Smooth Move

Chef Shawn Manages The Short Trip From Trailer To Nearly Tip-Top Shop.
By Rebecca Cook

WHEN LAST WE checked in with Chef Shawn, he was ensconced in a trailer in a midtown Texaco parking lot, dishing out a surprising assortment of healthy gourmet treats.

Chow It was an unquestionably odd sensation to simultaneously inhale garlic and ethanol in one slow breath, but somehow it all seemed to work.

So it was with slightly mixed feelings that I received the news that Shawn Stanchfield had moved his operation from the mobile to the stationary in a location right next door to his former venue. On the one hand I was glad his modest successes had allowed him to expand to a more permanent and easy-to-work-in setting, but at the same time, I regretted the loss of a singularly quirky eating experience.

All was not lost, however: Stanchfield chose for his next venture a former hair salon, a place so saturated with the aromas of manufactured beauty that crews had to work long and hard to eradicate any odorific hints of what had been there previously.

Then there was the little matter of the "Chef Shawn" sign, which was nestled in so snugly above the placard for the neighboring optical business that it was difficult to tell where one stopped and the other began. I'm quite sure that more than a few motorists cruising placidly down Alvernon Way have had occasion to ponder the nature of an enterprise called Chef Shawn's Optical Dispensers.

The new space has been gradually transformed from a place of permanent wave to culinary rave. To effect this metamorphosis, Stanchfield enlisted the help of local artist Carolyn Stevens, who has outfitted the small dining room with a dreamy, full-length wall mural as well as colorful collage tabletops and chairs. The place still has the feel of a work in progress, but it's coming along.

Where Shawn made his reputation before was in offering quick and healthy food that could be easily adapted to accommodate special dietary requests. Looking into his new kitchen, you can see this is still the case: Ingredients are stored separately and dishes are prepared at the time they're ordered, making it possible to eliminate or add various constituents as needed.

For diners on any kind of restricted diet, this is an invaluable service.

Lunch and dinner are featured at Chef Shawn's, in addition to take-out service and a catering business on the side. Although separate menus are offered for the noonday and evening meals, Chef Shawn is somewhat flexible, and, if possible, will provide items from one or the other if specifically requested.

Lunch highlights a variety of sandwiches, burgers, salads and pasta dishes, as well as a few stir-fry dishes and daily specials.

I opted for the teriyaki chicken wrap ($5.25) on my first visit, and was very pleased with the tender, marinated strips of grilled chicken, rice, broccoli and caramelized onions drizzled with teriyaki sauce and wrapped within the soft confines of a fresh, red chile-scented tortilla. Delicious.

The grilled vegetable salad ($5.50) was slightly less successful, however. Comprised of a mixture of leafy greens, grilled zucchini, yellow squash and eggplant, sun-dried tomatoes and shredded mozzarella cheese, all tossed in a copious amount of a chipotle balsamic vinaigrette, this healthful meal became bogged in its own virtue. Not all the vegetables were cooked to perfection, and the dressing saturated the greens to the point of wilting.

Dinner, however, was an unmitigated triumph.

We began the evening with the Southwestern pinwheel ($4.95), black beans, fresh whole-kernel corn, chopped red pepper, avocado and a jalapeño cream cheese spread enclosed in one of those chile-inflected tortillas. Filling and delicious, this, along with a bowl of soup, would make an excellent meal all by itself.

The pasta primavera with grilled portabella mushrooms ($9.95) was unbelievably delicious: a bed of ziti pasta covered with sliced, marinated portabella mushrooms, julienned carrots, broccoli and freshly grated parmesan cheese, served with a miraculously light cream sauce retaining all the flavor of its heavier and more caloric kin.

The chicken piccata ($9.95) was also a small marvel. Any time you sample a boneless, skinless chicken breast, crisp on the outside and thoroughly cooked on the inside--yet with all its juicy goodness intact--you can be certain you're in the presence of genius. This was the case at Chef Shawn's, along with the added bonus of the breast being gently bathed in a delicate white wine, lemon, butter, capers and parsley sauce, and served alongside some cheesy mashed potatoes and grilled green and yellow squash.

While dessert selections are not extensive, they should not be overlooked. The specialty of the house may be Shawn's espresso creme brulee ($2.95), which comes to your table along with a butane torch so that your server can caramelize the sugared top on the spot. Even if this coffee custard were not exceptionally yummy (which it is), this finishing-touch performance is a spectacle not to be missed.

Also splendid was Chef Shawn's apple pie ($2.95), which (sorry, Mom) rivaled the best I've tasted. An individual pie, topped with vanilla ice cream, is served piping hot to your table.

Before visiting Chef Shawn's I'd heard this was a restaurant "on the bubble," a place with potential that hadn't quite arrived as yet. There may indeed still be a few rough edges, but, as far as I'm concerned, they're in the tournament. TW

Photo by Desiree A. Rios

Chef Shawn's. 526 N. Alvernon Way. 318-3384. Open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Closed Sunday. No alcohol (you can bring your own). V, MC, AMEX, Checks. Menu items: Lunch $3.25-$6.95 and Dinner $4.95-$9.95.

Chow Scan is The Weekly's selective guide to Tucson restaurants. Send comments and updates to Chow, P.O. Box 2429, Tucson, AZ 85702; or use our e-mail address, These listings have no connection with Weekly advertisers.

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