The View From Above

The Catalinas Peak At Anthony's

By Rebecca Cook

Anthony's in the Catalinas has come up repeatedly in The Weekly's Best of Tucson readers' poll for the finest in fine-dining experiences. Given that competition in this category is stiff, Anthony's perennial appearance in the final tallies naturally piqued my curiosity.

What places this restaurant at the top of so many gourmands' lists? For starters, there's the view. Anthony's is, as its name proudly proclaims, solidly ensconced in the foothills of the Catalina Mountains. From its vantage point at Campbell Avenue and Skyline Road, one can view either the sweeping vistas of the metropolis below (especially beguiling after dark, with the multi-colored blanket of city lights), or the rugged backdrop of the mountains. No doubt about it--Anthony's is ideally situated to astound. My personal preference is the lower space, which captivatingly frames the cityscape panorama.

Chow Everything about Anthony's bespeaks a comfortable and confident elegance. Although the waitstaff is tuxedoed and heavy linen and floral china decorate the tables, Anthony's deftly avoids slipping into the unbearably staid and stuffy.

The service here is essentially flawless. From the busser replacing water glasses once the ice has melted; to the waiter, who along with the kitchen, orchestrates each course to arrive in proper and timely sequence; to the sommelier offering outstanding advice on Anthony's voluminous wine selection (considered by many the best in the city), the staff excels in every way.

But does the food at Anthony's live up to its exquisite surroundings?

A smoked salmon mousse, courtesy of the house, begins the evening as we narrow our first selection to Anthony's escargot du chef, snails which arrive sizzling in a generous sea of garlic butter, delicately sprinkled with sharp blue cheese. Juicy, tender and sinfully rich, I immodestly enjoyed every one when my companion got cold feet. His loss, I assure you.

Soup or salad accompany all entrees at Anthony's, a welcome deviation from the popular trend toward a la carte extras. The house salad, a crisp and delightful blend of mixed greens, jicama, cucumber, tomato and red onion, was tasty in a creamy balsamic vinaigrette. That too much dressing slightly waterlogged the vegetables is a mild complaint.

Anthony's menu features the bounty of both land and sea. We focused on the maritime offerings, always a seduction given our desert location.

The irresistible shrimp grenobloise--tender crustaceans tossed with lemon juice, capers, chopped tomatoes, shallots and crisp croutons--was served on a platter complete with rice pilaf, a modest spear of broccoli topped with hollandaise sauce, sautéed slivered carrots and a baked acorn squash dabbed with apple butter. Hot, fresh rolls are replenished throughout your meal.

My companion tried one of Anthony's pasta specials, in this case fettuccine mixed with grilled sea bass, red onions, spinach and crisp endive. The smoky flavor of the bass, redolent with mesquite from the flame it was grilled over, was well accompanied by a host of tender, flavorful vegetables, making the dish satisfactory if not completely awe-inspiring.

In the time-honored tradition of classy joints everywhere, a dessert tray appears to tempt you following the completion of the main course. Selections one evening included tiramisu, an apple tart, strawberry shortcake, crème brulee and, my choice, a four-berry torte of fresh blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and red currants over layers of ethereal lemon shortbread and Bavarian cream.

I have no idea how Anthony's is able to find berries like this in the middle of October, but what a slice of heaven. Their tartness made a superlative contrast to the sweet cream and buttery layers of pastry.

Although perfectly pleased with my finale, I couldn't help but wonder: Where's the chocolate? Chocoholics such as I live for those beyond-the-pale, dark and dense sweets, conspicuously lacking from the dessert collection offered here. I understand that at one time Anthony's made a killer chocolate soufflé. Maybe it's time to consider its comeback.

All in all, Anthony's in the Catalinas deserves its stellar reputation for fine dining. The scenery is grand, the service top-notch, the wine selection phenomenal and the food frequently scrumptious. I usually eschew bandwagon antics, but I'm hopping on this one: Anthony's is indeed one of the best.


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