maybe people don’t know there’s a restaurant here or maybe when formerly known as Cielo’s, it wasn’t consistently open. Wake up, it’s time to rev up the marketing machine and reach out to nearby neighborhood associations and beyond.

We arrived famished and eyeballed the globally influenced and seasonally inspired menu. Small plates ($5.50-10) offered frequent standbys of Caesar salad and chicken tortilla soup, a rather unusual panzanella (grilled bread salad), refreshing pear and Stilton salad, prawns and soup of the moment. Ginger decided to live life in the fast lane and ordered soup of the moment ($5.50) and even though bread salad called my name, I chose Spanish prawns ($10.50) because I’ve christened January as low carb month.

Relaxing, we immediately noticed that this is a grown-up setting awash in warm golden light with beam ceilings, thick carpeting and tablecloths encouraging diners to have meaningful and heard conversations while Kenny G plays in the background. The Lodge, once a Mexican-Colonial-style private home built in the 20s expanded in the 60s. Lush grounds reflect a true desert oasis of mature landscaping, tiled archways, kiva fireplace with banco seating and romantic courtyards -- perfect for sipping wine under the stars in warmer weather.

Fortunately Ginger’s wild mushroom and goat cheese soup arrived with an extra spoon. It was light years above and beyond the gross cream of mushroom soup you get in a can. The aroma alone transported me to a green forest on another continent while the earthy taste of mushrooms married with goat cheese offered a dish that still lingers in my mind as I write this.

We also shared Spanish prawns described on the menu as “amontillado sherry, garlic, almonds”. Made from the palomino grape, amontillado sherry ages longer than traditional sherry so it’s darker, softer and nuttier. A generous portion of prawns rested in a deep orange, semi-spicy olive oil sharing plate space with three thick slices of grilled Tuscan bread and a dab of spinach. Had I know about the bread, I would’ve asked for more spinach or perhaps salad instead. As it was, I did fall from low carb grace and broke bread to swish in the sauce; it was the right thing to do.

While we waited for our entrees, a few more tables became occupied. Ginger opted for tea glazed Barquetta sea bass ($18) and I chose citrus rosemary glazed chicken ($18). At first I thought $18 was excessive for chicken and would’ve ordered something else except she ordered the sea bass, prawns came with carb-laden fettuccine, I ate pork the night before, and mad cow influenced my attitude about beef. So, chicken appeared as the only choice.

The food arrived without much ado. Instead of fingerling potatoes I asked for a double portion of braised broccoli rabe, the accompanying vegetable. Rabe also know as raab, rape and rapini is a cross between a cabbage and turnip with 6-inch stalks of somewhat bitter broccoli-like buds. However, it was braised with enough butter to melt away any bitterness. We practically clucked over the tender tastiness of the chicken; the waiter overheard and said it was free-range chicken. Ah, that should definitely be listed on the menu to justify the price. These elite of the poultry world feed on a vegetarian diet free of antibiotics, animal byproducts, hormones and growth enhancers. Half the meal came home with me nicely packaged in a box.

Basted with Darjeeling tea, Ginger’s sea bass sat on a mound of mascarpone risotto studded with golden raisins. I have never eaten good risotto in Tucson but for some reason – perhaps the sweetness of the raisins – this risotto contrasting with the lean fish flesh that tasted more like red snapper, put this dish over the top of wow. A few baby haricot vert (green beans) added color and crunch.

The dessert menu seemed like an afterthought (pun not intended). It was a sliver of paper with six items written in a hard to read font. A simple poached pear or rich piece of cheese with nuts would be a low carb dream; instead we chose pumpkin crème brulee with two spoons. Visions of pumpkin pie-like custard covered with brittle sugar topping whetted our thoughts. Unfortunately it had no taste – pumpkin or otherwise – and when questioned, the waiter offered to remove it from our check. Meanwhile Kenny G still droned nonstop.

Overall it was like finding a long lost friend whom I want to get to know better. I hope the Lodge on the Desert lights a fire in the decoratively lit courtyard patio fireplace and sends smoke signals throughout the community. One more thing: Change that damn CD.

Hungry? Try delicious copy2go

Lodge on the Desert
Where: 306 N. Alvernon Way – Tucson
Info: 520-325-3366

Friday, December 26, 2003

Go North She Said by Karyn Zoldan

North sits on the most prime piece of La Encantada property. With excellent signage and north and south views, you can see North from Campbell just south of Skyline. That Sam Fox of Fox Concepts sure knows what he’s doing.

This is the restaurant to go if you want to people watch and don’t really have a meaningful conversation with anyone. The acoustics are loud amplifying off the dramatic metal, wood, and brick interior. I recommend sitting outside if the weather is right. Or just go for a drink and watch the 30-somethings preen and pimp around; that’s got to be worth the price of admission.

Reservations are definitely necessary so you might opt for lunch or an early dinner. Since I love the other Fox restaurant – Wildflower – I ordered the crisp calamari salad with baby arugula and grilled lemons. It was done to perfection and I didn’t want to see the bottom of the plate. My friend enjoyed her bruschetta but I found it quite ordinary. Of course, the grilled Ahi tuna with “whatever fresh green vegetables we have” was to my liking as was the salmon with roasted squash and sweet onions. The combinations just rocked and so was the action in the open kitchen with not a wasted movement.

Surprisingly dessert was not described well by our waiter and so when it arrived; it was not what we expected or would’ve wanted. Since the meal was on the house or as invited guests of North – why complain. It was pre-opening night and these things happen.

North serves modern Italian cuisine and other menu items include fresh ravioli, tagliatelle with fresh peas and mushrooms (but what kind of sauce since the menu doesn’t specify), angel hair with Mediterranean mussels and clams, pizzas, rosemary chicken with roasted organic vegetables, and much more.

The martini list looks creative to say the least: Blavod black vodka with blue cheese stuffed olives; Stoli raspberry, Chambord, cranberry juice, and sour mix; and Limoncello liqueur and vodka (you’d have to pick me up off the floor) in a sugar rimmed glass.

And there’s mojitos but that’s for another time…

North is located at La Encantada – 2995 East Skyline Drive – Tucson, 520-299-1600

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