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Restaurant Reviews 

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Kingfisher                                                                               

Kingfisher does not seem to us like a particularly good restaurant. We’re not sure we can explain exactly why this is but we've had three unpleasant experiences there (for three completely different reasons) and no pleasant ones. However other people must enjoy the place since it continues to be crowded and comes well recommended. So perhaps the following review says more about us than it does about the establishment itself. All we can do is put forth the facts as we experienced them and let the reader decide.

On the most recent visit, we arrived hoping to grab a late nite bite. We had just been to the theater and were in the mood to unwind and discuss the night's performance hoping for some light sustenance, a nice glass of something, and perhaps a tasty dessert. It was a week night and the expansive dining room with its black vinyl booths was mostly empty when we arrived. We were delivered to a slippery horseshoe configuration by a tired looking waiter-in-training who performed the task of seating us just like the pros in Manhattan do it by pulling the table out and then pushing it back in against our stomachs once we had scrambled in to take our places. The booth was such that it was hard to know how to sit in it. If you try to sit close to one another your knees knock together and you are forced to list to one side. If you slide apart for a face to face conversation, a vast expanse of table opens between you making it necessary to converse in unnaturally loud voices. Eventually, you split the difference and end up sort of propped at odd angles like winos on a bench in a train station.

Once we had stopped fidgeting and got semi situated, the bus boy or back waiter or whatever he was, handed us each two items. One looked to be a dinner menu printed on what seemed to be a piece of green sheet metal, and the other a small, bound sheaf of papers that resembled some sort of project from art class that your third grader might come home with. As it turned out, the sheaf was actually the wine/beverage list. Cute idea perhaps, but this little sheaf proved very difficult to page through comfortably, forcing one to constantly lick their fingers to get a grasp of the construction paper and poke a utensil in at the sides hoping to open it to a page that wasn’t blank and actually contained some information. Once we were finally able to manipulate it to look at the beer selections we found that they offered nothing on draft and the bottled beer options were unimpressive and over priced. We then made the mistake of asking the waitress about wines by the glass. 

By way of greeting she let us know that we only had fifteen more minutes to order off the menu and asked (somewhat hopefully) if we would like to select a "fish sandwich" or something from amongst the limited late nite choices. When she ascertained by our expressions that we were more interested in something from the dinner menu, she set her jaw and launched into a rehearsed spiel on the wines featuring many of the right buzz words - fruity finish, satisfying bouquet, buttery oak nose, good legs - and such verbiage, that flew out of her mouth like bats spooked from a cave and gave us the immediate sensation that she didn't really know what she was talking about. She further put us off when, on her way to retrieve our five dollar bottles of Sierra Nevada, we overheard her informing a nearby table whom had asked about the music being piped in, that what we were hearing was a bootleg tape of one of the best unknown singers ever, a talent that, in her opinion, was vastly under appreciated. “Of course,” she announced as she waltzed by on another pass to fetch a Gewürztraminer that she had talked someone into even though she hadn’t pronounced the name correctly, “No good music has been written in the past ten years.” (That may or may not be the case but we can say that, after being serenaded throughout the night by this particular artist, we came to understand why he remains mostly unknown).

While studying the menu, we couldn't help but overhear the braying of a couple sitting several booths away. The gentleman was fashioned to look like an aging rocker and was imparting his wisdom regarding aphrodisiacs in a loud, broken nosed voice to his Kelly Bundyish girlfriend. They honked at each other and jockeyed for position (possibly because they were also in a booth) with Kelly speculating that the sex they would have that night should be better than usual and the rocker commenting that he had eaten too much and just wanted to go home, recline on the couch, and perhaps receive some oral gratification. This wasn't exactly what we wanted to hear and served to derail us from chatting pleasantly about a night at the theater which was beginning to seem like a distant memory. Thankfully, their check arrived and we thought we'd be soon done with them but they immediately started complaining loudly about their bill. Apparently they had been led to believe that the price for three oysters was the price for a dozen and, since they had ordered a total of twenty four mollusks, were now stunned to find that they owed forty dollars more then, what seemed to them, was a fair price. When the waitress grudgingly agreed to take some of the slurpable shellfish off the bill and left to do so, they high fived and began making out like two eighth graders in the back of a school bus. They finally came up for air a few minutes later when Kelly pulled away and began scolding the rocker for feeling her crotch under the table (our words not hers). They finally staggered off into the night interlocked in a wrestling hold and leaving a foul tasting silence in their wake. Now that we think back over the episode, we may owe Kelly Bundy an apology.

Our waitress reappeared and, after reciting a list of seafood specials that sounded extremely busy due to all the chutneys, mango searings, bruchetta crumbles and such, took our order and returned quickly with the soup even though we had asked for our salads first. We found the spinach, potato, and parmesan mixture to be okay but a trifle salty and the New England clam chowder a bit on the milky side as if maybe it had thickened as it sat towards the end of the night and the cooks had tried to reduce it by stirring in some two percent. The fresh bread that accompanied was excellent and the baby spinach salads with red pear, pine nuts, Medjool dates and blue cheese vinaigrette that followed were good although certainly nothing special. As soon as the last swallow of each course was down the gullet, the back boy would swoop in and clear the dishes away, giving the meal a pressured and nerve racking feel that it needn’t have had. The waitress was also clearly trying to move the process along as quickly as she could by asking us if she could sell us anything else just as we were finishing chewing the previous item. This may not have been entirely her fault since if you come out from the kitchen to find your customers sitting there with no plates in front of them (even if they are still chewing) we guess that the normal thing to do would be to ask what else you could get them to buy. Even though this rushed treatment is irritating, it is, unfortunately, fairly common when you risk a late seating. However, since Kingfisher prides themselves on being open late and having a lite menu until midnight, it seemed totally unnecessary and certainly did nothing to further endear us to the place.

Perhaps in rebellion, we then ordered a flourless chocolate torte made of caramel creme anglaise and espresso ice cream. The dessert was deliciously rich so we took our time consuming it even though we were still battling the unknown talent coming though a speaker right over our heads, the volume of which had perhaps been set to compete with a crowded dining room but now had something of a blaring quality. Also, the seat logistics that made for tilted conversation had begun to take their toll and were rendering us tired before our usual hour. The lights also seemed uncomfortably bright. Loud and bright. The whole scene, in fact had the feel to it as if the place was closed and the cleaning crew had come in, cranked up the tunes, and we were sitting in the middle of the whole thing intruding in some way.

Another non aesthetically pleasing thing about Kingfisher that may have added to the underlying unpleasantness is that they have a smoking room just like the ones you see in airports where you look in and see people sucking on butts and sitting in clouds of smoke appearing like they’re in a fishbowl full of murky water. One staff member after another would clock out and go sit in plain sight of the dining room chain smoking in their tee shirts. We figured that the room is actually a smoking section where people can eat if they feel that they can't make it through a meal without a butt but nobody was in there trying to choke down any food thank god. Watching the people trail in and out from the bar to stand smoking in exile is worlds more pleasant then having them come blow smoke on you but certainly doesn't make for a romantic backdrop to a late night dinner.

We continue to hear that Kingfisher has excellent seafood and fully intend on returning at some later date to experience some of it. We will let you know in this space what we find. When we stop to think about it, the three strikes against the place thus far haven't had as much to do with what is dead and coming out of the kitchen as with what is still alive and coming through the front door. Kingfisher sounds good on paper. It looks to have an excellent wine list, seems to be about some of the right things, and the mere fact that it serves food late is a big plus in this town. However, it is a mere fact also that we have never enjoyed ourselves there and that must say something. Whether it says something about us or The Kingfisher Bar & Grill is in the hands of the jury.

The Kingfisher Bar & Grill 
is located at 2564 E. Grant Road 
in Tucson, Arizona. 
Their phone number is (520) 323-7739

Copyright 2002. All Rights Reserved.