Cafe Reviews

Second Helpings

Running Wilder: The 120 miles between Phoenix and Tucson have to be the most uninteresting stretch of landscape in the state. The drive goes a lot more quickly, however, if you know a meal at Janos awaits you at the end of the road.

This beautiful restaurant, set in a historic downtown territorial home that dates from 1865, serves some of the best food I've ever put my lips around. Chef Janos Wilder sends out a daily changing menu featuring the tastes of the world goosed up with Southwestern flair. The fare is remarkably inventive, and astonishingly good. It's almost impossible to eat dinner here and not spend the next hour talking about it.

A basket with three kinds of fresh bread--focaccia, blue corn bread and French breadsticks--sets the stage. Don't fill up.

Instead, prepare yourself for the sublime Thai ravioli appetizer, a perfect way to edge into dinner. The menu description--"jicama, carrots, scallions and radish tossed with lemongrass, mint, basil and cilantro, wrapped in won ton skins, poached and served on Thai style coconut milk curry with shreds of green papaya and wasabi caviar"--can't do justice to this dish's overpowering flavors. I felt like throwing my arms around the chef.

A starter called Crazy Tomatoes isn't in the same league. Organic tomatoes and grilled eggplant are paired with goat cheese, and drizzled with cinnamon-tinged basil oil. The problem? "Organic" is not a synonym for "tasty." Neither the tomatoes nor the eggplant quite measured up.

The main dishes are riveting. The Japanese-inspired roast albacore "Wellington" brings a thick slab of meltingly fresh tuna whose edges have just come from the briefest of encounters with the flames. The fish is brushed with wasabi and wrapped with Napa cabbage and a thin pastry crust. It's served with two thin, fried wild mushroom "chopsticks" and luscious scallion potatoes. If there's a better fish dish in Arizona, I'm not aware of it.

If the green-tea smoked duck doesn't get your juices flowing, you've expired. Boneless duck breast is heavily infused with a smoky tea scent, and served over glass noodles with bok choy, spiced plums and tempura-fried scallions. Dainty diners can eat with a knife and fork, while folks who don't mind getting their hands dirty can wrap up the components in moo shu pancakes that accompany the platter. Unlike many high-end restaurants, Janos doesn't stint on portions. But even if you're not famished, consider lingering for dessert. Especially if you catch Janos on a day when there's the head-spinning "cuppuccino." It's homemade cappuccino ice cream mixed with chocolate chunks and drizzled with caramel syrup, set in an elegant pastry "cup," complete with a pastry "handle" and pulled sugar "straws." Wow.

Prices are in line, considering the quality of the meal. Appetizers range from $6 to $10, entrees from about $20 to $30.

Janos is at 150 North Main in Tucson. Call 1-520-884-9426.--Howard Seftel
Suggestions? Write me at New Times, P.O. Box 2510, Phoenix,

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Howard Seftel