Lucky for us, the talented Ron Wassell found the right place in time when he settled his catering company, the Blue House, near downtown, on North Stone Avenue. As many of Wassell's happy clients will attest, the menus delight in whimsical and capricious turns. His far-ranging catering menus showcase a sense of humor. Take, for example, his Brunch on the Wild Side, his Cool Luncheons sporting such names as "When in Rome" or "Please, No Quiche." Regardless of the caprice, Wassell's knowledge of food is evident and his hand sure.
During the past five years, Blue House has steadily pleased its loyal followers with everything from simple platters up to pull-out-all-the-stops, sit-down fine dining sensations. So when Wassell finally found a home for Blue House, it made good business sense to open a spill-over venue where he could provide his clients with easy access to overflow items. No more waiting for a special occasion or hoping for an invitation to a catered event, now the converted could dash in, pick up a couple of extra orders of whatever the chef had dreamed up for the day, and head on home.
Calling his brainchild Cobalt, an Eat-a-teria, Wassell opened the doors to his newest business just a few months ago. Even he couldn't have anticipated the positive response. Located on Stone, Cobalt provides an easy stop for those headed downtown in the morning, a quick lunch, or for the weary as they head back home.
From the moment you enter the door, everything about Cobalt is set up to soothe and comfort. Stepping into Cobalt is a bit like stepping into a cloud, an ethereal light radiates from the blue ceiling and walls. A window filled with cobalt blue bottles casts a deep glow. A few tables and chairs invite you to stop, but mostly the central feature of the room is the large glass case that is continually replenished from the busy catering facility next door.
On any given day you'll find an excellent selection of light salads and sandwiches. The salads alone are worth repeat visits. You might be lucky and find mixed greens tossed with mandarin orange, feta, pine nuts and dried cherries dressed with a dreamy mixed berry vinaigrette ($2.75). Or perhaps you'll want to indulge in a light Asian noodle salad, shimmering with a gingery peanut dressing and tossed with scallion, red pepper and tofu ($3.50). The Greek salad ($3.50), a handsome rough chop of fresh tomato, cucumber, black olives and red onion banks on rustic, pure flavors that will leave you feeling refreshed.
If the early heat saps your hunger and makes solid food seem cumbersome, then be sure to check out the daily soup options. On two different occasions I sampled soups that provided a full and complete moment of reprieve in an otherwise packed day. The "Thyme-ly" wild mushroom soup ($3.50) was a full bowl of delicate and creamy golden mushroom broth infused with a heady combination of chive and thyme. On another occasion, the avocado-cucumber gazpacho hit just the necessary note with its slow, creamy and sensuous appeal. It did exactly what a good bowl of soup should do, literally slowed time down and restored the senses, spoonful by spoonful.
Sandwiches are made on house-baked bread and showcase the same careful attention to quality ingredients. The Ahi tuna sandwich with black olive tapenade is stylish and smart: fresh Ahi is lightly seared, then turned out on a bun with a slathering of the tasty black-olive spread. It is a classic study in rich flavors that complement each other without any one overwhelming the others. At a reasonable $4.50, this is a sandwich we can only hope appears often in the case.
Who knew Tucson loved egg salad so much? Well, apparently we do. According to Wassell, he can barely keep enough of it in the cases. If you do manage to find it, the straightforward creamy egg salad promises to be both comforting and just what the doctor ordered. If you don't have the time to boil and peel all those eggs, chop and coddle and season, slather a freshly baked piece of bread and toss in a lovely fresh grape garnish, then you almost feel guilty walking away with the pack for a mere $3.50.
Part of the delight of dropping by Cobalt is to sample the ever-revolving dishes. One day you might find smoked chicken sprinkled with capers and tossed with a lightly dressed orzo. On another, you'll find coconut tuna salad or perhaps a plate of fresh tropical fruits. Regardless, you are guaranteed to find quality ingredients combined artfully with a minimum of interference. With easy access parking in the back, just look for the glowing blue house on Stone, pull on in and cross over into the threshold of simple pleasure.
With yet another long, hot summer getting ready to stretch out ahead of us, be sure to mark the lovely, cool blue room on your culinary map. Whether you drop by for an iced chai (with "sorta sacred spices"), iced freesia tea or a simple pastry, you'll be rewarded with a pause from the heat, a hazy sense of indulgence, and maybe a slightly suspended moment in time ... perhaps the most deserved blessing of all.
Cobalt Eat-a-teria. 726 N. Stone Ave. 798-1579. Serving: Monday through Saturday 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Closed: Sunday. MC, Visa, Disc, AmEx, checks. Menu items: $1-$4.95.