Showing posts with label Tucson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Tucson. Show all posts

Monday, September 24, 2012

Gala Parfait: Tiki Party


Tiki has become something special to me over the years.
It is not just a kitschy party theme, type of cloyingly sweet drank, or dive bar category. Bizarrely enough it's filed alongside heavyweights like Christmas and New Year's as an important family tradition. Yes, my parents, sister and I do Tiki. And if I do say so myself, we do it damn well.


Initially, the end of summer Tiki Party at my parents' home in Tucson was a heavily-anticipated annual celebration. A break from large family gatherings brimming with kids ("we love your keikis, but this one is for adults"), and the rare party to really have a focus on drinking. Since I was college-aged when the Tiki Party debuted, I was not only surprised by this, but fully on board! Each year seemed to one-up the prior, adding a pit-roasted whole pig, ukelele orchestra, and even tradition hula dancers in full garb. It was a fantastic tradition.


Then one year the invite never went out. Then another year. The masses were restless, when would there be another Tiki Party? I tried to sate myself in California with regular visits to Tiki Ti, Tonga Room, Trader Sam's and with a big fat Tiki episode on my podcast The Table Set, but it wasn't enough. Once I found out my sister Megan missed it as much as me we conspired to convince my parents by any means necessary to bring it back.


Then this year... we finally succeeded.


It's always a whirlwind driving home to Arizona and jumping in to the preparations. It's also always startling opening the fridge in the garage to see Laura Palmer as a pig, awaiting the sacrificial pyre.


Day of, first thing's first - Get that pig going. It takes all afternoon to get a proper tender slow-cooked Kalua-style pig.


The photo opp murals Megan painted are always a hit.


And while the tables are set, I have my hands full with another task.


Shocking, I know - I manage the bar. With the addition of the bamboo tiki hut-style bar this year, things got serious.


Selecting a menu is hardly an easy task. Each year we debate, recounting drink popularity from the previous parties. The true Mai Tai is our collective favorite, but seems to be too boozy for our guests, as we always have the most leftover of it. The Blue Hawaiian is garish, but always a winner. We pre-mix everything in large batches as well, so the recipe has to work in that format - and some ingredients, such as bitters, intensify over time. This year I decided to select all new drinks; Classics that cover very different flavor profiles as well as liquor variety. No need to be rum snobs - It's just not for everybody.


In lieu of the signature Mai Tai I went out on a limb with South Pacific Punch, a potent blend of dark and light rums, fresh orange and lime juices, Falernum and passion fruit syrup. Not for the faint of heart, I think the profile of the spicy Falernum is what set this drink apart.


To satisfy the sweet drink lovers, instead of a neon blue concoction (I just can't get down with Blue Curaçao) I opted for the popular Chi Chi, a vodka-based riff on the Piña Colada with coconut cream, pineapple juice and a dust of nutmeg. Sometimes simplicity is best.


For the first time we introduced a bourbon-based tiki drink, which turned out to be the crowd favorite, the ominous-sounding Polynesian Paralysis. Akin to a Hawaiian-style Mai Tai, this one blends pineapple and citrus juices with orgeat, which marry nicely with the bourbon for a dangerously smooth sipper.


We always try to think of creative ways to keep designated drivers and non-drinkers in on the fun, and this year hibiscus lemonade and tropical iced tea just wasn't going to cut it, so I whipped up a non-alcoholic tiki classic Rainbow Punch. Here pineapple, orange, and lime juices are blended with grenadine, soda, and bitters for a well-disguised virgin.


It was an exhausting night of shaking drinks, so I was happy to have some relief long enough to get in on the Kalua pig and Polynesian potluck before it was all gone.


Perlana, one of the "best dressed" winners enjoys a Chi Chi.


Yes, no matter how much math and careful planning goes into our batch drink making, we always over-do it and have SO much leftover. Not a huge complaint, but it suffices to say that Tiki Party turns into Tucson Tiki WEEK. Aw well, maybe we'll get it right next year... Oh yes, there will be a next year.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Recettes Secrètes: Ensalada de Noche Buena


Though I first experienced this salad a decade or so ago in Tucson when my mother prepared it for Christmas Eve (as she does now every year), its origins are in Santa Fe. Throughout the festivities on Christmas Eve ―Noche Buena, the “Good Night,” as it’s known there― New Mexico's lively and vibrant cuisine is paramount. This colorful and refreshing side dish proudly represents Santa Fe's unique blend of cultures and traditions.

Ensalada de Noche Buena
adapted from Rick Bayless and Homesick Texan

4 large beets, roasted and cut into sticks
3 seedless oranges, supremed
4 Granny Smith apples, cored and cut into sticks
5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium (about 1 pound) jícama, peeled and cut into sticks
1 head of romaine lettuce
1/4 cup chopped roasted peanuts
Seeds from 1 pomegranate
1 tablespoon colored candy cake decorations (grajeas in Mexico), for garnish

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Clean the beets and remove any leafy stems. Place the beets on a sheet of foil and toss with the olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and then wrap the beets in the foil. Place foil-wrapped beets on a baking sheet and bake for 40 minutes or until you can easily stick a fork into the beets. Once cool, rub the beets with a paper towel to remove the skin. Slice the beets into sticks and place in a large bowl with the Granny Smith apples.

Finely mince the zest of one orange and mix with the lime juice, orange juice, salt, sugar and olive oil. Drizzle over the beets and apples, stir to incorporate, and let stand 1 hour.

Cut away the rind and all white pith on the oranges. Cut between each white membrane and remove the segments. Reserve.

To serve, lay outer leaves of the romaine on a serving platter. Tear the heart to create a bed of lettuce. Scatter with the jicama sticks. Scoop the beet mixture into the center, then sprinkle with the reserved orange segments, pomegranate seeds, and peanuts. Garnish with orange zest and candies.

Serves 8


I was reminded by my friend Katie (a New Mexico native) at the Table Set holiday party, where I served this, how absolutely delicious Gruet Brut NV (also from New Mexico) is, and how well it pairs with this crisp salad. Trust me, it will make for a noche buena!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Croquer: Elvira's

Growing up in Tucson made me relatively confident about a few things from a young age: 1) Desert survival, and 2) A palate for superior Mexican cuisine. Nestled in the foothills of the Sonoran desert, Tucson is just a short cruise up a dusty old highway from Mexico. I have many childhood memories of warm sunny afternoons in Nogales, our border town, waiting outside of la farmacias beside dried iguanas for my aunts, hunting for the perfect el payaso marionette all day in cobblestone alley marketplaces, trying my hand at bargaining, and my first taste of tequila from a clay cup filled with fresh muddled mangoes and limes. To this day one of my most exciting ambient dining experiences was at La Roca, a restaurant built into the rock walls of hilly Nogales.
Several years ago, one of Nogales' other prized restaurants Elvira's (est. 1927) closed -- But luckily for Southern Arizona's lovers of  Chef Ruben Monroy's blend of contemporary and clasico Sonoran style cooking, Elvira's has re-opened, north of the border.
Now helming the small artist community of Tubac (23 miles north of Nogales), Elvira's new space is a proud frontispiece of Chef Ruben Monroy's other faculties (he holds degrees in both graphic arts and interior design). Metal piñatas, candles, monolithic ceramic pineapples, star lanterns, carved wooden angels and more hanging glass teardrops than you can shake a stick at fill nearly every interior surface. Like his cuisine, Monroy blends old Mexico and new, but through a whimsical looking glass.
My mother, sister, two nieces and I drove down for lunch one brisk desert morning over the holidays. Slightly stunned by the elaborate decor, we were even more struck by the menu - how would we decide when there are five different dark moles alone?
Luckily drinks are a no-brainer. Elvira's house margaritas are as good as top shelf most places, thanks to fresh lime and expert balance of sour, sweet, and salty.
For the little girls we ordered a quesadilla with roasted chicken and chihuahua cheese. The simple preparation was surprisingly outstanding due to superior homemade flour tortillas and plump roasted chicken.
My sister ordered the classic Mole Negro - the "King of Moles" due to its high number of ingredients (34), including chile pasilla, banana, chile cascabel, almonds, and chile chipotle. Robust and delicious!
I got the Mole Atocpan, which came with a back story. The menu printed that this mole commemorates the 75th anniversary of the town where mole was created - San Pedro Atocpan near Mexico City. This is problematic because clearly the town is older than that! However a little research found that in 1940, Father Damian Sartes San Roman came to the parish of San Pedro Atocpan and saw the potential in marketing the town's various moles -until then only made for special occasions- as a way to raise living standards in the area. 75 years ago would roughly mark the initial trips into Mexico City to spread the magic that is mole to the mainstream. To this day every October there is a mole festival in San Pedro Atocpan.
This special recipe is actually one of the better moles I've ever tasted. Somewhat sweet and spicy with incredible richness and depth from raisins, chile ancho, chile pasilla, cocoa, cilantro, cinnamon, and more.
My mother went lighter with the Chile Poblano "Frida Kahlo" - more of a New Mexican dish. The poblano was stuffed with squash blossoms, roasted corn, queso chihuahua, and covered with bean, chipotle sauce. The flavors were tasty albeit simple, yet overall the least winning of our selections.
All in all Elvira's was more impressive than we expected, and a perfect fueling stop before heading down the frontage road to the tiny mission town of Tumacacori where my favorite spice station lives - Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co.
The intense bouquet of scents that greet you at the door of this humble red brick chili roasting factory and spice shop is tangible. My four year-old niece said she "had a headache" and asked me to go play outside with her due to the smell, yet I was actually starting to get hungry again. An overflowing shopping bag of earthy red chili powders, herbs, spices, mesquite-smoked salts and hot sauces later, we were back on the old highway. Add a fresh tortilla and tamale stop at Mercado Y Carniceria El Herradero back in Tucson and you have, in my book, the perfect Southern Arizona afternoon.

Elvira's
La Entrada De Tubac
2221 E Frontage Rd. Bldg A, Ste A101; Tubac, AZ 85646; 520.398.9421
elvirasrestaurant.com
 
Santa Cruz Chili & Spice Co.
1868 E. Frontage Rd. Tumacacori, AZ 85640; 520.398.2591
santacruzchili.com

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Croquer: Café Poca Cosa

Probably the first time truly stunning inventive cuisine really bowled over the young Mr. Hazard was many years ago during one of my first college break visits back to my hometown of Tucson at Suzana Davila's uniquely Tucsonan Café Poca Cosa. I was awestruck by its power, a satiating fulfillment for the hunger pangs anyone who's ever read or seen Like Water For Chocolate has endured. I discovered new taste buds at Poca Cosa.. To this day, it remains my favorite.
Originally opened in a tiny space (hence the name) downtown on Scott Street more than two decades ago by Davila and her father, Poca Cosa later expanded with another larger location adjacent in the bottom floor of the historic Santa Rita Hotel (which opened in 1904 as Tucson’s most elegant hotel - and was totally haunted). 17 years later, the hotel's closure and demolition plans forced Poca Cosa to move.
Now housed a few blocks away in a shiny new building on East Pennington Street, the dark jungley candlelit cave-like charm of the Santa Rita dining room is replaced with floor-to ceiling windows to the street outside and a streamlined modernity, but luckily keeping local artist Daniel Martin Diaz's signature artwork and Santo-VS-Diablo Mexican folk art decor.Location adjustments aside, the winning element of Poca Cosa that has never changed is the ritual. Davila believes in experience; you are not sitting down for a meal, you are patron for Davila to graciously share her passion with. Upon arrival you can expect a friendly introduction from a nicely dressed server (no uniform, aprons, order pads, or pencils behind the ear here) checking to see if it's your first time and/or welcoming you back. Next order of business is always making sure a pitcher of margaritas is in line (the only way to go) as their addictive chips and salsa are dropped. Served up and salty, pleasantly potent and chockfull of chopped citrus, Poca Cosa's are certainly of the best margaritas anywhere.By now rookies may be wondering why there is still no menu in front of them. Poca Cosa's menu changes twice daily and is scrawled in Spanish on a chalkboard that your server brings by once the table is settled, drink in hand to explain dish-by-dish in detail. Spontaneity is another crucial element of Davila's style. The last item on the menu is the Plato Poca Cosa - Davila's hand-picked selection of any three menu items arranged on one plate. You can not choose them, it is always random, and if there are several Platos ordered at the table, every one will be different.
Besides an obviously upscale and fresh take on Mexican, the specific cuisine is hard to pin down. Moving far beyond the local Sonoran flavor, with definite Oaxacan odes (she is known for having some 26 moles) Davila, like many Mexico City chefs, cooks in the alta cocina Mexicana tradition (preserved by the Conservatory of Mexican Gastronomic Culture), looking to indigenous dishes dating back to Aztec times. Sauce reigns supreme in Davila's dishes, and comprising of countless ingredients lock in her distinct talent.The Plato Poca Cosa presentation usually consists of two proteins and a Pastel de Elote ("tamale pie"), piled high with greens, tropical fruits and vegetables. A vinaigrette, warm tortillas and pinto beans are served communally. On my last visit, as is customary, our entire table ordered Platos, and I was quite happy with mine: Pollo Oaxaqueño, Carne Asada en Mesquite, and Pastel de Elote en Manzanas al Horno. The carne asada is ALWAYS good here, grilled to perfection and bursting with vibrant flavor (my very first Poca Cosa experience was just after coming out of the vegetarian closet and BOY did the carne asada reward me for the decision!). The pastels can be either savory or sweet, and mine, made with canela, baked apples and cheese was a little of both, but completely delicious. Best was the pollo in a complex Oaxacan sauce.. beyond description really. The Japanese may have coined Umami, but there was something magical here that similarly transcended.My mother enjoyed her selection of Pescado en Tomatillo con Aguacate (fish cooked in foil with a tangy tomatillo and avocado dressing), Carne Deshebrada en Salsa de Chipotle (shredded chipotle beef), and Pastel de Elote con Calabacitas Mexicana (savory tamale pie with squash, corn and cheese).My father scored my favorite dish - the Pollo en Mole Negro. In the roulette game of the Plato you can never get everything you want though, and settled for a bite. Easily the best mole I've ever tasted to date, and in large part my introduction, Poca Cosa basically set me up to fail as a mole connesuir (until I can make it to the source, that is). This dish is a must for a Poca Cosa novice.

For this last visit we did lunch, which is a more affordable way to experience Café Poca Cosa (same portions, big difference in price). But even more friendly on the pocketbook, down the street is the Little Poca Cosa (151 N. Stone Ave.) - the sister café is now run (suitably) by Davila's sisters Sandra and Marcella. This "little restaurant with a big heart" expands upons Davila's passion for her homeland and collects thousands of dollars each year to help the needy in Mexico, and decorates the restaurant's walls with pictures of children receiving food, medicine, and gifts. The vibe here is more casual, the service more lax, the music unapologetically loud, and the food is still great. Little Poca Cosa however is cash-only, open Monday through Friday for breakfast-lunch only.

Café Poca Cosa
110 East Pennington Street, Tucson, AZ; 520.622.6400‎
cafepocacosatucson.com
Café Poca Cosa on Urbanspoon