A Taste of Tucson

Tucson, Arizona, is only a short hour and a half drive from our home in Ahwatukee, and my parents gave us a great reason to spend an evening there. Pre-Covid, they had dinner at the Grill at Hacienda Del Sol during their visit in early 2020; they liked it so much that they bought us a gift card. Due to the Pandemic, we just got around to using it this month. As my husband and I do, we decided to make a day of it and head down early to begin our food and beverage extravaganza.

We wouldn’t usually pick a chain restaurant for any stop, but we had some time before our desired lunch spot was open, and it seemed a viable option. We started at Firebirds for a quick drink. A glass of Acrobat Pinot Noir from Oregon for me and vodka with freshly squeezed grapefruit for my husband. Freshly squeezed fruit gives them points, and, technically, they just went corporate a few years back, so I won’t go too crazy defending myself.

We chose a family-owned restaurant called Wild Garlic Grill for lunch, which is undoubtedly one of Tucson’s most respected destinations for food lovers. The bar was plated and dressed with napkins and wine glasses, welcoming guests to imbibe and indulge in their finest dishes. Aromas of garlic and fresh Mediterranean spices filled the restaurant, and regulars took their usual seats as we listened to the bartender call them by name. Warm bread just out of the oven was served with whipped butter; we devoured it as if we were not going to spend the rest of our day grazing about. Oh, how I love warm bread; it is one of life’s greatest pleasures and always enhances the dining out experience. I ordered the Grilled Beef Tips over risotto with parmesan summer vegetables and red wine reduction for lunch. My husband got the Linguini Bolognese with braised beef, pork & veal in a plum tomato, garlic & red wine herb sauce, and parmesan cheese. We chose a lovely bottle of Et Fille Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Pinots from Oregon are some of my favorite wines, especially during lunchtime hour, and they are so versatile when it comes to food. They can be so delicate and lively for the lightest of salads, yet, many can stand up to too much heartier dishes like what we ordered.

Moving along to St. Phillip’s Plaza to visit the Arizona Wine Collective, an upscale tasting room/wine bar and bottle shop dedicated to serving wines from multiple Arizona wineries. We were greeted by owners Pete and Jean Snell, whom I had the opportunity to meet years ago while writing my piece for the Arizona Wine Guide. They are gracious and engaging with their patrons; we feel lucky they survived the pandemic and encourage locals to continue supporting this fabulous establishment. We got a glass of Rune Grenache and a glass of the Athena-Bodega Pierce, a blend of Pinot Noir, Graciano, and Zinfandel. As we chatted about the various beautiful Arizona wines, they explained the rotation of their bottle selections. For a wine to make its home on its shelves, they make a pact to share every new bottle choice with their customers. They want customer feedback to determine if the wine will be enjoyed and purchased by enough patrons. On that note, I made some bottle purchases of my own, knowing that it would be at least another month until I make my way down to Willcox. I left with a 2019 Short Temper Tempranillo from Four Tails Vineyard, a 2018 Mourvedre and 2016 Reserve Sangiovese from Golden Rule Vineyards, a 2019 Dos Compadres, a blend of Primitivo and Petite Sirah from Laramita Cellars, a 2019 Tarzan Red, a blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha, from Merkin Vineyards and, a 2018 Joy Rider, a blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, from the new, Twisted Union. Twisted Union took over the prior location of Kief-Joshua in Elgin, and this will be my first time tasting one of their wines.

We had a few hours before dinner and were finally able to check in to our hotel, the Embassy Suites by Tucson Hilton Paloma Village. The exquisite hotel, with incredible views of the Santa Catalina Mountains, has a resort feel without the prices, as was said by a staff member who was indeed correct. We opened the bottle of Laramita and continued to milk the day’s experience.

Last but not least, and the reason that brought us to Tucson, we took a Lyft to the Grill at Hacienda Del Sol, a stunning property with a phenomenal menu. We started at the bar with a glass of Portlandia Pinot Noir from Oregon while waiting for our table. We are suckers for a great bar; it can sometimes be tough to tear us away from one to sit in a dining room. However, it worked out great as we were seated at the best table in the house with the best view. I found a very fair-priced Bordeaux, 2019 Cru Monplaisir Bordeaux Superior, on the menu, of which we were delightfully impressed. And, for the second time in one day, fresh, warm bread was staring us in the face – heavenly goodness. We ordered the Sea Scallops with Cauliflower Poblano Puree and Roasted Pepper Paprika Salad appetizer because fine dining requires you to order a starter. I ordered the Rack of Lamb with mint almond relish, paprika chickpea puree, cauliflower capers, and golden raisins for dinner. My husband got the Filet of Beef with smoked blu cheese, roasted garlic green chili crust with fingerling potatoes, and seasonal garden vegetables served with Bordelaise sauce. Everything was delicious, and the service was excellent. Our server asked us if we wanted dessert while pointing to the ‘All Chocolate Baby’ I had already been eyeing on the menu. Of course, we ordered it. The triple chocolate cheesecake with chocolate sable cookies, cocoa nibs, and fresh raspberries was the ultimate end to our day of decadence. After all, you must end a meal like this one with the proper amount of gumption.

A good night’s sleep/food coma was upon us, and we quickly faded out. As the morning sun rose, we fondly recapped the glory of our food and wine adventure from the day before. A cup of coffee and a light breakfast complemented by the Embassy Suites prepared us for our journey back to Phoenix. As we headed home, we gave Tucson a much-deserved approving nod for leaving us with an appreciation for its impeccable restaurant scene.

Lunch Spot Wild Garlic Grill

Arizona Wine Collective

Four Tails, Merkin Vineyards, Twisted Union, Laramita, and Golden Rule. Bodega Pierce and Rune were our glass choices.

Et Fille, Oregon Pinot at Wild Garlic Grill

The Grill at Hacienda Del Sol – our view during dinner

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