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High Dining

Skybox's batting average is great for baseball, less impressive for a restaurant

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Tickets for skybox seats in any sports arena admit you to lofty spots with great views, upscale atmosphere and hefty price tags. Food served in these posh seats is plentiful and usually of four-star quality.

Dining at the Skybox restaurant in the Catalina foothills will get you those great views, some of that upscale atmosphere and, considering the neighborhood, a bill that is reasonable. The food came in good-sized portions but, and please forgive the sports metaphor, execution wise it batted about .500 (a great but improbable thing in baseball; maybe not so much at a restaurant).

On two visits (one a busy Friday evening in the dining room, the other a very quiet Friday lunch hour in the bar) we enjoyed some of the dishes and were disappointed by some of the others.

At Skybox the whole sports theme is thankfully underplayed. There are plenty of big-screen TVs tuned to a variety of sporting events, but they certainly don't dominate the place. In fact, the area—a small dining room and a bar—is decked out in earth-toned faux flagstone walls and columns, nicely framed sports photos and pretty nice views of the valley thanks to one side that is all floor-to-ceiling windows. There's a small balcony with tables. Music doesn't interfere with conversation. All in all, it's tastefully done.

Beer choices are plentiful and there is a serviceable wine list, so Friday night found the bar filled with up-and-coming young business folks and, in the dining room, couples of a certain age who no doubt live in the upscale neighboring homes. The servers, for the most part, were young, cute, friendly and female.

The appetizer listings (which are $2 off during happy hour) include the usual suspects but most have a little different twist to them.

The Sante Fe spring rolls ($7.95, $5.95) are crispy wrappers filled with a savory mix of chicken, corn relish, jalapeños, black beans, green chili and pepper jack cheese. The heat and spice were tempered with two dipping sauces: flavored oil and a ranch dressing. Another good starter choice was the smokehouse shrimp ($9.95, $7.95). Six jumbo shrimp are stuffed with some more of that pepper jack cheese, wrapped in apple wood bacon then broiled. The dipping sauce with these tasty morsels (and they are really more than morsels as it takes two or three bites to eat one) is a bright orange Creole sauce, which wasn't really necessary with all the different flavors and textures happening with the shrimp.

One appetizer, which we had at lunch in the bar, that didn't work was the spicy calamari ($7.95). A light crumb crust covered the rather ordinary calamari. But the odd part about the dish was the side, as it is called on the menu. In the middle of the plate sat a bowl with a half cup of chili orange marmalade. Even though the presentation was not so pretty and the chili flavor wasn't apparent, neither were deal breakers. And while the thick sweet marmalade is too much for delicate calamari, one could opt out of that. It was the huge portion of marmalade that made no sense. Maybe marmalade is cheap and plentiful, but that big of a portion seems like a waste of good money.

Entrées run the gamut of salads, soups, pastas, sandwiches and burgers. Also, between 4 and 10 p.m., there is a specialty menu with all manner of steaks, a couple of seafood choices and chicken and pork dishes.

Like the appetizers, some items worked while others struggled. At dinner, a club sandwich ($8.50) was overflowing with savory roasted turkey, bacon, smoked ham, Havarti cheese, lettuce, tomatoes and sweet-peppered mayo. With a choice of breads (white, wheat or grilled sourdough) and a choice of sides (French fries, steak fries, cottage cheese, side salad or fresh fruit), this is a most satisfying meal. At lunch, though, the peppered bacon cheddar burger ($8.95) was merely OK.

A well-prepared specialty item is the End Zone Mushroom Steak ($15.95). Beef tips are tenderly cooked in a mushroom-rich, perfectly savory sauce. This is a nice homey dish. We opted for the wild rice pilaf and mixed veggies as our sides. Both are lightly seasoned so you can actually taste the food. The pilaf has plenty of slivered almonds that really add to the dish. They were almost better than the entrée.

And then there was the crab Louie salad. This is a retro salad, a very popular item way back when. I served plenty of them long ago at the old Ports O' Call restaurant. The joy of that dish is, of course, the plentiful chunks of crabmeat, served up plainly over a bed of lettuce with Louie dressing (mayo, heavy cream, chili sauce, Worcestershire sauce, green pepper, green onion and lemon juice). So I didn't understand this version at all. Instead of plain crabmeat, there was a huge scoop of bland crab salad loaded down with mayonnaise. The lettuce was there—in this case hearts of romaine—as was a side of dressing. But I was disappointed.

We had two desserts. At dinner we ordered the Tuaca crème brûlée ($5.25): tasty, yes, but nothing special. At lunch we ordered Tiramisu di Monique ($6.95) with Chantilly cream that had been flavored with raspberry (my favorite fruit), Champagne vanilla mousse and ladyfingers. Call me a traditionalist, but I prefer the chocolate and hazelnut flavors that comprise true tiramisu. Others would probably find the dessert just fine.

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