Scottsdale has gone rogue in the arena of resort restaurants. The old image of stuffy hotel restaurants with the same boring continental menu doesn’t apply to two resorts in the Sonoran Desert Valley. A peak into dining rooms at the Fairmont Princess and Omni Montelucia reveal several surprises.
Set among 65 acres and home to the TPC Waste Management Golf Tournament, the Fairmont Princess is a special oasis with an ice rink over the winter holidays and the new Sunset Beach pool replete with white sand.
With a name that means “bull” in Spanish and tuna belly in Japanese, Toro offers a fascinating blend of Asian and Latin American flavors and scenic views of the golf course and nearby mountains. Known as the “Father of Mexican Cuisine,” celebrity chef Richard Sandoval heads both Toro and La Hacienda restaurants. At Toro, Executive Chef Forest Hamrick and Chef-de-Cuisine Fernando Fernandez oversee the day-to-day operations.
Chilean born Fernandez won me over with the seared salmon roll with a light eel sauce from the “Suviche Bar” menu. These ceviche-sushi creations deliver surprises such as chipotle mayo to accompany the salmon sushi roll. “I like fresh, clean flavors,” said the chef. “Spicy is good, but shouldn’t be overwhelming. I sometimes add fresh ginger not for heat but for its fresh kick.”
Neither my friend nor I had ever sampled a Peruvian-style lomo saltado. We were enchanted with Fernandez’s Nikkei Lomo Saltado: stir-fried beef tenderloin in a special soy jus (sauce) topped with crispy onions served open faced for lunch on Bolillo bread. The beef was fork-tender and the sauce, balanced between salty, savory and rich. We nearly polished off the chifa style fried rice, a Peruvian specialty, combining chorizo and Asian vegetables.
A plethora of beverage choices enhanced the meal. The Toro Toro drink highlights the extensive rum collection, made with Smith & Cross, lime, simple syrup, cilantro, pineapple, ginger purée.
My friend’s prickly pear margarita was not overly sweet. But La Bomba topped the meal. A dark chocolate shell, filled with edible hibiscus flowers, fruit, pistachio, coconut and dulce de leche gelato, was “bombed” onto the table and then swirled with caramel and chocolate sauces. We “licked” the plate by using the chocolate shards as scoops.
Though once a fancier white-tablecloth establishment, La Hacienda presents relaxed, warm hospitality for excellent Mexican and South American food and drinks.
Given the 240-bottle tequila collection, it seemed reasonable to order the “Snake Bite” flight of blanco and añejo tequila and a mescal with a surprise element decorating the sampling tray: a small snake head and tail—replete with rattler—which garnered tongue-in-cheekiness approval from my husband, aka Mr. Healthy. Later we tried the Chino-Latino cocktail, an alluring mix of blanco sotol (made from a desert plant), plum wine, and aji Amarillo.
The shareable guacamole sampler brought three versions: bacon, lobster, and pomegranate with candied pepitas. After chowing down on lobster tacos, and learning of La Hacienda’s fame for enchiladas, I chose filet a la parilla, a grilled beef tenderloin on top of Oaxacan cheese enchiladas with a chile pasilla gastrique (vinegar-based sauce). Mr. Healthy chose the whole branzino with mango salsa, though he was tempted by the Pacific halibut with quinoa à la Mexicana.
Insider’s tip for desert: Along with the well-flavored cinnamon churros and three dipping sauces, choose the flaming coffee experience and ask for Bernardo. We enjoyed the drama of swirling flames from the glass as 150-proof rum is lit to warm the cup before the coffee and your favorite brandies, tequilas or liqueurs are poured.
Located at the base of Camelback Mountain, the Omni Montelucia is fashioned in the style of southern Spain. Prado restaurant reflects the exotic color palate of the Andalusia region. The jewel-tone colors, the wood-fired grill and a patio overlooking a pool and Camelback add to the ambiance.
With Executive Chef Marcos Seville and Chef-de-Cuisine Smail Yaakoubi in the kitchen, brunch at Prado delivers delicious tastes of Spain and Morocco. First impressions count, and General Manager Thomas Greer arrived at our table with a pitcher of Agua de Valencia, a delicious blend of cava sparkling, orange juice, Spanish liqueur, gin, and dry vermouth. Mr. Healthy chose a Refresco wine cocktail with lower alcohol and bright citrus flavors.
The crab timbale arrived with a refreshing gazpacho vinaigrette. Mr. Healthy was delighted with the kale salad, marinated 24 hours to heighten the flavor while minimizing bitterness, and accompanied by grapes, Manchego cheese, broccolini and avocado green goddess dressing.
A native of Morocco, Chef Yaakoubi blends his culinary heritage, closely allied with Spain, to Prado’s food. From his recent winter tasting menu, we sampled a mini-tagine of baked triple cream brie with Berber spice with a dab of Meyer lemon jam made from the resort’s citrus. We then savored his Moroccan lamb tagine, fork-tender and flavored with Moroccan spices, accompanied by creamy saffron risotto, tart cherries, and a light broth. Desserts such as crema Catalana and boraccho (rum cake) are excellent—and the tea that Yaakoubi pours from above into decorative glasses are also excellent.
At Prado Seville and Yaakoubi host wine tasting dinners featuring local products and Greer’s well-selected wines. They also prepare Chef’s Secret Garden Dinner Series in a special indoor-outdoor demo kitchen. The chefs’ Farm to Fork tours to local farms are popular with locals and visitors. During the week, you can enjoy Wine and Tapas Happy Hour at MBAR near Prado or Happy Gelato Hours.
Whether it’s a “suviche” roll after a round of golf at the Fairmont Princess or tagines at the Omni after touring downtown, you can satisfy your thirst and hunger easily in a comfortable setting with spectacular views of the Sonoran landscape.