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Baja Eats: Tanque Verde Ranch

The oldest business in Tucson is
putting a new spin on “dude ranch” food.

December 1, 2016

Baja Eats

If you’re a longtime Tucsonan, you’ve probably heard of Tanque Verde Ranch. You may have even attended a wedding out at the functioning cattle ranch—the oldest operating business in Tucson (since 1868). What you may not know is that with the introduction of executive chef Justin Macy, TVR has amped up its dining offerings, and they’re not just thinking of the European dude-ranch crowd anymore. The ranch’s Doghouse Saloon offers a range of small bites and bar food staples, and they recently overhauled their cocktail menu to feature drinks that would look perfectly at home in downtown Tucson’s trendy nightspots.

I attended a Chef’s Table event at Tanque Verde Ranch. Chef’s Tables are arranged on a by-reservation basis, with a per person cost of $50 for guests who are staying at the ranch, and $100 for guests not staying with the ranch (those affectionately nicknamed “townies”).

The Gila Monster cocktail, featuring housemade prickly pear syrup, is part of Tanque Verde Ranch’s recently revamped cocktail menu.

The Gila Monster cocktail, featuring housemade prickly pear syrup, is part of Tanque Verde Ranch’s recently revamped cocktail menu.

We started in the Doghouse Saloon. I ordered the Gila Monster cocktail ($11.50), which turned out to be an herby, not-too-sweet bourbon drink, with a bit of TVR’s house-made prickly pear syrup mixed in to turn it a purplish-pink. Chef Macy soon covered our table in a variety of luscious small plates: Prime Rib Sliders ($7), the Grand Lasso Pretzel ($8), Fried Brussels sprouts ($8), and the Three Way Filet platter ($15). Of these, the Brussels are my top pick: lightly smokey and crisp on the outside without being greasy from frying, and the bacon, balsamic vinegar, and other seasonings was just enough to add new flavors to the dish without overpowering the vegetable.

As we moved to the main dining hall of the ranch, we passed through a room in which the original owner of the ranch, Don Emillio Carrillo, survived being hung from the rafters by bandits back in 1904. History immerses visitors to the ranch, and everywhere you turn, there’s a story waiting to be told: the beam Carillo was hung from is still in place!

Amusing Amuse: butter-poached lobster with pomegranate caviar packed a lot of rich flavor onto one curvy spoon.

Amusing Amuse: butter-poached lobster with pomegranate caviar packed a lot of rich flavor onto one curvy spoon.

Six courses, here we come. The amuse course was a piece of butter- poached lobster, microgreens, and pomegranate cavier, served on a spoon. As Chef Macy introduced the dish, he expressed his preference for working without a menu, especially for the chef’s dinner, because it allows him the greatest creative freedom. He says that he does his best work “off the cuff and spur of the moment. I feel like when I plan, it doesn’t turn the way I wanted.”

Personal pizzas topped with quail egg, vegetables, and manchego cheese.

Personal pizzas topped with quail egg, vegetables, and manchego cheese.

The personal pizzas served as the appetizer course incorporated the unlikely component of a quail egg cracked over tomatoes, onions, arugula, and manchego cheese, and I had to remember that there were four more courses coming in order to talk myself out of finishing all the crusts.

The deconstructed baby beet salad was almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

The deconstructed baby beet salad was almost too pretty to eat. Almost.

The salad was a delicate and artfully arranged deconstructed baby beet salad, with goat cheese coulis and candied walnuts, and the effect was so lovely it seemed a shame to eat it, but somehow we all managed.

The pistachio-crusted lamb, served over pureed cauliflower, was hands down the best lamb I’ve ever eaten.

The pistachio-crusted lamb, served over pureed cauliflower, was hands down the best lamb I’ve ever eaten.

After the intermezzo, a spoonful of tangy lemon ice with a chili burn, the entree course arrived: beautifully prepared pistachio crusted lamb, served over a cauliflower puree with roasted baby vegetables.

This tiny dessert trio was unquestionably worth saving room for.

This tiny dessert trio was unquestionably worth saving room for.

To cap off our meal, Chef Macy presented mercifully small deserts: a vanilla bean flan, a cherry Bavarian cream, and the tiniest molten lava cake I’ve ever seen. Each was delicious: the chocolate cake melting in my mouth, the cherry compote adding a nice tartness to the Bavarian cream, but my favorite was the flan. Incredibly light and delicate, I will never be able to look at other flans the same way again.

Tanque Verde Ranch’s chef’s tables include wine pairings with each course, and I left the table one happy hour and six courses later quite satiated—and very grateful to have a room waiting for me at the ranch. My recommendation: plan a weekend getaway, reserve one night at Chef Macy’s table, and spend the rest of your time enjoying the complimentary horseback rides, nature walks, and tennis lessons.

Tanque Verde Guest Ranch
14301 E. Speedway Blvd.
520.296.6275
TanqueVerdeRanch.com







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