I landed in Tucson, just back from Los Angeles for work. I’ve had some really incredible food in LA before; however on this last trip, I was essentially marooned in the Universal Sheraton for three days and tortured by the Sheraton cooks. I needed something to erase L.A. from my culinary psyche and Casa Vincente delivered in a big way on one level and sort of dropped the ball on the other.
4 out 5 stars a B
As we drive back from the airport, a little sleep deprived, my better half suggests we grab something out before we go home and pass out. It’s 7pm and we are on the hunt for good food.I happened to remember that during one of our now defunct Dinner Club dinners, someone said, “Oh if you like tapas, you gotta go to a place called Casa Vicente in downtown Tucson.”
I plug it into my “smart” phone, and after a few obligatory U-turns, we found ourselves in an old and dark section of Tucson. The first hint that Casa Vicente has a following is that while is sits alone in a seemingly desolate section of old downtown, their parking lot is packed. We had to go around the block and sneak up on a spot a couple hundred yards away.
Now I’m going to spend an uncommon amount of time indulging myself talking about the atmosphere.
Casa Vicente embraces the service concept that “first impressions are everything.” We walked into a bustling restaurant packed with people expecting good food. As the staff is bustling with controlled chaos, I see a little old Spanish lady come out of the kitchen chasing a waiter, upset; someone else on the staff, chases her telling her in Spanish to calm down it will be OK. Kim the hostess was awesome. By the way, the little old lady could have had nothing to do with the restaurant, but I’m going to cling to the hope that she is the owner’s mother and she thinks every meal is a representation of her way of cooking.
Since we had no reservation, Kim placed us on the list and sent us packing to the bar. As we stepped into the restaurant, maybe it was me being away from my better half for four days, but there seemed to be a tangible lust in the air. It also didn’t hurt the overall air of lustiness that a flamenco guitarist serenaded the rooms with a relaxed set of riffs from the stage that overlooks just the right kind of dark atmosphere created when the lights are low and the tables draped in scarlet. Casa Vicente exudes Spain.
Now for the food. Tapas are essentially appetizers or small dishes. The idea behind a tapas meal is that you order several items to make up a meal. Therefore, you are less focused on eating the entire meal set before you, leaving spaces between each tapas to enjoy the company and the experience of dining.
We ordered a bottle Marques de Caceras, our favorite Spanish wine. There is no better way to start a meal.
Our waiter, knowledgeable if not a bit distracted, recommended we order four Tapas, and mentioned something about sending over “the potatoes.”
We began with “Gran Vieras” which is a simple set of scallops dressed in white wine. The plate was beautiful; the Scallops, unfortunately were luke warm. The challenge of tapas is that they are so simple that if you mess up the fundamentals, you blow the dish. It was not a great start but we could tell the dish could have been a masterpiece.
We moved on to the next plate, “Berenjenas Salteadas,” which is Eggplant Sautéed in ginger, garlic and wine. The first bite was both unique and such a pleasure that I could have indulged in that dish and forsaken all others. Absolutely succulent.
We segued into the next dish by virtue of our waiter asking, “Did you get the potatoes I sent over?” As a matter of fact, “No we didn’t.” He spun off and a few seconds later a small plate of Potatoes appeared. Oh my god! Let me just say that I am a consumer of, a connoisseur of, and a willing conspirator when it comes to potatoes. Since that night, I’ve contemplated posing as a dish washer in order to get the recipe. I’m sure it’s as ridiculously simple as they are incredibly delicious.
The third course was Gambas al Ajillo- Shrimp with a touch of garlic, white wine with a wisp of hot pepper. It was good. Not great, a little over cooked, but good and garlicky.
The final course as our bottle of wine and the meal wound down was something I was really looking forward to. The Pincho Moruno which is Marinated Pork. I love pork and am particularly happy anytime I get to taste anyone’s authentic version of what pork means to them. The Pincho Moruno is essentially medallions of pork on a skewer. The flavors were old world, out of this world, Spanish. And I hate to say it again, but….. the medallions came over-cooked and a little dry. Had they hit succulent along with those old world flavors, it may have invoked tears of joy.
To, sum up, our meal with a great bottle of wine came in at a very reasonable $55. The staff, the ambiance, the authentic desire to serve a relaxed and incredibly authentic set of dishes was unmistakable. If you are in love, in trouble and need to get out of the dog house, or just looking to invoke a little sensual pleasure with someone you love, call Casa Vicente and start with those potatoes they give to each table.
4 out 5
B+ for Effort
A+ for Ambiance
B+ for Service
B for the food taste
A++ for the presentation
B+ for not somehow screwing it up (this is my own special rating category) though the flavors were spot on, there were a few short comings.
We will go back, and probably often and I recommend you do too! They are open for Lunch and dinner. Great bar and a totally romantic vibe!
All Opinion, mostly mine, and credit goes to my Fiancée for editing and saving you from my first drafts.