Looking through the menu at Dante's Fire can be a little, well, daunting.
The upscale eatery, on East Grant Road in the same A-frame building that once housed Rio Cafe and Nonie, forgoes traditional category names for the circles of hell pulled straight from Dante's "Inferno."
Greed (circle four in the epic poem) represents plates that are more decadent. Anger (circle five) is reserved for meals with a little kick. Treachery, the sweetest of all circles, includes the desserts.
The idea was to do away with the traditional appetizer-entree format and instead focus on small plates that are tied thematically, said owner Jon Tuck, a Washington, D.C., transplant who opened Dante's Fire nearly three months ago.
But without any formal explanation printed on the menu, the approach was a tad confusing as my wife and I began our journey into the culinary world of Tuck and executive chef Ken Foy.
Thankfully, there was no shortage of sinful selections to choose from at this new and welcome addition to Tucson's blossoming food scene.
Both of our visits to Dante's Fire took place earlier in the evening, during happy hour when many of the patrons, dressed in business attire, were saddled up to the bar.
Dante's has regular food and drink deals.
It also has live music Thursdays through Saturdays, trivia on Mondays and a kitchen that is open until 2 a.m. every day but Tuesday, when it is closed.
After getting the skinny on the menu from our server, who was dressed in red and black to keep with the "Inferno" theme, we kicked things off with two selections from Limbo, a section that included a mix of soups, salads and smaller, appetizer dishes.
The chilled cucumber and brie soup ($5) came served in a large bowl with a bubbly layer of cucumber foam on top.
The soup was creamier than expected, with a thicker texture brought on by the brie, but served as a perfectly chilled treat on a hot summer day.
We wished we could have had a little more of the beef carpaccio ($9), also from the Limbo section. The thinly sliced shavings of raw meat were beautifully plated, and the dry cayenne pepper, curry powder and salt seasoning complemented the caper aioli when sampled on crispy olive bread.
We followed up with the Lamb Thagliardia ($13), a dish with thick noodles and large chunks of braised lamb. The meat was tender, if not a bit underseasoned, and was accompanied by wild mushrooms, asparagus and caramelized onions.
The Thai curry shrimp ($10) was served saturated in a divine curry coconut sauce which we sopped up with an extra order of rice and Dante's homemade bread when all of the shrimp had disappeared.
We finished the evening by splitting a mango crème brûlée ($6), a sweet selection with a thick caramelized crust.
We had to try the foie pops ($16) on our second visit, a dish growing in popularity with patrons, Foy said.
When the restaurant first opened, they were selling three to four orders of it a week.
Now, they serve two to three plates a day.
You don't get a lot for the price, three cuts of cured foie gras placed at the end of long wooden sticks and accompanied by bits of apple.
But the slices were thick and had a buttery texture that tantalized the taste buds.
The tuna tartare ($12), a plate of ahi tuna, mixed with scallions, toasted sesame seeds and topped with sliced avocado, was next and was our standout favorite. The raw flavor mixed with the wasabi sour cream and wonton chips reminded us of the poke that we had on our honeymoon in Hawaii.
The Parpadella Diablo ($9) was another popular dish for us, a plate of thick pasta noodles with large chunks of chorizo and crab, both of which came plentiful in the meal.
Each bite provided a different flavor, depending on which meat your fork picked up next.
• Where: 2526 E. Grant Road, 382-9255. dantesfireaz.com
• Hours: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Wednesdays-Mondays.
• Noise level: Quiet enough for conversation unless there is live music.
• Alcohol: Plenty of specialty cocktails, beer and wine.
• Family call: No kids menu, but children are welcome.
• Vegetarian options: Yes.
• Gluten-Free: Yes.
• Price range: Plate selections are $5-$16.
Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at email@example.com or 807-8430.
Published: July 25, 2013