After our distressing trip to Jerome, J. and I were ready to have a stellar experience somewhere. One of the places that had been on my radar for some time was La Hacienda at the Fairmont Princess in Scottsdale. However, I had kept this place at an arm’s length because it is a rather pricey restaurant that serves Mexican food.
As a Phoenix native, the thought of paying large sums of cash for Mexican food is a rather contrary to my nature where one can have a feast at a place like El Nopalito or Pedro’s for less than $10 a person. However, I had seen some positive comments about La Hacienda and decided that for a nice night out, we would dress up a bit and see what La Hacienda had to offer.
There was a mild bit of panic when I called to confirm our 8 PM reservation and was told they couldn’t find my name on the list. Alas, they were looking at the wrong page and confirmed our party of two.
After the 25-minute drive, we pulled up to the valet at the porte chochere and were directed to head up and to the right. We didn’t realize that the restaurant was quite a hike from the entrance and we just made our reservation time. We didn’t mind the walk, however, as we got to tour a bit of the massive and beautiful grounds.
We stepped inside and were told it would be just a minute for the host to return and take us to our table. After arriving at our table, J. and I settled in the darkened room with the fireplace roaring and casting a soft glow over the room.
A few minutes later, our server arrived with menus and pour water. He asked if we would like anything form the bar and J. asked for the Midori Margarita ($10.00) and I had the Prickly Pear Margarita ($10.00). Our server said he would return with the drinks and take our order.
I immediately told J. that I loved the fact that the room was subtle in its decoration and had more of a “ranchero” feel to it. I was pleased there were not bright paper flowers or piñatas parked on ledges. Instead, there were white stucco walls, wrought iron trim and lots of exposed, dark wood surfaces. It was pure comfort and perfect for an upscale restaurant.
Arriving with our margaritas, our server said he had an order to deliver and would be right back with some bread. That was fine with us as we each wanted to imbibe in our chosen margaritas. J.’s Midori Margarita was pale green in a martini glass with salt on the rim. The melon flavor was prevalent, but not overpowering. The salt was an excellent contrast to the melon. The drink was also quite strong. While the alcohol didn’t overwhelm the flavor, it was only a few moments before we started feeling the affects.
My Prickly Pear Margarita was just as good as J.’s. The flavor was rich and the soft sweetness of the prickly pear juice was perfect when played against the tequila. I opted to have sugar on the rim instead of salt and I am glad I made that choice. I was not sure the prickly pear juice would have matched well with the salt. I was very pleased with the drink.
When our server returned, he set down a basket containing two rolls and a stack of flour tortillas along with three toppings. Before we started our tasting, we decided to place our order. For our appetizers, we decided to split the Camarones Culiacan/Bacon Wrapped Shrimp ($14.00) and the Chile Ancho en Nogada ($12.00). We would follow that with the Ensalada de Espinacas ($11.00). J. was craving seafood and ordered the Lenguado Relleno ($33.00) while I had the house specialty of Cochinillo Asado ($30.00). We also ordered two Diet Coke ($4.00 each).
With the orders placed, we dove into the breads. The tortillas were soft, hot and very fresh. The rolls were room temperature, but also soft and fresh. I liked La Hacienda’s flour tortillas. They were slightly elastic, earthy in flavor and had a great taste. The rolls were dense with a slight sweetness to them.
The accompanying sides were a chipotle salsa, a bean dip with sautéed onions and a butter with chili seasoning. All were excellent on the breads. The salsa had a kick to it and a smoky richness that was enticing. The bean dip with sautéed onions was outstanding. The beans were smooth and creamy and the onions added sweet and tang to the dip. The chili butter was very interesting and really made the rolls stand out. Although we liked all three, the bean dip was the clear winner.
We had just finished up the breads when our server brought the Chile Ancho en Nogada. The large, teardrop-shaped chile had been stuffed with a mixture of roasted chicken and dried fruits and then topped with two sauces: a pomegranate sauce and a tomatillo sauce. The chile was fork tender and the filling was moist. After a quick bite, I told J. that the flavors reminded me of Thanksgiving stuffing, but with a twist. I loved the dish and found myself dipping a piece of the tortilla in the sauces that remained on the plate.
The Shrimp appetizer was brought to our table and I was captivated by the orange hue from the Guajillo and Lime Butter Sauce that adorned the three meaty, jumbo shrimp that had been wrapped in bacon. After removing one from the skewer and cutting a piece, I was happy with the combination of flavors. There was little, if any, spiciness to the dish, but the salty bacon and briny shrimp were melded together with the sauce adding a wonderful dimension. This was a success all the way around.
Our server cleared the plates and had split the salad we ordered. In front of each of us was a plate of luscious greens and I could see glistening pecans along with onions. The majority of the greens were spinach leaves and the pecans had been tossed in cinnamon. I was completely impressed by the dressing which can only be called “inspired.” The classic spinach salad had been traditionally served with a warm bacon dressing. In this version, the spinach salad was tossed in a warm chorizo dressing. It was absolutely sublime. The combination of the greens, onions, cinnamon pecans and chorizo dressing had our taste buds doing cartwheels of joy. J. and I agreed that this was one of the best salads we had had in a very long time. Creative, fresh, delicious.
After a short wait, our entrees arrived and we hoped they were going to live up to the success of the appetizers and salad. J.’s Lenguado Relleno was an absolute ocean of seafood. Flounder had been stuffed with crab and then served in a Caldo Verde broth which was adorned with shrimp, bay scallops, and mussels. J. was overjoyed with the amount of seafood and how fresh all of it was, especially noting how the caldo verde was not overwhelming, but a nice treatment for all of the seafood.
My Cochinillo Asado was excellent. The large portion of suckling pig had been slowly roasting for hours and it showed with tender pieces of pork bursting with flavor. Even better were the masa cake and chorizo that were hidden under the pork that had soaked up a lot of the juices from the pork. The extra BBQ-style sauce on the side was a nice touch and I made use of every drop. The baby corn and petite green beans were decent, but seemed more for show than flavor. I loved the pork and the fact that BBQ sauce did not overwhelm the dish. Instead, it was a perfect enhancement. I was also pleased at the portion size. It was gigantic, but it also wasn’t paltry. I was very happy with my selection.
J. and I were both very surprised with our dishes all the way around. The only complaint we had was that we wish the food had been a tad bit hotter temperature wise. All of the hot dishes were warm or very warm. I think we both would have preferred them hot to searing.
Thankfully, we had room for dessert and J. and I were quick to ask for the dessert menu. As we perused the options, we notice dramatic pillars of flame rising to the ceiling as one of the waiters prepared after-dinner coffees for one of the other tables. Well, we couldn’t pass that up so when we placed our order, we went for the Cafe Caballo ($10.00) for our drink along with the Trio de Pastel de Tres Leches ($9.00) and Torta de Chocolate y Crema de Vanilla ($9.00) for our desserts.
Within minutes, our server returned wheeling a cart over to prepare our drink. He used a glass goblet and began mixing a few alcohols in the bowl before setting them on fire. He then grabbed pinches of cinnamon sugar and tossed it into the glass producing large columns of fire that reached the roof. This occurred multiple times until the interior of the glass had been caramelized with the sugar. He then poured in Bailey’s Irish Cream, Creme de Cacao & Fangelico along with strong coffee and topped it with fresh whipped cream.
The final product was presented to us and we sipped on the drink finding it strong, delicious and exotic. The caramelization had added an interesting dimension to the drink and we were very happy with the drink, although it did have quite a strong punch due to the alcohol and sugar mixture. We both commented that we would want to try one of the other five coffees available that were prepared the same way, if just for the floor show.
Our desserts arrived and J.’s Trio de Pastel de Tres Leches was three small desserts of papaya sopaipilla-wrapped mango cheesecake, Kahlua torte and Star Anise ice cream. A candied orange slice adorned the top of the trio. J. found the dessert to be incredibly rich with good flavors all the way around, but noted that it seemed to lack the needed punch to make it stellar. I had a taste and found the flavors quite reserved. While definitely rich, there just wasn’t enough there to fully tingle the palate.
My dessert, on the other hand, was a knock out. The chocolate torte had a thin layer of vanilla bean cream in the center and mousse-like filling leading to a chocolate granache topping and pieces of cacao nib crisps. The dessert was exceptionally rich and the flavors were outstanding. J. and I agreed that this dessert was far better than the tres leches. The combination of sweet, subtle and bitter really made this a stand out. Between this and the after dinner coffee, my sweet tooth had been fully satiated.
We requested our bill and the total was $168.40 including tax. We thought it was worth it due to the creativity, the excellence of the ingredients and the plentiful portion sizes. Service was very professional and friendly.
After departing, we strolled back to the entrance to retrieve the car. We chatted about the meal and I could only think that a lot of people would be put off by a price tag like that on Mexican food. However, J. and I thought it was worth it and enjoyed our meals at La Hacienda. As we drove back to Phoenix, we both agreed that the best dish was the spinach salad. That didn’t mean the rest was bad, but that salad was the stuff of dreams for us.
Other than our desire for the food to be hotter in temperature and the one dessert that seemed mundane, we thoroughly enjoyed our meals at La Hacienda.
7575 East Princess Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85255
Dress: Business Casual on up.
Hours: Thursday to Tuesday - 6 PM to 10 PM; Closed Wednesdays.
Notes: Reservations are recommended.
Alcohol: Full bar; margaritas a specialty.
Additional photos can be found at www.feastinginphoenix.com
7575 E Princess Dr, Scottsdale, AZ 85255
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