Thursday, August 23, 2018

Happy Birthday Tucson!

Wow. Tucson turned 234 this year. And I've only been here for like 12 of those years. Think about all of the old restaurants and saloons I've missed out on. Oh well. 

To honor the city's past while at the same time looking well into its future, chef Gary Hickey and his team at Charro Steak put on a 4 course dinner paired with Tucson's own distillery, Hamilton, and their line of award winning whiskeys, Del Bac, creating flavors that nod to Old Pueblo history and highlighting its rich food culture. 

Let's get started shall we?

Oh its on!

"It was a dark and stormy night..."

Thus begins our tale into the ascent of yum. The monsoons were working their way in on this Monday evening, swaying trees to and fro while dropping fat blobs of potential rain. Luckily I found a parking spot not too far from the front door so I raced in to grab a seat.

Fortunately I got sat next to Vanessa Moon, owner and charcuterie chef at Phoenix Salt & Spice Company, so when the first course rolled out, everyone at our table got a first hand explanation of what was going on.

It was a board toppling with cured meats such as salami, chorizo and proscuitto paired with Mexican Manchego cheese, fresh summer berries and tomato jam then finished with crispy chips. The beginning of the evening was a resounding whole lot of yes.

The accompanying drink was a Del Bac sidecar, made with the clear smoked whiskey. The citrus and smoked sugar really brought it all together and, wow, was quite potent too. But that's how we do it here in Tucson. The ghosts of the city's past wouldn't want it any other way.

Can I haz meat and cheez?

The second course was one I could have eaten over and over. It was local salmon that was cured in Del Bac smoked whiskey for, get this...72 hours! Holy fish nards was this good.

It came cuddled with cubed house made bread and arugula and radishes from the Mission Garden. It was scrumptious, all of the elements really worked together. Plus the drink they partnered it with, called a Citrus Smash, wasn't foolin' man. This thing had a boozy chip on its shoulder and was rearin' to get into a fight. The thyme they used on the dish was implemented into the cocktail so there was a thematic reach to this course.

Getting buzzed and getting full is what I do best.

Whiskey smoked salmon...yes!

The crowd was beginning to relax and the conversation, thanks to the potent potables, was getting considerable more lively. Two dudes at our table who fessed up the $65, each, to be a part of this event were pretty funny. You could tell that they were there to have a good time...because they kept reminding us!

"I had nothing better to do tonight so I said...fxxk it! Brought my homie with me."

"Thanks man. Yeah, this is great."

"What's your favorite so far?"

"Oh man...these drinks!"

"Foods bomb too homie!"

"It is the bomb!"

I kind of miss those guys.

Werkin' it

The third course was interesting because although tasty, I was a little confused on the drink choice. It was pretty sweet, probably due to the use of vermouth, whiskey soaked cherries and Swedish Punsch, which is basically a brandy. Although it was made with my favorite in the Del Bac series, the "Dorado", which is mesquite smoked barrel aged and has characteristics of bacon, the drink felt more like a dessert drink. I dunno. Maybe it was just me.

But the brisket and lobster stuffed enchilada was fun. Honestly, because it wasn't smothered in sauce, the "enchilada" felt more like a rolled taco or fancy taquito. Same thing right? No matter because it was very good. And I liked the bed of creamy hominy, which paid tribute to the usual beans and rice yet tipped its grainy hat towards menudo. Really clever.

Not to mention the house salsas and chips went perfectly with each dish as well. These guys were straight destroying it that night. So rad!

Trust me, that's an enchillada

Whatever "issue" I might have had with the previous course, all but vanished when they set a big bowl in front of me, one that was decorated with what they dubbed a "tarta", mainly because it was too bold to just be labeled a torte. This tarta could kick your torte's ass any day. Still flour-less though, it was constructed with rich chocolate and espresso, topped with a whiskey creme anglaise and salted whipped cream.

You have no idea.

There is a picture of me out there, taken by chef Gary Hickey, tipping the bowl back to get every last melted drop of awesomeness. The table mates to my right, whom were quiet and didn't seem to be having as much fun as the rest of us, look on in slight horror at my slurp action. Whatever. Had to be done. Hey, I'm a professional!

Seriously, if you want to gaze at the pic, go to my Facebook page ( and see for yourself. Good stuff.

OH! And the cocktail this time really was a dessert drink forged with Hamilton's distiller's cut, cask strength single malt whiskey, a Spanish liqueur called Licor 43 and espresso. After all that rich food and strong hooch we all kind of needed a boost.

As usual with dinners such as this, I was sad to see, and taste, it come to an end.

I literally licked the bowl clean

By the time I left, downtown Tucson was dark; not just from the setting sun but with the sky blotted out by thick black clouds. It wasn't raining, yet, but it was blustering with balmy intent. So I made it to the car before the sky zipped open and released the late summer drizzle.

Thank you to all of the chefs, bartenders and servers involved with this dinner. Tucson as a whole was, and is, proud of its continuing promise of being one of the most delicious cities in any state or any country. This birthday celebration dinner totally proved that.


Thank you chefs!

Camera, Typing and Slurping Bowls
"Metal" Mark Whittaker
A Rainy Night, August 2018

Metal Influence:


  1. I am an event photographer, I love this venue, and I will revisit this venue in a heartbeat. The Los Angeles event venues have really great staff and pretty decent drinks. Their halls and rooms are absolutely gorgeous.