Good Eatin': Not so much

Tucson:

After hearing a bezillion times how great it is, I made a detour to the The Grill at Hacienda del Sol. Except for the setting -- in the restored and renovated Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch Resort that was once a Roaring 20s-era school for daughters of the super rich -- the restaurant was otherwise remindful of St. Estephe, the legendary Southwest Fusion eatery of the 1980s that was unaccountably cloistered in a Manhattan Beach mall. At a time when there were possibly six decent restaurants in all of L.A. County, St. Estephe concocted sometimes delicious, often fanciful, always outrageously priced creations that took Hispanic-American food to places it had never been before.

(You might have ordered "chips and salsa," for example, and been served a dinner plate with a thin layer of red and green sauces deployed in the pattern of the holism symbol and graced with a single taco chip in the form of a dove. This was before anyone knew what a "plate" was, so the place definitely was cutting-edge, but as admirable as its efforts may have been as art, they left something to be desired as, well, food. And it was damnably expensive. You'd wonder if the boys in the back got a bigger kick out of sending out their latest caprices or the bill.)

The Grill at Hacienda induced St. Estephe flashbacks. The menu is replete with components like shrimp chorizzo, parmesan foam, pancetta dust, micro egg yolk, jalapeno-blueberry jam, yam and smoked gouda gratin, charred tomatoes and, I kid you not, "heirloom" beans. Normally this kind of menu -- small portions, unusual tastes -- is right up my alley, but Hacienda del Sol's eclecticism just comes across as pretentious. I can't say the food overall is bad (although the chorizo con pappas was positively insulting), but it lived up to neither its aspirations nor its prices (and lets face it, when you're blown away by a meal you don't even notice how much it costs).

There are plenty of first-rate restaurants in Tucson. You needn't go out of your way for this one.

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