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Inconsistent hours and a refusal to offer the basics overshadow Café 940's charm and potential

Café 940 has a lot of potential. During our one lunch visit, Karyn Zoldan and I enjoyed several unique and well-prepared plates. The dining room is stylish, with back-lit art along two walls, and another wall made entirely of windows so diners can watch all the activity on University Boulevard.

I say one lunch visit, because a second sampling didn't happen--despite numerous attempts on our part.

It was a dark and stormy day when Karyn and I arrived for lunch, the kind of day perfect for a hot drink and/or a savory soup. The menu had both, so that's how we decided to start.

Karyn asked how the mushroom soup ($5.49) was prepared, and the server--in all seriousness--told us it was boiled. Of course it's boiled; it's soup! She ordered it anyway, and I ordered the French onion ($5.98). We both ordered Americanos to drink ($2.99); Café 940 apparently doesn't offer plain-old coffee.

The coffees were brought to the table almost immediately, and the soups soon followed. After that soup explanation, we held little hope for professional service, but our young server redeemed himself by refilling Karyn's coffee at no charge.

The soups warmed us, although the broth of the mushroom soup was bland, and the button mushrooms lacked a lot of flavor. Even the squeeze of lemon served with the soup couldn't rev up any of the flavors.

The onion soup fared better. Packed with onions and garlic in a light, beefy broth, this old standby was quite satisfying. I would've liked the cheese-topped French bread toasted, though; it would've added a texture to the soup.

We then ordered the four-cheese pizza ($8.99) and the baked-squid salad ($10.99) to share.

Traditionalists might be disappointed by 940's pizzas. They're served on puff pastry, which adds airiness, but calling it "pizza" may be a bit of a stretch. It was good, though, and with the side salad that consisted of fresh greens topped with a light soy dressing, it proved to be a nice starter for the two of us.

We also enjoyed the squid salad. A good handful of squid rings were served atop more of those leafy greens, with buttered and toasted bread crumbs sprinkled lightly across it all. The dressing was not a garlic aioli (a mayonnaise-like dressing) as advertised, but a garlic vinaigrette. The garlic had been sautéed so it was at its best; if garlic isn't your thing, you might not like this.

We asked about desserts and ordered two: the pistachio crème brulée and the raspberry panna cotta. However, the server misunderstood, and we got two brulées and one panna cotta (a total of $7.99). The desserts were tres petite but packed with the promised flavors--and just enough sweetness to take the edge off a sugar craving.

Now, about the lack of a second visit: There was, but ...

It was also a dark and stormy evening the night John and I popped in for dinner. The server was busy with the one other table, but eventually, he got us our menus. He then explained that the credit-card machine hadn't been working all day. "Sorry," he said with a shrug. I asked if they would take a check, and he said, "No, sorry," with another shrug.

Dinner was going to run around $60 with a tip. We didn't have that much cash, and finding an ATM in the rain was not an option--so we left.

The following Saturday was graduation at the UA, which presumably means crowds of people, so I called ahead for reservations--and to see if the credit-card machine was working. The guy laughed when I asked about the credit-card machine and told me that it was still down. Then when I asked about reservations, his response shocked me: "Oh, we're probably going to close early. We haven't had a table all day."

No customers on graduation day? They did indeed close early, and were closed all day Sunday--even though the posted hours their normal hours are 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., seven days a week.

John and I then drove over on another day for dinner, only to find a darkened restaurant. Two more attempts met with the same result. We feared the place may have permanently closed (though later calls revealed it apparently remains open--though even later calls have left us somewhat unsure).

The food here is really quite good--they make their own ice cream!--and the preparation is quite clever. However, Café 940 needs to find its audience. If the "audience" is a base of college students, the restaurant should lower prices and stay open later. If the audience is everyone else in town, well, Tucsonans can't know a restaurant is around unless it somehow makes its presence known.

Also: Café 940 needs to solve the damn credit-card machine problem. We live in a plastic society; that's a fact.

Café 940 could become exactly what the chain-heavy Main Gate area needs: another locally owned, chic little restaurant. It's worth checking out--but call ahead, at least until Café 940 gets a handle on its hours.

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