Reflections On A Year Of Eating Well.
By Rebecca Cook

HARD TO BELIEVE, but it was almost exactly one year ago that I took over the privilege of writing the Chow column.

Chow In that time I've eaten some fantastic meals, some mediocre meals and a few tortuous meals. I've dined on everything from sushi to pasta to rare roast beef. Without having to leave Tucson, I've traveled the gastronomic globe, sampling the cuisines of Ethiopia, India, China, Korea, France, Italy, Lebanon and Greece. I've judged chocolate and salsa and been the recipient of my share of boos and hisses, as well as a few congratulations.

Overall, it's been a great year for food in this dusty old town, and I've been fortunate to be a part of it.

Given the seasonal penchant for thoughtful reflection, then, it seems appropriate to look back at some of the high and low points of 1996 from a Chow perspective.

I note with sadness the passing of a few of my favorite restaurants this past year. Trio and Selamat Makan both closed their doors for good, the first because of financial challenges that proved too great, and the second because the folks who gave us all that great satay over the years were finally ready to retire and take it easy. Thanks to both for the many wonderful meals, and best of luck in all future endeavors.

A warm welcome to some of the newest kids on the restaurant block who've enriched and enlivened our local dining scene with their singular contributions: Zemam's, The Cottonwood Café, The Third Stone and Barrio Bar & Grill.

A note of concern about one of my other new favorites this year, The River Road Brewery, which at last report was experiencing such difficulties that it was forced, at least temporarily, to close its doors. Here's hoping this fine brew pub--which also served great food--can find a way to survive.

Congratulations to Chef Shawn on his move this fall from the trailer in the Exxon parking lot to a structure without wheels right next door at 550 North Alvernon Way. Shawn Stanchfield is committed to serving his customers healthy, quality food at reasonable prices, and it's gratifying to see the public support him solidly enough in this effort to allow him to move to bigger and better quarters. (I must admit, however, I'll miss the odd juxtaposition of gourmet food and unleaded fuel--it was a one-of-a-kind combination.)

Thanks to the judge who couldn't make it to the annual Taste of Chocolate event, resulting in the last-minute substitution of yours truly. I didn't think it was possible to get enough chocolate, but this was one occasion where I definitely achieved critical mass. Not, however, before sampling some of the most incredible chocolate creations I've ever tasted, including the award-winning "The Kiss," courtesy of the geniuses at The Gallery of Food (another restaurant that has recently gone the way of the dodo).

One of the biggest stirs of the year has been the concern over the displacement of local gourmet guru Janos Wilder, who's being evicted from his present downtown location by his landlord, the Tucson Museum of Art. Sentiment has been intense on both sides of the issue and hard feelings abound. Let's hope Janos finds a great new location and we continue to enjoy his culinary brilliance for many years to come.

Deep appreciation to the readers who've let me know what's happening out there in the city as far as food is concerned. Tucson is blessed with an abundance of restaurants and small eateries, with new ones popping up almost daily. Were it not for the people who take the time to drop me a line or give me a call to share the news of their own latest discoveries, I might have missed out on some of my most enjoyable experiences as a food reviewer. The trips to Gavi's, Mariscos Chihuahua and Taqueria Pico de Gallo come immediately to mind. Please keep those cards and letters coming folks.

I'm looking forward to 1997, and trust there will be many more delicious meals to consume and restaurants to review. My resolution is to continue to give you my honest evaluation of the establishments I visit while being as fair as possible to the men and women who work so hard and such long hours to provide the rest of us with a gracious alternative to our own cooking.

Happy New Year, and, as always, bon appetit. TW

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