There's something ultra-cool about eating at the bar at a nice restaurant. It's at once intimate and convivial—so when we called to make reservations at Feast for a recent Tuesday dinner, and we were told that the only room was at the bar, we didn't hesitate.
Feast has long been one of Tucson's premier restaurants. It's not fancy by any means, but chef Doug Levy knows good food and continues to serve up unique and luscious dishes. The menu changes monthly, which speaks to the freshness and seasonality of the ingredients. This is smart comfort food for the new millennium.
The new Feast is bigger than the original one. In addition to the bar, there are two dining rooms (one of which can be closed off for private parties). Huge windows allow for some great street viewing. The colors are a patchwork of pale yellow, dusty green and raspberry. Brightly colored local artwork is the only décor. The whole place seems to reflect the menu: It's chic and decidedly different.
Feast is known for its lengthy yet unintimidating wine book. Wines from around the world are there, and you are bound to find a wine to meet your needs. After a quick perusal, we chose an Albariño from Spain ($25).
The bartender, our server for the evening, was backed by a well-trained team of runners and bus people. Water and wine glasses were filled regularly; our food appeared almost as if by magic; empty plates were whisked away with the same effect. Smiles were in abundance.
Everything on the "Just Getting Started" part of the menu sounded great, and we finally decided on the eggplant napoleon ($6) and the lobster, corn and scallion bread pudding ($7.50). For entrées—called "The Main Thing"—we chose the filet of venison ($21) and the braised short ribs ($18.50).
Even folks who wouldn't ever consider eating eggplant would've swooned at the napoleon. Thin-as-possible slices of eggplant had been crisped to a golden brown and layered with a rich, creamy, slightly herby goat cheese that was on the verge of melting over the sides. The whole thing sat in a puddle of tomato buerre blanc, which added a tangy sleekness to the dish.
A savory bread pudding is a rarity, and Feast's version should be held as the perfect example. As large as an NFL player's fist, the dish could've easily served as a main course. Big, soft bites of bread had been layered with sweet lobster, corn nibs and flecks of scallion before being baked to a golden brown. Swirling a forkful through the parmesan cream sauce that was on the plate took this dish to a whole other level. Seriously: This is one of the best dishes I've had in a long time.
The venison was nothing short of wonderful. Tender and rich, it was served with a huge steak knife alongside, which was almost unnecessary. Also on the plate was a mix of sweet potatoes, corn and kale, all dressed in a poblano cream sauce. That poblano didn't make the sauce spicy, just richer in flavor.
The short ribs—having been slow-cooked in port wine, shallots and bacon—were nearly fall-off-the-bone tender. All those flavors came together nicely. The dish included tender steak fries and sautéed rapini that had been tossed with white anchovies, lemon and chili flakes. (The rapini can also be found separately on the "Next to Your Dinner" portion of the menu for $6, as can the sweet potato, corn and kale dish, $5.50.)
Desserts ("Fin") at Feast are wonderful and varied. Opting for the lemon-chocolate tart ($7) was a tough choice, but we didn't regret it at all. The filling was slightly sweet and slightly sour, surrounded by a crust of dark-chocolate cookie crumbs. It was big enough for two.
There is no separate lunch menu, but there are smaller choices if you don't want a full entrée. The "Greenery and Other Salads" section offers an intriguing crispy-duck salad ($10) that I couldn't pass up. And among the "Between Bread" options, we decided on the "Black and Bleu" steak sandwich ($10). We also had the littleneck clams ($13) and a cup of the day's soup ($3.75), which happened to be Spanish onion.
Again, all of the food was fantastic. The onions in the soup were sweet, but the broth, with veal stock and sherry, was savory. The golden raisins were a nice little surprise.
The littlenecks had been steamed in sake with plenty of fresh garlic, which added the proper kick to the salty clam flavor. Sitting atop it all was the house-cured sweet bacon. I used the French bread that was served on the side to sop up as much as I could.
From where I was seated, I was able to observe what other diners were ordering. It appeared the "Black and Bleu" was a hit; every table had at least one. And no wonder—this is a great sandwich! The thinly sliced rib eye was juicy and tender. Each topping—tangy bleu cheese, slightly smoky roasted tomatoes and sweet, caramelized onions—added another layer of flavor. The French bread was hefty enough to hold them all together.
The salad was light but satisfying. Fresh greens, small sweet red grapes and tangy goat cheese had all been tossed with a slightly sweet maple vinaigrette, and were then topped with a hefty portion of crispy yet tender shredded duck. (This dish also seemed to be quite popular.)
We ended the meal simply, with chocolate truffle cookies (65 cents each). No surprise: They were yummy—soft, sweet and intensely chocolaty.
The new digs have done nothing to diminish Feast; if anything, it's better. Many of the menu items can be prepared gluten-free, and the "Tasteful Takeout" that made Feast famous is still going strong.
One other note: The place is popular, so reservations are strongly recommended.