Tucson: Who Knew?
My wife had to go to Tucson, in her capacity as president of the Journalism and Women's Symposium (JAWS - their logo is a pink shark with lipstick). JAWS is scouting out locations for their 2012 annual meeting. Not any location will do. Members want a resort style place and access to wilderness for hiking and recreation. Meetings are to be rotated throughout regions, and 2012 is the Southwest's turn. So, off we went to Tucson to look at hotel/resorts.
If you are the spouse of someone who is scouting for such meetings, it's a great deal because the hotels are doing whatever they can to get picked. Hotel rooms are comped, meals are comped, drinks are comped, your wife gets little gift bags that include candy, tchotchkes, and often complementary bottles of wine and food are sent to your hotel room. The El Conquistador Hilton gave us what must have been the biggest suite in their place -- the room was bigger than our house with a bathroom bigger than our kitchen complete with steam shower. It was a nice vacation for me.
But the thing that surprised me completely about Tucson was the food. I knew that it was a college town, and you can't go anywhere without seeing University of Arizona logos and gear. I knew it was deserty, that there was cactus all over, that it butted up on some national monuments and parks. I knew that it was a place for golf. But I didn't know about its foodie reputation, until now.
Tuscon features some James Beard Award chefs, I was told, and indeed a Tucson chef, Janos Wilder of the restaurant Janos, is a semifinalist for this year's Outstanding Chef award. We were wined and dined at the JW Marriot, the Hilton El Conquistador, the Westward Look, and the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort - all with excellent food. In addition, we dined on our own at a highly recommended restaurant named Harvest.
All I know is that the good was great. I live in Albuquerque, which is a similar sized city, and while we have good restaurants here, Albuquerque is not completely a foodie town. But Tucson definitely was. If I go back, I will probably have to scale back my expectations on where I stay, but I certainly will know that I can eat well. Usually, that's a big part of what makes a trip, and a place, memorable.