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Last modified on December 14th, 2018 at 12:23 pm
’Tis the season for revelers to enjoy Tucson’s finest meals.
Around this time of year, celebratory Tucson foodies and their “winter” guests traditionally flock to a fistful of upscale eateries — for office parties, family experiences or whatever other reason they can find.
One of these longstanding go-to sites of festivity, however, represents the very antithesis of predictability. A meal at the ever-changing, exuberant Feast promises to be a delicious surprise gift to devour.
It’s a simultaneously exciting and risky move for an upscale venue to eschew predictability.
“[We have] guests looking for diverse experiences, versus a focused rotation of dishes executed perfectly every time,” Levy said.
That approach, he noted, attracts a niche of guests who love experimentation. Unsurprisingly, with upwards of 250 menus generated by Feast over the years, they almost never miss the mark.
“Snowbirds are worldly and bring with them a diversity of experience that lets the kitchen serve Tucson rarities such as bone marrow and duck liver.
“We are bounded only by the client’s willingness to try new things,” Levy said.”
Confident experimentation is partially due to the fact that the Feast team of Levy, chef Mike Misevch, and head of catering, Kate Valenzuela have worked together in some capacity or another since well before the restaurant opened seventeen-and-a-half years ago.
Levy writes the menu but everyone gets to create specials, ice creams, and soups.
He said that “if you are eating a special here, there’s a 90 percent chance the creative, talented people” on his team created it. Levy added that he continually learns from his staff.
He might occur to guests as the frontman because he’s on the floor a lot, answering customers’ sundry questions. But, he said, “it’s very much a team effort.”
He doesn’t even make the final decision on hiring; rather, he vets applicants and then lets his staff decide who best will fit in their tight, symbiotic microculture.
Finding one of the city’s best restaurant staff has been an “18-year voyage throughout its evolution” from where Feast began as an upscale carry-out joint just up Speedway Boulevard, he noted.
They moved to their current location 10 years ago and revamped into a full-scale restaurant and catering business.
“Today’s incarnation of Feast is not just about creative seasonal cuisine. It’s a wine lover’s haven, and a cocktail connoisseur’s happy place.”
As with the food, the adult beverage excellence derives from a spirit of collaboration. Not just one but two sommeliers are employed at Feast.
Somm/Deadhead Kevin Anderson runs the finely curated in-house wine shop and hosts the restaurant’s Saturday tastings.
Anderson can tell stories about every wine the shop carries. For example, some visits back, he poured a fabulous bottle of red sourced from a vineyard near a tiny village close to the Italian-Swiss border. The backstory of the village producers is fuzzy but no doubt charming.
Megan Nelson and Levy write the wine list together. Levy invents the food pairings for the Last Sunday of the Month tastings and for the wine dinners.
Alexandra Carter tends the bar and creates weekly cocktail specials (“and she is very wine-knowledgeable as well,” Levy added).
Wine has become a primary source of inspiration for the monthly menu updates. In fact, the December menu was driven by nine bottles of wine.
Ideas also emerge from monthly wine tastings and the food pairings accompanying happy hours.
“Feedback from the tastings drive the menu,” Levy said. “For example, [we served a] butternut squash soup with sautéed shallot whipped cream and responses included, ‘you need to put that soup on the menu.’”
While the soup changes all the time, Levy said that he keeps the butternut squash concoction in his back pocket for a side dish, perhaps.
Other sources for new menu ideas include seasonally available, often hyperlocal ingredients.
Moreover, Feast grows a backyard garden. It is flourishing with parsnips, carrots, beets, radishes, kale, chard, and broccoli, among other seasonal treats which will no doubt feature prominently in the kitchen.
Levy keeps an eye on international food trends but said he pays the most attention to what’s going on in second cities.
For instance, he looks to under-the-radar places like Omaha, “where chefs are not constrained by what’s trending on Instagram. That’s not to copy, but I source it as a jumping-off place.”
Feast itself has provided a jumping-off place for many others who have needed a boost. It’s known for its philanthropy and community giving.
Levy used to sit on the board of Tucson Originals with the extraordinarily giving and deeply missed Pat Connors, former owner of Pastiche, who Levy said was “the most generous restaurateur in this town.”
One year, Tucson Originals as a group made a list of their past year’s donations, Levy said. “Pat’s list was almost an organization a day that he gave to. He donated to more than 300 organizations a year. Pat is a special human being.”
Feast honors as many requests for donations that they can. According to their website, the staff meets every two months to allocate their gifting budget.
Requests should be submitted well in advance. Levy said that they received four asks in one day the prior week.
“Lately it’s been worse because labor costs have gone up, and purveyors have had to raise prices too, and then every charitable organization has had their budgets shrunk.”
Dining at Feast is always well worth the risk of trying something different. Reservations are recommended — especially around the holidays.
Feast is located at 3719 E. Speedway Blvd. Operating hours are 11 a.m. – 9 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday and 10 a.m. – 9 p.m. on Sunday.
For more information, visit eatatfeast.com or call (520) 326-9363.