Steward Astronomer Doubles as Bon Vivant

Steward Astronomer Doubles as Bon Vivant

By Jeff HarrisonUniversity Communications
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Romeel Davé
Romeel Davé

It's generally no surprise to hear someone talk about a local restaurant that's "out of this world." On the other hand, there might be a touch of irony if the remark comes from an astronomer.

In fact, astronomer Romeel Davé has quite a bit to say about local restaurants. And if you type "Tucson restaurant reviews" into a Web search engine, the first entry is likely to be "Romeel's Tucson Restaurant Reviews."

Davé [pronounced dah-VAY] is an associate professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona's Steward Observatory with a research focus on, among other things, how new galaxies form.

The restaurant site actually grew directly out of his academic work. It all started a couple of years after Davé and his family moved to Tucson from New Jersey in 2000 following a postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton University.

"One of the reasons I did the site is that I organize meetings and conferences with reasonable frequency, and obviously people want some information about the town," Davé said. "I was on a long train ride in Europe one summer and decided to write down all of the places I know and a little blurb about each one so I could remember something about them."

On returning home, Davé thought his notes could make up a Web page. Not long after it went live, the site started getting 200 to 300 hits each week.

"It's amazing!" he said. "I've gotten random people e-mailing me probably at least once every couple of months saying ‘I love your page,' or ‘I agree with your reviews,' or ‘It's been so helpful,' so it's been fun."

"I also organize the theory colloquiums here in Steward, and bring in people every couple of weeks. I'll point them to the restaurant page and ask them where they want to go for dinner. It's been a very useful resource."

As word got around, Davé said, others who were planning conferences began using the site.

Romeel's Tucson Restaurant Reviews has about 125 entries – from local eateries to chains. And Davé said he's eaten at all of them.

"I actually have, although I don't think I go out to eat that much. But somehow I did, and there are probably at least five or 10 places that aren't on the site," he said. He said he is also marking other restaurants for visits.

Davé said he and his family aim for a variety of cuisines, especially international, which he attributes to being from California. He acknowledges that his site lists only a fraction of the restaurants in town, and most are near campus or on the east side of town, where he lives.

The site, he said, also hasn't gone entirely without criticism. He cited a "strange e-mail" he received from a staff member at the United Nations about his review of one ethnic restaurant.

"I had listed a Guatemalan restaurant under 'Mexican' because I didn't want to make a whole category for just one place," he said. "And she went on this tirade about how, 'This is not Mexican food, and you should know better.' I thought the whole thing was hysterical and sent her back a very nice tongue-in-cheek note.

Davé said he doesn't receive any compensation for the reviews, and is happy to point visitors to his site to other Web sites, such as Zagat, that offer more complete reviews. He also acknowledges that staying current isn't easy, given his full-time status at Steward.

The site is broken down into several categories, generally by ethnic cuisine, although there is a category for eateries in the UA area. There also is a guide to the relative cost of each place, based he said on dishes he and his family usually order.

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