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Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Review: DOWNTOWN restaurant

No, I don't mean downtown restaurant as in a restaurant that's downtown, although DOWNTOWN actually is a restaurant downtown.

DOWNTOWN is actually the name of the restaurant and two sentences in, I'm already sick and tired of the word "downtown."

Do you know people will get into arguments about whether or not the punctuation should go inside the quotes if the puncuation is not actually part of the quoted piece of text? So like, what do I do with this situation? The period is part of the sentence, but not part of the word that is annoying me (downtown). But to me, a period just hanging out all by itself on the outer edge of those quote marks is just so sad and it also looks sloppy. Oh, hell, now I just want to shut down my computer and go to bed.

Anyways, this restaurant! It was delicious and if you ever find yourself in downtown (sigh) Tucson, I think you should give this place a try.

The first time I went, I ordered the black mussels for an appetizer. You know, the food we eat before we eat food. They were heavenly. Usually mussels, or moules as I like to call them in a little mini shout out to my late aunt Jessica, are steamed in a mix of broth and white wine, with shallots, garlic and minced parsley, give or take an ingredient or two. They are DELICIOUS and I love them.

But Janos, the chef and owner of DOWNTOWN (sigh), did a twist and added slices of chorizo sausage to the broth. The result is a spicy, rich broth you can dip your bread into--- OH BUT WAIT, Janos already did that for you by added a toasted piece of bread in your bowl! Half submerged, the exposed part is crispy and hot but the portion that is in the broth is soft, completely saturated with so much flavor. Heaven!

For my entree I had the duck with BBQ rice and Szechuan eggplant. Holy shit. That's just it. The duck was perfectly cooked, succulent, and surprisingly low in fatty content. The rice and eggplant were absolutely delicious as well. You know that part in the movie Elf, when Buddy the Elf puts all the candy and broken up pop tarts on his pasta, drowns it in syrup and stuffs his face? And as he's eating it he sort of bounces in his seat, eyes rolled back, hands flapping? That was basically me every time I took a bite of the duck. SO GOOD.

In fact, this past weekend when we went again, I was sorely tempted to get it again. But I'm really glad I didn't because, while I still had to satisfy my craving for the moules, I also had to satisfy my curiosity. I ordered the red curry catfish. They were succulent, tender, lightly floured and, from what I can tell, baked fillets, on top of rice that had this creamy thing going on from a mixture of basil, ginger, lemongrass and coconut milk. So the bowl  had a base of rice, topped with the catfish, which was in turn topped with a spicy lemon cucumber salad.

The salad on top was definitely the spiciest thing but since nothing else had that heat, it wasn't overpowering. Instead it served as a kicked up garnish of sorts, and all of it, ALL OF IT, just mingled so well together in that bowl that I was half tempted to just pick it up and fling it against the distressed brick wall behind me because my God, Janos had created perfection and if perfection is created, all else pales in comparison and I figured I would just save the world from that horrible sinking feeling of not being able to stand up to the red curry catfish.

Todd, the first go round, had the pork belly appetizer and the grilled salmon with bacon orzo. They were both delicious but the whole foodgasm situation I was in kept me from fully enjoying and envying his dishes. THAT IS HOW GOOD MY FOOD WAS. I'm not as bad as my mother in law, but sampling other people's dishes is a favorite of mine. It helps diminish the remorse you often feel when you are so utterly torn between two or more choices. God my life is full of first world problems, isn't it?

The second go-round he got the ahi ceviche and THAT my friends was absolutely delicious. It was served with a seaweed salad that was actually really delicious. It reminded me of our delicious sea greens and how I should take them up on their offer of awesomeness. For his entree he had the orechiette pasta with mushrooms and braised duck and THAT my friends was also outstanding. I kept sneaking those little pastas out of his bowl with my fork.

Something else I want to talk about that absolutely blows my mind regarding this restaurant is their attention to the personal details you offer up when making your reservation. Normally I enjoy speaking with a human being but in the case of making reservations online, I am a new and fervent convert. Both times we went, the requests I made (booth, cozy, romantic) were not only heeded but were also brought up in casual, cheerful conversation with either the host or the server. The first time was awesome because I had written something to the effect of "We're parents to a toddler and rarely get out so the more cozy and romantic the table, the better. Thank you!" and my God, on our way to our fabulous, super comfortable horseshoe booth, the host chatted about how as a fellow parent himself, he completely understands and how he hoped our booth would meet our expectations. And we chatted about being parents very briefly.

The second time the same host, though not referencing anything in my reservation requests, charmed me again by overhearing my wanting to sit on Todd's left since I'm a leftie, and then commiserating with me on the joys and hassles of being left-handed. Little things like that are just so touching in a world where we are increasingly distancing ourselves from the public through iPods, iPads, headphones, cell phones, dvd players, etc. It's nice to be noticed, it's nice to be considered and it's nice to be thought of. I get all of these things out of interactions with the staff of DOWNTOWN (sigh).

So, there you have it. I have nothing horrible to say about this restaurant at all. Well, I will say that this past Saturday we went rather earlier than our normal time, getting reservations at 6pm. I figured the most popular dining hour would be 7pm but boy I was wrong. That place was jumping and it did take several minutes for our cocktails to find us. But that's it. After that, it was smooth sailing with the delivery of wine, appetizers and entrees. And our server was absolutely attentive, charming and helpful. It was just lovely.

DOWNTOWN Kitchen + Cocktails
135 S. 6th Avenue
Tucson, AZ 85701

Grade: A++

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