Garden Dining is on the Way for Café Poca Cosa

September 25, 2012

By Teya Vitu

A hot new dining spot is about to open Downtown.

Café Poca Cosa intends to have a new outdoor patio ready for diners somewhere in October.

Architect Scott Neeley and Cafe Poca Cosa chef/owner Suzana Davila stand under the steel frame for what will become a canopy over the patio. Poca Cosa has been around since 1986 and has had a patio since moving to the base of the Pennington Street Garage in February 2006.

But really, just how inviting was that patio? The sun beat down on you, the wind blew through. It just didn’t have any of the flair of urban sidewalk dining. It was exile from the main dining room.

The steel framing for a canopy has been in place since August. Translucent polycarbonate roof panels will block three-fourths of the sunlight, architect Scott Neeley said.

A three-foot-high high aluminum screen will set the patio off from the sidewalk. Above the screen, there will be three-foot-high aluminum panels with thin, rounded laser cuts.

“The cuts are inspired by the curving shapes inside the restaurant,” Neeley said. “They give glimpses in on the patio area from the sidewalk.”

The old patio was more an overflow area than a sought-out seating option. Now Davila will add her trademark touches to create a distinct dining environment.

“It’s going to have some greenery and candlelight. It will be a wonderful place to have dinner,” Davila said. “I’m looking forward to putting new planters and whatever trees out there.”

“I’m probably going to do 30 to 35 people with six or seven tables out there,” Davila said. “A couple tables are long and skinny.

“I’m delighted and so happy. It will make the patio a little more inviting. Hopefully, it will not be as noisy,” she said. “It will make it more a part of the interior.”

Café Poca Cosa has been a perennial winner of Tucson Weekly Best of Tucson accolades for two decades. It always lands on the shortest of lists when people think of a special place to take someone for lunch or dinner.

Cafe Poca Cosa will have covered outdoor dining in a few weeks.

Suzana Davila definitely does things her own way, whether her sensibilities match the American rush-rush lifestyle or not. Diners have swarmed to Poca Cosa, whether it’s part of a parking garage as it has been for more than six years, part of the former Santa Rita Hotel as it was for 17 years or even in the tiny confines of its original quarters on Scott Avenue that barely fit six tables.

Poca Cosa shuts down for a month in summer. Poca Cosa is closed every Sunday and Monday. Poca Cosa closes for three or four days around Easter and Christmas.

“I really think it’s important for our sanity,” Davila said. “We all take off and we come back at the same time refreshed. Most of my crew travels.”

Poca Cosa has no printed menu. The day’s offering are written in chalk on a board and the serving staff recite the extensive offerings to each table. But is anybody listening? Those in the know veer right for the Plato Poca Cosa – where the chef surprises the diner with three random dishes from the menu.

Davila reckons more than 40 percent of diners go for Plato Poca Cosa.

“I have had the Plato since the very beginning,” Davila said. “You close your eyes and let us handle it.”

Café Poca Cosa is unlike any Mexican restaurant in town. First off, food is not slathered with melted cheese and tomato sauce. Davila’s cuisine resists simple labeling, like Sonoran or Northern Italian or Cantonese.

“It’s Mexican cuisine that comes from the heart. It is made with traditional sauces and spices,” she said. “We cover all the regions of Mexico. Today we have dishes from Oaxaca, Mexico City, Sonora and Jalisco.”

Molé is a specialty at Poca Cosa. Davila concocts some 20 different molés. There’s the basic Puebla chocolate molé, and the Oaxaca variant is much darker and richer. She adds cherry or Kahlua or red wine to other molés.

“I’ve been told I’m the queen of molés,” Davila said.

Davila keeps the Poca Cosa bar and pastries in the family. Her daughter, Shanali, is the pastry chef and son, Christopher, is the barista.

Davila changes the menu every day, twice a day. She has a rotation of a few hundred dishes, but she doesn’t actually know how many. There is no binder of recipes, no written record at all. She does not come up with brand new recipes every day.

“This is crazy enough to cook,” she chuckled. “I have six people in the kitchen, day and night. A few have been with me 10, 15, 18 years. We have all worked together for a long time. In the morning I put together a menu.”

She tells the cooks the lineup for the day and they know how to make it all with no written guidance.

Davila does not know today what will be on tomorrow’s menu. She thinks up dishes after getting up in the morning.

“This is what I’m hungry for,” she said.

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