We had planned on celebrating Neighbor Roy’s 90th birthday at Vivace Italian Restaurant in Tucson for several weeks. Why Vivace? Well, it is one of the very few Southern Arizona restaurants that has earned a Five Sagauo rating on the Guide. The day finally came in late January 2023 and what a great celebration it was. Invitees included our Canadian friends, Richard and Wendy, who spend the better part of the Winter and Spring ensconced in our casita. They say it has to do with the bone-chilling cold at their home in Alberta (like minus 40 degrees). Anyway, Ms. Karen and I were happy to have them join us. They had met Neighbor Roy several years ago when Roy showed them his magnificent Native American basket collection which he recently donated to Tohono Chul Park.
I was anticipating valet service, but there was none this time. So Ms. Karen dropped us off at the entrance and parked the car. I had made reservations for noon weeks ago, and therefore we were seated right away. Richard and Wendy had not been to Tucson in 3 years because of COVID, and they were very happy to see Neighbor Roy after such a long absence.
The first item of the day was to order a bottle of wine, in this case a Cabernet Sauvignon. It was from California, and really good.
Then our waiter, a fine young fellow, took our lunch orders. Ms. Karen ordered the Mediterranean Sea Bass with Rice Pilaf. That was the “Fish of the Day”. Richard ordered the Eggplant Lasagna, (Pasta Free), Layers of eggplant and both tomato & besciamella sauce. Baked with fontina cheese. Side of mixed greens. (gluten free) ($20.95). Wendy and Roy both ordered Italian Sausage with penne pasta, which is roasted red peppers & tomato sauce, baked with Fontina cheese ($22.50), I ordered the Breaded Red Bird Farms Chicken Breast with green peppercorn cream sauce with garlic potato purée ($23.50). I would have ordered the lasagna, but I like mine with real meat, not eggplant. Oh well!
I’ll let Ms. Karen tell you about her experience.
“The Crab cakes seemed like a good choice as I could determine if they were the best I had ever had, since Jim and I had lived in Maryland for 6 years. Either that or the eggplant, which Richard ended up ordering. So I ordered the “Mediterranean Sea Bass” aka “Branzini” I believe. It was covered in a type of tomato sauce and came with a side of rice pilaf. The bass was tasty. Of course, with a white fish it would be all about the sauce. Richard tasted it and thought that the white fish was mushy, perhaps thawed, not fresh all the way from the Mediterranean Sea. Maybe, maybe not. I may have been better off with the crab cakes which also did not seem very Italian. I did love the pilaf, and it was ample. I took it home for another meal. Lunch at Vivace is quite casual and crowded on a Friday, and moderately priced as well. The downside is we were given a table too large for the 5 of us and it was loud. We moved our chairs and huddled together. I give it a 4.5 for food and service and a 4 for ambiance. Next time I would like to sit outdoors where it is quiet enough to hear.”
Roy can tell you about his experience now.
“Today Jim and Miss Karen took me out for my 90th birthday for lunch at the Vivace restaurant in the Foothills. Joining us were dear friends, Richard and Wendy, winter visitors from Alberta, Canada, after a three-year separation due to the inability of border crossing due to the pandemic. Great to see them again.”
“The current Vivace restaurant had its beginnings many years ago and was known as Campanas de la Catalinas (the bells of the Catalinas). It originally was an upscale continental restaurant. I remember taking my Mother here for her 80th birthday. It changed owners at some point into Anthony’s and settled on Italian, the then owner had some problems with the U.S. government, sold it to its current owners. It has been re-decorated into an Italian Restaurant and features Italian food in an enchanting, relaxing Italian setting, with great views out over Tucson, especially looking over the city at dusk when the lights come on.”
“We were quickly seated (with reservations) in the lower dining room, water on the table we joined our friends who had preceded us. The lunch menu was presented and drink orders were taken. I selected the Penne with sausage. As the others ordered a wine (and since it was my birthday) I indulged with having a 1/2 glass of red wine. Our orders arrived promptly. Mine came in an oblong platter. Looking it over I thought that there must be a pound of meat in this dish. The penne was cooked beautifully. Our server brought cheese and even though my lunch had plenty, but what the hell, I’ll only turn 90 once. I cannot rave enough about this restaurant; great decor, to-die-for food, and impeccable service. Who could ask for more? ”
“Then more came after our basic lunch, dessert. When the waiter learned it was my birthday he said my dessert was free. What came was a small cake (With 1 candle), an excellent Italian-style custard, and a small container of fresh strawberries and blueberries). WHAT A MEAL! I cannot gush enough about this restaurant, to die for Italian food ( in my case I got 3 meals out of one order, great companionship with dear friends, and a setting rare to Tucson. I Give the VIVACE restaurant a well-deserved my top award of 5 saguaros.”
Richard writes for himself and his wife Wendy.
An excellent choice of venue by our hosts, Jim and Karen. The restaurant is nestled in the Catalina foothills at Campbell Avenue and Skyline; a gorgeous setting with picture window views across the city.
There is an outdoor dining patio that looked very welcoming, but a bit cool for us on this particular Friday. All in all, a marvelous lunch. We must go back to try the dinner menu.”
My Chicken lunch was as good as I have enjoyed in Southern Arizona, maybe in the USA. The last time I had a meal this good it was in Paris at a 3-Star restaurant. The chicken was very tender, and the mash potatoes were great. But the best thing about it was the white sauce. Excellent. I was a little disappointed in not having a valet, and the room with a great view was a bit noisy. But tolerable. Like Roy, I again award Vivace a Five Saguaro rating. Excellent food, much better than normal Tucson service, and a wonderful view of the city below.
6440 N. Campbell Ave. (Skyline and Campbell crossroads)
Hours: Daily 11:30 AM to 8:30 PM except Sundays