Spanish meets Peruvian fusion at Jasper Neighborhood Restaurant and Bar.
The foothills eatery already had cultivated a reputation for satisfying brunches, and it now also serves tapas and large plates.
Yoram Levy changed much of the menu and tweaked the name after buying the restaurant last August from Elizabeth Ferrendelli, who opened it as Cafe Jasper in May 2005 and made it the Foothills-area spot for breakfast and lunch.
Jasper is a chic, hip place with room for 138 diners inside, and shaded patio seating out front. While weekends bustle, the restaurant held just a few diners on both of our recent visits for dinner during the week. Jasper offers a variety of live music, including flamenco, reggae or oldies, Thursday through Saturday evenings.
We had heard good things about the brunch, and a recent Sunday visit did not disappoint. Judging from the crowds of diners, we noticed that this part of Jasper's was not a secret.
We could see why the stuffed french toast ($9) was a favorite from the cafe menu. Two pieces of thick-cut challah bread arrived dusted with sugar and stuffed with bananas and cream cheese, with a side of syrup. A hint of citrus added zest to the awesome dish.
But we focused on the restaurant's newer forays into dinner.
After sampling a variety of dishes, we noticed that Jasper likes its jalapeños. Many dishes include it as a garnish or use it judiciously in its sauces, often for flavor and not for heat.
During one dinner visit, we started with a bowl of aguadito ($7), a cilantro-based soup. Nice-sized chunks of chicken breast swam with corn, onion and red bell pepper.
The green broth thankfully didn't have the heavy cilantro flavor it looked like it would. However, we actually wished the thin broth had possessed more heft.
About a dozen offerings are listed under the tapas section, but ordering the piquillos rellenos de gamba y queso is a must. It's a small portion, especially at $9, but we forgive the slightly high price for a delectable and complex dish that we haven't seen anywhere else in town.
Two warm red Spanish chiles were stuffed with a mixture of chopped bay shrimp, goat cheese, shredded pepper jack and white cheddar and finished with parsley. The piquillos were grilled on the flat-iron grill and served with a side of ocopa, a flavorful peanut sauce from Peru that's a savory blend of jalapeños, bell peppers and peanuts.
Mushroom fans are sure to love the setas al ajillo ($8.50), a mess of button mushrooms sautéed with garlic and white wine, and finished with parsley. A handful of crostinis were served on the side.
The pincho de carne y mariscos ($10), another tapa, were two thick skewers of grilled fish, shrimp and beef.
The two pieces of tenderloin had been marinated in chile sauce and accompanied by a mild Peruvian chile sauce.
A medium-rare preparation would have made the beef more tender.
The tilapia, which tasted fishy, and shrimp had been marinated in a sauce of blended chiles for an hour.
We forgot about the fishiness, however, when we bit into one of the delicately fried potato squares served on the side. The squares possessed a slight crust on the outside, a succulent soft center on the inside. Yum.
The chaclacallo sauce that accompanied the dish was like a pico de gallo with a slight kick with onions, chile peppers, jalapeños, spices and bell peppers.
The large plates fared well, too.
The pork adobo ($19) was complex, satisfying dish that was marinated for 24 hours.
The pork was slow-cooked with a red chile paste, herbs, spices and fried onions. It was served with a tender roasted sweet potato and white rice.
The chicken aji ($16.95) was hand-pulled chicken breast cooked over four hours in a blend of chiles, yellow bell peppers and jalapeños that made a yellow sauce. An accompanying walnut sauce was blended almost into a paste.
The tender chicken was served with white rice and garnished with a hard-boiled egg and kalamata olives.
The ceviche de seafood ($13) was made to order with calamari, tilapia and bay shrimp that had been marinated in lime juice for 30 minutes to an hour and was served with celery, red bell pepper and jalapeño. A sprig of cilantro, onions and two thin slices of jalapeño garnished the seafood.
A chilled sweet potato and piece of corn on the cob were served on the side.
The service was competent and friendly on all three of our visits, but we did encounter one gaffe on our final visit.
The restaurant closed at 9 that night, and one employee started noisily putting the chairs on top of the tables around us, sending a not-too-subtle hint to leave even though we just had received dessert. Our server had the good grace to apologize.
Our dessert that night was a slice of Jasper's house specialty, coconut cake ($6.50). The tall piece of house-made cake was layered with luscious cream cheese frosting and a healthy covering of shredded coconut.
Jasper Neighborhood Restaurant and Bar, 6370 N. Campbell Ave., 577-0326, jaspertucson.com
• Hours: 7 a.m.-9 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays; 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; 7 a.m.-2 p.m. Sundays. Closed Mondays.
• Family call: A $5 children's menu includes a cheese quesadilla, hamburger and PB&J.
• Alcohol: Full bar with a wine list of seven whites, seven reds (both range from $7 to $12 by the glass; $26 to $46 by the bottle) and $5 house glasses. A 2-6 p.m. Monday-Saturday happy hour includes $4 draft beers and house wines.
• Noise level: Low.
• Vegetarian options: There are a few non-meat and fish dishes.
• Gluten-free: A variety of gluten-free dishes include pork adobo ($19), setas al ajillo ($8.50) and grilled salmon salad ($12).
• Dress: Casual.
• Reservations: Yes.
• Price range: Tapas range from $6 to $10, and dinner entrees range from $11 to $19.95.