Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Weekend in Arizona, Part II

When last we left sunny Tucson, AZ, Todd and I were chilling at Epic Cafe, where we escaped the heat and got our (or my) requisite afternoon caffeine buzz while waiting to meet Kei and Martha (the couple who have kindly loaned their guesthouse to Todd for the month) for dinner.

I am quite happy to take credit for picking our dinner location from the list of possibilities Todd had emailed before my arrival. I chose Maynards Market & Kitchen, a restaurant, bar and market place located in Tucson's historic train depot, which is still active today (we sat at the outdoor patio right next to the train tracks, making for an interesting but at times loud meal). 

(Image curtesy of Maynard's website)

The restaurant serves a vaguely French menu made from locally sourced ingredients, many of which are available in the adjoining market, along with prepared items to go (the market also holds beer tastings in the summer and will be home to a farmers market starting next month).

We started with drinks: Todd ordered his signature drink that he gets at every place with a bar, the White Russian (with maraschino cherries):

He has ordered these all over Europe and the US and gets a slightly different version each time (the most wild variations occurred in European restaurants, where he would usually have to explain to the befuddled waiter what was in the drink, which the bartender would freely interpret, no doubt muttering things about bizarre American tastes...). The bartender at Maynards had a bit of fun with this version - while it contained the traditional cream and vodka, there were bits of ground espresso beans floating in the cream to replace the coffee liqueur, and I believe a shot of chocolate syrup as well. Surprisingly I actually like this, probably because it tasted more like coffee-flavored cream than alcohol, heh.

After placing our orders the waitress brought out a plate of bread rolls with a disk of herb butter. I usually try not to fill up on bread before my meal arrives, but I am a bread fiend (we runners need our carbs!) and can't resist when it is really good. Which this was - slightly warm, nice and soft inside and pleasantly salty, kind of like pizza dough rolls you get at some pizzerias, if you know what I mean. We demolished the plate before any other food arrived and asked for more.

We had a good excuse to get more bread, though, because Martha ordered mussels (in a white wine and herb sauce) and an order of frites. You need bread to soak up the mussel sauce! (Though I actually wound up polishing off most of the second plate too...oops) The fries were great, nice and salty, just greasy enough to stain the paper cone in places, and perfect dipped in the accompanying lemon aioli (I have expressed my distaste for fries and mayonnaise, but aioli is different, I swear!). 

Kei ordered the halibut special. Not sure exactly what the accompaniments were since it wasn't on the regular menu, but looks like lentils, corn, green beans, maybe nectarines and some kind of creamy sauce (I think the waitress said pureed leeks, but I could be mistaken).

Todd went with the Summer Vegetable vegetarian entree - grilled porcini mushroom, seven vegetable pearl barley "risotto," marinated heirloom tomatoes, sweet corn sauce. 

Like Martha, I went with two appetizers as my entree. Up first is the roasted beet salad. A bit different from the one on the online menu, this one had slices of orange, halved cherries, Marcona almonds and whisper-thin slices of fennel all in a light vinaigrette that mingled beautifully with the beet juices. It was gorgeous - I only wish the light was better so the photo could have done it justice.

My other choice was the cheese sampler plate, with five one-ounce portions of all their cheese, as well as  a big blob of quince paste (one of my faves), thinly slices of nectarine and two little dried figs. I only wish their were more figs, but the cheese were great. Todd helped me finish, claiming that to be his dessert. Of course, we know how that goes, when you're presented with the dessert menu...

...You have no choice but to order dessert. Especially if that dessert is a root beer float, something I haven't had since I was a kid. We got two to share between the four of us, and they came in a tankard, literally, of vanilla ice cream layered with fizzy root beer. In a nice touch, each mug also came with a little carafe of extra soda on the side so you could add more to your float as you drank it down. Reminded me of diners where, when you order a milkshake, they give you the extra stuff that wouldn't fit in your glass on the side.

We were all stuffed and very sleepy by the time we made it back to Kei and Martha's. Not too sleepy, though, to watch the first half of the AZ University football game and sample Martha's signature drink: a prickly pear margarita:

I'm not a big drinker, but I am a fan of girly, fruity cocktails, and since I had never tried prickly pear anything, my curiosity was picked and I just had to try one. Plus, look how pretty! It's basically pear-flavored vodka, sweet & sour margarita mix and prickly pear syrup, which is this gorgeous reddish syrup that looks a lot like grenadine. Makes for a very, very sweet cocktail, but hey, I never said my taste in drinks was sophisticated. Thank, Kei and Martha, for a great night (and for letting us use your pool and pet your cat!).

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