Grape Expectations

Kimberly Schmitz

These six restaurants have all been recently honored by Wine Spectator, making them a must-visit for oenophiles.

Feast — BEST OF AWARD OF EXCELLENCE

Feast’s sautéed octopus and crawfish tails, served over fingerling potatoes and haricots verts in gremolata. Paired with 2017 Callaghan Vineyards “Greg’s” Chiricahua Ranch Vineyard, Petit Manseng,
Willcox. Photo by Robin Stancliff.

From humble beginnings as a carry-out restaurant, Feast has transformed into a 110-seat gourmet (our word, not theirs) restaurant, wine bar, and wine shop. They offer an ever-changing menu and sophisticated but approachable wine list that never disappoints. Wine Spectator has given an appreciative nod to Feast since 2015 with Best of Awards of Excellence highlighting California and France selections.

Owner/Chef/GM Doug Levy is a sommelier. In partnership with Wine Director Megan Nelson, Bottle Shop Director Kevin Anderson (former cellar master at AJ’s), and Lead Bartender Aly Carter, an enticing and varied offering is gathered from wineries in California, Oregon, France, Germany, Austria, Spain, Croatia, Georgia (the country), and Brazil, to name a few. From the highlighted regions of California and France, Levy explains that the more pricefriendly options are in highest demand. “Wines from the Central Coast are big. Our guests lean toward Sonoma wines more than Napa. Field Recordings and Groundwork Winery varietals are particularly popular. Our menu tends not to drive people to the cabs.” Italian wine requests trend from the central and southern regions. Levy admits to a penchant for Nebbiolo and Barbaresco. Arizona wineries have gained a secure foothold on Feast’s list with a section of vintages from Callaghan, Dos Cabezas, Rune, Deep Sky, Kief- Joshua, Sand-Reckoner, and Page Spring Cellars. In all, 700 labels and approximately 7800 bottles are kept on hand.

Seared sea scallops with
wakame white polenta, baby root vegetables, lovage velouté, local mushrooms and fresh
tarragon from Feast. Paired with 2015 Château Mont-Redon Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc. Photo by Robin Stancliff.

The Feast menus change monthly, not only as an outlet for Levy’s creativity, but to fuel the Feast culinary team for excellence. “Keeping the menu fresh and new, our staff remains engaged and the food tastes like someone who’s focused and excited has prepared it,” Levy says. There are some dishes that are asked for so often they are brought back. Hands down, the most requested dish is the lobster appetizer served with corn and scallion bread pudding and Parmesan cream sauce — a cross between a savory bread pudding and a soufflé. Another solid choice is the seared sea scallops with wakame white polenta, baby root vegetables, lovage velouté, local mushrooms and fresh tarragon. Levy suggests that crisp, minerally whites always play well with shellfish, so an excellent pairing for these would be Sand-Reckoner’s “W,” a blend of Malvasia, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier and Picpoul. For diners looking to veer from the gifts of the sea, braised pork belly with cauliflower two ways: roasted cauliflower purée and a cauliflower- quinoa cake with golden raisins and micro mustard greens, pairs well with a 2015 Albert Boxler Pinot Gris, Réserve, Alsace.

Although the menu is a testament to ecstasy-inducing culinary adventure, Feast’s happy hour is designed to entice guests into sipping superb wines they’d normally skip over. “We do this by choosing four wines each month that normally would be second choices after chardonnay or cabernet or other more recognizable varietals. We knock a couple of dollars off the glass price and throw in an amuse bouche that’s specifically paired with each wine,” Levy reveals.

3719 E. Speedway Blvd. 326-9363 eatatfeast.com

Bob’s Steak & Chop House — AWARD OF EXCELLENCE

The newest addition to Tucson’s esteemed Wine Spectator-recognized restaurants list is Bob’s Steak & Chop House at Omni Tucson National Resort. Having just celebrated its first decade in operation, this Oro Valley location also is the most recent of the national restaurant group to receive the recognition. Of the 16 “Bob’s” locations across the country, four boast Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence and five have received Best of Awards.

“It’s an amazing honor for us. We are a smaller establishment with a wine list that reflects that,” General Manager Peter Prassas explains. “We are simply unable to accommodate a large inventory, so the award really speaks to the particular selections of wines we offer.” On average, Bob’s keeps 1000-1200 bottles of approximately 250 labels. The bulk of the wines are from Napa and Sonoma counties, with other varietals hailing from Washington, Oregon, France, Argentina and Portugal. French champagne, domestic sparkling wines, and rieslings also make the list. Wine/Resort Food and Beverage Director Josh Rockwell and his team constantly tweak wine offerings in response to guest requests and trends.

The Wine Spectator designation specifically highlights the restaurant’s California varietals. According to Prassas, the most ordered labels are Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon from Alexander Valley, Napa Valley’s Silver Oak Cabernet, and Twomey Cellars Pinot Noir. “We are a classic steakhouse. Bold reds, strong babs, pinot noirs, and malbecs really go well with beef,” he explains. “Only two percent of beef cuts are prime. We serve only prime cuts, and Chef Evanoff is a master of preparation of these meats. Really nice reds create an amazing complement and layer the flavors of these premium meats prepared simply to let the quality shine.” As is par for the course for steakhouses, Bob’s most popular entrées are prime filet mignon, ribeye, and porterhouse cuts. The Australian rack of lamb and seared duck breast with Luxardo cherry sauce are serious contenders for the number one non-beef entrée. Diners seeking lighter fare opt for the fresh fish options, with salmon the most popular, or a crab cake or shrimp entrée. Sonoma Cutrer Chardonnay and Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc are popular pairings with seafood and even the occasional vegetarian entrée.

Bob’s Steak & Chop House has been somewhat of a hidden jewel of the Tucson dining scene – tucked just off the hilly rough of the Omni Tucson National Resort golf course. Prassas and his team are thrilled with the recent Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and look forward to it casting a little more light on the steakhouse’s offerings. He says, “We’re really proud of this place, the excellent food and wine, and especially our amazing staff.”

Omni Tucson National Resort 2727 W. Club Drive 877-2377 Bobs-steakandchop.com/tucson

Maynards Market & Kitchen — AWARD OF EXCELLENCE

The green chile roasted pork belly at Maynards
is served with tepary been purée, potato escabeche and young greens. Paired with Domaine Sigalas, Santorini, GR, ’18, Assyrtiko. Photo by
Robin Stancliff.

In 2008, Hotel Congress owners Richard and Shana Oseran opened the downtown- chic Maynards Market. Like trains through the neighboring Amtrak station, this Tucson favorite hotspot remains on a roll — especially when it comes to accolades for their wines. First recognized by Wine Spectator in 2015, the Maynards team continues to refine the wine program and so enjoys a 2019 Award of Excellence. With approximately 300 wines available, Wine Spectator evaluators highlight Maynards’ Californian and French selections. California’s Robert Sinskey Pinot Noir is a top seller, as it rates as a solid option for most wine drinkers at a moderate price point. From France, classic reds Domaine Faiveley 1er Cru and Château Le Puy are incredibly popular, with Taittinger champagne corks also regularly popped. Director of Marketing Dalice Shepard notes that Southern Arizona wines are becoming common choices as established varietals continue to flourish. Maynards boasts an entire section in its wine shop for local vintages, some of which are on the restaurant wine list. Wines from Rune, Dos Cabezas, Flying Leap, and Sand-Reckoner Vineyards are available. Particular points of pride are the private label Maynards AZ Red and AZ White wines created in partnership with Sand-Reckoner. Shepard notes that this past summer there was an increase in rosé wine demand. “We offer the JP.Chenet French Brut sparkling rosé by the glass and bottle, and our guests love this wine. Since fall, we’ve seen reds take the front seat and our guests leaning toward the Old-World big reds,” she explains.

Executive Chef Brian Smith incorporates local and heritage ingredients throughout the Maynards Kitchen menus, which change with each season. “The focus on seasonal offerings allows our culinary team to be creative and thoughtful to what diners are looking for based on the time of the year,” Shepard explains. Throughout the summer and early fall, guest favorites included the short rib, braised with ancho chile and citrus and served with local roasted summer squash. The confit duck leg served with creamed corn, blackberries and pole beans quickly became a favorite, as well. The menu-mainstay steak tartare remains a front runner locals and visitors crave, with the latest version covered in a blanket of beer vinegar chips. Maynards, of course, offers a variety of wines to beautifully pair with each dish, but a consistent pairing is one of Chef Smith’s creative daily fish features with any of seven white wines by the glass. “Our guests can never go wrong choosing a staple like the Chalk Hill Chardonnay,” Shepard confirms.

Be sure to check out Maynard’s Wine Club. Members receive two bottles of wines per month, entry to monthly wine tastings, 10 percent discount on wine dinners and 25 percent off wine case purchases.

400 N. Toole Ave. 545-0577 Maynardstucson.com

Kingfisher — AWARD OF EXCELLENCE

Kingfisher, Tucson’s premier American regional grill specializing in seafood since 1993, has had an on-again/off-again relationship with the Wine Spectator Best of list. For numerous consecutive years, under the tutelage of the late Co-owner Tim Ivankovich, the restaurant held space on the list with its now-defunct sister spot Bluefin. After Ivankovich’s sudden passing in 2012, Kingfisher continued offering award-winning selections, but the attention to the award process fell by the wayside until Co-owner Jeff Azersky took up the reins four years ago. “Tim was in charge of front-of-house things, including the wine list. He laid an excellent foundation and created great relationships with the people we buy wine from.” Azersky comments, “I’m a chef by trade. Taking on the wine list was a fun new challenge. Murph [Co-owner Jim Murphy] has a great nose and sense of taste. With his help and input from General Manager Teddy Hall, our long-time servers and bartenders, and friends like Doug Levy and Megan Nelson, we’ve established a really nice offering.”

The Wine Spectator Award of Excellence designation highlights Kingfisher’s California offerings. Within the inventory of approximately 850 bottles, there are 130 selections — 98 percent of which are domestic. The remaining two percent are champagnes. “Because we serve all domestic wines, we like to feature varietals that you can’t find very often. American winemakers are bringing varietals from Europe and South America and they are doing well. So we’re able to get those lesser-known, high-quality wines,” says Azersky. Because of the seafood-centered cuisine, the Lieu-Dit Melon de Bourgogne is a favorite of Azersky’s and any guest who’s tried it. It’s a rich, dry, crisp white made with Melon grapes at a Santa Barbara County vineyard. Rhône-style whites and reds from Tablas Creek out of Paso Robles, California, are incredibly popular. Also from the reds side of the list, Bokisch Vineyards Garnacha (made from a Spanish red grape) from Lodi is a hit, with its lighter body, fruity notes and drinkability.

Azersky admits that a favorite aspect of his role as wine director is meeting winery owners and winemakers who visit the restaurant. He tends to steer away from larger, more commercial wineries, with the exception of a few highly requested labels. “We like to offer unusual wines by the glass just to get people to try them,” he adds. The boon in competitively good Arizona wineries has been exciting for the chef/wine curator. They carry labels from Keeling-Schaefer, Callaghan, Javelina Leap in Cornville, Dos Cabezas, and Flying Leap vineyards.

Kingfisher’s menu changes seasonally, so Azersky is hesitant to name a most popular dish but reveals that he’s always game to sit down to a bowl of steamed Littleneck clams bathed in garlic, white wine, fresh herbs and sweet butter with a glass of acid-driven Keeling-Schaefer Picpoul Blanc. He’s also partial to a Niner Winery sauvignon blanc and grilled whole ruby trout prepared with green apples, pecans, bacon and charred tomato vinaigrette.

If you’re in the mood to sample some simple, but exquisitely prepared dishes with thoughtfully selected wine offerings imagined by two chefs who have been cooking together longer than they’ve been married to their spouses, Kingfisher is your new go-to spot.

2564 E. Grant Road 323-7739 Kingfishertucson.com

PY Steakhouse — AWARD OF EXCELLENCE

Whether gambling is your forte or not, it’s a safe bet that a visit to Casino Del Sol Resort’s PY Steakhouse for a wine and dine experience will be a winner. The signature dining destination at the Pasqua Yaqui Tribe’s casino welcomed its first diners in 2011, and in 2012 began racking up accolades for its strategically gathered wine list. The 2019 Award of Excellence highlights the California and France selections at PY. According to Restaurant Manager Jennifer Aspery, the most requested of the highlighted offerings are California cabernets, especially Napa Valley varietals, and French Bordeaux wines from the right and left banks. “We have some highly allocated Napa cabernets and some Burgundy wines that are quite sought-after and a bit hard to get your hands on,” Aspery observes. “We also focus on verticals (one bottling from one winery over the course of years, with multiple vintages). Our vertical collection is mostly California cabernets, but there are some unusual offerings like Heitz Cellar Martha’s Vineyard.” PY proudly offers numerous Arizona wines and is particularly partial to the Keeling- Schaefer Vineyards’ Casino Del Sol 25th Anniversary label developed for the new hotel expansion. All told, PY Steakhouse keeps 460 labels and around 3,400 bottles available to please just about any palate.

Of course, no one can live on wine alone, and PY guests with appetites for big servings and bold wines lean toward the 22-ounce, USDA prime cut Cowboy Ribeye, rubbed with Del Bac Whiskey and dry aged in-house for 25-30 days, served with a California Cab to complement the complex flavors. Those interested in leaving more room for more wine opt for the center cut filet mignon (11 or 7 ounces) with a rich pinot noir or the always-fresh halibut (delivered within 72 hours of being caught) with a crisp sauvignon blanc. “Chef Ryan Clark focuses on incorporating the highest quality ingredients, including seasonal produce from local purveyors and Southern Arizona beef from ranches like Double Check, Black Mesa or Hayden Mills whenever possible,” notes Aspery. These ingredients are showcased in the ever-popular, constantly changing Chef’s Menu — a five- or eight-course menu with wine pairings customized to guests’ tastes.

With 16 sommeliers of different levels across eight dining outlets, wine is celebrated, honored, taught, and promoted in a number of ways throughout the Casino del Sol property. On Wine Wednesdays, Players Club members may take home several bottles of wine from a selected offering. Members of culinary teams may attend introductory level sommelier classes on property. For the last five years, Casino Del Sol hosted the Court of Master Sommeliers. At this event, nearly 80 people from around the country attend two days of lectures, take introductory testing, and complete certification evaluation to become sommeliers. Staff members receive training for 16 weeks to prepare for the Court. It’s fair to say, and Wine Spectator agrees, that Casino Del Sol’s PY Steakhouse is a win-win for fans of the fermented grape.

Casino Del Sol Resort 5655 W. Valencia Road (520) 324-9350 www.casinodelsol.com

The Grill at Hacienda del Sol — BEST OF AWARD OF EXCELLENCE

Herb Garlic Rack of Lamb with parsnip potato purée, haricot verts, baby carrot, lamb bordelaise and purple potato chip from The Grill at Hacienda del Sol. Paired with Pascal Jolivet Sancerre from Loire Valley, France 2018. Photo by James Patrick.

Enjoying Tucson’s longest concurrent (21-year) run on the Wine Spectator list with a Best of Award of Excellence, The Grill at Hacienda del Sol hasn’t missed a beat or a season of offering one of the most comprehensive and refined wine selections in the city. Of course, it helps that Owner/General Manager Tom Firth is a former executive chef and current wine connoisseur. Firth and Director of Wine and Spirits John Kulikowski are passionate about exploring a variety of wines from around the world, with guests’ preferences in mind. The team’s dedication to sharing all things grape is demonstrated by regular wine events and tastings. Adding to the talent and the deep well of knowledge offered by the two are usually at least three sommeliers on staff — drawn there to expand their knowledge of, and experience with, the myriad vintages available.

On hand at The Grill are approximately 750 labels and an inventory of 4,800 bottles of wine. Wine Spectator notes offerings of California, French, and Italian wines as the strengths of the list. The Hacienda del Sol wine cellar is a temporary home to varietals with origins ranging from Chile’s Biobío Valley, to Bordeaux, France, and even Arizona and Maine. Kulikowski is quick to point out the popularity of West Coast wines, “Since we are ‘The Grill,’ California cabernets are in high demand. They pair perfectly with wood-fired steaks. French Bordeauxs and Italian Barolos also are often requested,” he explains. He also notes that red wines outsell whites three to one, leaning on heavier styles like cabernets, syrahs and merlots. Red and white Arizona wines have a strong presence at the pour. “The Arizona selection varies, but always includes vintages by Callaghan, Chateau Tumbleweed, and Dos Cabezas. Many visitors want to try our local wines,” Kulikowski elaborates.

The Grill at Hacienda del Sol serves New American cuisine imagined by Executive Chef Bruce Yim. His inspiration for each seasonal menu is based on ingredients available in the property’s chef’s garden and from local purveyors. “My team and I collaborate on dishes that will please yet push our guests’ culinary comfort zone,” says Yim. Some of the most oft-ordered pairings are the mesquite-grilled New York steak with smoked tomato demiglace, nasturtium butter, asparagus, and truffled fingerling potato fries with Caymus Cabernet (Napa Valley); or large sea scallops over chickpea purée, with Roma tomato ragout, gremolata, and roasted summer squash with Sancerre (Loire Valley, France).

Every night of the week, guests can enjoy a glass of wine and live music at Terazza Bar & Grill, the patio extension of The Grill. Fun fact: If you were to try a different wine each night of the week, every week of the year, it would take just under three years to try all the wines in the cellar! Or, check out Hacienda del Sol Resort’s Special Events page to learn about seasonal wine events and tastings: Haciendadelsol.com/events.

Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort 5501 N. Hacienda del Sol Road 529-3500 Haciendadelsol.com

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