Sitting Pretty

Jolie Is All Dressed Up And Ready To Roll.

IN FRENCH, "JOLIE" means pretty, attractive or nice; it is also commonly used to signify something substantial, as in a nice sum of money, such as une jolie somme d'argent went into the concept, design and recent opening of the restaurant Jolie.

It was unveiled by Victorio Gonzalez, former general manager of Picasso (the nationally renowned Las Vegas restaurant and recipient of the 1999 James Bead Award) and former GM of Renoir's (also in Vegas, and nominated for five stars). Gonzalez is a well-established national player, and it is our good fortune that he has opened up shop here in Tucson. Currently the owner and operating manager of Executive Dining Consultants, Gonzalez, along with corporate chef Brian Keller, have introduced Jolie with little fanfare. The doors opened on July 10, and word is quietly spreading that this is a place well worth visiting.

Jolie's notable bloodline is in evidence from the minute you walk through the door. Located in the Mercado center, Jolie inhabits what was once The Good Earth. In its newest incarnation, the space has been completely renovated and now sports a chic and elegant look, bright and airy with lots of glass and light. From the sleek interior design to the Picassos on the wall and the colorful and unusual lights, Jolie's overall ambiance is casual and urban. One enters and feels that indulgence is at hand.

Jolie serves breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Such bald ambition often leads to unbalanced menu planning or service; a great evening venue rarely stirs in time to knock out a memorable breakfast. Still, since we're continually on the lookout for somewhere that serves a decent breakfast in Tucson, we were some of the first in line to try out Jolie's morning menu.

For those who mandate a hot beverage first thing in the morning, the menu offers a full line of Tazo teas, from organic Darjeeling on through a variety of green and herbal varieties. Coffee drinks, fresh juice and smoothies are also available. We appreciated the French press coffee, large enough for two and ideal for those who need a serious jolt to wake up. Because you do want to be awake for what Jolie offers in the way of breakfast fare.

Breakfast at Jolie gets right to the point and covers all the bases: pancakes, waffles, French toast, eggs and plenty of side dishes. A young member in our party headed straight for Build Your Own Buttermilk Pancakes ($5.75), a short stack of fluffy pancakes griddled up with whatever three items the diner chooses to add: bananas, berries, mangos, pecans, almonds, raisins or chocolate chunks. Our stubborn purist ordered plain pancakes with a side of strawberries. Topped with honey butter, these lacy, golden cakes were served fluffy and hot. Accompanied with a side of mesquite-smoked bacon ($2.75), the plate was pretty near perfect.

For those who prefer eggs in the morning, there are several offerings including a nice range of omelets or frittatas ($7.25), each one composed of three eggs, and served with breakfast potatoes and toast. The selection should appeal to just about any serious breakfast diner: Parma ham and asparagus, baby bok choy and shiitake mushrooms, rotisserie chicken and sun-dried tomatoes, or herbed goat cheese and smoked bacon with sautéed baby spinach. Our party opted for a moist and tender frittata amply stuffed with skirt steak, flecks of roasted bell pepper, Monterey jack and a generous amount of freshly chopped scallion. Accompanied with a mound of breakfast potatoes, this satisfying plate was not for the faint of heart.

For those delicate morning diners, Eggs Jolie ($6.25) is a light twist on an old classic, Eggs Benedict. Here the eggs were poached and served on top of a tender fold of prosciutto, a nice change from the rather toothsome Canadian bacon. The hollandaise was light, faintly lemony and flecked with fresh basil. In both dishes, the breakfast potatoes held their own: baby red potatoes diced and heated until just crispy, tossed with fresh herbs and roasted red and yellow bell pepper.

Jolie certainly ups the ante with presentations. I've yet to find breakfast plates treated with such grace and care anywhere in Tucson. Whenever possible, one should begin the day lingering with beauty, and I hope that Jolie starts a trend.

Even though it was early morning, we found the service to be quite friendly but inefficient. Our server, clearly enthusiastic about the new restaurant, chatted about various lithographs on the wall and points we should note about the restaurant, but kept forgetting such basic items as syrup for the pancakes, sugar or honey for tea, and cream for the coffee. Intrigued by our breakfast experience, and forgiving the jitters that opening a restaurant can create, we opted to return to see how Jolie fared with the evening crowd.

JOLIE'S DINNER MENU offers a fair balance of appetizers and entrées to accommodate either delicate or ravenous appetites. First to arrive at the table was a large silver vase full of breadsticks. Although loopy and comical in appearance, the breadsticks were warm, tender, and coated with just the right amount of garlic-infused olive oil. While a number of appetizers lured us, the Yellow Tomato Gazpacho ($6.75) was a natural choice. Smooth and creamy, the yellow pear tomatoes provide a slightly sweet base for the generous scoop of Maryland blue crabmeat and corn relish, a tender and well-mixed blend of crabmeat, corn, minced herb and onion. Garnished with avocado, this voluptuous soup is a meal in itself.

Not to be outdone, the Roasted Fig and Prosciutto ($7.25) provided a stunning array of balanced flavors and textures. The figs, roasted until just caramelized, then drizzled with olive oil and aged balsamic, blossomed into a sensory experience bordering on erotica. The deep fruity flavors provided a rich and satisfying mate for the tender prosciutto. This sultry dish with its dark and intense flavors makes a dramatic and deeply satisfying appetizer or entrée.

Jolie is proud of the fact that they make their own honey-potted cheese and hand-pulled mozzarella in house. The Willcox Tomato and Hand-Pulled Mozzarella ($7.25) sounded promising given the fact that local produce and in-house preparations usually indicate a quality product. While the hand-pulled mozzarella was excellent, the tomatoes were greenish at the core and slightly crunchy, nothing reminiscent of the gloriously splendid tomatoes usually associated with summer and Willcox. A familiar summer appetizer, this dish would have benefited from the traditional inclusion of whole-leaf basil and should have been served cold. In our instance, the plate was warm and the dish suffered for it.

This time our server appeared to be more thoroughly trained and quickly steered our party in the right direction for entrées. The Grilled Pork Tenderloin ($16.75), served with caramelized onions, polenta and wild mushroom sauté, was a crowd-pleaser. The pork, so easy to over-do, was tenderly cooked within a blush of medium rare. The caramelized onions and wild mushroom sauté rendered a complex and vivid sauce for both the pork and polenta, making this dish a winner.

If you're in the mood for some full-on comfort food, the Wild Mushroom-Ricotta Ravioli ($11.75) is a sure bet. Huge moons of ravioli stuffed with a mix of portobello, shiitake, oyster and button mushrooms and fresh ricotta cheese made a hearty dish. Particularly satisfying was the marinara, a rich and well-seasoned sauce that didn't overpower the delicate mushroom filling.

As several seafood entrées were featured, we opted to try the Grilled Prawn Linguini ($16.25). The pasta was fresh and handled with skill, but the prawns were on the small side, and we counted only five in a rather intimidating nest of pasta. Sauced with a fairly benign sauté of white wine and olive oil and tossed with capers, the dish was light, but for the asking price it didn't seem quite up to the standard of some of the other selections.

Make sure to save room for dessert. All offerings are priced at $6.25, and the usual suspects make their appearance: sorbet or gelato, crème brûlée (here a Kona Koffee), a tropical fruit Napoleon, Chocolate Sin Cake and a Citrus Cheesecake Mousse. A standout was the Chocolate Sin Cake, served in an intensely rich passionfruit coulis. The cake was moist and tender, iced with a chocolate ganache and garnished with white chocolate shavings. The passionfruit provided just the right tart and bright flavor to keep the chocolate in check. As billed, this cake is sinful, and will satisfy any chocolate lovers.

As we dined, chef Steve Fallwell made a cheerful round of the room, visiting with guests and chatting about various menu selections. At our tableside visit, he informed us that the Gonzalez group will also be opening another dining venture in the coming months: Stone Ashley will be housed in the former Charles restaurant; reportedly this venture will be a more formal "fine dining establishment." Other restaurants are slated for opening in Phoenix and Scottsdale in the immediate future.

It is a rare occasion that Tucson is graced with impressive culinary bloodlines or gets the first-born. The good news is you won't have to wait; right here, right now, you can get there first. Kid sister is all gussied up and eager to please and très, très jolie.

Jolie. 6366 E. Broadway Blvd. 584-9999. Open daily 8 a.m.-9:30 p.m. for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Full bar. V, MC, AMEX, checks. Menu items: $3.75- $18.75. Reservations recommended. Fax 512-1979 or visit online at
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