By Valerie Vinyard
Tequila has become an event at Zivaz Mexican Bistro.
The fast-casual Mexican restaurant on Tucson's Broadway corridor has offered margarita and tequila tastings since April.
"We try to find new brands or brands that really have something to showcase or have a little something extra to offer," said Felipe Valenzuela, Zivaz's 26-year-old managing partner.
Today's sampling, from 6 to 9 p.m., features three margaritas. With the purchase of an entree, you can partake in samples of the margarita fantástica, the hibiscus margarita and the new pancha using premium tequila.
Two wine or tequila tastings are planned in July, Valenzuela said.
"It's a good way for our regular customers to try new things, and it's a good way for our new customers to introduce some things," he said. "We think (the tastings) fit into the kind of food we're doing."
Valenzuela and his parents — "Don" Felipe, executive chef, and Cecilia, manager — opened Zivaz at 4590 E. Broadway in November 2005.
They debuted a new menu last weekend that includes seven new items and a mojito ($6.50). The menu's second tweaking introduces two entrees — pollo en pibil ($11.95), marinated chicken in orange and achiote juice with grilled pineapple, and the chimichurri ($11.95), olive oil chimichurri grilled chicken and grilled asparagus. A nod to summer is Zivaz's new gazpacho con ceviche ($7.95). Those with a sweet tooth can opt for the new chocolate cake ($4.95) and cheesecake ($5.95).
Classy, classy, classy. From the granite countertops to the Toto toilets, Zivaz didn't skimp on the décor.
What results is an airy, upscale restaurant that looks more pricey than it actually is.
Though it's by definition a fast-casual restaurant like Pei Wei, Zivaz gives more attention to its customers. Patrons order at the counter before seating themselves, and get their own nonalcoholic drinks. Employees cheerfully come to the tables, bearing tricolored chips and two kinds of salsa, refills on drinks and boxes for leftovers.
We started with a small queso fundido ($5.45). The not-so-small queso arrived in a piping hot dish. Strips of roasted red peppers, poblano chiles, onions and corn were blended in the broiled cheese. Scooping mounds of the chewy concoction onto corn tortillas to fashion tasty sandwiches made it a meal in itself.
But we had so much more to sample. Next to arrive was the sopa tlalpeño ($7.40), a big bowl of soup topped with a sprig of cilantro, a dollop of smoked chipotle chile paste and a scoop of sour cream. Thick tortilla strips, smoky chicken, avocado chunks, zucchini, corn and garbanzo beans swam in a slightly salty chicken-based broth that started mild and ended with some lingering heat on the palate. Hot sauce is available to spice things up even further. A mixed-greens poblano salad with a poblano balsamic vinaigrette was served on the side.
But the finale — and the best part — was the Tour de Zivaz ($13.95), which is available after 5 p.m. daily. Three smaller-sized entrees — chef's choice — were accompanied by rice, tortillas, beans and a poblano salad in the middle. It's a feast for two.
One of the entrees featured in our tour was the pollo en rajas, creamy chunks of white meat chicken in chile sauce accompanied with corn, poblano, strips of red pepper and a bit of cheese. The mild yet flavorful entree yielded a hearty poblano taste.
Another entree, two enchiladas pipian, was baked with oregano, pumpkin seeds, garlic, cheese and green tomatillos.
One of Zivaz's dishes that occasionally appears on the tour but isn't on the menu — but maybe it should be — was beef with mushrooms and onion. The chunks of beef were marinated in lime and lemon and cooked in a mild guajillo chile sauce.
Five of Zivaz's dozen signature entrees ($9.95-$13.95) come in lunch portions that cost $7.40 until 3 p.m. daily.