Working Vacation

A Bevy Of Local Restaurants Offer Affordable Summer Menus That'll Take Your Tastebuds Globetrotting.

By Rebecca Cook

SUMMER IS WHEN many restaurants, like the population they serve, gear up for a dramatic slump in their usually bustling schedules. With the snowbirds, tourists and wealthy regulars out of town, there's plenty of elbow room in the dining room. This is a particularly alarming affair for our locally owned eateries, which can't rely on the luxury of a corporate collective to support them during lean dog days.

Rather than lapse into despair or close their doors, however, these plucky entrepreneurs have rallied with a plan that not only allows them to experiment with their culinary creativity, but also to give the locals a well-deserved break. Places that make the budget-conscious diner balk in the high season are suddenly, blissfully affordable. Here's a short list of some of Tucson's best summer specials:

Chow Elle (3048 E. Broadway Blvd.; 327-0500) gets my vote for the best discount this season. It's an every-Tuesday affair, a night they've affectionately dubbed "Date Night." For a mere $29.95, you and a loved one can feast on salad, entrée, tiramisu or sorbet, and a glass of wine (your choice of red, white or "pink," as our source put it). Like many other restaurants, Elle will also feature a culinary vacation of sorts: June is devoted to the foods and wines of Tuscany; July focuses on the fruits of France; and August features Spanish repast.

The current rundown of entrées is mouthwatering: trout with white truffle sauce; stuffed chicken with garden vegetables; marinated beef tenderloin tips and pasta tossed with vine-ripened tomatoes, roasted garlic and fresh herbs.

The Cottonwood Café (60 N. Alvernon Way; 326-6000) is offering a deal that has the added delight of live music to entice connoisseurs of fine food, wine and jazz. On select Friday and Saturday nights throughout summer, the café will feature an 8 o'clock dinner show to include a three-course meal and a pass for the evening's music (in the adjacent Cottonwood Club) for as little as $24.95 per person (add $10 per person for wine). On Saturday, June 12, Phoenix jazz singer Patty Williams performs. Call the restaurant for information on upcoming shows. The Cottonwood has one of the dreamiest patios in town, perfect for sipping an icy margarita on a soft summer evening.

The Tack Room (7300 E. Vactor Ranch Trail; 722-2800) beckons locals with its four-course "Sweetheart Dinner," priced at $68 per couple. Appetizer choices include a chestnut capellini with wild mushroom jus, finished with a sauce of herbed goat cheese; or mesquite roasted salmon cakes topped with diced tomato and roasted red-pepper coulis. A choice of soup of the day or a salad of summer spinach tossed with mesquite smoked bacon, herbed croutons, roasted peppers and a citrus poppy-seed vinaigrette follows. Entrées at press time included beef tournedos; baked salmon rolled in sun-dried tomato pesto and chives, served with a ginger-lime butter and sautéed red chard with blackened sesame seeds; and a grilled chicken breast marinated in orange, sesame and wasabi, served on toasted orzo. For dessert, nothing less than the spectacular baked Alaska will do. Wine and beverages are extra, but even so, this is a golden opportunity to dine at one of Tucson's most prestigious establishments.

Café Terra Cotta (4310 N. Campbell Ave.; 577-8100) has bowed to popular demand in bringing back its "Summer Sensations" menu, featuring an appetizer and entrée for $15.95 per person. Also blessed with a lovely patio, Terra Cotta continues to win fans and influence foes with some of the most consistently delicious food in town. Featured menu items will change to take advantage of the freshest summer harvests available, which means you can take advantage of this offer several times without repeating a meal. Although not included in the summer meal deal, consider the café's signature prickly pear lemonade or prickly pear margarita, each served in a frosty glass.

Daniel's (4340 N. Campbell Ave.; 742-3200), located just around the corner from Café Terra Cotta in St. Philip's Plaza, tours the Mediterranean and Italy this summer, and graciously extends an invitation to the rest of us to tag along. Chef Emiliano Sotelo sets a course for a two-week visit to Tuscany starting June 16, followed by stopovers in the kitchens of Greece, Spain, the Piedmont and the South of France. No matter how you figure it, it's cheaper than booking passage on the QEII, and the food's undoubtedly better. Cost is $25-per-person for a three-course meal (or $35 each with single glasses of wine).

Anthony's in the Catalinas Restaurant (6440 N. Campbell Ave.; 299-1771) lures lowlanders northward with a featured four-course menu for two, including a half-bottle of wine per person. Choose from a revolving list of appetizers, salads, entrées and desserts, all served with Anthony's signature grace and style. An eagle's view of the city lights is always a highlight here. Cost is an accommodating $59.95 per couple.

Relative newcomer the Wildflower Grill (7037 N. Oracle Road; 219-4230) says a change to lighter summer fare is imminent, and to make life even sweeter they're marking down the wine cellars 50 percent per bottle. There is a slight catch: you'll need a coupon. If you haven't received one in the mail unsolicited, you can call the restaurant to request one.

The summer departure is a familiar drive for Kingfisher Bar & Grill (2564 E. Grant Road; 323-7739), which will again offer up a scenic tour with its "summer road trip" menu spotlighting various regions on a wholly American culinary landscape. Through June 21, our own Southwestern cuisine enjoys the limelight, followed by California and Hawaii (June 22 to July 3); the Pacific Northwest (July 7 to July 21); the Great Plains (July 22 to August 4); Deep South (August 5 to 18); and Back East (August 19 to September 5). Prices will vary with the cuisine. Kingfisher's road menu is always a blast, and has soothed many a homesick transplant with inventive dishes that nonetheless remain true to their roots.

Janos (3770 E. Sunrise Drive, at Westin La Paloma; 615-6100) makes a true departure from the summer sampler menu from days of yore, and instead will focus on monthly "summer festival extravaganzas." June's show stopper will be a New England-style clambake featuring lobsters, corn on the cob, chowder, salads and more, and served buffet-style. Indoor and patio dining are available, and live music will encourage diners to kick off their shoes after they're done digging in. The cost for this event is $45 per person, not including drinks or gratuity. Also on Janos' agenda this summer is the opening of the J-Bar on Monday, July 12. Featuring a less extensive and less expensive menu, the J-Bar will reportedly cater to more casual tastes.

Look for summer menu changes at many of your favorite restaurants, including Barrio Bar & Grill, San Remo, The Dish, Fuego and the Gold Room at Westward Look. Each is still busy fine-tuning its menu.

So if you're packing your bags for the beaches and mountains, bon voyage. Don't worry about those of us staying behind. Summer looks like a breeze, thanks to those stalwart locals who stand the heat by staying in the kitchen. TW

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