Cielos @ Lodge on the Desert: A Dining Review
Cielos is Spanish for Heavens. For this review, Cielos, a pleasant little restaurant and bar with indoor and outdoor seating, may be the best, least known dining establishment in Tucson.
Open To The Public
Cielos is where guests at Lodge on the Desert enjoy locally-sourced, contemporary seasonal cuisine paired with fine wines, craft beers, and local spirits for classic cocktails.
However, almost no one knows that Cielos is open to the public. That’s right. To enjoy this Tucson Originals dining experience, all you have to do is make a reservation, show up, park in the south end of the front parking lot next to the restaurant’s separate entrance. You don’t have to go through the lobby if you don’t want to.
Cielos at this historic boutique hotel in mid-town is where we met Executive Chef David Solorzano.
Most recently, David was chef de cuisine at Hacienda del Sol Guest Ranch. He has studied cooking under chefs Justin Macy and Chad Luethje at Miraval. He told us that Miraval is where he learned how great simple substitutions and vegetable-driven dishes can be. David also studied at Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale.
Given the old Spanish hacienda ambiance of Cielos and Chef David’s culinary imagination, talent, and penchant for Southwestern ingredients, we highly recommend Lodge on the Desert for business lunches, a delectable happy hour with friends, or a romantic date night dinner under the Heavens.
Cielos’ wine list is not extensive, but what wines they do offer have been selected especially to compliment the food they serve. At this point, we met Justin Fitzsimons. Not sure of Justin’s title, but a careful observation of the functions he performs here suggested that he is the wine steward, maître d’, and food and beverage manager. In other words, a very busy fellow and critical to the Cielos dining experience.
We also discovered why Justin is so good at this restaurant business. Seems it’s in his blood. His uncle, Daniel Scardato, is owner / chef of Vivace, the best Italian dining experience in Tucson.
As Ms. Karen and I both prefer a dry white, Justin suggested their:
PINOT GRIGIO, SCARPETTA Delle Venezie, Italy 2015. An extremely complex, crisp, and earthy Pinot Grigio. Aromas of white flowers, stone fruits and peach are finished with honey, lavender and hints of minerality ($10 per glass).
This wine tastes very different from the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc Kim Crawford and Nobilo we usually enjoy, but we both really liked it … so much so that halfway through our lunch we ordered another. Thank you, Justin!
Fresh Baked Bread
Line, our server, brought us fresh baked bread in a basket wrapped in a cloth napkin. balsamic vinegar and olive oil dip. Excellent!
And yes, her name is “Line” … or at least that is how she (and her parents) spell Lynn. She explained that it’s a French thing. She’s from Toronto Canada. Even so, she is a very good server.
Ms. Karen’s Lunch
PEI MUSSELS & FRITES: Chablis Butter, Garlic, Scallions, Madeira Espelette Pepper Fries ($16)
Ms. Karen loves fresh oysters on the half-shell. This particular delicacy is one reason she loves dining at Agustin Kitchen. The Lunch Menu at Cielos is a bit truncated compared to their Dinner Menu … no oysters. But they do serve mussels at lunch.
“I ordered the small Caesar salad with Mussels and Frites (seasoned French Fries). There must have been 3 dozen Mussels in the bowl. I am a nosher, so this suited me just fine. Usually I find Mussels tough, and prefer raw oysters, but these were small and tasty. The fries were delicious but too much in addition to the salad and copious mussels. Oh, and the Caesar Salad was just right. a very faint taste of anchovy at the beginning which faded slightly. The croutons were dainty and loaded with flavor as well as oil, a small explosion of flavor. Just right.
HANGER STEAK: Dauphinoise Potato, Madeira-Infuse Leeks, Forest Mushrooms, Pear ($35). Gratin dauphinois is a traditional regional French dish based on potatoes and crème fraîche, from the historic Dauphiné region in south-east France. In America we call this au gratin or scalloped potatoes.
One question I usually ask the chef I’m interviewing is “what are your specialties”. Chef David ticked off a couple but my ears perked up when he mentioned hanger steak. For a dining review, I like to encourage the chef to give me his or her best shot. So hanger steak, cooked medium rare, would be my lunch.
As did my spouse, I ordered a small Caesar. Paired with a good wine and fresh baked bread, this was a fine beginning. At this point in our lunch, Jim was a happy camper. And then came the steak.
My steak was served hot and cooked to perfection. Slightly chewier than a filet, of course, but what a great tasting steak. The vegetable side of leeks, mushrooms, and slices of pear was one of the best sides I have ever tasted. And truly enjoyed the au gratin potatoes. Admittedly, I helped myself to some of Ms. Karen’s seasoned fries. Excellent! Altogether, an extraordinary lunch!
Cheese Burger Cheese Burger
For a follow-up, I’m considering asking Chef David if he has enough confidence in his Cielos hamburger to let us review it and see if Cielos should also find a place on our List of the 10 Best Burgers. I noticed that someone at another table had ordered a burger and it looked really good.
We understand that Cielos offers live music in the evenings on weekends. Here is the link for updated info.
Had we been staying overnight at Lodge on the Desert, a stroll through the various gardens on the way back to our casita under a clear desert sky would have made for the most perfect evening. From the interior courtyards and pathways, we would have had no sense that this beautiful, historic hotel is now in the midst of a major metropolitan area and only 4 miles from Downtown.
Do we recommend Cielos at Lodge on the Desert? Indeed we do. Excellent cuisine and service in a historic setting.
Cielos at Lodge on the Desert
306 N. Alvernon Avenue; Tucson
- Complimentary Sonoran Hot Breakfast for Guests: 7 AM – 10 AM
- Lunch: 11 AM – 2 PM
- Happy Hour: 3 PM – 7 PM
- Dinner: 5 PM – 10 PM