Long Live the Kingfisher

Late-night eats and drinks at the popular joint can make for a happy night.

There are many stories unraveling late at night in the Naked Pueblo. Some of the more intriguing take place at Kingfisher Bar and Grill, accompanied by a chocolate martini, bite-back-at-you-fresh oysters, designer salads, a haystack of fries and a succulent bleu-cheeseburger.

Kingfisher, known for nearly a decade for their seasonal northwestern seafood and urban ambiance, is one of the few good, centrally located choices for a nosh and a drink after events at the UA or downtown. It comes closest of any restaurant to the late night bistro atmosphere of the now-closed Bocatta, feeding the appetite for food and fun.

As you enter the neon-lit facade, you can plunge into the informality of the bar, a deep, dark-wooded rectangular space fueled by a knowledgeable bartender.

Jazz--live with no cover--plays in the foyer Mondays and Saturdays. A booth and small tables occupy the space other nights. Straight ahead, an attentive host (often one of the owners) waits at the crossroads of two dining areas to seat you. The dining room to the right allows smoking later in the evening.

The décor is lightly sophisticated, incorporating bold color contrasts, sponged wall treatments, faux marble tables and towering floral arrangements. On the walls are edgy works by well-known local contemporary artists such as James G. Davis, Cynthia Miller and Nancy Tokar Miller. Sconce lighting and exposed brick warm up the open spaces designed to handle a mix of intimate and raucous conversation at the tables and banquets.

Kingfisher is a spirited stepping-out, mixed-bag sort of place where shoulder-baring women flaunt their high-heeled toe cleavage while sitting next to chino-wearing guys wearing school colors. Expect the wildly various apparels that relate to the events attended earlier in the evening.

Service is usually swift and charming, well-trained with that bit of a twinkle that acknowledges a party already in process. All of a sudden you feel special: You're awake while the rest of Tucson is drowsing in front of the tube.

The late-night menu is the real draw, with its mix of the homespun and adventurous, appealing to those who seek out seasonal foods whose fresh flavors dominate.

On review night, a friend and I rolled in at 10 p.m. We ordered a Cuban mojito, a yummy mix of rum, sugar, fresh mint and a shot of soda water. Nice touches were pleasing, such as a fat wedge of lime speared on a toothpick on the glasses that accompany bottled water. A good selection of wines by the glass is offered.

To start, we ordered a dozen Gulf of Mexico oysters ($7.50), quickly following that with a second round. Exquisitely fresh and served on a bed of ice in their sculptural scalloped shells, they swooped down our throats quick as gulls, leaving a lingering taste of the sea. A small serving glitch: They arrived with our entrées, not as the appetizers we ordered.

For entrées, we shared the littleneck clams ($9.50) steamed in garlic, white wine, lemon, fresh herbs and sweet butter. They were delicious--well-cleaned, slightly chewy and a tad salty.

I ordered the popular warm cabbage salad ($7.50), which combines the tart and sweet tastes of red and green cabbage, Wilcox mesquite smoked bacon, toasted and spiced Arizona pecans, caraway seeds and gorgonzola cheese all tossed in a tangy balsamic vinaigrette. If you want to try this seasonal offering, hurry. It goes off the menu April 10.

Right now, the seafood menu rules. Try the slightly salty Harstine oysters from Squaxin Island in Southern Puget Sound. They're said to have a nice, deep cup and a crisp cucumber taste. Kingfisher is also the only restaurant in Arizona supposedly getting Umpqua oysters from Oregon, known for their clean, melon rind taste. The shellfish comes in fresh three times a week, and its every changing variety behooves you to take advantage of the knowledgeable owners (Jim Murphy, Tim Ivankovich and Jeff Azersky) as guides in selecting new possible favorites.

Another happy night, I shared (with myself) three desserts that all deserve devouring. Pastry chef Marianne Banes is noted for her chocolate, so I first indulged in a ultra rich and soothing pot de crème. Later I savored her flourless chocolate cake drizzled with a nutty dark glaze and served with a scoop of perhaps unnecessary mocha ice cream. It was dense and deeply satisfying. The apple pie with cheddar cheese gets applause for the filling of organic gala apples, richly enhanced with butter, brandy and brown sugar--a mix that ultimately tastes of vanilla

A good house coffee is proof of proper attention to detail, and Kingfisher has that down as well. Refills came regularly and without charge. It was the icing on the cake, the pop in our pistol--the ending to a very, very good story.

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