What Travel Writers Say

Culinary Heaven in Scottsdale, Arizona

© by Beth Poad
View of Pinnacle Peak from patio of Four Seasons

Choices! Choices! Choosing a place to dine when on vacation can be a daunting experience. After all, one of the first things that people ask is: "How was the food?" So, where do you go to find quality food with good, honest, personable service, perhaps off the beaten path , at a reasonable price?
     It is way too easy to settle for the mediocrity of chain restaurants, and so on a recent trip to Scottsdale, I decided to seek out those secret gems hidden within resorts. While often filled with their own guests, these restaurants have begun to raise the bar for high quality dining in beautiful settings at affordable prices.
     I ate at seven different restaurants and enjoyed them all, but I experienced culinary bliss at five nearly perfect establishments, all housed in large resorts with well-known chefs.
     First, we dined at Taggia at The FireSky Resort and Spa in Old Town Scottsdale. Taggia has the rare quality of fine Italian dining with a soft, homey ambience amidst rustic tables and booths and an outdoor patio. While watching chef James Ciao prepare the meal, one has the sense that it is being cooked just for you - no mass production at this venue. My pan-seared sea scallops were delicious and the Dungeness crab Ravioli was one of the best I had ever tasted. Service was quiet but attentive and even the chef made his rounds after dinner to ensure that all had had been enjoyed. We tried two desserts. Both were delicious, but it was the Zabaglione (berries and custard) that put this dining experience over the top in presentation and decadence. Well worth the extra calories! I relived my memory of this dessert for days.
     Our next evening was spent at Prado - a first class Italian restaurant housed in the Montelucia Resort and Spa. Under the fine direction of Peter DeRuvo, Prado features an informal and fresh approach creating a classic spot for relaxation and fine dining. As for ambience, tables are very generously spaced apart so you don't feel crowded and the noise level is comfortable. Guests can dine alfresco under the stars or in the more classic dining area.
     When considering their overall approach to the food and menu, several key factors come to mind: season, purity of flavours and the use of technology to present food in new and different ways. On offer each night is a "seasonal sampling menu with wine pairings." While this menu includes smaller portions, it has a larger number of dishes enabling one to taste and enjoy a wide selection of canapé's and courses. I loved the tomato tart, potato gnocchi and the butter-knife tender filet of beef.

Fajitas  Flaming Mexican Coffee  Flight of Tequila Complete With Rattlesnake  Guacamole Created Tableside at La Hacienda by Alfonso  Mole Poblano - La Hacienda  Organic Green Salad Soup Trio at Talavera Tomato Tart From Prado

     Another wonderful dinner was enjoyed at Talavera at the Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North in the foothills of Pinnacle Peak. This modern steak house puts a strong emphasis on locally grown produce and meat. My partner opted to try the Buffalo steak while I chose the Wagyu Flat Iron Steak - a gem of a piece of beef that positively melts in your mouth. When I first took a taste of my medium-rare steak, it was love at first bite. I mean, this was incredible. This pan-fried tender beef was such a top quality piece of meat that it will be forever seared in my memory.
     While the August evening temperature of 35 degrees precluded us from taking coffee on the patio, the views from the patio of Pinnacle Peak were truly outstanding. Now with the moon above the mountain, we decided that it would be wrong to leave this place without trying the dessert. And so we shared the most unusual dessert on the menu - the grilled strawberry shortcake and decided that it too, was perfect!
     My favourite meal was at La Hacienda at the Scottsdale Fairmont Princess but this was preceded by appetizers at Bourbon Steak, also at the Fairmont Princess and equally impressive.
     Bourbon Steak expresses the spirit of contemporary Arizona. Designed by architects AvroKol, this 11,000 square foot restaurant focuses on contemporary American fare and embodies an urbane sophistication that is at once relaxed and bustling. Celebrated chef Michael Mina uses only highest quality ingredients. The classic offerings are given a "twist" resulting in Foie Gras sliders and ahi tuna tartar with pear that is made table-side. Traditional foods are as deftly transmuted with contemporary styling as they are with delicate seasonings and the restaurant's extensive wine collection has made them a force to be reckoned with in the world of fine dining. For lighter fare, Bourbon Steak also offers a bar menu with made to-order market burgers and duck fat fries served between 5:30 and 10.
     Our final stop, La Hacienda is the perfect marriage of vibrant flavours of Mexico combined with Old World Elegance. From the intimate dining areas with wood beamed ceilings and colourful mosaics to the cozy award-winning tequila bar that showcases 200 varieties of agave spirits, we had arrived in Mexico!
     Tequila goddess Danielle really knows her stuff! Her recommendation of a gold margarita was a perfect way to start a meal. Then came the samples of tequila. After a few sips of each of the three tequilas offered (tequila, mescal and sotol), I could see why they are served and labelled as "flights." I really was beginning to fly!
     In the kitchen, the creations of Richard Sandoval and Forest Hamrick are evocative of Old World Mexico. The cuisine at La Hacienda is born from a rich knowledge of food and its flavours and the love of fresh ingredients. Our waiter, Alfonso, made our dining experience most memorable with his professional, personable and attentive table service. I tried the guacamole that was prepared table-side and found it to be utterly amazing. This was followed by mole poblano (chicken in mole sauce) while my partner tried the fajitas. Delicious. A dessert of fresh-fried churros and a Mexican coffee (flaming with tequila) topped off this wonderful meal.
     So we ventured back out into the evening air and just as as our week of culinary tasting was winding down, we were greeted with a wonderful display of fireworks set off at the Fairmont each Saturday night. A fitting climax to an amazing but oh so delicious week in Scottsdale!

When to Go:
From May to October, temperatures hover around 100 degrees F. but the winter months have been known to push the mercury down to 35F. The city also has experienced consecutive days of non-stop rain. Such instances are rare, but it's good to be prepared and check weather reports before you pack.

Getting there:
Air Canada offers daily flights to Phoenix from Toronto - Scottsdale is just a short drive away from the Phoenix airport. It's always best to rent a car when you go to Scottsdale . Cars are fairly inexpensive to rent. One large super-terminal off site from the airport houses most rental companies and is accessed by shuttle.

Photo Credits
Beth Poad

Beth Poad is a graduate of McMaster University and a retired English Teacher. She has written curriculum documents for public and private schools and travelled as a volunteer to Europe, China, Tanzania and South Africa. When not travelling, she reads, writes and plans for her next travel experience.

If you go
Tourism: www.scottsdaleaz.gov; www.scottsdalecvb.com; www.scottsdale.com;
Hotel properties ( with resort restaurants within):
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess ( Hacienda, Bourbon Steak) www.scottsdaleprincess.com
Four Seasons Resort Scottsdale at Troon North (Talavera) www.fourseasons.com/scottsdale
Firesky Resort and Spa (Taggia) www.fireskyresort.com
Montelucia Resort and Spa (Prado) www.montelucia.com
Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scottsdale,_Arizona
Wikitravel: http://wikitravel.org/en/Scottsdale_%28Arizona%29
About.com: http://phoenix.about.com/cs/cityattract/a/scottsattract01.htm
Places of worship: http://www.yellowpages.com/scottsdale-az/churches...
Fiction: http://writers.meetup.com/cities/us/az/phoenix/

Travel Aid
Airlines (Wikipedia): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_airlines
Currency conversion: http://www.xe.com/ucc/
Distance calculator: http://www.indo.com/distance/
Embassies/Consulates (Embassy World): http://www.embassyworld.com/
Health precautions (WHO): http://www.who.int/ith/en/
Maps (Google interactive map): http://maps.google.com/
Maps (Mapquest) U.S. & Canada: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp
Maps (Mapquest) World: http://www.mapquest.com/maps/main.adp?country=GB
Media Guide (local newspapers with current listings): http://www.abyznewslinks.com/
Temperature (Temperature World): http://www.temperatureworld.com/
Time zone converter: http://www.timezoneconverter.com/
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