It’s that time of year, when many of our best local restaurants set aside 10 days to offer generously discounted prix-fixe breakfast, lunch and dinner menus. Sonoran Restaurant Week provides the perfect excuse for Tucson gourmands to both revisit old favorites and discover new go-to dining destinations, across the city.
Let’s not forget that Tucson holds the distinguished designation as a UNESCO City of Gastronomy. We were the first city in the United States to be granted the certification in 2015 and with San Antonio, the only two in the United States to date.
Tucson Foodie is the nonprofit organizer and producer of Sonoran Restaurant Week. Lead sponsors for the popular event are Visit Tucson, Rio Nuevo and the Tucson Metro Chamber.
Now in its fifth year, Sonoran Restaurant Week included over 100 restaurants last year and is expected to exceed that number this September. Throughout the 10-day event, participating restaurants offer prix-fixe breakfast, lunch and/or dinner menus, exemplifying their particular specialties at a neatly reduced price for a multicourse dining experience.
Participating menu prices are fixed at $25, $35 and $45. Though there is no cost to participating restaurateurs, the venues must be locally owned.
The CEO of Tucson Foodie, Shane Reiser, noted the event affords a rare annual opportunity for his titular local foodies to go wider and more economically in their prospecting of local cuisine.
That said, he also emphasized, “(Sonoran Restaurant Week) drives over $3 million in additional revenue to local restaurants, at a time when business is often slow.”
Coming out of our sweltering summer and Labor Day into new work, school and athletic routines should not distract or divert anyone from taking full advantage of these prix-fixe menus.
Local restaurateurs and chefs are devising their menus and discounts now. A full list of participating restaurants with menu details should be revealed by the end of this month.
A few prospective participants this year were happy to discuss their menu plans.
The Dutch: Dam good food
5340 E. Broadway Boulevard, Tucson
Marcus and Nicole van Winden teamed as a couple to found The Dutch nearly seven years ago and have been regular participants in Sonoran Restaurant Week.
Marcus grew up in the Netherlands, near Rotterdam where he began his culinary training at the age of 16, which included final culinary training at Sterklas, taught by European master chefs. Nicole is a proud third-generation Tucsonan. The couple met while they were working for Holland America Cruise line. Marcus was the chef of fine dining and Nicole was the assistant cruise director. While Marcus runs the kitchen at The Dutch, Nicole’s title is “chief instigator.”
“I think we’ve done it (Sonoran Restaurant Week) every year,” she said.
Nicole speculated on their ongoing participation in Sonoran Restaurant Week.
“As we’re looking to head back into season, that is something that is great about restaurant week, to have that boost of business that SRW provides, that first week of September. I would say it’s very valuable to us as a restaurant.”
When discussing the inspiration behind this year’s Sonoran Restaurant Week menu, Nicole remarked, “We’ve played around with different ideas over the years. Sometimes we’ve done things using Sonoran cuisine or elements you find locally here. But this year, we said let’s do something that’s true to the Dutch. We describe Dutch as a modern European cuisine, so that’s how we came up with the menu for this year’s restaurant week.
“We put together a whole bunch of ideas and had a fun little debate among ourselves about which ones would work well and would make sense for us to do. Then we put it out to our leadership team at the restaurant as well, to get their feedback on it and this is the menu we came up with.”
Accordingly, the van Windens have concocted an impressively sophisticated and generous three-course dinner menu, priced at $35 per person. For starters, there is a choice between beef carpaccio dressed out with truffled mayonnaise, pinenuts, arugula and parmesan cheese; or tomato toast with fresh burrata and basil.
There will be a selection of three entrees: a classic veal schnitzel with lemon caper sauce, potatoes pont-au-neuf and haricots vert; roasted Cornish hen with potato gratin, cabbage salad and apple compote; and for diners of a vegan bent there is a seasonal ratatouille, with jasmine rice, crispy leeks and spinach sauce.
Dessert is nonnegotiable but good luck choosing between the ile flottante, floating island with creme anglaise or a coupe Romanoff, heaped with fresh strawberries and whipped cream, all drizzled with Cointreau.
“For us, we definitely wanted to keep it at that $35 price point, because we feel that allows us to come up with a bit more elaborate menu but still hopefully be within everyone’s budget,” Nicole added.
Marcus commented on his favorite dish, “The beef carpaccio, especially in the summer, is a good appetizer to start off your meal. Between the veal and the ratatouille, our hope is that the menu not be too heavy. Like the dessert as well, the flottante — a meringue-based dessert — it’s decadent but you won’t feel too stuffed.”
Nicole van Winden summed it up nicely, “We’re excited for SRW. It’s been a really fun event and so we’re really looking forward to it again. I imagine it’s only going to get better every year.”
Elevated elegance at a price that is hard to resist. The intention behind this menu at The Dutch exemplifies the true value of SRW.
5845 N. Oracle Road, Tucson
Mary Steiger and Susan Fulton are the founders behind Tucson’s original gluten-free bakery and bistro. The two met in a business networking group and started a small catering operation 15 years ago.
When a client requested a gluten-free cake, it became a challenge that ultimately resulted in their current mission.
As Fulton recalled, “We had a client who wanted some gluten-free products. We started experimenting and went down the rabbit hole. We both went gluten-free and realized how much better we felt. We just never looked back. We just kept experimenting and we still are to this day.”
By the way, because of their dietary change, Fulton found relief from chronic migraines and Steiger’s joint pain disappeared.
After popping up at local farmers markets, the two opened their bakery and bistro on Oracle Road in 2011, 11 a.m. Nov. 11, to be exact. It should be noted that the bakery and bistro is open for breakfast, brunch and lunch every day from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“We are a little bit different than the average restaurant because we have such a niche. We don’t have the (seasonal) fluctuations in business that maybe some of the restaurants do. In the summertime, we have a lot of tourists who come here because they all have gluten-free (smartphone) apps, to look up where to go when they’re traveling, so they find us. We just have the most loyal, wonderful guests who support us year-round,” Fulton noted.
“But traditionally September is the worst month for restaurants in Tucson. It’s always been a mystery why but there it is. SRW is great. It’s a really good boost for us. It gets people back into the mindset of thinking about eating out and trying new places. With all these wonderful deals and special menus, it’s just great. People can peruse all the choices and discover new things.
“You don’t have to be gluten-free to love Gourmet Girls. We like to encourage everybody to come and try it. We think our food is great whether you’re avoiding gluten or not.”
This year their Sonoran Restaurant Week prix-fixe menu will feature two brunch options: the breakfast pizza for two, plus beverages for $25; or their Greek burger, which will come with a side, a beverage and a gourmet cupcake for $25.
“Those are the two special items. The breakfast pizza serves two people. The Greek burger is grass-fed beef on our homemade pita with our homemade tzatziki sauce, feta, red onions and sprouts,” Fulton explained.
Regarding the impending launch of Sonoran Restaurant Week, Fulton was effusive, “We’re really excited about it. We love that Tucson is doing this. It’s just such a good community event and we’re proud and honored to be part of it.”
198 W. Cushing Street, Tucson
The masterminds behind the sprawling historic complex out on West Cushing that comprises the Coronet Restaurant, Coronet Café and Nightjar are still working out its menu details for Sonoran Restaurant Week. That’s because, for the last six months, they have been completely revising and devising a new menu for the Coronet.
Opened in 2014 by partners Sally Kane, Gregor Kretchmann and Mathew Cordes at a smaller location on Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street, the operation will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a major party in April with a working reunion of former chefs and bartenders that remain a part of the extended Coronet family.
Meanwhile, as the team works on the final menu tweaks, Sally Kane explained the course of the summer there. “The main dining room has been closed for July and August. The cafe and Nightjar have been rocking and rolling all summer long.”
Ordinarily the summer closure is for August only. The extra month was added to allow chef Tanner Flemming a European field trip as the team worked on devising a new menu for the restaurant.
“He was able to eat through four different European countries and relax, and that makes us stronger and better. New foods and new experiences.”
Kane noted, “There are some big changes coming up for the restaurant.” Along with the new menu, “The cafe will be enjoying an invigoration with some new menu items like the steak frites and the amazing Vietnamese mussels that we used to have on the restaurant menu a few years ago.” The seating capacity at the cafe and adjoining patio will also be expanded.
“At the restaurant proper, everything (on the menu) will be new there. All the charcuterie will be made in-house like venison carpaccio or rillettes or pate campagne; game meats like venison or wild boar. I will say this, the guests will still enjoy some really incredible vegan options on the new menu. We never think of vegan or vegetarian food as an afterthought. It’s always front and center in our creativity. The ethics of eating are always foremost for us, as well in our menu design,” Kane remarked.
Kane and her team have yet to fully finalize the exact menu and price point for their Sonoran Restaurant Week menu. Any hints to tease us, on their pending menu? “I can say things like ‘brown butter ocean trout tartare.’ Or I can say things like ‘tempura soft shell crab with blue oyster mushrooms.’ Or I could say something like ‘Lion’s mane mushroom steak.’
“We’re still in research and development. It can flux and move. I still have to navigate the menus and figure out how it’s going to look for us. My concern is that the guest has a well-rounded experience,” Kane emphasized.
As to Sonoran Restaurant Week’s positive effect on business, Kane reflected, “We’re a destination restaurant. We have a very healthy season; once it ends, we drop about 60% in business. We don’t have a lot of neighborhood infrastructure. We are in the fabric of this historic property. It’s everything to us. It’s peaceful and tranquil. And it has so many spaces for the guests to spend their time.
“SRW serves to encourage the Tucson guests to dine out again and perhaps try (restaurants) they haven’t been to and it serves to get new restaurants on people’s radar. I think it’s a wonderful kickoff to the Tucson season.”
By the way, the venue regularly features live music and movie nights. Where else can you see the “Wizard of Oz” and “Tampopo” in two consecutive evenings? Check their website for a currently updated calendar of events.
Ghini’s French Caffe
1803 E. Prince Road, Tucson
The tagline at Ghini’s is “Frenchness guaranteed.”
A brunch and lunch venue open 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday to Sunday, the fare here indeed does trend to France with a variety of crepes, omelets and croque sandwich turns.
A native of Marseilles, Coralie Satta (chef Ghini) is the chef and owner here and her lively daytime bistro has been a well-loved fixture on the corner of Prince Road and Campbell Street in the Safeway shopping center since 1992.
Ghini’s has been a regular participant in Sonoran Restaurant Week. This year, her prix-fixe menu will be priced at $35.
“Last year we didn’t incorporate any brunch items. (This year) I’m going to incorporate eggs provencal,” Satta said. “It’s something that can be eaten for breakfast, lunch or dinner. It’s a beautiful, simple dish. It’s our signature dish. I could eat it all day long.”
It might also be noted that Ghini’s eggs provencal has been previously acknowledged by this publication as one of “Tucson’s 100 Essential Dishes.”
“We’re not fancy. People think we’re fancy because we’re French, but we’re not,” she said.
“The south of France is a little more ‘peasant’ so I’m going to stick to my roots and we’re just going to keep it simple. I have eggs provencal and I also have mussels as a choice and then I have a vegan option as well.”
She was still deciding on the vegan dish.
“We have a tomato basil pasta. I don’t know if I want to make it a pasta or if I want to make it more brunchy.”
The first course will be a choice of soup or salad.
“We have our vegan vegetable soup, which is amazing, or a cup of our French onion soup, which is also amazing, and a carrot feta salad, to keep it light. We mean to feed people. Portions are not small.”
The menu will be priced at $35 for two and will include a beverage or a shortcake dessert.
It should also be mentioned that Ghini’s has always been active in community engagement, regularly partnering with local charitable causes, including the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson and the Tucson Humane Society, among others.
“I would just like to say, support your locals,” she said.
“Make sure when you’re out there spending your money, divert it to locals and not to chains. Support your community. That’s all we do. That’s literally our mantra since 1992. I have been only supporting local, I try to only buy local.
“I definitely put my money back into the community.”
When you visit Ghini’s don’t hesitate to bring your canine companion.
“We’re actually Tucson’s first pet-friendly restaurant,” she noted proudly.
Presented and produced by Tucson Foodie, Sonoran Restaurant Week 2023
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 8, to Sunday, Sept. 17
WHERE: A full list of participating restaurants with menu details will be available on the website by Aug. 31