Tucson Local Media: Liven Up

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  • Creole Comforts

    Tiffany Eldridge actually prefers the title of bartender over mixologist. She does not ignite drinks on fire, there isn’t a lot of tossing shakers and bottles and above all she just wants you to take the time and enjoy one of her signature creations or a classic libation.Luckily for us here in the Old Pueblo, SAZ Creole Kitchen & Cocktails has quietly opened up in Saint Phillips Plaza and is already beginning to make a lot of noise. But it is a joyful cacophony of flavors, ideas and heritage inspired by a New Orleans of a bygone era with Eldridge at the helm along with executive chef Robert Kimball, who has years of NOLA culinary experience, manning the back of the house.  Between the two of them what they want you to walk away with once you have stepped foot in their modern take on a Bourbon Street speakeasy is what a well to do southerner might have called their home away from home a generation ago.  One thing that Tiffany and Robert want to be clear on is the difference between Cajun cuisine and Creole. SAZ likens itself to the Creole factor, meaning elevated food for the more well to do folk hailing influences from the Caribbean, Ireland, West Africa, Spain, Portugal and, of course, France. Creole food has a refinement for it where Cajun has a more down home appeal coming from setters with limited means and having to use what the land and rivers provided. Without pretention, but rather with a calm confidence, SAZ radiates genteel Louisiana charm. Eldridge, who originally hails from Salt Lake City, cut her bartending teeth by learning from her older sister who has helped open wildly successful bars and high-end speakeasies in New York and Philadelphia. After opening a popular cocktail lounge here in Tucson, she eventually paired up with JAM Culinary Concepts with a vision to create a bit of a time warp for the senses. With the help and skills of chef Iaccarino, they transport you to an era when it was okay, if not necessary, to savor the better things a quaint neighborhood establishment can provide. SAZ opens at 8 a.m. daily and serves breakfast till 11. If you have ever been to New Orleans, then you must have had a beignet. No, of course you did. Those puffy fritters made from deep fried dough are a staple and they are done to perfection here. For lunch, one should start things off right with their fried green tomato plate that comes paired with a delicious bronzed baby shrimp sauce which is tart and sumptuous before diving into one of SAZ’s imaginative takes on the infamous Po’ Boy sandwich,

  • 5 spectacular movie rentals worth your time

    Here are five movie rentals that you’ll find fascinating, inspiring, scary, touching but, most of all, very memorable:Whiplash This 2014 drama will have you glued to your television set. Literally. In fact, any smoke detector alarms blaring in your house or Facebook notification chimes on smart phones will go completely unnoticed during these shocking 105 minutes of music boot camp. The always energetic J.K. Simmons won his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in this mind-blower, which costars Miles Teller. “Whiplash” was nominated for five Academy Awards—including Best Picture—winning for Best Film Editing, Best Sound Mixing and Best Supporting Actor (Simmons). Parents wanting to discourage children from taking up drums may want to purchase this instant classic.“Whiplash’ is currently available to stream via subscription on XFINITY and to rent or purchase via Amazon, CinemaNow, iTunes Store, VUDU, and YouTube. Meru Just a couple of minutes into this documentary, the wife walked by and asked what I was watching? “It’s a mountain climbing story...” I explained. For the next 88 minutes, we watched in complete amazement as less than a handful of climbers attempted the impossible...Mount Meru, the summit marked by a “Shark’s Fin” 21,000 feet above the Ganges River in northern India. To see these dreamers pursue one of the ultimate adventure prizes, in a career filled with overachievers, is exhilarating! At least three times during this film, I was sure the camera was going to catch one of these explorers losing their lives in an unpleasant descent down to thicker air locales. When famous climber Jon Krakauer (author of “Into Thin Air”) has a serious man-crush on these stars of “Meru”, you know that you’re watching something special. Very special. The modern era’s most significant climbing movie. A film you will remember for the rest of your life.

  • Cracking a bung with Three Wells Distilling

    Take my word for it. When a distiller invites you to a bung-cracking, you’re advised to clear your calendar.I must admit, in all my years of covering the culinary and cocktail scene, I’ve never cracked a bung. So when local distiller Matt Montgomery asked me to join him last November for this historic moment on my spirituous journey, I eagerly accepted.For the uninitiated, cracking a bung refers to the process of removing the wooden plug from the hole of a barrel in which spirits are aging to access the treasure for tasting. Depending on how solidly the plug is set, the process may require the assistance of a hammer and wedge to remove it. The spirit that took center stage that day was distilled from 100 percent blue agave, the plant that produces Tequila, and its time spent in the barrel classified it as a reposado.“We started the process back in July by putting our Agave Silver, a clear, unaged, Tequila-inspired spirit, into 53-gallon oak barrels for resting,” said Montgomery, co-founder and distiller at Three Wells Distilling Company. “We selected used bourbon barrels for this one, made from charred American White Oak, to see how the toast and char would work with the native profile of the agave.” Montgomery first cracked that bung in August, after a month of resting, just to check on the spirit’s maturity.

  • And the Winner is …

    This Sunday night’s 89th Academy Awards show on ABC is one of the most uncertain and open races in recent years. First-time Oscar host Jimmy Kimmel kicks off the telecast at 5 p.m., Arizona time.  Despite La La Land netting a record-tying 14 Academy Award nominations (joining Titanic and All About Eve for the most ever), Oscar Night always manages to entertain and surprise viewers.  Expect the Hollywood love story to get stiff competition from Manchester by the Sea and Moonlight for the 8 ½ pound golden statuettes.Here are my selections for who’ll win this year’s Academy Awards, honoring the highest achievements in filmmaking (in bold):ACTRESS IN SUPPORTING ROLE Despite not being enthralled with either Moonlight or Manchester by the Sea, both films provided exceptional performances from their talented casts.  My vote would easily go to Viola Davis in Fences.  Lion and Hidden Figures are the best movies on this 5-picture list, but Kidman and Spencer face an uphill battle.  And Williams?  Come on, she was barely in Manchester by the Sea…but her one memorable scene may be enough to sway Oscar voters. Viola Davis (Fences) Naomie Harris (Moonlight)

  • Meh. “Fifty Shades Darker” not as good as original

    Once again, the month of February has drawn upon us and a handful of friends sheepishly asked if I were going to see this second erotic rollout based upon best-selling author E.L. James’ trilogy collection?  Yes, I unabashedly responded.  And, no, like most book-to-film endeavors, I haven’t read any of James’ three “Shades” smut novels.  These questions point to the fact that sex fantasy films generate a whole different theater vibe and allure for viewers than a typical movie due to their more graphic sexual and kinky content. Such soft-porn movies create the need to review both the overall storyline and the over-publicized sordid sex scenes.Great (ben wa) balls of fire!  “Fifty Shades Darker” contains exactly one titillating (and humorous) string of events that quickly escalates from foreplay to masquerade dinner, before climaxing into mattress mayhem.  Young Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) resumes his control freak persona into Anastasia Steele’s personal and professional life. This time, however, we find Dakota Johnson’s Miss Steele character never taken aback by her former lover… a more willing accomplice to Grey’s dominance between his 1800 thread count bed sheets.Christian Grey is the same helicopter boyfriend who never allows his possessions or women to stray far outside of his arm’s reach. Everything must be available at his disposal to provide immediate gratification and stimulation. In a subtle scene as the always working Anastasia, Dakota Johnson pays a small on-screen tribute to her true-life mother, Melanie Griffith, and 1988’s “Working Girl”.   Unfortunately, this film’s story is not nearly as entertaining as last year’s predecessor, “Fifty Shades of Grey” -- which I gave a B+ letter grade.  Little heartache or convincing is required of Christian Grey to pursue and compel the younger Anastasia to recommence her submissive afterhours sexual prowess.  The true culprit for the movie’s less satisfying plot resides in its lack of depth given to several competing, smaller sub-stories…none of which spurns any excitement, interest, or suspense for viewers in this installment. While “Fifty Shades Darker” is a major drop-off from the series’ original bedroom punisher, it does faithfully accomplish its main goal of creating the potential for a thrilling finale in 2018.  Unapologetically, I will be there to review it.

  • Cooking up Creole, Cajun traditions in Old Pueblo

    It’s more than just a few letters that distinguish the Cajuns from the Creoles in the Pelican State.While the terms are often used synonymously, the gulf between these two regional Louisiana styles of cooking is as wide as Lake Pontchartrain. So in preparation for Fat Tuesday, the one day of the year when that gulf is bridged, I caught up with two local chefs for a better understanding of these tasty traditions. Robert Iaccarino was born and raised in New Orleans and spent nearly 20 years in Europe as a self-described “journeyman chef.” He then worked in several New Orleans restaurants, including stints in the kitchen with legendary Louisiana chef Paul Prudhomme, an Iaccarino family friend, before his passing.Iaccarino tells me that creole cuisine is drawn from European influences, from what he calls the “top of the aristocracy.”“These were the people that had the means, the education and the money to purchase a lot of fresh foods, produce, meats, sausages and the like,” said Iaccarino, executive chef at Sazerac Creole Kitchen and Cocktails, 4340 N. Campbell Avenue, “and that’s what our food is based on at Sazerac; 19th century style cuisine with modern appliances.”In addition to classic creole dishes such as crawfish etoufee and jambalaya, Iaccarino’s menu also features some original selections, like the bronzed salmon filet with meuniere, a sauce made from a veal demi-glace that Iaccarino defines as “rich, decadent and complex.”

  • KAPOW! “Lego Batman” brings laughs to all ages

    Three years after co-directing the wildly successful and Academy Award nominated “The Lego Movie”, Chris McKay finds himself sitting alone in the director’s chair for this sequel.  And the same can be said for Gotham City’s own Caped Crusader—as Batman headlines this Lego spin-off and must come to terms with his lonely, inner-self and inability to share his crimefighting success with anyone else.  This adventure-comedy offers the perfect mix of funny one-liners with an explosive and emotional archrival, The Joker, who once again acts as the nemesis to Batman. The computer-generated animation film features dozens of superheroes and villains for viewers to choose from and watch throughout.  With a serious-minded human element softly added thanks to Tom Cruise’s “Jerry Maguire” character, “The Lego Batman Movie” brings smiles to viewers of all ages over its 90-minute therapy session for Bruce Wayne.Will Arnett’s likable voice as Batman will draw easy comparisons to Facebook and YouTube viral sensation BatDad (“JEN!”).  That’s a good thing, with Arnett oozing overconfidence and an uneasiness to play well with others. Likewise, similar spectacular performers who make this film feel fresh and on top of its DC Comics’ game include Zach Galifianakis as The Joker, Rosario Dawson as Batgirl, and Ralph Fiennes as the consummate professional butler, Alfred.  Rated PG for crude humor and some action, the very few adult jokes all fly by fast and high enough to probably miss any attentive youthful ears. KAPOW!  After two dreary, less fulfilling gambits last year in “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” and “Suicide Squad,” leave it to this animated action pleaser to pump much-needed life back into DC Entertainment. With rapid-fire laughs and well-timed hat tips to the 1960s “Batman” television series and Adam West, “The Lego Batman Movie” not only saves Gotham City, but, perhaps DC Comics as well. It nicely introduces us to a pair of main characters and their lesser known backgrounds, both of which have become staples in the Batman storyline.    Once again, everything is awesome.  

  • Savoring Tucson’s finest food and wine

    More than 1,000 hungry foodies made their way to the Tucson Botanical Gardens last Saturday, Feb. 4 to enjoy dozens of different food samples from some of the region’s most notable restaurants and fill their glasses time and time again at the 4th annual Savor Food and Wine Festival hosted in part by the Southern Arizona Arts and Cultural Alliance and Local First Arizona.While many in attendance were excited to eat and drink their fill, Local First Arizona Director and Founder Kimber Lanning said the festival is a chance for Tucson’s culinary experts to display the creations which have earned Tucson the nation’s first designation from UNESCO as a City of Gastronomy.“We have a very rich cultural and agricultural heritage surrounding native foods,” Lanning said. “The positioning between Mexico and tribal lands and all of that food culture that comes together here truly makes it a special place.”Traditional and newly imagined Mexican cuisine was not the only bite-sized fare on display at the festival; guests were treated to dishes of all kinds, from Italian to American offerings.While sampling out meals to 1,200 different guests is a surefire way to make your name known among the food bloggers and Yelpers, Lanning said the event is also a great opportunity to improve the local economy.“Local First looks to strengthen Arizona’s economy, and we look to do that in several different ways,” she said. “Here at Savor, we are working to build a stronger food community in the southern part of the state. We know that when folks fall in love with the flavor of Arizona, two things are going to happen: they will choose to support local restaurants, which keeps more money in the local economies. Secondly, locally owned businesses really provide a sense of place not experienced if you chose to go to a chain restaurant.”

  • “The Eagle Huntress” documentary shines in storytelling and cinematography

    The uniqueness of documentary films affords us with an unfiltered, first-hand glimpse into a person’s life adventures.  These “reality” movies place us—the filmgoer—directly into the world of non-actors doing what they do best being themselves.  Through these documentaries, we partake in history as it’s recording, warts and all, starring those who making it all happen. In “The Eagle Huntress,” we are invited into the nomadic culture of one family living in the snow-covered Altai Mountains of Mongolia near the border with China.  This film’s deeply powerful and rich story develops as a young girl attempts to enter the competitive Mongol world of eagle hunters. Narrated by “The Force Awakens’” heroine Daisy Ridley (who played Rey in the “Star Wars” classic), “The Eagle Huntress” introduces viewers to a 13-year old girl named Aisholpan, as she learns the 1,000-year old trade skill of training golden eagles to help a tribe hunt for elusive foxes … a desperate source of food and clothing in Mongolia’s harsh 40-degrees-below-zero climate.Tackling strong stereotypes and the custom of male-only eagle hunters, this young girl must convince her father to alter her family’s twelve-generation practice of a patriarch teaching his son the time-honored art of taming predatory birds. Gorgeous cinematography educates and inspires throughout.  With today’s over-reliance upon computer-generated imagery to create the perfect shot, it’s breathtaking to see a movie captured on the big-screen using only natural, postcard-quality outdoor scenes. In fact, while this film’s story is largely singular and focused solely on Aisholpan’s attempt to become the first woman to earn the coveted eagle huntress title, the English subtitles and amazing photography masterfully transplants us deep inside the nomadic tribal lifestyle.Combined with its feel-good underdog narrative and mesmerizing images resides a galvanizing soundtrack that warms one’s heart and soul.  No music is more stirring than Sia’s song, “Angel by the Wings,” booming during the film’s credits and final still shots of Aisholpan.  

  • Taking a Punsch at the Tough Luck Club

    I suppose it was tough luck on that winter night in 1988 when three punches, which I never even ordered, made me $150 richer.I was tending bar at the legendary Bum Steer when a fight broke out, and as my employee manual directed me to do, I broke it up. It was then that I learned about the bar’s “lucky punch” policy, which paid employees $50 for every hit they took in restoring order to the scene.Having been the recipient of three hard ones in that melee, I ended my shift with an extra $150 in my tip jar, courtesy of the Steer’s code of compassion.Thankfully there’s a different kind of punch that’s trending at bars today, and what a difference an “s” makes.Punsch, a liqueur that originated in 18th Century Sweden, is suddenly relevant again as evidenced by its presence in many of Southern Arizona’s cocktail bars. Swedish Punsch can be distilled from fermented coconut flower sap, rice, fruits, or sugar cane and introduces a unique flavor profile to a range of cocktails.Local barman Robert Gillies’ fascination with the spirit began nearly 10 years ago when he started reading vintage cocktail books, an interest which intensified when he considered his family’s lineage.

  • From father to daughter, Trattoria Pina is still serving inspired Italian cuisine after 23 years

    Bright, late afternoon light beams in through the wide windows, illuminating the orders of food on the pass line. An open kitchen allows patrons to see how each dish is carefully constructed. A muffolatta panini piled high with thinly sliced cold cuts and a rich pesto is delivered to a man celebrating his 100th birthday. Customers linger over post lunch coffee and tiramisu soaked in rum and espresso. This is just a day in the life of the homey yet sumptuous Italian restaurant Trattoria Pina.“Originally, I did not want to get into the restaurant business,” said owner Pina Colosimo, “but I am so glad that I did.”In fact, Colosimo’s parents insisted, at first, that she stay away from the family business. Running a successful and busy eatery is hard work, and they should know. Her folks, Cosmo and Nana, ran DaVinci’s on Ft. Lowell Road for over 28 years and her uncle owned Michelangelo’s, which opened back in 1972. To say the least, owning an Italian-inspired restaurant is in her blood and she just couldn’t stay away, even though she tried.“They wanted me to enjoy my life, work a nine-to-five job and not have to live in a restaurant,” Colosimo said. “But after five years in the corporate world I knew that I wanted to open my own place.”With the help of her husband, Fedele, who was also thrown into the chaotic world of the restaurant industry by becoming chef, they found a perfect spot on the corner of Swan and Sunrise, and in 1993 Trattoria Pina opened. Twenty-three years later, we are so glad she decided to be the rebel.Some call Trattoria Pina a “hidden gem” even though it is hiding in plain sight. A vivid yellow awning looms over the heavy wood front doors, which are usually open, inviting all to step inside. Once there, you know you are in for something special. The restaurant itself is quietly upscale, but extremely comfortable which absolutely reflects the cuisine. Soft, warm, open, subtle yet filled with activity and the smiles of the servers, chef and, yes, owner, who can usually be found at the host stand greeting customers and showing them to their table. 

  • “The Founder” serves up McDonald’s history

    Sixty-three years ago, they owned the fast food hamburger market outpacing even Burger King (Insta-Burger King at the time) nationally. Soon, McDonalds offspring popped up along almost every U.S. main street nearly as fast and efficiently as their burgers, fries and milkshakes arrived at the front counter of each franchise restaurant. Now the burger giant serves 1 percent of the world’s population. Every day. “The Founder” traces the chaotic mid- to late years of Ray Kroc, the Illinois salesman who sold milkshake makers—and just about everything else—back in 1954. Academy Award winner Michael Keaton nicely plays Kroc, the future head of The McDonalds Corp., as business plans and relationships form to develop the nation’s model for fast food customer service. While this chronological true story feels documentary in style, it doesn’t usher many outward emotions from viewers, either good or bad. Mostly informative in nature, only a few times during the movie are we given glimpses behind the golden arches into the unpleasantness of Kroc during his dramatic rise to franchise King status.The film’s interesting story parts boil down to the relationships in Kroc’s life at the time. Case in point: His discovery of the McDonalds brothers in San Bernardino, California, soaking up their revolutionary business model and floor plan ideas. Both ingredients key to an assembly line of burgers so fast, efficient, and successful it would make Japanese car manufacturers stand up and applaud in envy. This movie is not a glaring 2-hour promotional commercial for McDonalds. Aside from its business merits and trendsetting fast food branding, the tense relationships between Kroc and his wife (Laura Dern), the financiers, and the original McDonalds franchise owners are the best dishes served on the film’s menu. The less endearing picture painted of Kroc is underscored by his hijacking of the McDonalds trademark name and his ruthless negotiations that made it happen.Viewers go from supporting Keaton’s earnest salesman character and franchise vision as Kroc, to switching restaurant tables to watch his troubles get unwrapped from afar.

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