That's a lot of dough. But as these travelers returned home with stories to tell about our local food scene, plans were coming together for an event to inspire that same storytelling right here in greater Tucson.
It's called Sonoran Restaurant Week, and from Sept. 6 through 15, more than 30 local restaurants will showcase special, three-course menus they've priced at either $25 or $35.
One of the restaurants that was quick to enlist in Sonoran Restaurant Week was Feast, and its $35 menu is a fascinating blend of Mediterranean, Southeast Asian and regional American influences.
Appetizer options include a rosemary-smoked pear flatbread, a spiced and cured pork loin and a cucumber-shiitake salad. Entrée options include a red curry custard, braised pork and sweet potato gnocchi, and brined and roasted game hen. And for dessert, you can choose a coffee and cardamom chocolate bar, gorgonzola carrot cake or house-made ice cream.
The menu is comprised of previous guest favorites, recent additions to the menu and dishes which will make their official debut during Sonoran Restaurant Week.
"I wanted this menu to be a snapshot of what Feast looks like in late summer and early autumn," said Doug Levy, chef/owner of Feast, 3719 E. Speedway Blvd. "Some of the dishes are so brand spanking new that I'm crossing my fingers that they'll turn out well."
Levy told me the menu came from his "little playground" where Feast goes to have fun, and that he believes this will resonate with his patrons.
"I hope our guests walk away with the feeling that they were engaged, that our staff was engaged, and that we all parted knowing that we shared a great experience and delicious meal together," he said.
Among the restaurants offering $25 menus is Reforma, and the way staff approached their menu made them a natural fit for Sonoran Restaurant Week.
"I see this menu as an extension of my culture, and since my family came from Sonora, I thought it would work well with what we're already known for here," said Tony Tribolet, executive chef at Reforma, 4340 N. Campbell Avenue.
Appetizer options include a Oaxacan wonton and a sweet potato taquito. Chipotle pollo pasta and a carne asada bowl round out the main course options, with elote cake and dulce de leche cake presented as dessert choices.
"This menu helps me to spread the knowledge and traditions of Sonora with a modern twist," Tribolet said. "These are all new dishes for us, created from flavors that I personally enjoyed growing up, and modernizing them is what Reforma is about."
According to organizers, Sonoran Restaurant Week is not only an opportunity to highlight the impact of restaurants in our region, but to celebrate the stories and community behind them.
"Every time we visit a restaurant and experience the service from staff, the unique ambiance of each space, the art of a plated meal, and the energy that comes from the kitchen, we understand Tucson's food story personally and intimately, and we get to participate in the story," said Laura Reese, principal with Storyteller Public Relations and organizer of Sonoran Restaurant Week.
The full list of participating restaurants and menus can be accessed at SonoranRestaurantWeek.com.
With 32 restaurants on the list, that's 96 courses, or 9.6 courses a day for 10 days. I think I can do it. Can you? ■
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at email@example.com. Russell is also the publisher of OnTheMenuLive.com and the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the "Buckmaster Show" on KVOI 1030 AM.