Quite A Dish

Check Out The Great Food At This New Spot.
By Rebecca Cook

I'VE RECENTLY ADDED a new restaurant to my list of Favorite Tucson Dining Spots, and it's called The Dish.

Chow The new bistro and wine bar located at the back of the Rumrunner Wine & Cheese Co. (and owned and operated by the same folks) is a no-holds-barred pleasure from start to finish. Given the quality of the Rumrunner's fare over the years, this isn't all that surprising.

What does awe, however, is just how roundly successful The Dish is. The compact dining space isn't cramped, it's charmingly cozy. The minimalist decor isn't Spartan, it's stylistically chic. The service isn't merely efficient, it's comprehensive. And, most importantly, the food isn't just good, it's great.

When owners Tom Smith and Jennifer Elchuck first pondered what could be done with their modest addition, the idea of a wine and tapas bar seemed the most feasible option. About halfway through the project, however, a different possibility began to take shape.

"We'd been thinking we'd do an American version of tapas with lots of noshes and some cold plates, but as time went on we began to think, why do just that?" says Smith. "We began looking into costs of setting up a full restaurant and found that, in the long run, it wasn't going to cost us that much more. So we knocked out the wall another three feet and The Dish was born."

Making the daring decision to move into the bistro business was made easier for Smith and Elchuck by the availability of culinary wizard Doug Levy, former chef at Boccata and the Ventana Grill. Once Levy expressed a willingness and desire to join the new restaurant, Smith and Elchuck knew they could be on to something big.

With the addition of Laura Ott (also formerly of Boccata) as manager, the picture was complete. The "Dynamic Duo," as Smith refers to the Levy-Ott combination, has both the front and the back of the house working at peak potential, resulting in a dining experience of singular satisfaction.

Small, and often bustling at full capacity, The Dish manages to produce an astonishingly well-orchestrated gastronomic event. Everyone pitches in to ensure that diners are well served and, before the evening is over, you're likely to have seen every employee in the place. Frankly, I've never seen anything like it, and the ultimate efficiency of this collaborative effort makes me wonder why more restaurants don't use this model.

Since there isn't one weak link in the chain, you'll want to sample The Dish's wares from start-to-finish in order to get the full effect of the place.

Carefully peruse the wine list and select something you've been wanting to try for some time. Questions? Your servers will deftly guide you to the perfect bottle.

Appetizers at The Dish are practically mandatory, consisting of a delectable array of "small dishes" that perfectly whet the appetite and leave you appropriately wishing for more.

We tried the smoked salmon cakes and the fried ravioli, and found both to be wonderful. The salmon cakes ($5.50), made with fresh corn, sweet red peppers and a dab of fresh thyme aioli, were flaky and subtly smoky, allowing the other flavors to materialize on the tongue. The lightly fried ravioli ($5.75), served crisp and filled with pureed eggplant, was delicious--especially when combined with a fresh relish of chopped tomato, lemon and basil.

The Dish's menu is something of a small marvel, encompassing fish, fowl, beef, pork and vegetarian offerings in inspired fashion. In addition, at least one daily special can be found (though, more than likely, Chef Levy will come up with at least one other daily feature).

The shrimp dish ($16.50) was an enormous platter of tender, sautéed Guaymas crustaceans served with risotto, sun-dried tomatoes, onions, mushrooms and a sumptuous tomato-

red wine beurre rouge that infused every bite with rich flavor. A special of big-eye tuna ($19.75), served atop a bed of caramelized onions and topped with a yellow-pepper pesto, was another standout, a huge hunk of unbelievably fresh fish that went well with the accompanying roasted potatoes and sautéed vegetables.

On another visit we strayed from the bounty of the sea and tried the anise-crusted pork tenderloin ($14) and an entree of eggplant ravioli ($11). The slightly sweet, licorice-scented coating on the tender, fanned slices of pork was a gentle and pleasing surprise, and its creamy, butternut-squash risotto companion was a star in its own right.

The pockets of spinach pasta, stuffed with eggplant puree and tossed with olive oil, feta and an abundance of sun-dried tomatoes, was savory and satisfying--although if you're not an ardent fan of the solar-toasted tomato you might find the dish too much of a good thing.

Dessert is essential at The Dish. Even if you have to pass forks all around the table, it's better to have a taste of these confections rather than miss out on them entirely.

Most exceptional is the ice-cream sandwich ($5), a concoction that's anything but mundane. Made with the ice cream of the day (we reveled in a vanilla-praline-flan), chewy mocha brownies and a warm drizzle of cinnamon-caramel sauce, the dessert consists of two large wedges that would easily gratify the sweet-tooth of two or more people.

The hazelnut custard napoleon ($5.50) was not as generous in size as the ice-cream sandwich, but was equally superb. Squares of crisp, buttery cookie layered with a smooth hazelnut custard and served with a barely tart mixed-berry sauce made for heaven in every bite. With a steaming cup of fresh-brewed coffee, this came pretty close to paradise.

Make a note of it: The Dish is not to be missed.

The Dish. 3200 E. Speedway. 326-1714. Open 4 to 10 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday (serving dinner from 5 p.m. on). Wine and beer. V, MC, AMEX, Checks. Menu items: $3.50 - $16.50. TW

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