FOLLOW THE HUNGRIEST FOODIE ON INSTAGRAM AND TWITTER @hungriestfoodie
Food Is Love
Great food isn’t just about the skillful assembly of ingredients. It is about the energy around the food and the energy you put into it. I know this sounds woo-woo but I really believe food tastes better when love is involved. And I think that’s why Little Café Poca Cosa (151 N. Stone Ave.) is one of the best restaurants in Baja Arizona. I always get the chef’s choice, the Plato, and it’s never disappointed me. On a recent visit, Sandra Davila, the gregarious owner, rushed over to the stereo and turned the music up really loud, yelling, “If you say that you don’t love Neil Diamond, you are a LIAR!” The love in this place is brimming. You get hugged when you come in. You probably get hugged again when you leave. What they do under that roof is not just gastronomical, it is medicinal.
New in Baja Arizona
The restaurant renaissance shows no sign of simmering down in Tucson. The new Ermanos (220 N. Fourth Ave.) is a craft beer and wine bar—but the food is brilliant. Dishes are perfectly proportioned and easy to eat with a beer. This isn’t standard bar food. At the soft opening, I had the Grilled Shishito Peppers and the Gnocchi & Cheese, which comes with poblano chiles and herbs, served in a tiny cast iron pot. Ermanos is also doing a fair amount of local sourcing, including beef from Double Check Ranch.
The upswing in the food scene is not limited to new restaurants. Renee’s Organic Oven (7065 E. Tanque Verde Road), an old Tucson favorite, is now offering weekday breakfast. The menu balances creative use of ingredients and reinterpretations of breakfast standards with the expected comfort of breakfast. There are also several breakfast cocktails to take the edge off any hungry body angst you might have.
Bodega Kitchen & Wine at St. Philip’s Plaza (4340 N. Campbell Ave.), closed in late February of this year, and almost immediately Amalour Revival Lounge sprung up in its place. The food and drink menu is totally new and sources many ingredients locally—as local as a few doors down (Flying Leap and Alfonso Gourmet Olive Oil & Balsamics reside in the same plaza). My girlfriend, Katy, and I shared the Cheddar & Pear Bruschetta and the Apple, Beet, & Blue Salad. Ingredients are fresh and paired nicely with our midday Sazerac and Old Fashioned. The patio looks like an amazing place to spend some pleasant hours winding down with the sunset.
I was born in Astoria, Oregon. My grandmother owned a fish cannery—I have a need in my heart for fresh fish. And the fish that satisfies this need more than any other is salmon. Like Golem of Lord of the Rings, I prefer my fish raw, so you can find me hunting for sashimi at sushi places about Tucson. Salmon has such a wonderful flavor and texture that you don’t need much else besides the tiniest bit of soy sauce. An early dinner recently brought Katy and me to Kazoku Sushi & Japanese Cuisine (4210 E. Speedway Blvd). Luckily, Katy prefers tuna sashimi so I get to eat most of the salmon and nobody has to get hurt. Nothing pairs with sushi like Sapporo, a Japanese rice lager that even non-beer lovers can appreciate.
As a lover of the ocean, it does weigh heavy on my heart that we are overfishing and polluting the oceans so that the ability to enjoy seafood may soon become a thing of the past. One restaurant that is trying to source its seafood from sustainable sources is Fini’s Landing (5689 N. Swan Road). They only sell fish from recognized sustainable fisheries, following guidelines from the likes of Marine Stewardship Council, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, and Green Chefs, Blue Ocean. We ate a mess of tacos (and some hot wings) and our wallets were not considerably taxed by a somewhat less guilt-ridden seafood indulgence.
I am a botanist; my favorite places to hunt for species I don’t know are import markets in Tucson. I had been writing about garbanzo beans when I came across a darker, wild sister: the Bengal gram. I found this more protein-rich bean at Nur Market (3565 E. Speedway Blvd.) I loaded up on spices like curry, turmeric, and cardamom (they didn’t have asafetida, which I got at the Food Conspiracy Cooperative, 412 N. Fourth Ave). My aim on this day was to make a black chickpea curry. After soaking the beans overnight with a bit of baking soda (to soften them up), I pressure-cooked them for about 25 minutes and made a curry sauce in a medium of tomatoes. Nothing makes the house smell as good as cooking curry—minus the brief moment before the asafetida joins the other flavors; if you haven’t used asafetida before, it stinks horribly on its own but somehow magically adds a depth of umami. It is a great substitute for onion or garlic in any dish but is a spice you want to make sure is in a well-sealed container. The cuisines of the Middle East, Africa, and India have a lot in common with our own: the prominence of legumes and chili peppers, the use of flatbreads (like tortillas, naan, or injera), and the not-so-subtle use of spices. Many great chefs are starting to play with cross-pollinating these cuisines and I very much enjoy doing the same. Here is my recipe for black chickpea curry:
Jared R. McKinley is the associate publisher of Edible Baja Arizona.