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6350 E. Tanque Verde Road
READERS' PICK: If you walk into an urban eatery and the place bristles with energy and flashes with a show of people out on the town, you know they've got something good going on. That's the story at City Grill. Since opening just after Thanksgiving, the bar has become one of the most popular scenes on Tucson's east end. Usually places with a strong bar crowd don't bother with food details. But at City Grill the food alone's worth going for. You hit the entrance just after making the turn going from Wilmot Road east onto Tanque Verde Road. This is the second spot owner Sam Fox has brashly made from scratch, using near-guerrilla tactics to get this grill over the top. Exuberance is the key here. City Grill's is a broad menu studded with pleasers that allow the kitchen to show that they have the right stuff. Prices are well set. Wait staff is friendly, energetic and willing to get it right and get it fast. The cooking action of the demonstration kitchen, including a wood-burning pizza oven covered with multi-colored tile, is framed with a bull's-eye mural by local artist Berta Wehr. The raised set of booths on the south wall have above them bold stroked, brightly colored florals by the redoubtable Judith D'Agostino. And on Friday nights especially, the bar becomes a moving mural of people. The good-natured show's infectious. But it's not all show. The kitchen, after some stretching and kneading, has finally fixed a fine focus. The range extends from the stark and richly pastoral penne pasta with four cheeses to a subtle build of flavor in red onion and capers with black pepper-seared ahi tuna over linguine. Chicken grilled and sauced with smoky chipotle cream over fettucine is also a pleaser. The burger is nothing short of excellent, lean, juicy and flavorful. Also simple and well set is the rotisserie chicken half, seasoned with cilantro, oregano and fresh basil, its crispy skin lightly smoked, served with a pleasing potato mash garnished with scallions. Desserts are also good. Chocolate walnut torte, not cloyingly sweet, is one of the best cakes in town. A chocolate mousse served with Mandarin orange segments and black raspberries was also a hit. There's a lot on this menu you'll want to go back to try.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Sprouts, 621 N. Fourth Ave.
STAFF PICK: TRIO LETS YOU make a triple-play of world cuisines while never leaving home: Asian, primarily from Thai, Malay and Singapore-Chinese cooking; Mediterranean, with a focus on novel renditions from Greek and Italian repertoires; and Latin American, drawing from the culinary traditions of Oaxaca and southern Mexico. Trio takes culinary risks without placing the diner's palette at peril.
Each dish at Trio keeps the integrity of the cuisine it represents. Moreover, the three cuisines reciprocate in ways that make it flavorsome to have an Asian soup or appetizer with an Oaxacan entrée, and to finish with a Mediterranean dessert. For that matter, you could mix cuisines during each course, each member of the table ordering something different, share orders, and take a trip around what some have called the "cilantro belt," and still feel right at home.
Coriander seed and the herb's leaf, cilantro, are one of the flavors the Trio cuisines share. Native to the Mediterranean, Arab traders brought coriander to Indonesia and Thailand. But the herb appears native to Mexico also, where its use is recorded in Aztec cooking well before the Spaniards arrived.
Also shared by the Trio cuisines is a variety of peppers adding degrees of fire, and offseting the subtleties of herbs and earthy flavors. The featured use of rice, lentils, pasta and other bean-and grain-based dishes make up the bulk of a meal across these culinary cultures.
Trio makes the kind of comfort-food dishes that would make any Singapore nonya, Oaxacan mamacita, Greek miteira, or your own mother pleased to have at her table. Those who might have been daunted by the tri-culinary experience of the menu at Trio will find familiar tastes: Trio's menu has items even Aunt Jane from Iowa might find appealing, such as a plain, but delicious, hamburger with red onions, tomato and fries; thick-cut pork chop with caramelized apples and smashed parmesan potatoes; a beef filet; and for a PG-rated tad of adventure, a creamy risotto with wild mushrooms and asiago cheese.
Most Trio dishes are light as well as flavorsome. Red curry crisp-skin duck breast, nearly duck carapaccio, has the acidity of grilled pineapple providing a perfect foil for the sweet oil of coconut in the curry. A lightly red-peppered, roast double-breast of chicken served with roasted rosemary potatoes and grilled zucchini and yellow crook-neck squash is a hit. Another chicken dish is Oaxacan--grilled chicken breasts with a molé of ancho and pasilla peppers, with sweet plantain, Mexican chocolate and ground almonds, hints of cinnamon and sesame, served with almost creamy black beans.
Trio Bistro and Bar brings to Tucson a menu of extraordinary
choice, design and range of taste. The result is a friendly introduction
to international tastes.