Tuesday, February 2, 2010

We Just Didn’t Get It

Have you ever been to a restaurant that all of your friends rave about and come away with the feeling that it was just average? That was our experience with the Cup Café.

This is a restaurant that should have everything going for it. It is located just off the lobby of the historic Hotel Congress in downtown Tucson. (The hotel was the location for the Dillinger Days re-enactment presented in yesterday’s entry.) It has indoor dining separated by a wall of windows from the outside dining patio. And both look out on the hotel’s courtyard.

The lunch menu was surprisingly short. (You can order breakfast until 4:00 p.m.) We had our choice of two soups – the Soup of the Day and the Tortilla Soup with roasted tomatoes, vegetables, Jack cheese, avocado, green onions, and crispy tortilla. There were three salads: a salad of romaine, polenta croutons, cherry tomatoes, dry jack cheese with an ancho vinaigrette; a salad of carrots, dates, currants, pistachios, green onion with a cumin vinaigrette; and a salad of baby spinach, smoked chili pecans, and goat cheese with a pomegranate pecan dressing. And there were four entrees and five sandwiches, including a Sonoran Dog. (More on the latter in a future blog.) All of the sandwiches come with a choice of papas fritas (fried potatoes), sweet potato fries, salad, or a cup of soup.

I was surprised that Chuck didn’t order the fish and chips from the entrée menu – so I did. This order came with two smallish pieces of corn battered true cod, spicy seasoned sweet potato fries, cole slaw, and spicy tartar sauce. The fish were unusual. The cod itself was sweet, moist, and flakey, but was diminished by an almost tough and rubbery tempura-like coating. The slaw was rich and creamy, but the cabbage pieces could have been shredded more finely. The fries, on the other hand, couldn’t have been better. The spicy seasoning had lots of “zing” and the potatoes were cut to just the right size – not quite shoestring, but almost. And the tartar sauce was also well seasoned and was full of chopped dill pickle.

Chuck looked to the sandwich section of the menu and ordered the “Gila Monster” – an open faced meatloaf sandwich with jack cheese. And then he threw me a curve – he ordered the soup instead of fries. But its O.K. It was potato and bacon soup. And I thought it was a strange soup. The flavor was alright, but the texture reminded me of some of the clam chowders we had in Oregon that seemed to get their “creaminess” from potatoes rather than from any form of dairy product. The meatloaf was tasty, if a bit dry. Mixed with the meat were jalepeno peppers, corn, black beans, and a generous amount of cumin.

Service can best be described as inattentive. It took forever to get our server’s attention and get a refill on Chuck’s iced tea even though only three other tables were filled at that time. I got the sense that the Cup Café, or at least our server, doesn’t see retirees as their target clientel. (Just a piece of advice to you servers out there. Not all people with grey hair leave quarter tips.) We had planned to share a dessert (the café is known for their desserts), but decided to pass. No sense adding to our bill and thus adding to the server’s tip.

The Cup Cafe seemed to have a second personality that was coming through in little ways, beginning with the floor. The café’s floor is covered with pennies imbedded in some kind of clear plastic. One report noted that 177,000 pennies were laid on the mesh and then set like tile. They used brown acrylic paint between the pennies rather than grout.

Then there are the sugar packets on the table. This touch of whimsy was most appreciated--unexpected, but appreciated.

Finally, the chandeliers presented another puzzle. The Vintage Wine Bar and Bistro in Philadelphia, an up-scale establishment, has a similar chandelier, but here . . . . Is it a sign of the wine bar's success or simply a funky way to recycle old wine bottles.

I can’t say that this is a bad restaurant, but I certainly wouldn’t describe it as good. The 3.0 Addie rating indicates that we found it just average.

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