Soup for Dessert

Despite fine food and a fantastic look, Bar 58° needs some organizational improvement

I am sure that Tucson is ready for Bar 58° and Bistro. But I am not sure that Bar 58° and Bistro is ready for Tucson.

On paper and at first glance, the hip little spot, located in the back of wine shop/storage-service business 58° and Holding Co., is something for the Old Pueblo's wine snobs and foodies to get excited about. A chic décor--complete with flat-screen TVs in the corners showing not shows or sports, but things like art or cyber-aquariums--mixes with a nice-sized wine menu and a tasteful selection of appetizers, sandwiches, salads and desserts.

But then there's the execution.

Garrett and I first visited the bistro on a recent weekday evening. The monsoon was in full effect, and we were glad to enter the open, airy wine shop, with the bottles presented horizontally in special racks. After checking out the selection a bit, we made our way to the bar/dining area, where we were seated at a table. Other seating options included a large booth or lounge-style chairs. Maroon and mustard-colored walls combine with the industrial-style ceiling to make for a trendy yet welcoming space.

We glanced at the elegantly presented menus and each decided to create our own flights of 3-ounce glasses of wine. (All wines are offered in 3- and 6-ounce pours, as well as by the bottle.) I selected three whites: the Alois Lageder pinot grigio ($4), the Langwerth riesling ($4) and De Sante sauvignon blanc ($4.25). Garrett got three reds: the Whitehall Lane merlot ($5.25), the Patricia Green pinot noir ($7) and the Silver Oak cabernet sauvignon ($10).

For food, we picked five kinds of bruschetta--you can mix and match any of the nine choices on a plate of four ($8), but Garrett and I had a hard time deciding, and the server agreed to adjust things and give us five. We also requested the cheese plate ($15), a cup each of the two soups being offered that night (chicken tortilla and minestrone, $3), a turkey panini ($8) and a roast beef sandwich ($8).

And this is when things started to go awry.

The wine was delivered quickly, and we enjoyed the variety that the 3-ounce glasses afforded us. But the food was slow in coming; at one point, we asked our server about it, and she explained only one person was working in the kitchen. Soon afterward, she brought ... our sandwiches.

Baffled at why we received what should have been the last course first, we started eating the sandwiches, served nicely on teardrop-shaped white dishes. The sandwiches were both good--my turkey/havarti blend came off like an upscale grilled cheese, but I liked it. Garrett's cold roast beef, on pepper-and-cheese bread with sprouts, tomatoes, lettuce, Parmesan cheese, mayonnaise and mustard, was deemed "refreshing." The accompanying cole slaw and pasta salad were both decent.

Next came the bruschetta. Again perplexed at why the cheese plate was nowhere in sight (as our glasses of wine were rapidly emptying), we dug in. The piece blending prosciutto di Parma with asparagus, parmesan-reggiano and a bit of olive oil was the best of the bunch, but all of the pieces--topped with everything from sun-dried tomatoes to artichoke hearts to black olive tapenade--were delectable, other than some occasional saltiness.

We finally received our cheese plate soon after. By now, most of the wine was long gone, and our interest in the cheese was pretty low. We picked at the offerings, and I decided that perhaps another glass of wine would help. Therefore, I ordered a full glass of the sauvignon blanc.

Let's back up a bit. Earlier in the evening, we discussed the wines with our scrambling and harried server as we waited for the food. I was impressed with what was presented as the sweet sauvignon blanc. However, the riesling was very tart. Suspecting there may have been a mix-up, I told the server I'd never had such a sweet sauvignon blanc. She assured me that the wines were presented correctly. Well, as I learned when she brought the full glass, she was wrong. (To her credit, when informed of the mistake, she apologized profusely and offered me a glass of the riesling.)

Finally, the soups came, and Garrett and I ended up eating them as dessert. The chicken tortilla was tasty and surprisingly spicy, though there were no tortilla traces, period. The minestrone, unfortunately, was bland and unspectacular.

Ready to go, we requested the check. I ended up getting a bill for something like $32--there was no wine on the ticket. I showed the server the mistake, and she added the wine on. That was my good deed for the day.

I figured this weird night had to be a fluke. Well, if it was, then figurative lightning struck twice in the same place on our return visit.

We again got a flight of three wines, and we again ordered a fair amount of food: another cup of the chicken tortilla soup ($3), the prosciutto-wrapped cantaloupe ($6), the turkey Waldorf salad ($7), an Italian sandwich and a grilled chicken caesar wrap ($8).

The food, for the most part, was again satisfying. Our server--while pleasant--was again a bit confused (she had no idea what the Italian sandwich was, even though it's at the top of the menu). And finally, the food again came in a bizarre order: the wrap and the salad were delivered first, followed by the Italian sandwich, the cantaloupe and, finally, the soup. At least all the wines were presented correctly this time.

We saved ourselves from having soup for dessert again by actually ordering dessert (all $7). My German chocolate brownie was sensational, and Garrett's raspberry bundt cake was pretty good. After another adjustment to the check (I was charged for a glass of wine I was mistakenly brought), we left.

So that's Bar 58° and Bistro in a nutshell: good food, great wine, a fantastic look and, unless Garrett and I were really, really unlucky, discombobulated service. If the good folks there can work on that one, vital element--I recommend adding more help in both the kitchen and on the dining-room floor--they'll have a hit on their hands. If not ... well, just be prepared to enjoy your soup as a meal-ender.

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