LET THE FEAST BEGIN
AT THE LOFT CINEMA
All signs point to the Loft Cinema for a taste of the old days...so does Victor's home theater.

For years that perennial evening favorite, dinner and a movie, found us going to the Loft Cinema, sharing pizza and wine at an outdoor table before the show. Or maybe one of those more expansive sandwich selections, with a cold beer.

People-watching at the Loft is always fun, too. Artist sightings are common among a clientele that prizes an independent lifestyle and freedom of expression.

While garden variety television at home will sort of replace going to the movies at any of the mall-type theaters, those multiplex programs don't come close to matching the tapestry of tastes and varieties of viewpoint you find on film in any evening at the Loft.

So when the Loft temporarily closed, along with everybody else, it left an exceptionally difficult hole to fill. Fortunately the Loft's film programs were soon available for streaming at home...on television.

The seating area in Victor's home theater, sometimes called "the mancave."

But for Bernice and I, hoping to add some Loft chow to our streaming Loft movie, there was only popcorn, chocolate and various beverages available to order.

Shucks. While the Loft's popcorn is always fresh, delicious and organic, we were hoping for a little more to eat. Then this doughty cinema added two kinds of vegetarian tamales from the Tucson Tamale company to the theater's snack bar list of food items – that was close enough!

We could add the trimmings for a special night of Loft food, Loft wine and more than enough Loft popcorn to fill in the chinks.

But what would it take to make that happen? The first thing we did was put on our Loft t-shirts, then the ideas began to flow. 

Special plates and special plating make any Loft movie special on a Friday or Saturday night. The wine and tamales felt right at home with the side dishes Bernice prepared.

Those tamales (Green Chile & Cheese, Blue Corn & Veggie) would be the centerpiece, with an accompanying bottle from the theater's menu of the Sand-Reckoner Vinyard's special white blend.

Bernice could add her Mexican salad and her special side dish of rice and beans. All the food would be organic and particularly healthy. Her husband Victor offered his massive TV screen set-up.

Quickly enough, matching paper plates and napkins appeared with a movie motif design to complete the atmosphere for our special night.

Since our favorite seats at the Loft are in the upstairs theater on the couch, Victor's couch nicely filled the bill. This was starting to feel really good.

Then the most difficult part was deciding which movie to pick from the Loft's line-up. To make an experimental dry run before our own special Loft night out, we picked “My Darling Vivian,” a documentary about the shunned first wife of Johnny Cash (yes, before he became famous enough to meet and marry June Carter). Now all the technical aspects were falling into place.

So with confidence we put in our Loft food order of frozen tamales (both kinds), chilled wine and fresh popcorn for curbside pickup, while the salad, rice and beans were ready and waiting, with ice in the wine bucket, and then we selected “Shirley,” an award-winning new release that had lots of heads spinning at the Sundance Film Festival last January.

Soon enough the movie was running, dramatically setting up its confrontations, while we were unwrapping the husks of our freshly steamed tamales that had been wrapped in wet paper towels to run through the micro-wave. Both kinds were equally tender and tasty.

The blue corn ones were a little more robust, but the Green Chile & Cheese was sweeter and had more body. The white wine blend was inviting with a crispy lightness and welcoming golden color.

As we enjoyed our meal, “Shirley” became a true stunner in the Loft Cinema style, both scary and though-provoking all at once. Sure enough, that long bag of popcorn became dessert, joining the rest of the wine to remind us why the Loft will always be a special place.

Bernice Chesi and Chuck Graham toast the Loft Cinema, then settle in to dine on their tamales.     



LET THE FEAST BEGIN IN FRENCH AT LE RENDEZVOUS
Cold duck pate with a baguette, martinis and candlelight begin our evening of French fare from Le Rendezvous Bistro & Restaurant.

Everybody loves Italian food and who doesn't have a favorite Asian dish, but nothing says “special occasion” like reservations at a French restaurant. Particularly if it is Le Rendezvous Bistro & Restaurant, 3844 Fort Lowell Road.

Neither Bernice nor I had any birthdays or anniversaries to celebrate, but Bastille Day was in the air, and seeing how the Le Rendezvous menu said we could order “Escargot Au Chablis” and “Croque Monsieur” to go, there was no reason to resist.

So while she went looking for the perfect little black dress, I went online for the correct pronunciation of “Croque Monsieur.” That was  the first step to becoming completely absorbed in our journey to create an evening of Le Rendezvous dining at home.

Purple and gold would be the colors for our table setting, with proper attention paid to the warming and slicing of our demi-baguetttes.

Those would be served with a dish of cold duck pate accompanied by the martinis that Bernice's husband Victor had precisely measured and mixed. Meanwhile our crystal decanter containing a 2016 Chardonnay from Le Rendezvous was chilling in the freezer.

The wine had already been cooled when I picked up our order curbside at the restaurant, so I wrapped the bottle in a beach towel for the ride home. That seemed to work pretty well.

Le Rendezvous does take its carry-out orders seriously. Every dish comes with its own re-heating instructions, from French Onion Soup to the Pithivier (almond cream in a puff pastry) that became our dessert. Both of the entrees we picked – Coq Au Riesling and Duck Confit Cassoulet – were frozen in flavor-sealed pouches ready to be dropped straight into boiling pots of water.

Coq au Riesling with bacon, mushrooms, mashed potatoes and garden vegetables is Gallic comfort food, for sure.

These thoughtfully prepared dishes came out of the pot looking quite lovely, as Bernice opened and plated them for their photos. Ever attentive to details, Victor found beguiling French cafe music from the Pandora website's Nouvelle Vague channel to play softly in the background.

I kept pushing aside thoughts of wondering whatever happened to my black beret and wishing I could light up an unfiltered cigarette. Another sip of that crisp martini kept my attention focused on the hefty slice of coarsely ground pate, rich with a complex blend of roast duck and garden herb flavors.
The Duck Confit Cassoulet of white beans, with a link of andouille sausage, was equally comforting.

Only, that set my mind swirling with visions of those formal paintings that always portray a classic French countryside. The ones where two young people in tousled clothing enjoy each other's company under the welcoming boughs that spread across a verdant meadow. You know the kind.

Was it the light from those tall candles that kept flickering in my memory?

This isn't food you can just dish out and eat,” Victor observed sagely.

Our tandem of entrees, Coq Au Riesling and Duck Confit Cassoulet, did look enticing in that candlelight. Each was an ample portion framed with promising side dishes adding their own accent notes.
Deeper flavors call for some deeper thought on this special occasion.

Just as the name suggests, Coq Au Riesling is a white wine version of the more familiar Coq Au Vin. The Riesling lends its own sweetness, especially appreciated after that opening course of savory pate.

The chicken itself was tender and moist, full of deep flavors that added an extra dimension to the potential that's possible in “carry-out” orders. This can be said of the duck, as well.

Served in an equally generous portion, the dish traveled without incident from its midtown restaurant kitchen to Bernice's northwest side home. Along for the ride was a complementary link of andouille sausage to balance out the flavors nicely.
The Angel of Dessert joins us for a divine finish to our dinner of companionable delights.

Our dessert of Pithivier was simplicity itself, a puff pastry filled with almond crème which takes its name from the town of Pithiviers in the country's north-central region. Le Rendezvous recommends heating for 10 minutes in a 300-degree toaster oven. We added our own cups of dark roast French coffee.

The candles still had a few inches left to burn, so we lingered on with another coffee, wanting to savor more of our memories of the evening and those soft rhythms of Nouvelle Vague.

Our toast to Le Rendezvous for its culinary magic carpet. Thanks for the memories. 


(cell phone users: scroll down to see all the past feasts)

MAYNARDS MARKET OFFERS GOURMET TO-GO

Located more or less across the street from Hotel Congress, Maynards is known for its elegant cool.

Back in the years BC (Before Coronavirus), we often enjoyed sitting in the shady downtown courtyard of Maynards Market and Kitchen by the railroad tracks, sipping drinks and casually popping open a bowl's worth of tasty mussels as the long trains rumbled by.

It always made me think about being a part of the Old West, somehow.

Then came that fateful day last March when everything collapsed. All the stores and businesses closed, people were advised to start wearing masks in public, nobody knew what to do.

But then Maynards “Virtual” Market announced online it was open for take-out. We checked the website menu and, most wonderfully, there were two entries under “Take and Bake Cuisine” that sounded worthy of Maynards Kitchen – Coq Au Vin and Braised Short Ribs.
The southwestern flavors of Bernice's home give Maynards cuisine its proper setting.

Sadly there were no mussels, but they did have Take & Bake Pizza Kits. By then, we were hooked on the idea of transporting Maynards delicious offerings for a special dinner evening in another candle lit nook of Bernice's home on the northwest side of town.

After ordering both the Coq Au Vin and Braised Short Ribs, she chose a Margherita pizza kit to be the appetizer in place of those missing mussels. Also a bottle of Chenin blanc from Carlson Creek Vineyard, plus some sides of zucchini and a couple of different potato dishes.


We drove down to pick up our curbside stash at Maynards Market then headed back to Bernice's own waiting kitchen, carefully unpacking everything only to discover they forgot to include the stretched pizza dough.

But a quick call to Maynards and within 30 minutes they delivered the missing dough, rolled out into a circle, kept safe in a regular square pizza box – service with a smile.

The Maynards Take & Bake process is meticulously planned and does require a little concentration. Each item comes in its own aluminum foil pan with its own baking instructions. You can also find the same instructions online (hotelcongress.com/family/maynards) if you want to study up a little before ordering.

This Coq Au Vin with roasted potatoes and zucchini had the star power, but those short ribs had a secret weapon.

Chief of the entrees is the Coq Au Vin, redolent with the heady aromas from a wreath of thyme wrapped around the vegetables and chicken prepared in its own deep buttery red wine sauce, already looking too good to eat.

Second only in appearance are the hearty cuts of short ribs covered in another rich wine sauce even deeper in flavor, so deep this instantly became my favorite (not that anybody is judging).


Both entrees are family-sized portions with each one easily serving two hungry bear appetites, maybe more. Both come with seasonal vegetables. Our selections included those potatoes, mushrooms and zucchini.

Knowing the pizza would be along later, we began preparing the food we already had, which was really enough for two meals. There was so much, in fact, we decided to keep the pizza for the next night.

This worked out better, actually, because Bernice could borrow her son-in-law's pizza stone to crisp up the Take & Bake dough. For pizza aficionados this is highly recommended. In fact, Maynards' cooking instructions also mention using a pizza stone.

For the Margherita pizza you get a circle of stretched dough the size of a platter, separate cups containing a red sauce, three cheeses (mozzarella, smoked fontina and grana padano), sliced tomatoes and basil. With the oven pre-heated to 500 degrees, we applied all the toppings and popped it in.
Looking so innocent with mashed potatoes and zucchini, this hefty braised short rib had the final word in satisfaction.

For our dinner of dueling chicken and beef entrees we wanted our own deep atmosphere of candlelight (which always makes everything taste better) and enticing music from Pandora's “Dave Brubeck” jazz channel.

Everything fit together beautifully. The Coq Au Vin filled the dining room with such a heady aroma of thyme, while the short ribs added a solid flavor base of gourmet goodness that went on forever. The combined pleasures were so satisfying we didn't even think about dessert.

As for that Margherita pizza the next night, Bernice added her own lightly tossed salad, some locally purchased chicken wings and fried zucchini.

Once again Maynards' flavorful sauces ruled the table. The dough became a substantial thin-crust pizza celebrating simplicity with tomatoey herbal goodness without needing the extra hype of additional toppings.

We also learned, even if you order Maynards' pizza and bake it a day later, all that delicious goodness will still be in there.

A well-deserved toast to Maynards "Virtual" Market as ruler of the gourmet sauces for its Take & Bake cuisine.