1. Deseo at the Westin Kierland www.kierlandresort.com $26-32
From the moment I scampered down the stairs to Deseo, Chef Douglas Rodriguez and the Kierland?s sultry Nuevo Latino delight, I was in love. Bold, dashing paintings are created on site by the resort?s resident smiley Cuban artist, Nelson Garcia-Miranda. His swathes of color provide a perfect welcome to the bright, joyful creations waiting on the menu. As if this wasn?t enough of a welcome, just beside Nelson, there?s a Muddle Bar, where cheerful staff create lethally delicious libations from fresh fruits and herbs.
In the vivacious, high-ceilinged room, I savored a dazzling, seven-course, wine-paired chef?s menu that bobbed through a sampling from the ten-item ceviche menu and detoured through delights such as tender albacore tuna, shockingly good lobster tacos and a white frisee salad, and Rodriguez?s grandmother Gloria?s black bean soup, before hitting Adobo-rubbed Kurobuta pork and Churrasco-style Beef Tenderloin. Just when it wasn?t possible to contemplate ever consuming a single morsel again, the chef sent out a dessert plate so laden it would sink a ship: Crema Catalana with sherry-glazed berries and coconut tapioca, a chocolate ganache cigar, Dulce de Leche with a yucca fritter. Next time, I?m starting with dessert first.
2. elements at Sanctuary on Camelback Mountain www.sanctuaryoncamelback.com $28-38
Chef Beau MacMillan?s elements restaurant is one of the finest food destinations around. Offering farm-fresh American cuisine with Asian accents, the menu is changed monthly to reflect seasonal harvests. Depending on where you sit, you can gaze out at the head of the rocky camel, the sunset over Paradise Valley, and a desert sky full of stars.
I devoured sumptuous Dungeness Crab Summer Roll, so delicious that I reckon it?s reason enough in itself to jet off to Scottsdale. Really, it?s that good. Or to tuck in to the salad with goat cheese, mandarin oranges, and roasted heirloom beet chips, the Miso Glazed Bluenose Sea Bass, or the Braised Beef Short Ribs with Honey Five Spice Drizzle. The menu is crammed with taste-perfect temptation. If you?ve got more time than I had, check out packages that offer opportunities to shop with the chef, then feast on your perfectly prepared groceries.
3. The Palo Verde at the Boulders www.theboulders.com $16-22
Up at the northern end of svelte, skinny Scottsdale, sits the Boulders, a luxurious resort and spa set amid some of the most astounding scenery I?ve seen. Piles of gigantic, granite, 12-million-year-old boulders tower over this breathtakingly beautiful, gay-friendly Sonoran Desert resort, like some sun-baked lunar landscape. With its higher elevation, the Boulders is an appealing 15 degrees cooler, making it the perfect summer Sonoran escape.
I lunched outdoors at Palo Verde, one of six eateries on property, and was almost distracted from the Southwestern thrills on the menu by the red cardinals, Gila woodpeckers, cactus wren, and jackrabbits that were frolicking around within feet of the table. Back at table level, I sampled the Tortilla Soup, Beef Flautas with tangy Citrus-Chile Arbol Sauce, and an Almond-Crusted Seabass so magnificent I forgot all about the dramatic scenery. The resort?s destination dining address, The Latilla, offers some of the Valley of the Sun?s most flavorsome organic, free-range offerings. I?m counting down the days until it?s time for my next course of Scottsdale delights.