It hits you as soon as you arrive. Something in the air—a fresh scent foreign to big city dwellers. Like an unseen hand has been liberal with room spray. Scottsdale’s culinary roots run deep and it is reemerging as a dining destination. We have come for the world renowned Barrett Jackson Collector Car Auction and have had the added value of discovering the luxury hotels and restaurants in the southwest.
On the drive to the Phoenician Hotel, we are aware that Scottsdale is located in the rugged Sonoran desert. The Phoenician rises majestically from the base of Camelback Mountain and sprawls across 250 acres of landscape. Jean-Georges Vongerichten, one of the world’s most renowned and prolific French chefs, has gone off topic by presenting J&G Steakhouse. Some steakhouse! In a wondrous ambience, at an inlaid wood table, we’re slurping Malpeques and Bluepoints, and sipping the perfect martini. Signature steaks lead me to believe once again man is the lucky meat-eater. Perky asparagus begs to be eaten with fingers; Brussels sprouts under their blanket of pecans give new lustre to the mundane edible bud. Oops. A spill. With alacrity, a busboy is at the table with soda water and a towel (he may be manager one day). Tiny rectangular crystals of Maldon salt in a tiny dish do not go unnoticed by me. The pièce de résistance, molten chocolate lava cake, originally created by Jean-Georges, is still a favourite. But there is one more thing: I won’t leave this magnificent dining room without a taste of the red velvet ice cream sundae.Chad Elsner is the Director of Libations at the Plaza bar in the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. His imagination and skill in creating infusions and fresh juices from local products to blend, shake or stir with his vast array of spirits, knows no bounds. At La Hacienda, the fine dining Mexican restaurant, chef Richard Sandoval shows off his signature style, combining the bold taste of classic Mexican food with timeless European cooking techniques. We are indulging in citric mahi mahi ceviche, trios of lobster tacos and mole poblano chilies. Who can choose from the selection of 240 artisan tequilas, particularly since the official Tequila Goddess, Abeer Beshariha, a certified tequila expert, has curated it? Who can turn up their nose at churros and flaming coffees? Not me. Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak (one of America’s finest steak houses) reigns supreme and has been enhanced during the hotel’s $60 million renovation plan, with the outdoor fire pit seating.
Scottsdale can be all things to all people and for those of us who seek adventure in a natural setting, there is no finer spot.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.