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Restaurant Reviews - Sept 2003

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The Barrio Grill                                                 

If you are looking for an above average dining experience that doesn't feel forced and is priced right, look no further than the Barrio Grill. Located an easy walking distance from downtown Tucson on South Sixth Street, we found a sophisticated bistro that occupies a hip and pleasant space when we stopped in for dinner on a recent weeknight. We'd heard that the physical space itself was redesigned by former Fanatiks lead singer Rob Paulus and, according to his company's website, was "built in conjunction with a complete overhaul of the historic façade with the design playing off the "old" brick with new playful forms and re-interpretations of existing materials." We'd always been a fan of Rob's musical work and were interested to check out the food.

Upon arrival, we immediately made note that patio seating is available and that the bar area was expansive and cool in case we wanted to return specifically to enjoy one or the other of these attributes. We opted to be seated inside at a table in this case and were shown the way by a pleasant, casually attractive hostess who allowed us to gravitate to a table of our liking. We were a bit off put initially when we again felt constricted by the chairs, (see Bamboo Club review) although they were wrought iron in this case and a bit more comfortable over all. We eventually settled in and took in the ambiance. The interior is comfortably spaced and candle lit with large windows looking out onto the avenue and sports a tasteful decor. It was minimally crowded on this night and although it seemed as if, due to the saltillo tiled floors, it could be a noisy room if busy, it was sparsely populated with a smattering of professional types and downtown émigrés and seemed pleasingly alive but not interruptive. Our waitress approached and we settled in to dine.

Due to the inordinate amount of crappy service in this town we were not hopeful at the outset when our server, a blonde tri-athlete looking figure, approached the table in something of a daze and recited, "Can I offer you coffee and desert" before we had even been given a chance to look at the menu. She realized her mistake quickly and recovered to take a drink order in which we chose a "Dave's Electric Ale" from Bisbee and an iced tea which was quickly pronounced to be "that bitter kind of tea that tastes instant." We noticed later that there was a herbal iced tea on the menu but our waitress hadn't offered the choice when we ordered so it was pushed aside in favor of water. As the night went on, despite the distracted state of our waitress, the overall service proved adequate and it seemed like the folks working at Barrio were real people bringing good, but realistic attitudes to their jobs. This is decidedly preferable to the forced gaiety and recited plasticness that seems to be pervading many restaurants in the Tucson area lately.

The menu is a simple paper affair that consists of eight "Little Plates," seven "Green Plates" and 11 "Large Plates," along with some orally offered daily specials. Despite the relative brevity of the document, there was sufficient variety to make it hard to decide what to order. In the "little plate" or appetizer section, they offer such things as Alaskan Snow Crab Cakes, Stuffed Anaheim Chilies,  Black Tiger Shrimp and some kind of mussels. You can also get a cup or bowl of soup with bread. The green plates or salad section also offers good variety including everything from a basic house salad with mixed greens, to Caesar salads with shrimp or chicken, spinach salad with jicama, and taco salads with goat cheese and black beans. The Large plates included such entrée items as baby back ribs, pork chops, penne pasta, lamb and fish dishes all coming with creative sides, sauces and glazes. We decided on the penne pasta and pork chop for the main courses and commenced to sip out drinks and nibble at the fresh French bread that accompanied.

The pork chop "Large plate" was a good a meal as we've had in some time. The plump and succulent chop was served on a generous heap of mashed potatoes that included carmelized onions, huge cloves of baked garlic, glazed chutneys and currents of some kind and a bed of crisp carrots and snow peas. The chop itself was perfectly cooked, soft and tender and could have easily stood on it's own with an inferior garnish but the supporting cast of vegetables almost stole the show. It was a large plate indeed but so tasty that the confining chairs soon felt even tighter as the plate was cleaned. The penne pasta was excellent as well with spicy Italian sausage, roasted red peppers, carmelized onions, mozzarella and fresh parmesan cheeses making the dish snap with flavor. Our complements to the chef is what we were thinking as we leaned back, rubbed our bellies and declined the second coffee and desert offering of the night. 

When the bill came it was pleasantly reasonable and with the 7 - 1 airline miles earned (the campaign that drew our attention to the place initially) it ended up being a very satisfying evening. As it turned out, we got a chance to compliment the chef directly as he appeared from the kitchen, opened the door for us on the way out and wished us a genial good evening. This gesture, while small, left us with an additionally pleasant sensation as we strolled away from the Barrio Grill and into the barrio proper on a cooling Tucson night. Sometimes it is the little things that make an experience stand out above others that seem similar on the surface. On the other hand, little things don't mean anything and almost add insult if the basic facets of the meal are lacking. Granted we've only eaten there once, but delicious food, fair prices, and genuine service is a recipe that will keep us coming back whether or not the chef is present at the door to bid us a good night.

Barrio Food & Drink
135 S. 6th Ave.
Tucson, AZ

(928) 629-0191 

Further tales involving staff and the Barrio Grill here

Copyright 2003. All Rights Reserved.