Epazote's regional flavors satisfy

Resort restaurant's view of Pusch Ridge is itself an appealing draw
2013-07-11T00:00:00Z 2013-07-11T00:07:04Z Epazote's regional flavors satisfyKathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
July 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Chances are most anything would taste good when you are nearly nose-to-nose with Pusch Ridge.

And that's what you are at Epazote Kitchen & Cocktails, the signature restaurant at the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort.

Of course, you have to sit on the patio to get that view, and these days, even after-dusk hours are sizzling.

No matter. While it's a bit noisier inside, and the view is of other tables and an odd Moorish-esque design with columns and arches, the food satisfies. That motif hasn't changed much since Dos Locos sat in the same space.

Epazote, which opened about a year ago, may be part of the Hilton chain, but it is committed to local and regional ingredients. Grass-fed meat from the San Rafael Valley; beer from Tucson's Nimbus Brewing Company; cheeses from Crow's Dairy Farm in Buckeye; and tomatoes from Willcox are all touted on the menu.

That menu, developed under Executive Chef Jan Osipowicz, has Southwest overtones - how could it not, given the restaurant is named after a Mexican herb?

You won't find terribly adventurous cuisine here. But you will find dishes that are quite good.

Such as the Crab Tower ($14) appetizer. It's a layer of smooth avocado topped by a layer of mild pico de gallo topped by a healthy helping of real crab. This tower comes with a side of corn chips dusted with chili powder, but begs to be eaten by the forkful, sans the chips. It's a riot of color, texture and flavors that should be shared with a friend.

If the need for greens calls, the organic arugula salad ($11) is sure to satisfy. The leafy arugula is topped with goat cheese, candied pecans and orange wedges, and lightly tossed with an agave vinaigrette. The sweetness of the pecans and oranges stood up well to the peppery arugula and the tart cheese. This is a salad that lives long in the must-have-again compartment of the taste memory.

Our waiters on both visits suggested the smoky beef short ribs ($21) when asked their favorite entrees.

The tender meat fell away from the bones with just a tap, and was packed with the flavor that comes from a slow, thoughtful preparation. A very sweet barbecue sauce crowned the ribs - a tad too generously. A little more heat, a little less sweet, is our preference, but the sauce couldn't take away from the tender, tasty beef.

Creamy mashed potatoes, whipped with goat cheese (a decadent, delightful touch), served as the bed for the meat, and carrots, cooked to maintain a bit of resistance to the bite, rounded out the meal.

Another suggestion was the beef filet steak ($28), topped by a scoop of butter mixed with avocado, and sitting on those glorious mashed potatoes.

The steak is marinated in a touch of oil and herbs such as oregano, rosemary and basil (all fresh, many pulled from the restaurant's herb garden), and then basted with butter with the same herbs before it's cooked. Beef filet has a tender disposition and a buttery consistency, but it isn't packed with flavor - the herbs and butters added a needed dimension. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare, with a sear on the outside.

On our second visit, the pan-seared mountain trout ($19) beckoned. The waiter explained that the fish was farmed, "but farmed in a lake, so that's better" than being raised in a crowded tank.

Trout is such a mild fish that the taste difference as a result of its upbringing was negligible. At Epazote, the trout comes boned and seared to a crispy outside and a flaky in. Julienned green apples and a sprinkling of smoked almonds added nuance to the dish, which was pleasing but not particularly exciting.

Nor was the burger ($16), which featured a hefty round of grass-fed beef with a crusty outside accompanied by grilled onions, cheese, lettuce and tomatoes, all piled onto a toasted bun. Ordinary, everyday fries came on the side. Here's the thing to remember about the healthier grass-fed meat: It has less fat. So if you like your burgers juicy, get them pinker than medium. That's something we forgot - we wish our server had reminded us - and we ended up with a dry burger, cooked exactly as we had ordered it.

Desserts ($7) include an Ibarra Chocolate Torta and a flan, but summertime demands fruit so we went with the peach cobbler. An abundance of just-cooked, juicy peaches were sprinkled with an oat crumb topping. A hint of epazote - which comes across as kind of minty when mixed with a sweet - ran through the dish.

It may be too hot to get an in-your-face view of Pusch Ridge while dining at Epazote, but there are advantages to the sizzling months here. That dessert of summer peaches reminded us of a big one.

Epazote Kitchen & Cocktails

• Where: 10000 N. Oracle Road in the Hilton Tucson El Conquistador Golf & Tennis Resort in Oro Valley, 544-5000, hiltonelconquistador.com

• Hours: 5-10 p.m. daily.

• Noise level: It can get a bit loud, but conversations are still possible.

•Alcohol: The wine list is heavy on domestic choices.

• Family call: No kids menu, but it has a family vibe.

• Vegetarian options: Yes.

• Gluten-free: Available

• Price range: $16 to $28 for entrees.

• Et cetera: Epazote is offering a summer deal through Aug. 29 - $39 dinner for two includes a shared appetizer, a choice of three entrees and a shared dessert.

Contact reporter Kathleen Allen at kallen@azstarnet.com or 573-4128.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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