We order prickly pear margaritas which seem apropos as we’d seen prickly pears blooming on a cactus earlier in the day. They’re rose-colored and taste sweet and delicate. Before us sits a basket of freshly baked rolls topped with pumpkin seeds. They’re terrific. “It’s going to get better,” says Bart Ropers, our ebullient waiter. He’s right.
Bart is from Michigan where, he tells us, it doesn’t start warming up until June. Before coming to La Hacienda, all he knew of Mexican cuisine was Taco Bell. “This is the only four-star, four-diamond Mexican restaurant outside of Mexico City,” he says. “I had a lot to learn.”
He hands us little flashlights so we can attempt to make out what’s on the menu. But it’s still a struggle and besides we’re not familiar with all the Mexican chilis and peppers. So we ask him to decide for us. A wise choice as things turned out.
Appetizers are baked gulf shrimp wrapped in bacon topped with Jack cheese and sweet chili butter sauce on the side; and chili ancho en nogada — a chili pepper stuffed with chicken, apple, apricots, peaches, pears, dried fruit — the combination of spice, smokiness and sweetness is outstanding. Entrées are sensational combinations. One is filet of beef rubbed with coriander and brown sugar and topped with carmelized onions . It sits on a bed of chili rajas which is a mixture of different types of bell peppers sautéed with light cream and a very mild chili pepper called bovado. That, in turn, sits atop two enchiladas that stuffed with Oaxaca cheese, a mild white cheese, and smoked black beans. The other is Chilean corn-dusted sea bass served in a shallow bowl of Mexican saffron broth that is sweet and has just a hint of spice. It comes with sautéed spinach and corn truffle relish.
Dessert is a pyrotechnic event that that adds some badly-needed lighting to the place. A coffee drink is ignited. Cinnamon and spun-sugar in the glass make the flame shimmer like fireworks. Everyone stops eating to look. There are also sorbets of Mexican flavors: prickly pear, mango, coconut with a sauce of prickly pear syrup.
If you like Mexican food, you will love La Hacienda so long as you don’t mind eating in near complete darkness. “The menu makes this restaurant unique,” says Bart.
“Mexican sauces and flavors are combined with items you wouldn’t expect like rack of lamb and duck. The presentation is beautiful.
“And then the staff is great,” he adds with just a touch of modesty. “The mood is always festive. I leave with burning fingertips and earaches, but I’m having a wonderful time.”
Fairmont Scottsdale Princess
7575 East Princess Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85255-5803, USA
From the Frommer’s Vault
Photos by Harvey Frommer.
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About the Authors: Myrna Katz Frommer and Harvey Frommer are a wife and husband team who successfully bridge the worlds of popular culture and traditional scholarship. Co-authors of the critically acclaimed interactive oral histories It Happened in the Catskills, It Happened in Brooklyn, Growing Up Jewish in America, It Happened on Broadway, and It Happened in Manhattan, they teach what they practice as professors at Dartmouth College. They are also travel writers who specialize in luxury properties and fine dining as well as cultural history and Jewish history and heritage in the United States, Europe, and the Caribbean.
This Article is Copyright © 1995 – 2016 by Harvey and Myrna Frommer. All rights reserved worldwide.