Tuesday, November 8, 2011

local eats in Long Beach California

Ten days ago, I was enjoying a brief vacation in Long Beach, California. My husband and I like the area very much and we have extended family nearby, so each year, we try to make the time for a visit. Maybe, eventually, we will be able to spend summer weeks or a month there, but, for now, we just savor our short airplane "hops" from Tucson to LB. This time, we nixed the idea of driving back and forth to the Getty Museums and, instead, kept our mileage range short but our curiousity expanded as we tried out two new places for lunch.

Our first stop after settling into our hotel was at Michael's Pizzeria, recently opened adjacent to the finer dining restaurant (of the same name, Michael's) next door. Located in the district known as Naples, with canals, gondolas and vias named after the original city in Italy, the two lower photos show the $8.00 lunch specials--Margarita Piccola and Rotolino Carcifi. The second entree was new to us is described as "roasted artichoke wrap with melted mozarella and pesto". I watched the chef roll the dough, layer the soft, white cheese balls over the pesto and artichokes, pinch the dough together and wrap it into a small, wreath-like shape, before placing it on the paddle and into the oven. Both entrees were delicious. We let the server know that I wrote a blog and while we only order one scoop of hazelnut gelato (from the producer, Ciao Bella), she brought us a "sample". This included their homemade pistachio and two homemade sorbets: strawberry and white grape. While the mass-produced hazelnut was very good, the homemade gelato was excellent: smooth and cream like I recall from my trips to Rome and Florence. The strawberry gelato had a fresh, tart tang to it and the white grape was surprisingly crisp. Can you tell that we love our dolci as well as our pizza? So, of course, it is the first photo you see. Visit Michael's Pizzeria at 5616 E. 2nd Street in Long Beach. http://www.michaelspizzeria.com/

Our second day we went downtown to find the visitor's center (tucked into a stall by the transit stop) and on our way, saw a sign with my name on it. Of course, we had to go into the Cafe and have two iced coffees (served with iced coffee cubes which made the sweet coffee taste linger) and talked with the manager about the connection of my name to the coffee. He gave us several complimentary Fonte paper coffee cups which I packed up and shared with family members to their surprise. We went back to the Cafe, named simply for the address Cafe 301, at 301 E. Ocean Blvd. in Long Beach and split a generous chicken and pesto panini ($6.75), served with artichokes and sun dried tomatoes and fresh greens. This is another locally owned foodie jewel I would recommend when you are in downtown LB. And the coffee has its own story at http://fontecoffee.com/ .

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Out for a stroll

It's early Sunday morning and unusually "crisp" for this time of year: still only in the 50s. We savor this break from the heat and gladly put on our sweaters for a walk or stroll in the morning's gentle light. Yesterday, we walked along the Rillito River which, I must describe for non-Arizona readers, is without water for all but the heaviest of monsoons or mountain snow run-offs. This year, because the rains lingered in September, the vegetation along the banks is deep green and we spotted late blooming yellow flowers and black-eyed Susans bobbing along the mesquite and palo verde bushes. Dogs and their owners were pounding the sand and a red-tailed hawk lifted along the thermal drifts.

This morning, as I sit and write, it is the parade of our neighborhood dog walkers strolling by--some retired couples or singles, a few early rising UA students, all with a dog or two on leash, enjoying this brisk autumn air.

I am watering my lazy morning glory so that her blue blossoms will last a bit longer into this season. I think that vine has become a symbol of this year for me. It planted itself next to a dying oleander and began its climb up the dead branches a couple of months ago. It is now filling out that empty space with huge leaves and blossoms and surprises me every day with its persistence growth. I like to think its endurance represents my spirit and so I water it to keep it widening its arch across the back patio.

Is there a tree, a plant, a flower or vine that symbolizes your growth or spirit this year? And have you tended it, and yourself, well?

Monday, October 3, 2011

La Cocina Restaurant Cantina and Coffee Bar

Do you want to savor a succulent pulled pork (or pulled chicken) and gouda sandwich that my husband, the conference-traveler, says "is the best since I ate in Tennessee?" Start a meal with a soft, thin quesadilla (here served without green chilis per my request), with sides of chunky quacamole and salsa? Or you can pick another item: there are many more choices on the menu from La Cocina, located at 201 N. Court Ave./Old Town Artisans in Tucson. The owner, Jo Schneider, also owner of Bentley's Coffee and Tea which I reviewed earlier, has a gem of a location just footsteps away from the Tucson Museum of Art, Public Library and government offices and parking was easy for us to find (after 5 p.m.) on a side street.

We visited her place on Thursday night before we went to Cinema La Placita. It was a lovely early autumn evening so we sat outside and enjoyed the golden light in the plaza and watched the trees change color as the sun set. As darkness unfolded, twinkling lights came on and so did local musician Stefan George who played his acoustic guitar and sang vintage ballads to us and others gathered for a fine meal. La Cochina offers gluten-free menu options, a wide range of veggies and protein in the form of chicken, tofu and tilapia. Her breads (such as the ciabatta which my hubby said "hugged the pork perfectly") comes from the Tucson Bake House.

Service was attentive, friendly and paced so that we could enjoy the music and our meal. If I had wanted to, I could have leisurely shopped the galleries and shops, but I will do that on another night. We saved room for dessert and so glad we did: a fudge-icing brownie that Jo described aptly as "chocolate on steroids." She told us it was a homemade recipe and the "birthday cake of choice" by her two sons.

Jo is dedicated to making La Cocina a downtown foodie success and she is open seven days a week with brunch on Sundays. Her commitment to the Tucson community goes back thirty years and we Tucsonans and visitors need to do our part to keep this gem glowing in downtown Tucson. So visit La Cochina next time you are in the area and say "hi" to Jo as you settle in for a taste from her kitchen.

Friday, September 23, 2011


Next week Cinema La Placita will be showing the movie, Footloose http:////en:wikipedia.org/wiki/Footloose_(1984_film)) at 7:30 p.m. La Placita is located at the corner of Broadway and Church and the movies are shown in the plaza area. Chairs are provided, or bring your own. There is a grassy knoll and Gazebo where families with young children are encouraged to picnic. The cost for the movie, including popcorn, is $3.00 per person and all proceeds go to rentals for the movies and the refreshment. There is a Cafe open where you can purchase burgers and sandwiches, ice cream and sodas.

I will be posting an interview of the founder of this fun community event in a couple of weeks. Erika O'Dowd started the Cinema 11 years ago as an adaptation of Monday night movies held in Bryant Park in New York City where she lived for five years. In addition to the pleasure of watching a classic movie, patrons experience two intermissions during the movie where conversations with each other--particularly to meet the person sitting next to you or standing near you as you wait for popcorn--help create a friendly Tucson culture.

My husband and I have seen two movies this summer and felt that taking time off on a Thursday night--grabbing a bite to eat downtown (there are now many more choices downtown, depending on your budget and menu interests) and enjoying a movie under the stars--is a terrific way to begin the weekend a bit early.

The movies are shown every Thursday, beginning the first week of May and ending the last week of October and even when rain threatens (as it did when we saw, ironically, "Singin' in the Rain" in July), the movie isn't canceled until significant raindrops begin to fall. Even then, if the crowd is willing, they rearrange the chairs so that the screen is protected and the show really does "go on"!

So join us next week at Cinema La Placita and dance Footloose with the movie and music.

Monday, September 5, 2011

sparkroot lunch

This is a shot of my recent lunch at Sparkroot Coffee Bar + Fare (sparkroot.com). As I mentioned in earlier posts, the first two times I went to Sparkroot, I was almost overwhelmed by all the "eye candy" in the two-story space that overlooks Congress and Fifth. From the view East, I see the Rialto Theatre and cars pass by with regularity in the a.m. and early afternoon. That location and view give Sparkroot a sense of being in energetic movement and the decor of Sparkroot enhances the feeling.

A bicycle hangs by the South facing door; a mural of a motorcylist is on the East wall. Retro touches include a "jukebox", a waste can with a vintage sign that says "THINK", a bamboo tree growing from the first floor with natural rocks encircling its base, 1950s circa college chairs (I think my College of Education at the UA still has some scattered around in Research Assistants' offices) set by narrow wooden tables...to name just a few of the objects du jour that pop open my eyes as much as the Blue Bottle coffee may do. Even the unisex restrooms have photos or 33 rpm records as eyespots while you take a break from the luscious teas (I had both lemon souffle and mint, served in mason jars) or coffee. Sparkroot is a name the owner, Ari, made up and by the counter, in the floor, are roasted and unroasted coffee beans under glass along with an "aerial shot" of coffee bubbling in an oversized coffee cup. I felt like I wanted to tap dance on the glass just to see if the coffee beans moved, but I didn't give it a try.

The menu is still a work in progress and it's fun to watch the cook at the counter prepare meals which I would describe as artisan and artful. My breakfast trip was light with granola with walnuts and pecans. The lunch pressed sandwich which you see in the photo is of fresh bread (from The Bake House), spinach, chevre cheese and artichokes. The bread was crunchy but smooth in texture and the overall taste of the elements were light to taste but filling. My husband, who took the photo, also had a pressed sandwich with welsh chedder and English cucumber. He described it to me as "chewy and full-bodied." A pickle comes as garnish with the sandwiches.

The eating atmosphere is pleasant and not rushed. Having sat both upstairs and downstairs, I would recommend either for conversation and/or people watching--but upstairs I definitely got more of the sense of the urban traffic outside. At night, with the lights from cars and the streets, I would expect the scene to be urban cool--but I haven't tried it yet at night so I will let you know when I do. My husband, who works in the safety field, answered my question about the exposed beams: "they have foam sprayed fire proofing", he told me. A good thing to know if you are worried about safety but to a person such as I am who is more interested in visual design than safety, the gray foam made an interesting textural contrast with the airplane propeller-like fan that shines as it spins from the high ceiling.

Each time I go in (and I will again, as they expand their menu to include, I hope, a morning frittata), I find something new to both eat, drink and/or look at--so Sparkroot works for me as a place to both "spark" my day (or night, for the evening guests) and "root" myself in the downtown Tucson scene.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Audubon Room casual dinner at Arizona Inn

As I noted in my earlier, brief posting, my son is sous chef at the Arizona Inn (www.arizonainn.com), so I have a bias inherent in my review. Nevertheless, when I go to eat, particularly at the end of a hot and emotionally intense day as we had on August 21, I want these elements in my my eating experience:

1. Quiet enough ambiance that I can talk with my husband and not raise my voice
2. Comfortable seating and lighting
3. Servers that are pleasant to talk to and who know the menu
4. Wide enough selection on the menu so I feel like I can make choices between what I really want to eat, can afford and maybe should eat for healthy-eating reasons
5. Related to #4, ability of the restaurant to split a meal without a $2.00 charge (I never understand what that $2.00 is to cover--an extra plate?)
6. Last, but not least, good quality food.

When I go to the Arizona Inn, I know all of those elements are "covered." When I choose to go to the Audubon Room, I have two other benefits:

7. Causal dress/attire
8. Live music that matches #1.

So, on to the details for #4, #5, #6. My husband I have had a pretty good arrangement with sharing a meal and still having stomach space to enjoy a shared dessert. That's the plan we use when we eat at "the Inn." We shared (and the sharing was ample for each of us), a seasonal green salad with blood orange vinegarette, slivered almonds, mandarin orange slices and smoked fennel. I am a late bloomer when it comes to enjoying salads, and not just eating the greens because I am supposed to, yet this salad is one that I could have made an entire meal of--with the crunchiness of several sea salt brushed rolls and butter. But we had ordered a shared entree to also enjoy so I limited myself to savoring one roll and butter with the salad.

The entree was a roast beef sandwich with brie and creamed horseradish on homemade garlic bread,served with a side of white truffle oil potatoe salad which was dotted with scallions and red peppers. Each element complemented the other in my mouth. I was surprised that I did like the addition of the creamed horseradish which, correctly, my son said would not be bitter and overpowering as I have tasted it from the jar at home. Instead, somehow, the horseradish, brie, beef and wonderful (thick, crusty yet easy to chew) garlic bread created a harmony of sweet tastes to my tongue.

As we ate, we enjoyed the gentle conversations around us and the the heart-lifting piano music that echoed through the green, gold and cream accented room. I enjoy sitting at a table close to the bar and like to watch the ballet-like movements of the bartender as he (or she) pours colored fluids into different shaped glasses for the enjoyment of the customers. We rarely go beyond a selection of lemonade (always fresh and tangy at the Inn) or the mix of it with an iced tea, a la Arnold Palmer. It may seem like a small detail, but at the Inn, the Arnold Palmer's are so perfectly mixed the drink comes to the table with the two beverage colors blended like a Rothko painting.

We take our time at the Inn and so, after the entree has settled and a few more songs are played, our dessert of mango raspberry sorbet arrives in three scoops shaped like light orange tennis balls, garnished with strawberries and two hazelnut rolled cookies. Sometimes sorbet can be icey and crunchy but not at the Arizona Inn. Consistently, the texture is smooth and almost creamy although no cream is used in the recipe. "It's the equipment and knowing how to use it," our server, Tom, tells us when we inquire about the texture.

When we left the Inn, the sunset outside was beginning to dim, but our spirits were much higher than when we entered two hours earlier. We felt not only fed, but cared for--nourished by the food, the service, the song-filled music and the historic feeling of being a part of Tucson that has endured for decades with classic style and contemporary hospitality.

Friday, August 26, 2011

another preview comment

The week was loaded with elder care issues, so I have yet to do my posting for the Arizona Inn meal which I will do in the next few days.

Also, I plan to return to Sparkroot within the next two weeks for a meal and then do the place justice with a focus on their food and fantastic, funful interior design. Preview: imagine a food-coffee bar with a bamboo tree growing the in the middle of the floor and that's just one piece of eye candy Sparkroot offers when you walk through the doors.

Monday, August 22, 2011

previews and coming attractions

It's the end of a Monday and I am running out of time and steam, but there will be some upcoming posts for:

Sparkroot www.sparkroot.com Quick preview: a creative interior with tasty granola and mint tea for breakfast last week.

The Arizona Inn www.arizonainn.com Lovely dinner last night with seasonal greens, roast beef sandwich on homemade garlic bread and mango raspberry sorbet for dessert. Full disclosure: my son is sous chef at the Inn.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

affordable and generouse lunch menu at Opa!

My friend had a 2 for 1 social media coupon for Opa!, 2990 N. Campbell, so we met there for lunch yesterday. Since the restaurant also has "Five for Five$" lunch menu selections we ended up not using the coupon and each ordered one of the "five for five".

The one room space with adjacent kitchen was full and tables turned while we were there and kept filling. I think the generous portions at affordable rates draw in the men in pressed pants and ties and tossled haired matrons crowd. While not quite "tossled haired", I guess my friend and I fall into the second category. There is a large patio, facing west, which also had comfortable seating but the hostess told us the misters (light rain spray, not the kind that come is with the "Mrs.") weren't working so that nixed the patio for us in August.

The booth was comfortable inside and there are faux Greek columns, murals and a grotto with a fountain as decor. The noise level was moderately high and service was slow, due to not enough servers, even though the hostess helped out between seating customers. After we were seated, warm and thinly sliced pita with hummus (just right mixture of chickpeas, garlic and olive oil) and tzatziki sauce (yogurt and cucumbers) was so yummy we asked for and promptly were served an extra portion of pita bread which helped with the longish wait for our entrees.

As for the food we ordered: my friend had the grilled turkey burger with roasted red peppers, and feta on a sesame seed bun. The bun held all the burger elements and she said the burger was moist and the feta and peppers made a good taste complement. I ordered the penne pasta with spinach, mushrooms and tomato in a creamy tomato sauce. I had to hunt for the mushrooms and the penne was too soft for me (as an Italian, I like my pasta al dente), but the sauce was smooth and not too heavy. I cut my portion in half to reheat at home--I had eaten too much pita and hummus before the meal arrived.

It's a good place for lunch if you have the flexibility to give over an hour and parking is accessible. The dinner menu is also extensive. If you go for lunch or dinner and want an extra dramatic flair, order either the Flaming saganaki (imported Greek cheese with brandy and lemon) or the Flaming feta chees (in olive oil, roasted peppers and tomatoes). It come to your table, literally "flaming" and the server and guests shout "Opa!" as it arrives. Hence the sense of "fun" in the restaurant's name. And don't worry about the fire: the server puts it out before s/he places it in front of you to eat.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Ghini's for breakfast

It's been a tough week with my father-in-law ailing and last weekend we hardly could take a breath for ourselves. But this Sunday, after we diligently cleaned up the house and tended to backyard watering, we went to one of our indulgent spots to eat a late breakfast: Ghini's French Cafe. (See www.GhinisCafe.com). The Cafe is located at 1803 E. Prince and, if it hadn't been 98 degrees outside, it's an easy walk from our house. The Cafe is connected to La Baquette Bakery; both are closed on Mondays and the Bakery is also closed on Sundays. But the breads are fresh on Sunday and just the smell of croissants as I walk inside, takes me back to my Paris visit in 2002.

It was busy at 12:30 and so we decided to sit on the patio and enjoy the misty air and shade. Had we decided to wait for an inside table, we could have treated ourselves to small slices of a variety of breads offered at the complimentary table on the patio, along with lemon-flavored ice water and coffee.

However, we were very comfortable at our table for two on the patio and the service at Ghini's is always attentive and fun. What I mean by "fun" is that the servers are college-age and even though they are all dressed in black shirts and pants, one female server puts a red flower in her hair; another male server wears purple socks underneath his white Converse shoes; a male busser has a green handkerchief in his back pocket. I am guessing that many of the staff have artistic aspirations in their other lives.

As I sit on the patio, I can gaze inside to the sunflower yellow walls and admire the Matisse-like paintings. All of that sets me in the right mood for a late breakfast. My husband ordered and inhaled a breakfast speciality: eggs provencale. He ordered the baquette which was toasted and added hash browns which came lightly browned and crunchy. The tomatoes had been sauteed in herbs de provence and then cooked "around the eggs", according to our waiter, who checked with the cook for the details. I had two scrambled eggs, flavored with fresh herbs of dill, basil and chives. I requested that the herbs be added and they gave a nice zest to the eggs. I ordered sour dough with my eggs and the slices were lightly toasted and thinly sliced. Just perfect with butter and jam. My order came with three slices of sausage which I shared with my husband (and he swapped me some of his hash browns).

As we were finishing up our meal and talking with our waiter, he gave us the menu for Ghini's new "Fabulous Fridays" dinners. We knew about their Tuesday Tapas but they have shifted to a dinner opening on Fridays and we'll have to check it out and write about it in the near future.

They also serve lunch which I have had upon occasion. Most lunch items can be ordered in half portions which I prefer because full portions are very generous. Since Ghini's is close and, as the weather cools, we walk to it, I will be doing more menu postings from Ghini's in the near future. If you want an affordable, relaxed and savory breakfast with French flair, I strongly recommend Ghini's.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

defining my niche

I met with a friend of mine who helped me define my focus for my anitawriteforyou/freelance venture.

Here are some clarifying elements to my potential work for you:

1. I will write with an intention to promote local businesses, civic enterprises, entertainment and points of interest with an insider or outsider point of view, depending on the client.

2. I will charge a flat fee for my work, depending on the desired word length. Word cost for print publications will be $1.00 per word; for blog posts, the rate is more variable and will depend on the length of the posting.

3. In these first three months, I will be doing pro bono projects. My early and entertainment blog postings are part of the soft launch of my business. I will also consider limited blog postings and print products to promote civic enterprises that I can authentically recommend to readers.

4. I am open to other thoughts and suggestions. For example, if someone has a skill, such as web creation, I will consider exchanging an equitable amount of my writing to his/her business in return for an equitable exchange on establishing my anitawritesforyou website.

So please let me know how I/anita can write for you.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

I often hang out at Bentley's

Bentley's Coffee and Tea, 1730 E. Speedway, is conveniently located less than 10 minutes from my house. So heading down Mountain Avenue and going east on Speedway before hitting Campbell is a pleasant drive where UA students have a wide bike path and the road has recently been relandscaped.

At Bentley's the parking lot offers shade and inside the ambiance is relaxed and artful. Different local artists use the wall space as a gallery and so I never know if I will be viewing butterflies, flowers or skulls (this week's offering) when I arrive. I am not an expert coffee drinker. In fact, I never drank it all until I started a work project 3 years ago that had a lot of evening meetings where I had to be focused and alert. All my colleagues drank coffee so I started with a light mixture of coffee and milk--sometimes hot, often iced. I say all that to set up the background for my admission that I don't know if Bentley's offers good coffee or not. I know they offer some specialities I like such as Hibiscus or Ginger iced teas.

Their sandwiches can be ordered as a "half" and I like the BLT ("bacon" at Bentley's is only turkey bacon but they make it crunchy and it comes in thick slabs) on four grain bread. If I am in a lighter mood, I order their hummus and pita which comes with side garnish of cucumbers, sprouts, carrots and lettuce. I really favor their breakfast which is offered any time of the day. Scrambled eggs, with toast (four grain or English muffin), fruit or potatoes (I go for the fruit) is filling. I have a wide selection of two "sides" to add to the eggs and I usually go with that turkey bacon and a veggie. If I am meeting someone there at 9 a.m., I can have the breakfast which lasts me until dinner.

One of the other elements of Bentley's I enjoy is that they have set up a place for little kids to play. Some patrons find this annoying but since I love children, I like to watch them--sometimes I sit close to the spot so I can interact a bit with them, at other times, I just fondly gaze from afar. They never push you out the door at Bentley's. Since they, as do most places now, offer free Wi-Fi, students, UA faculty and folks like me can hang out for hours, although the parking lot has a sign that discourages the practice and, depending on the season, the businesses in the areas get a bit more disciplined about making sure their parking spaces aren't used by UA students as an alternative to paying for parking on campus.

So for many reasons, I recommended "hanging out at Bentley's."

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

mini review of Milagros Cafe in Tucson

One of the goals of my anita@anitawrites.net and this blog (anitawritesforyou) is to feature reviews of local dining, entertainment, recreational spots in the Southwest and Western region--depending on where my travels take me.

So, to start, not far from where I live is Milagros Cafe, 3156 E. Ft. Lowell Road, 881-0048.

My husband and I now eat there for dinner about once a week and we feel like we are being treated to authentic Mexican entrees and desserts. The Cafe is owned by a local family and the menus come from their mother's and other relative's recipes. I hope to be able to interview them and share more of their story. But for right now, I want to encourage Tucsonans to check out Milagros for very affordable and tasty breakfast, lunch and dinner food choices.

Their salsa is bright and fresh and offered generously with chips and free refills if you need it. Their dinner entrees now are garnished with a light frisee salad. A new unsweetened raspberry tea has been added to the beverage options and I can attest to the amazing quality of both their flan and tres leches desserts. Returning back to the dinner entrees (I get easily sidetracked by desserts), I tend to go for what I like over and over again: the chili relleno is lightly breaded and modestly filled with cheese which is what I prefer. I don't like my rellenos heavy to handle both inside and out. I also repeat with tacos dorado--both chicken and beef--and order them a la carte because I prefer smaller portions. I add their rice which comes with peas, carrots and, newly added, lima beans.

The 20 or so tables are modest in size, some tile covered, some covered with plastic and flowerful tablecloths.

It's so important to support local small restaurant. So please, try Milagros Cafe. When Congresswoman Gabby Giffords is in town, she orders take out from them so that's an endorsement I think is worth passing on. They also do catering and sell homemade pastries from the counter.

Go there and let me know what you think.

Thursday, July 28, 2011


Here I am starting down a new path with anitawrites.net. My new email for my freelance and corporate writing business is anita@anitawrites.net. In the future, I might be setting up a website, but for now, the email and blog (http://anitawritesforyou.blogspot.com) are my online tools.

I have a phone number for the writing business which is 520-440-9765. I look forward to what unfolds.