Friday, February 19, 2010

A Walk Down Memory Lane

Short term memory, that is.

Before leaving Tucson, we wanted to return to our favorite restaurants. Unfortunately, the weather preempted our plans for Shelby’s Bistro in Tubac, but we were fortunate that the rain abated and the sun shone on the days we revisited the Ocotillo Café at the Desert Museum and Café a la C’Art at the Museum of Art.

Our lunch at the Ocotillo Café again started with a serving of the cilantro pesto with warm fococcia (See original blog on 1/23/10). Chuck ordered the day’s special soup, a creamy chicken tortilla that was thick with tortilla frizzles, grilled chicken, zucchini, carrots, corn, onions, and cilantro in a Southwest seasoned tomato base and topped with pico de gallo and sour cream. The chicken bore both the marks from the grill and the smoky grill flavor.

His plan was to duplicate my entrée choice from our previous visit – the Blue Corn Pumpkin Chicken Breast with black beans and yam hash, a bleu cheese green chili polenta cake, and jicama slaw—but after looking at the menu, he flirted with the Adobo Shredded Chicken Taco Platter with soft corn tortillas, cabbage, queso fresco, pico de gallo, chipotle lime crema, and black bean pico. But the Blue Corn Pumpkin Chicken it was. Since I described this at length on January 23rd, I won’t repeat myself. Suffice it to say that Chuck enjoyed this dish as much as I did.

I debated between (1) the Tuscan Chicken Breast with spinach, basil, black olives, artichokes, and sun-dried tomatoes and served with either cous cous or rice and (2) the Line Caught Wok Charred Salmon with a prickly pear honey mustard glaze and served with a cous cous and rice pilaf and jicama slaw. As I was trying to decide, I heard our server, Alex, describing the salmon (along with about half of the menu) to the people seated behind us. My mind was made up. The salmon it would be.

And what a salmon dish it turned out to be. The fish had been rubbed with a mix of twenty-three spices, glazed with the prickly pear and honey mixture, and seared at high heat. The exterior developed a savory, but yet slightly sweet crust, while the interior was moist and flaky. I gave Chuck a small (and I mean small) taste and he said: “This is salmon?” Not like our mother’s salmon loaf, that’s for sure. The cous cous and rice mix contained small bits of carrot and red pepper, but not so much as to interfere with the taste of the salmon. And the crisp cabbage and jimaca slaw provided a textural contrast.

The dessert tray contained a pecan pie tart, key lime pie, and tiramisu, but we repeated our dessert choice – the chocolate bon bon. Just as good as on our previous visit.

A few days later found us back at the Museum of Art to celebrate Chuck’s birthday. Again, the weather allowed us to sit on the patio and the classical guitarist was back in his corner, playing, among the selections, “Greensleeves” and “Leyenda.” The special lemonades that day were a blueberry and thyme and a prickly pear. Mine was the latter and I describe it as being pink lemonade for adults. I can’t explain the taste of prickly pear (it’s also in the iced tea at the Ocotillo Café), other than it is both sweet and tart and mixed beautifully with the tart lemonade.

Chuck ordered the Sonoran Brisket sandwich with fries. The quarter-inch thick slices of meat were falling-apart tender and had been lightly brushed with a sauce that was neither overly sweet nor overly spicy. The meat was covered with sautéed red peppers and a mild cheese, and all of this sat on a large bun that was substantial enough to hold together under the onslaught of moist meat, peppers, and cheese. The fries were of the battered variety. While I always suspect that battered fries come from a bag, given the quality of food at Café a la C’Art, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that they are made at the café.

A few blogs ago I mentioned that I have this recent craving for fish and seafood. So I was excited to see that the day’s special was a salad with shrimp, mixed greens, lightly roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives, cucumber, red onions, peperoncini, and red bell pepper with a caper vinaigrette. As you can see from the accompanying photo, this salad was a piece of art fitting for a museum setting. The shrimp were sweet, plump, and crisp. The vegetables were fresh. The roasted tomatoes had been tossed with an Italian style dressing. And the vinaigrette was mildly flavored and enhanced rather than obscured the salad’s flavors.

As was the case on our previous visit, we made sure to get dessert when we ordered our meal. Chuck chose the apple and blueberry strudel,

and I the carrot cake made with pineapple, cranberries, and coconut and covered with a cream cheese and maple icing. As was the case on our earlier visit (1/19/10), both were among the best desserts on our travels.

Both cafes merit their earlier 5.0 Addie ratings, and we have promised ourselves a return to Tucson and a return to both Ocotillo Café and Café a la C’Art.

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