While many of us learned early in life about the consequences of yelling “fire” in a crowded building, the exclamation has taken residence in the formal and flame-licked lexicon of downtown Tucson’s hottest new restaurant.
BATA, the newest concept in Chef Tyler Fenton’s growing hospitality group, was built on what he calls “the legends and lore of fire,” and that began with naming the restaurant.
“Our name comes from the word ‘Robata’ which is a Japanese style of cooking over fire, and while we’re not a Japanese restaurant, the name connects our love of fire with our overall approach of pulling from different places and cultures and making it our own,” said Fenton, executive chef and owner of BATA who also owns Reilly Craft Pizza & Drink with two Tucson locations.
Fenton’s fire touches every one of the nearly 20 dishes on BATA’s menu, from the ash-roasted beet tartlet with cultured cream on the smaller-scale side to the larger-scale pork loin with charred squash, pecans, and coffee amino.
I’m told that the flame factor is adjusted for each dish to complement the texture and flavor profiles of its ingredients.
Fenton notes that a few dishes have subtle expressions of fire, such as the beef tartare garnished with a fermented and flame-dried green onion powder. “The fire here delivers just a hint of smoke in a cold, raw dish,” he said. “It’s the most finessed and delicate dish on the menu from a smoke perspective.”
Facing down finesse on the opposite end of the fire frequency are dishes that he calls “bold and in-your-face,” like the grilled pork belly with a sauce made from several ingredients that are literally burned in the fireplace. “This one definitely delivers plenty of smokey depth,” he said.
Fresh vegetables play central roles on many of the plates. In fact, it’s Fenton’s opinion that a fire-cooked carrot has as much appeal as a beautifully grilled steak. Given his love affair with root vegetables, it’s no surprise that a chewy carrot with ajo blanco and cilantro, and a turnip tostada with nopales escabeche and herbs, are dishes in and of themselves.
To end the evening, Fenton is offering several confections of conflagrant magnitude, including sourdough ice cream with whey granita and hearth-dried dates and chocolate mousse with a smoked almond tart and Arizona olive oil.
The building that BATA calls home, in the heart of downtown’s Warehouse Arts District, was built as a supply warehouse in the 1930s. It was later transformed into commercial offices and, more recently, a community arts space.
Fenton and his team have since commissioned a fundamental redesign of the space featuring original wood and metal bow truss ceilings contrasted with contemporary touches like a shou sugi ban soffit made from...wait for it... heavily charred wood.
Yes, even the décor and building materials are inspired by fire.
In addition to the main dining room, the restaurant offers a private dining room that seats 14 guests, a larger event space accommodating 40 guests, and a basement bar, called BAR BATA, that’s expected to open in May. Located at 35 E. Toole Avenue, BATA is open Sundays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 5 to 9 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 5 to 10 p.m. Additional information is at BataTucson.com.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire.” Knowing what I know about BATA, I may have found my home away from home.