It was the foie gras.
We had just finished sharing the silky appetizer ($18) at Casino del Sol’s upscale restaurant, PY Steakhouse. It was seared, sweetened with compressed Asian pears, shiny with a medjool date glaze, and a touch nutty thanks to the sunchoke puree.
It’s quiet in the elegant restaurant — you’d never know that a few feet away a frenzy of gambling was going on.
And cozy — booths hug one wall, chandeliers hang overhead, and a spotless open kitchen is on view.
So we were cozying down, loving this ambience from a bygone era. There are few restaurants left in Tucson that do this kind of upscale fine dining.
Then the maître d strolled over, leaned down, and asked if we liked the foie gras as much as we had at the Ventana Room.
I had to admit I was baffled for a minute. Then it dawned on me; he had worked at the Ventana Room, which closed in 2009. I had eaten there — foie gras, of course — and interviewed the chef. My face was familiar to the maître d.
I had been outed.
As restaurant reviewers, we make reservations under different names, act and expect to be treated like other customers, pay for our own meals, and go to a restaurant at least two times. And we are not supposed to be outed.
Which posed a problem: I couldn’t return for a second visit. Not as a reviewer.
So we are making an exception — this review is based on one visit. But what a glorious visit it was.
The service was impeccable; we spotted some friends as we walked in and they gushed about the service before we even sat down. The food is, well, pretty darn luxurious.
If the experience had been anything other than sublime, we would have sent another reviewer rather than my returning.
But it was sublime, starting with the foie gras.
Actually, starting with the water — the waiter asked if we preferred still or sparkling, and quickly added that there is a charge for the sparkling. If there’s a charge upfront, we like to know about it.
Warm sourdough rolls are brought to the table. Our advice: don’t fill up on the rolls, as tempting as it might be. You’ll want room for the rest of the meal.
A spinach salad ($9) was packed with greens so crisp they almost snapped and was topped with a Palhais goat cheese button — a Portuguese goat cheese that’s soft and a touch salty. It was fried so that the outside was crispy and the innards creamy and softer than the norm. Toasted pecans and grilled lardon — a thin, thin slice of bacon — filled out the thoughtful salad, which was tossed with a gentle white balsamic vinaigrette.
After a brief respite — timing is excellent at PY — the entrees came. Large and lovely, they, too, threw us back into a richer past.
The rib-eye ($32), for instance, was a hefty 14-ounce chunk of meat, cooked to the requested medium rare, tender and well-ribboned, giving it a robust flavor. It came with a trio of sauces served on the side — a classic Béarnaise, chimichurri chipotle, and an ancho chili sauce. The two chili sauces were gentle — not designed to cloud the flavor of the meat — and the béarnaise was buttery and touched with tarragon. But really, when a steak is good, it needs little more than salt and pepper. This was good. As was the side of mashed potatoes with a whisper of gorgonzola cheese (sides are $6).
Another blast to the past: veal Oscar ($28). The thinly sliced veal was topped with an abundance of fresh crab and Béarnaise sauce. Crisp asparagus took up some space next to the meat. The delicate meat was tender enough to cut with a fork, and it stood up well to the sweet crab and creamy Béarnaise. The dish recalls the days of classic French cooking and reminded us how, rich or not, we miss those days.
We skipped dessert, assuming we’d catch it on a return visit. Alas, that return visit was not to be.
If we had gone back, we would have tried the wild sea bass ($28) with the smoked jalapeño blood orange emulsion. That emulsion sounds like the perfect underscore to the mild fish. Or perhaps the chicken saltimbocca with a side of mac ’n’ cheese cut with truffles ($24). That would be hard to say no to.
For dessert, the soufflé of the day ($12) would be worth exploring, as would the cheesecake made with Chevre cheese ($10).
The meal and service made for an elegant evening, and after a look around the room it appeared everyone there that night felt the same.
We’ll be back when a review isn’t in the cards. But maybe we’ll go in disguise.