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Southwest Food Sojourn--Part 2 (Tucson)

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Southwest Food Sojourn--Part 2 (Tucson)

anewton | May 25, 2008 12:43 PM

OK--have some more time, so I will continue.

Sunday Sept 11, Dinner--Tucson, McMahon's Steak House

Food: B
Service: A
Ambience: A
Overall experience: A-

We chose this place as our steakhouse destination in the Southwest because of its good reputation, its winelist, and the USDA prime dry-aged beef.

The only real drawback to the experience was that we were there on Mother's Day and the restaurant was not offering its regular dinner menu; hence, no ribeyes, no bone-in striploins, which were our two top choices (who does not love USDA prime, bone-in striploins cooked rare or medium rare?) Must say, though, that the restaurant warned us ahead of time that their regular menu would not be available on the night we had chosen to dine there.

The Mother's Day menu did offer some nice choice, and the price was right.
Our appetizers were good but not spectacular, but then again, who expects spectacular appetizers and sides in a steakhouse? (it's all about the beef, right?)

Lornna started with a salad featuring flavours of the Southwest; mixed greens tossed with fresh corn, blackbeans, avocado, tomato, lime juice, and garnished with toasted tortilla ribbons dusted with what I believe was cayenne pepper. The salad was tasty but certainly not what I associate with fine dining. However, it did give us an idea for a simple light summer dinner we could reproduce at home.

I had the lobster bisque. It was not memorable as far as lobster bisque goes. The flavour was rich and salty as one would expect, and there were chunks of lobster in the bowl, but the texture was just a little on the gummy side, as if the kitchen had perhaps used too much corn starch as thickener (I'm not sure about this...just a hunch).

For mains, we both chose the prime rib, a 16 oz cut cooked to order and served with au jus. Lornna chose rare, as she usually does, and I ordered mine medium rare, as I almost always do. The beef was very delicious, tender, juicy, and came with a housemade horseradish that was quite tasty and not overly hot. As an aside, I do not like extra-hot horseradish with quality beef as the horseradish flavour tends to take over.

My wife and I both love prime rib, and this was very good, but perhaps oversalted for my liking. I am rarely critical of food for being oversalted as I am a salt-fiend, but a few of the bites I had were too much even for my salt-hungry palate. Fortunately this was not the case for the entire piece of meat, and the beef flavour was deep and resonant; if this piece of meat was a wine, I would have to say it had a long finish (the au jus only intensified the deep, layered beef flavour). Oh, and I must say that the marbling was superb and that scarcely a bit of fat was left on the plate at the end of my meal (too good to waste).

The sides that came with the beef were just okay; prosaic mashed potates (not lumpy, though); and julienned red bell peppers, zucchini, and onions. A little bit of the jus and horseradish did a world of good to enliven the flavours of the the vegetables.

The wine we chose was an Oregon syrah; Rockblock SoNo 2004. The grapes are sourced from the Rogue valley in Southern Oregon and from the northeast part of the state around Pendleton (hence the name SoNO--South/North). I loved this wine and I also loved the 2003. This was my first go-around with the 2004. It tasted of cherries, allspice/gingerbread flavours, and black pepper. Maybe some blackberry in there as well. A good companion to beef.

Desserts were better than expected; we each received the same dessert trio: apricot/kiwi flan, a "rainbow" chocolate half-easter egg filled with cherry mousse, and a rather prosaic chocolate covered strawberry (you know, the big, flavourless California kind of strawberry that's white in the middle). The apricot/kiwi flan was surprisingly delicious, and the cherry mousse was good too. The chocolate egg the encased the mousse had a beautiful rainbow pattern (did the restaurant do this, or was this a factory made egg? Looked pretty difficult to pull off for a dessert chef).

Lorrna and I paired the desserts with a remarkably flavourful beerenauslese from Austria; I cannot remmember the winery, but a do recall that this was delicious, complex, and reminiscent of a good sauternes (not that I have a great deal of experience with sauternes).

The service was flawless; our server was polite, efficient, personable, and even gave us tips on places to visit and eat while in the Southwest. There was also a piano player in the room in which we sat; he took requests and played very well (mix of jazz and pop standards). The volume was not overwhelming despite our being seated at the table closest to the piano.

A good experience overall. Next time I'm in Tucson, I will have to go back and try the bone-in striploin.

Monday, May 12, Tucson

Morning coffee at the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, where we spent three hot hours! (great place for a tourist! Very informative museum docents). By 2 pm, we were FAMISHED and need lunch STAT! We drove into downtown Tucson and made a b-line for El Charro to try the carne seca. We both ordered the carne seca plate. The meat was excellent and had a texture unlike that I have encountered before in beef (of course I expected this, as I have never before tasted "sun-dried" beef). The rest of the food was just okay; the guac, beans, 'mexi-rice' and flour tortillas were unexceptional. I did, however, enjoy the house salsa. I also enjoyed their margarita list and their margaritas were perhaps the best we had on the trip. I had the "elegante" and Lornna had the "classico"; can't remember what was in each, but I do remember tasting quality tequila and no mix!

Dinner: J-Bar

Food: A-
Service: B-
Ambience: B-
Overall Experience: B

After a rough start, we had a good meal at J-Bar. When we arrived, there were no greeters or any visible staff at all. We stood awkwardly for a minute or two, and when a server arrived she breezed by and said something about having to find us a table. The restaurant was empty at that point, and we had a reservation, so I am not sure what the problem was. However, we never saw that server again (perhaps she was working the Janos side?)

Eventually we did get seated, arriving at the same time as a party of 7. Service was friendly throughout the night but made only erratic appearances. Perhaps because we were there on a Monday?

I ordered a yellowtail ceviche in a roasted poblano pepper. The yellowtail was combined with serrano chilies, tomatoes, lime juice, clam juice, Thai fish sauce, and roasted garlic croutons.

Lornna's appetizer was calamari served with roasted sweet potato slices and some hot and sweet chile seasoning.

Both appetizers were plentiful, to say the least, and absolutely delicious. No complaints. Except, the appetizers arrived before our wine did. And we had almost finished the appetizers before the sommelier arrived, short of breath, to tell us that the bottle we had ordered was out-of-stock. I felt bad for her, because she looked overloaded, but I also felt annoyed that we had eaten most of our appetizers without any wine. We ordered a "substitute bottle," a Grosset Hill-Smith 2004 Riesling from the Eden Valley. It was absolutely delicious and reminded me why riesling is currently my favourite white wine grape, if not my favourite wine grape of all!

For my main, I had jumbo prawns served with garlicy fries and coleslaw. Lornna had the J-Bar tasting plate, which included jerk pork with cranberry sauce, carne asada in green chile, black beans, a chicken tostado, and "peruvian potatoes."

Both mains were good, but it was too much food overall, given the size of the appetizers. I liked my shrimp and garlicky fries and coleslaw, but it was not mind-blowing. Lornna liked most of her food, although she was not crazy about the combination of the pork with the cranberry sauce.

By the way, the sommelier made a "peace offering" during the dinner (my words, not hers); she brought us two complimentary glasses of a riesling from the Rheingau. So we had a bit of a mini-riesling tasting, which was fun. Both were great, but I preferred the drier, more mineral-tasting Grosset Hill-Smith.

We did not have room for dessert. My general impression is that we did not catch J-Bar at the top of its game, especially in terms of service. I also wish that they did not have a television playing sports in the bar, but then again, I guess it is a hotel bar, albeit a high-end hotel bar.

I would definitely return, but next time I may try Janos to get the top-notch experience. I wondered after the meal if J-Bar gets short shrift due to being next door to its big brother restaurant.

Got to go...more later.

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