Friday, August 29, 2008

Gentle Ben's

Located just down the block from the University of Arizona is a charming little area of shops and restaurants where one can comfortably take a stroll as the sun goes down.

Gentle Ben's is a brewery with lower level and second story dining areas. The dimly lit brewery had tealights at every table, creating a very intimate environment perfect for catching up with old friends and family (but makes for poor photo quality).

I tried the Tuscon Blonde which was a light beer of pale golden color with little head. It was a very tame beer with a light fruitiness, but otherwise did not have much else to it.

Whoa, this spinach and artichoke dip was awesome. Now, I haven't had that many encounters with spinach and artichoke dip, probably because the few times I have had it have only been mediocre, but I'm going to start ordering it more often based on my experience at Gentle Ben's. The appetizer was colossal, the large portion of spinach and artichoke dip was served in a warm, soft sourdough bread bowl and the crust was able to retain its tender crispiness. This is the first spinach and artichoke dip I have seen that included black olives, which were sprinkled on top. This incredibly creamy spinach and artichoke dip topped with tomatoes, black olives, and chives was made with parmesan cheese, cream cheese, Tuscon Blonde Ale, and onions and had chunks of spinach, artichoke. It was fantastic with the warm tortilla chips and the chunks of soft sourdough bread. Not only is the presentation bursting of dip, tortillas, and bread, but it was full of flavor.

I had the Grilled Veggie Quesadilla made with jack and cheddar cheeses. The vegetables in this quesadilla included mushrooms, red bell peppers, green bell peppers, zucchini, and onions and the quesadilla was topped with black olives, tomatoes, and green onions. The flour tortilla was grilled to a nice crisp and the chipotle salsa provided nice heat and flavor, but the quesadilla wasn't particularly spectacular. I longed for a thin, chewy flour tortilla handmade with lard, but there certainly was not one to be found on my plate. I was expecting a lot more from this dish, both in size and especially in flavor, than was actually presented to me, so I was disappointed with my entree.

Stepping outside of the restaurant after dinner, we were surprised to be greeted by the elusive Old Pueblo Trolley that runs down University and Fourth streets.

865 E. University Blvd.
Tucson, AZ 85719

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Millie's Pancake Haus

While on vacation, I don't feel compelled to wake up early, especially when I know that brunch is a fine excuse for sleeping in late.

Millie's Pancake Haus appropriately shares retail space among quilt shops and antique stores and even the restaurant's exterior lets you know that stepping inside will help you forget that you're in the middle of the desert.

Entering Millie's Pancake Haus is like stepping into grandma's house out in the country, with its lace curtains and wooden chairs. The two dining rooms are furnished in wood, with some high-back booths in the other dining room. The walls are filled with all kinds of antiques and the place mats double as menus, which really lends to the relaxing brunch atmosphere.

Now, I realize that the restaurant's name boasts their pancakes, but unfortunately, I have to be in a particular mood for a sweet breakfast and this was brunch, closer to lunchtime, anyways. My hostess mentioned that Millie's omelets are well made and since I do have a fondness for omelets, I chose the Mushroom, Onion, Spinach, and Swiss omelet. The daintily-folded omelet came with a choice of bread (I chose wheat toast) and home fried potatoes. While this omelet was full of tenderly cooked mushrooms, onions, and spinach, it also made me realize that I prefer omelets made with cheddar cheese. I think that cheddar cheese pairs better with the rich egg and the swiss cheese in this omelet didn't present itself very strongly. I probably wouldn't have noticed there was any cheese in the omelet except for the title. The vegetables were fresh and the eggs were tenderly cooked to a fluffy consistency. The home fries were on the mealy and dry side and the toast was forgettable. I loved the plates that completed the countryside theme.

Millie's Pancake Haus
6530 E. Tanque Verde Rd.
Tucson, AZ 85715
(520) 298-4250

Monday, August 25, 2008

Jeff's Pub

I apologize for my two-week hiatus from updating this blog, but in moving from Tustin to Fullerton, I haven't had internet access! I will try to make up for being absent these past two weeks by heavily posting to Afishionado.

Growing up my entire life on the West Coast, I have been fortunate to have easy access to fresh seafood whenever I want it. Traveling to Arizona this summer for a short vacation, I wasn't expecting to feast on seafood, much less delicious seafood comparable to that which I find on the coast. When my Tucson host suggested fish and chips for dinner, I certainly wasn't expecting a place like Jeff's Pub.

Jeff's Pub is a sports bar with a limited number of domestic beers on tap, sports betting, a juke box, pool tables, arcade games, and of course television screens everywhere. Upon entering the establishment, there is a dimly lit bar straight ahead, a dining room to the right, and games to the left.

There is also an outdoor dining patio with misters and umbrellas to alleviate the hot desert heat. Jeff's Pub is a place to sit down and relax with a cold brew and come good food.

For being in a land-locked state, I was surprised to find that the fish at Jeff's Pub was quite flavorful and moist, but not mushy. I tried the grilled fish first and it came with french fries, coleslaw, garlic toast, tarter sauce, cocktail sauce, and a lemon wedge. The coleslaw, while well-marinated, had a bit too much vinegar and was quite sour. Each table had ketchup and malt vinegar, so they were well prepared for the abundance of diners looking for the Friday fish fry special. While the fish was quite excellent and flaked easily, the french fries were under par, some were limp and soggy and they were not sufficiently salted.

I came into Jeff's Pub knowing I would be ordering traditional fish and chips (fried), and that's why I started my dinner healthfully, with the grilled fish. I next ordered the beer-battered fish and it was delicious. I am glad I started with the grilled fish because if I had the beer-battered fish as my first plate, I probably wouldn't have bothered with the grilled fish. The beer-batter was delicate and did not obscure the flavor of the cod. The fish remained tender even through the deep-fry and was not greasy. The crispy exterior of the light batter with the flaky and very flavorful fish made an excellent combination without making the meal feel heavy.

Many of my preconceived notions were put to the test by visiting Jeff's Pub. First was my belief that good seafood can only be found when you are twenty minutes from the coast and second was trusting a bar to only satisfy a craving for beer. This was a good start to my vacation and weekend!

Jeff's Pub
112 South Camino Seco
Tucson, AZ 85710
(520) 751-2047

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Haagen-Dazs Extra Righ Light Caramel Cone

Faced with my strong desire for the sweet taste of ice cream and conscious of my health, I chose Haagen-Dazs Extra Rich Light Caramel Cone Ice Cream recently. By chance, my friend chose Haagen-Dazs Caramel Cone Ice Cream, providing me the opportunity to try the two versions side-by-side.

Unlike the Phoood review of Haagen-Dazs Extra Rich Light Caramel Cone Ice Cream, I found drastic taste and textural differences between the two versions of Haagen-Dazs Caramel Cone Ice cream.

The Haagen-Dazs Extra Rich Light Caramel Cone Ice Cream looked appetizing enough, until compared with the regular version of the same ice cream flavor. In the Extra Rich Light Caramel Cone Ice Cream, the chocolate pieces appeared rampant amidst the caramel ice cream, but upon my first spoonful, the chocolate was just flecked throughout the ice cream. Additionally, the "cone" of this lightened version of ice cream tasted soggy. It was not pleasant to chew on the soggy pieces of ice cream cone. The caramel ice cream didn't taste like it had been churned properly but instead tasted and felt like it was icy.

Made with: skim milk, corn syrup, sugar, chocolaty coated cone pieces, cream, caramel sauce, egg yolks, natural flavor, butter, salt, pectin, baking soda.

Conversely, the Haagen-Dazs Caramel Cone Ice Cream was drastically better than the Haagen-Dazs Extra Rich Light Caramel Cone Ice Cream, visually, texturally, and tastefully. The chocolate in this version of ice cream was in chunks, neither too small like the flecks in the lightened ice cream nor too large to bite with ease. Unlike the lightened ice cream, the "cone" of the regular version was crispy, as if I were chewing pieces of a freshly baked waffle cone. Finally, the caramel ice cream was more dense and creamy than the lightened version, which was thin, as if watered down, and melted quickly in the summer heat.

Made with: cream, skim milk, chocolaty coating with cone pieces, sugar, caramel sauce, sweetened condensed skim milk, corn syrup, egg yolks, butter, natural flavor, salt, pectin, vanilla extract, baking soda.

If you have a craving for ice cream, don't skimp and fall for the tricks of the lightened versions which leave you craving more. You'll be highly satisfied with the real stuff.

Sunday, August 3, 2008

Don Jose

Don Jose is tucked into a heavily-landscaped corner, making this restaurant very easy to miss. Because trees and bushes slightly obscure it from view while driving on Newport Boulevard, I honestly had no idea what kind of Mexican food to expect; whether Don Jose would serve authentic Mexican food on par with Taco Rosa or serve American-Mexican food in the styles of Acapulco, El Torito, and the like.

Arriving on a Saturday night, I was acutely aware of the nearly empty parking lot surrounding Don Jose, which made me worry that the restaurant was closed (even though it was only about 7 PM). The exterior style of the building made me imagine red and green decor, sombreros, and loud mariachi music playing. Upon entering, I was instead reminded of Coco's gone Mexican, with the large floral upholstered booths and crystal lamps hanging over each table.

Upon being seated, we were immediately served fresh, warm tortilla chips with a chunky salsa. I really love chips and salsa, as simple as they come, and I was delighted with the lightly salted and thin tortilla chips we were presented. The mild salsa was full of chopped vegetables and quite thick, just the way I like it!

This was my Rosie O'Rita Margarita made with tequila, sweet and sour, Triple Sec, and cranberry juice to give it that nice pink glow. This margarita on the rocks was served in a pint glass and was quite sweet.

My Seafood Enchiladas came with refried beans and Spanish rice. Large, tender chunks of grilled fish and shrimp were rolled in corn tortillas and smothered in a flavorful tomatillo sauce. The mild tomatillo sauce allowed the flavor of the fish and shrimp to be the stars of this dish. There were more fish than shrimp in the enchiladas and I was very pleased with this light dish of moist seafood. Some parts of the corn tortilla were stale and dried out, which was easily remedied by spreading on the tomatillo sauce. The rice and beans were pretty standard fare.

Devin requested his Chunky Chicken Chimichanga without red sauce or roasted green chilis on top. The crispy, deep-fried burrito contained chicken, refried beans, jack cheese, cheddar cheese, and a red chili sauce and came accompanied with sour cream.

While the exterior of the restaurant had me expecting one thing and then the interior gave me some doubts, I was pleasantly surprised by the flavorful and properly cooked dishes that we ordered.

Don Jose
14882 Holt Ave.
Tustin, CA 92780