Filler Cuisine Chameleon

The Landmark Café Does A Good Job Of Being All Things To All Diners.
By Rebecca Cook

INCONSPICUOUSLY NESTLED among other stores, shops and restaurants in the Casa Adobes shopping center, the Landmark Café has been quietly doing its thing for the last six years.

Chow Under the guidance of chef/owner Bill Burchard, the Landmark specializes in a quaint, Old World charm and tableside service, with a wide variety of entrees prepared before you in grand fashion.

In addition, Burchard has received numerous blue ribbons at the annual Taste of Chocolate event, where his cacao bean creations have consistently bowled over both judges and the general public.

Given its tenure at the Oracle and Ina roads location, its classy menu, emphasis on presentation and a chef with a penchant for making blue-ribbon desserts, I'm slightly surprised the Landmark Cafe isn't more frequently mentioned when Tucson's upper-crust dining scene comes up. In preparing for this article I found many people hadn't even heard of it, much less have a clue as to where it's located. What's going on here?

One possible explanation for the Landmark's apparent obscurity is its tendency to present at least two completely different dining experiences to its customers--lunch is in no way like dinner, which, in no way, is like breakfast, which is very different from Sunday brunch. After a while, one cannot help but feel as though she's playing a gastronomic version of What's My Line?

At lunch time the Landmark is ordinary and sedate, reminiscent of a café in a fine hotel. Patronized primarily, it seemed, with shoppers weary from their morning's labor, the Landmark hits the spot with an extensive offering of soups, salads, sandwiches and pastas.

Squeezed within the confines of an allotted lunch hour, my companion and I were able only to sample two of the Landmark's sandwiches.

I tried one of the specials of the day, a large bowl of black bean soup and a chicken cordon bleu sandwich served open-faced on a split baguette.

The soup was smooth and marginally spiced, relying mostly on the earthy taste of the beans themselves. Some might prefer more of a chili flavor, but the mellow nature of the Landmark's soup was satisfying and filling.

The sandwich was less successful, being small and composed of an uninspired layering of ham, chicken and melted cheese. My companion went Californian in his sandwich selection, ordering one with chicken breast, melted Monterey Jack cheese and green chiles--a combination of ingredients familiar to anyone who's dined out recently. The sandwich was pronounced "fine," and we soon were on our way, satisfied but by no means dying to come back.

Never to return, however, would preclude a dinner at Landmark and--believe me--this is something you wouldn't want to miss.

Image The restaurant, which is light and airy during the day, has undergone an enchanting transformation by nightfall. A small tree in the center of the room twinkles with white lights. Soft lighting lends a warm, peachy tint to walls and ceilings, and the waiters greet and serve as though you're a guest at their villa.

In addition to the standing menu items, we were treated to a lengthy and mesmerizing recitation of the daily specials, options so numerous it was difficult to keep them all in mind.

On a sultry summer evening we decided to begin our meal with a spinach salad served with small wedges of brie cheese, sliced pears and apples and a raspberry vinaigrette.

Both my friend and I were seduced by daily specials, she going for the beef tournedos Diane and I for a salmon fillet prepared in a beurre blanc sauce and topped with ground pine nuts and lemon peel.

Regrettably for me, the tournedos were the stars of the dinner. Prepared with panache at our table, these tender, quarter-inch filets were sautéed to medium-rare perfection in a sauce that, even though we observed its creation, defied belief in its complexity. I watched enviously as my friend Gwyn closed her eyes and sighed with deep pleasure at every bite.

I didn't fare as well with the salmon, which tasted "fishy" and, in combination with the lemon and the attending bed of escarole, had a profoundly bitter flavor.

All entrees are served on large platters along with a remarkable ensemble of vegetables ranging from a turnip and garlic puree to melange of marinated and shredded summer squashes.

Dessert offerings change with the inspiration of the season and the chef, but always include the award-winning chocolate and amaretto cheesecake, my choice of the evening.

Lighter than you might imagine and with a gentle suffusion of chocolate and amaretto, this was a good dessert to eat leisurely while sipping on a cup of perfectly brewed coffee.

Brunch, which I did not have the pleasure of trying, consists of three courses, including muffins or strudels, fresh fruit and your choice of a "benedict," omelet, international breakfast or entree.

If you happen to be in the area, you may want to stop by the Landmark Café for lunch. But, if you love classic continental cuisine, excellent service and chocolate, you'll definitely want to make a special trip for dinner. Despite some inconsistencies, it's one of the best shows in town come supper time.

The Landmark Café. 7117 N. Oracle Road. 575-9277. Open for lunch and dinner Tuesday through Friday; breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturday, brunch and dinner on Sundays. Closed Mondays. Full bar. V, MC, AMEX, CH. Lunch TW

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