Feast on the Fly

Doug Levy makes takeout a high art.

Recently one of our own celebrated a birthday of significant number. The kind of number that clearly signals you are no longer a spring chicken. And, due to searing temperatures, not one of us could muster the strength or courage to face an oven and bake a cake. Since this particular person is a general goddess and deserves the very best, we thought this was an outstanding occasion to drop by Doug Levy's new digs, Feast.

A "tasteful takeout," Feast promises to turn any home kitchen into a culinary hotspot, whether you are assembling a lovely dinner for one or two, or celebrating an occasion with a sumptuous banquet.

Doug Levy has long been a part of Tucson's culinary scene. In most recent memory, his tenure at The Dish won him a following for his imaginative and focused menu. But Levy departed the Dish over a year ago, and after a short stint at Lume, he has managed to achieve what every great chef deserves: Levy has gone into business for himself.

Rather than attempt the ever seductive but very difficult dream of floating an entire restaurant, Levy has freed himself up considerably by opening a takeout venue.

Liberated from the confines of a set menu, he can open the floodgates of his imagination, matching his whims with what is the most fresh and available. Not surprisingly, the menu is almost giddy in its scope and reach. Lucky for all of us, it rotates twice a month. There's even a special number to call to hear an up-to-the-minute rendition of what's on the menu: 326-6500.

Feast is as much fun to sit and chat in as it is to dash into and pick up a meal. In a bright and inviting space, the friendly staff encourages you to browse the artfully arranged cases as well as the specialty-item racks. Fully versed in the menu items, they are more than willing to chat you up, listen to your likes and dislikes, and lead you down the happy path of fulfilling your most pressing needs.

If you have the time, you can even have a quiet moment's peace and order a house-made Lavender Lemonade. If that strikes you as too solipsistic, pop open a Moxie or Nehi while you contemplate the world. Should you really want to ring the brass bell, you can always order a warm sour cream chocolate donut made to order, replete with a dark chocolate-orange glaze. When was the last time you had a donut made to order just for you? A warm and happy donut waiting on your very own little plate?

We were impressed by the overall quality of the menu, and rapidly put together a lovely, festive party platter. We passed a total of maybe 10 minutes while the counter help bustled about packaging the items for the blazing ride home. Salads were packed separately from dressings; instructions were meticulously recorded; an ice pack even appeared to insure that the more fragile items would remain properly chilled.

Once home, cartons were opened, plated and/or placed in the oven. Then we almost felt guilty. We had done absolutely nothing and a lovely meal had suddenly materialized, completely assembled. I actually toyed with the idea of standing outside in the blazing heat so I at least looked a little sweaty when the dinner guests arrived, but I refrained.

Our guests were duly impressed. We began auspiciously with the Vietnamese beef salad ($6.75). Tender slices of velvety soft beef stretch out on a healthy bed of greens tossed with a confetti of mango, red bell pepper and scallion. A tight twist of rice noodle helped drink up the sweet rice vinaigrette.

Although the roasted chiogga beets and the Tucson Tuscan white bean salad beckoned, we settled with the Polenta Timbale ($4.25). A delicate timbale, wrapped in slender slices of roasted eggplant, was lovingly tucked into a lettuce cup. Served with a dollop of marinara, this made a light little bite.

We decided to wade into more serious terrain. The Grilled Veggie Lasagna ($7) is not to be missed. Lasagna is normally a dish I reserve for the cold winter months, but this one pays extraordinary homage to the hot season by celebrating vegetables. Layered with summer squash, grilled zucchini, ricotta and whole leaves of fresh basil, this can be served warm to maximize the textures, but it's just as delicious cold.

Pork Picadillo ($9.50) was a happy choice. Served with a side of rice, tender chunks of pork swam in a slightly sweet and tangy sauce of green olives, sweet roasted red peppers and raisins.

The Banana Leaf-Wrapped Marinated Grilled Chicken ($7.50) made not only an interesting topic of conversation, but actually provided a nice combination of flavors. The banana leaf imparts a slightly bitter, smoky flavor to the meat. In the packet, rice and bananas and jalapeño jumped up with bright, sweet accompanying flavors.

Don't miss the Corn Pancetta Risotto ($7.25). Risotto is always a satisfying dish, but who wants to stand and stir, stand and stir a pot of it in the heat of summer? Especially when Levy's risotto is so easy to tip into a pan and warm up? The sweet flavor of fresh corn, tender leaves of spinach, and the slightly smoky pancetta make this one righteous risotto. I was starting to fancy telling my guests I really had slaved over the pot all day.

By the time we served the roast duck with rosemary fig glaze ($12.50), I was wishing I had some stained chef's whites to wear. At least an apron. I do not own an apron. We had a chef in our midst who knew exactly how to crisp the duck to perfection, as evidenced by the moans of ecstasy offered up in response to the succulent flesh, served in a pool of the ethereal fig and rosemary glaze. One guest offered to get naked and roll in it, but there wasn't quite enough to do the job.

By this time those assembled had happily tasted broadly and well. Seeing as this was a birthday celebration, we stuck a candle in a pint of Feast's house-made ice cream. Lucky for us, the selection was a stunning, voluptuous chocolate-fig-cabernet. Brandishing spoons, we stuck the candle in, intoned the song, then ate right out of the container. And as the container made its way around the group, an astonished silence fell upon us all.

"My god," gasped the birthday girl, "This should be illegal."

The fact that anyone who can still find such illicit pleasure despite such a sobering decade marker gives all the testimony any of us need.

Whether you have a celebration to attend or perhaps a romantic evening à deux, or if you just want to collapse onto the sofa and eat out of the box, make sure you drop by Feast. You won't be disappointed.

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