|The valet takes your car when you arrive
at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess. Then it's a long walk through a
loggia and across a wide patio until you come to a one-story
Spanish-style building named, unsurprisingly, la Hacienda.
From what we can see, and it's a challenge, because
it's so dark inside the place looks like a comfortable 19th century
Mexican house. A trio of guitar, bass,
and small guitar is playing Mexican music. The noise
level is so high it's hard to hear them. When they stroll past your
table, you wish they'd stay.
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
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
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
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
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
Photos by Harvey Frommer.