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Dive into great catch: Kingfisher

Citizen Staff Writer
Restaurant review



Kingfisher is a place that prompts you to cut to the chase.

This midtown seafood mainstay offers a level of fine dining that easily rates with eateries that attract and play up considerably more pomp and circumstance.

But Kingfisher eschews the flashy, flirty service, cutesy, verbose menus, plate painting, and gravity-defying food architecture for a no-nonsense yet distinctly creative and rich dining experience.

“Here’s dinner,” Kingfisher says. “Now eat.”

And boy, do you eat.

No calamari here. They just call it Fried Squid ($9.50). By any other name, the breading was impeccably light and sizzly, and the squid rode a spot-on balance due to a spot-on preparation that kept the rubberyness in check but retained a pleasing amount of texture and was imbued with an uncommon level of oceanic essence normally absent from what’s often a rather flavorless affair. The dark soy sauce and nicely acidic slant (we were thinking lemon juice, rice wine vinegar or maybe both) of the Ponzu dipping sauce made for a cleaner, more interesting complement than the usual marinara; too, the dry slaw of Napa Cabbage was a well-chosen accompaniment.

The Pan Fried Shrimp Cakes ($8.50) were considerably ratcheted up with an aggressive lemon and horseradish aioli and an equally powerful Vietnamese red chile sauce. The pair of generously thick cakes hit sweet and pungent notes and had a pleasant airy quality, a falafellike fluffiness that made for a good backdrop against the considerably spicy heat of the accompaniments.

Despite the nearly full house on this weeknight, the entrees arrived at just the right time on piping hot plates. The servers here don’t have to gingerly taxi the plates to their landing areas to retain the fragile towers of culinary artistry on them. The food is decidedly low-slung yet every bit as attractive and intriguing.

The Grilled Ruby Trout ($19) arrived splayed out, skin down, char-striped and glistening on a large plate, the fish surrounded by a butter of oven-dried tomato and cashews, offset with simple steamed rice and sautéed green beans (not Haricot Verts mind you, just green beans). The salmonlike hue of the delicate trout gave away what separates ruby trout from the other varieties, and the flavor and texture seemed to be equal parts trout and salmon. As with everything else here, the butter was a perfect counterpart to the trout, providing a silky, rich yet refined sweetness and sultry acidity.

The Pan Seared Sea Scallops ($24) was an all-out culinary symphony, an ingenious teaming of flavors and textures all expertly prepared. You don’t have to get cute with scallops of this quality, and they were simply and carefully pan-seared to the ideal state, nicely caramelized on the outside and exquisitely jiggly on the inside. The edgy sweetness of the red beets in the orzo, the perfectly sautéed spinach – not bitter but tantalizingly earthy and husky – and the preserved lemons, the preserving of which tempers the acidity and brings out a smoother tang akin to capers or olives, worked masterfully well together. This is an ingeniously conceived offering, but one that can only be pulled off with a level of discipline and technique uncommon to many eateries.

As with the rest of the experience, desserts were decidedly un-froufrou and just plain excellent. The Cappuccino Swirl Cheesecake ($8.50) sounded like an offering you might encounter at Coco’s or Baskin-Robbins, but delivered a five-diamond-style payoff of refinement. The espresso flavor gently melded with the pungent New York-style heft of classic cheesecake, which had a creaminess that arrived at a no-bake quality. The Cherry Chocolate Almond Torte was a relentless, full-court press of deep, dark chocolate spiked with tangy stabs of dried cherries, an offering that belied its modest size and would be perfect for sharing, given its all but over-the-top richness.

As my companion noted, you don’t need bells and whistles when you have the chops, and there is a certain humility and respect for food here, a dispensing of pointless presentation and posturing in favor of serving food you truly savor. We had to look high and low for something less-than-exemplary to say about Kingfisher and we finally found it doing the former. Way above our heads, the ceiling tiles inherited from the Iron Mask are a little long in the tooth. That’s pretty much it.

Kingfisher is usually listed as one of the better Tucson eateries in lots of restaurant guides. It made the list of noteworthy eateries in the 2008 Zagat guide, but for whatever reason, isn’t in this year’s guide. Who cares? I’m certain the people at Kingfisher don’t, nor do the healthy crowds of loyal customers, which more often than not include the chefs of other notable Tucson restaurants.


Address and phone: 2564 E. Grant Road, 323-7739

Hours: 11 a.m.-midnight Mondays-Fridays, 5 p.m.-midnight Saturdays and Sundays

Prices: Appetizers from $8.50 to $22, soups and salads from $6 to $8.50, entrees from $17 to $27.50, desserts $8.50.

Bar: Full

Vegetarian options: Roasted Tomato-Cannellini Bean Soup ($6), Seasonal Mesclun Greens ($7), Marinated Eggplant and Warm Goat Cheese Salad ($8), Baby Spinach Salad ($8.50)

Desserts: Vary, but currently include Goat Cheese Cake, Crème Brûlée, Chocolate Cherry Almond Torte, and Cappucino Swirl Cheesecake

Latest health inspection: A “Good” rating Oct. 8. Critical violations were reported for hand-washing facilities not available and functional; food employees not preventing contamination of ready-to-eat food by limiting bare hand contact to approved methods; and foods not correctly date marked.

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