This could be the start of something big. Or not.
Dove Mountain Grill is operated by the same folks behind the now-on-hiatus VinTabla. The dining room is bright and open, thanks in part to high ceilings and large windows. Black, brown and beige tones dominate. Funky lighting fixtures and exposed piping give the room a cross between a modern industrial look and uptown polish. You have your choice of booths or tables, patio dining or bar dining.
The service on our initial visit was just attentive enough that all our needs were met while we had time for pleasant, uninterrupted conversation with our friends Eric and Tricia. Another point in the server's favor: When I was undecided between two wines, he offered me a taste of each. We opted for the Tenuta Ponte Fiano di Avellino ($27). Yet another point: The room was extremely warm, and when we asked if he could help, the air conditioning was turned up almost immediately.
We began the meal with two appetizers: shrimp and calamari ($9) and tuna tartar ($12), which comes atop a bed of chopped cabbage with a drizzle of wasabi aioli.
Tricia doesn't eat seafood, but on the current menu, four out the five appetizers include fish of some sort (and the fifth is the jalapeño corn cake that was coming with my dinner). This is something the chef might want to rethink.
The small shrimp and calamari were lightly battered and served with a sweet chili sauce. While both were cooked perfectly, the flavors were timid. The same could be said about the tuna; it just didn't have that mouthwatering richness that makes good tuna so addicting.
Our four entrées included the ahi tuna sandwich for Eric ($16); the chicken and cheese enchiladas ($12) for Tricia; the veal meatloaf ($15) for John; and the half rack of apricot-glazed baby-back ribs that came with that jalapeño corn cake ($17) for me.
Tricia's enchiladas were filled with strips of chicken and cheese, and topped with a creamy ancho chile sauce. It came with black beans. She noted the enchiladas were very good, but thought that $12 was a bit steep for such a basic dish.
The ahi on Eric's open-faced sandwich was nicely seared, but the bread was "hard," as he put it, and no amount of the tasty aioli could change that. The fries were unremarkable.
John's meal, like Eric's and Tricia's, needed some tweaking. The meatloaf was dense but dry; this could've easily been remedied with a little more gravy. The side, shaved brussels sprouts, held a faint sauerkraut flavor, which was a bit of a turnoff. They might've worked better with my ribs.
About those ribs: baby-back meat should fall off the bone with barely a touch of the fork; not so here. The meat wasn't tough, but it wasn't tender, either. The apricot "glaze" was plopped on top rather than being incorporated into the dish. The corn cake was bland and in need of more seasoning.
We split a dessert: the "pie of the day" ($7), which really wasn't a pie at all; it was a dark-chocolate mousse napoleon. A creamy, smooth chocolate mousse was layered between two circles of crispy puff pastry. Reactions were mixed.
We returned for another meal on a recent Wednesday evening. The place was a little busier, due in part to the Wednesday wine tastings ($7). We didn't partake, but if you do and stay for dinner, you get a 10 percent discount. Other specials include Thursday prime-rib specials and a Sunday brunch; there's also live music on Fridays.
Our food on this night was decidedly better—but the service needed some polish. For example: We were seated at a booth that had plating for four. One setting was removed, but a third sat on the table throughout our meal. I may be quibbling, but little things like that make a difference. The temperature in the room was way too high again.
John ordered the fish and chips ($12), and I went with the Tucson Originals special ($20.09), which on that night was a grilled pork chop with prosciutto baked beans, watermelon salad and a bowl of roasted garlic soup with vegetables. (All Tucson Originals restaurants are running a summer special of some kind; check out www.tucsonoriginals.com.)
The soup was much like many of the dishes on visit no. 1: The execution fell short. The vegetables were pale and mushy, and the garlic flavor just wasn't there.
On the other hand, our entrées were great. The fish was crunchy to the bite and nicely seasoned, and the fries were a vast improvement compared to the ones on our first visit. Two dipping sauces—an aioli and a homemade tartar sauce—added that little something extra.
My good-size chop was plated on a sea of tender beans that were swimming in their own natural juices, and the prosciutto gave them a nice slightly salty zing. The chop itself was tender and juicy; the watermelon salad perched on top was cold, which contrasted nicely with the heat of the meat. There were bits of corn and tomatoes in the salad as well.
Dessert this time was the featured triple chocolate mousse pie ($7). The filling wasn't really mousse; it was more like whipped pudding on a chocolate graham-cracker crust, all topped with chocolate sauce. I wouldn't call it great, but who can argue with that much chocolate?
People expect something special when they're paying $15 for meatloaf, and we had too many misses during our visits to Dove Mountain Grill. Given a little more time, perhaps things will improve. Considering the team behind this restaurant, there's no reason they shouldn't.