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Downing

Where everybody knows your name with love served on each plate, too

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I love to cook and typically fix dinner six nights a week, but on Friday night we go out, always to one of the same four places (plus The Dish and Vivace for special occasions). Does this reflect lack of adventurousness and a reprehensible failure to support the happenin' Tucson new-restaurant scene? Absolutely. My friend Barbara Rosenberg keeps trying to get me to 47 Scott, for example (downtown? us? no dice) and, no, we still haven't been to Maynards. The trouble with these places, from our point of view, is that, one, they aren't in our neighborhood, and, two, we haven't been there many times before. We haven't been there even once before. So they may very well be wonderful, but they are not home.

I'm going to drop another name here, so brace yourself. I happen to know Scott Uehlein, corporate chef at Canyon Ranch—an astounding chef and fantastic guy. He's the only person I know who's eaten at The French Laundry in California, probably the most renowned restaurant in this country. His take on it? Incredible food, but lacking a key ingredient—love.

Not to sound like a daytime women's TV commercial, but I agree with Scott—you can taste love. Further, love is nourishing. That's why the lack of love in the preparation exacerbates everything that's wrong with fast food. Not only is it mostly mass-produced from low-quality ingredients in a factory somewhere, it's then heated up for you by pissed-off teenagers. No wonder America's dying slowly from eating the stuff.

Furthermore, it's important that when you eat, you eat in a place where you feel relaxed and safe and at home. (Traffic is not that place.)

One of our four regular restaurants, La Placita Café in Plaza Palomino, I discovered in a classic Tucson way—I heard two ladies I sort of know talking about it in the locker room at the Racquet Club. One of them said that she'd eaten there the night before and that, as usual, it had been like having dinner at a friend's house. Ed and I were there the next Friday, and that's exactly what it was like—if, that is, you had a friend who could make ideally greaseless chile rellenos. It's always quiet and the people are extremely nice.

Another standard is Vero Amore, the Neapolitan pizza joint in the Bashas' strip mall at Swan and Camp Lowell. (Full disclosure: It's owned by the sons of a friend of mine, and we once got a free meal because I wrote a press release for them for their opening.) They smile when we walk in; the salad greens are invariably pristine; the pizza's light, authentic and scrumptious; and the wine is reasonably priced. The only trouble is that unless you get there early, you can expect to wait.

And then there's Feast on Speedway at Dodge Boulevard, which has been packed since it opened in the new location. (They now take reservations, though, which helps.) I know Doug Levy, the owner, from yoga class, and from interviewing him once for an article. His food's lovely and he hires (and keeps) great staff. I miss the old room, but I bet he's going to make a fortune now that he's got more space. Not to miss: the bathrooms, which are marked Anyone and Everyone. (They're equipped in exactly the same way—I looked.) Where else can you eat so well while contemplating an intriguing linguistic puzzle?

Finally, there's our beloved, forever-and-ever Friday-night default restaurant, Sachiko Sushi at Speedway and Wilmot, where they know our drink orders by heart and give us a sushi calendar at Christmastime. Ed's eaten raw fish there probably 40 times a year for the last 12 or 13 years (I phase in and out of vegetarianism) and it's never been anything less than beautifully fresh, icy cold and generously portioned—in short, perfect. Ed adores their raw oyster bowl; I love the gyoza and tofu kimchi. And I have no doubt that several times this winter, when it's cold and dark and wet, I'll fall off the veg wagon for a smoking-hot kettle of Nabeyaki Udon—a dark well of delicious broth, noodles, nobs of chicken thigh, spring onions, a tempura shrimp and—treasure of treasures—a perfectly poached egg. That's what I call love.

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