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 (, 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.

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