From tequila to wine un­der the Ari­zona sun

The Jerusalem Post - - TRAVEL TRENDS - • By GE­ORGE MEDOVOY

SCOTTS­DALE, ARI­ZONA – It isn’t ev­ery­day that you meet a Tequila God­dess.

But that’s pre­cisely what I did at La Ha­cienda, the restau­rant fea­tur­ing the recipes of Chef Richard San­doval, con­sid­ered the fa­ther of mod­ern Mex­i­can cui­sine, at the stun­ning Fair­mont Scotts­dale Princess re­sort in Ari­zona.

“Here at La Ha­cienda we of­fer one of the largest port­fo­lios (of tequila) and one of the most ex­clu­sive… in Ari­zona,” says the tequila ex­pert known as the Tequila God­dess, whose real name is Katie Sch­nurr.

Drink­ing tequila, she tells me, is all about breath­ing.

“With wine, you’re breath­ing all that in. With tequila, you drink, you swal­low, and you breathe out with your mouth.

“So when you take that nice ex­hale and you breathe out with your mouth, it’s go­ing to take away that big al­co­hol bite… you’re just a lit­tle bit more in the zone with your palate.”

Tequila pair­ing, notes Sch­nurr, who is cer­ti­fied by Mex­ico’s Tequila Reg­u­la­tory Coun­cil, is sim­i­lar to wine pair­ing, with fish re­quir­ing some­thing crisp and re­fresh­ing like a “blanco,” while meat calls for an “oaky” tequila.

Sch­nurr makes the rounds of ta­bles at La Ha­cienda, of­fer­ing ad­vice on tequila, while din­ers en­joy Chef San­doval’s in­trigu­ing fla­vors from a menu that draws upon mem­o­ries of his grand­mother’s meals.

“In my grand­mother’s house,” he tells me, “when I was a child, ev­ery Fri­day and Satur­day, 20 or 25 fam­ily mem­bers would gather at her house. Food would be free-flow­ing.

“I wanted to cre­ate this kind of home at­mos­phere (in La Ha­cienda), where you come in and re­ally en­joy the nice court­yard… the wood beams on the ceil­ing, the tile floors…. I think that was our main goal – be­ing at some­one’s home, en­joy­ing a meal.”

San­doval doesn’t be­lieve that food should nec­es­sar­ily be fancy – but it should have what he terms “in­trigu­ing fla­vors.”

“I have al­ways said that food does not have to be com­pli­cated,” he notes, “as long as it has great bal­ance and great fla­vor. So when I cook, if you look at some of my recipes, there’s not many steps, but again, it’s all about the in­gre­di­ents and the fla­vors.”

For din­ner, the lovely Pescado Zaran­deado (bar­be­cued seabass) is served with a tasty charred ser­rano aioli, heir­loom tomato and av­o­cado. The gua­camole is not only very tasty, but en­ter­tain­ing to watch be­ing made right by ta­ble­side!

For dessert, La Ha­cienda’s per­fectly-light Cin­na­mon-Dusted Chur­ros are amaz­ing – a real tes­ta­ment to Chef de Cui­sine For­est Ham­rick’s fa­mil­iar­ity with the food mar­kets of Mex­ico.

“Some­times I close my eyes,” says San­doval, “and I eat one of his dishes and feel like I’m in a mar­ket in Mex­ico.”

The AAA Five Di­a­mond re­sort is where I also learn about Ari­zona’s in­trigu­ing wine story from ad­vanced som­me­lier Ja­son Ca­ballero, who guides guests through wine with meals at Bour­bon Steak, the Fair­mont restau­rant led by James Beard Award-win­ning chef Michael Mina with on-site ex­ec­u­tive chef Sara Gar­rant.

Ari­zona wines are push­ing the en­ve­lope on qual­ity and Bour­bon Steak’s large, im­pres­sive wine col­lec­tion in­cludes some Ari­zona la­bels, too: Rune Wines, Ca­duceus Cel­lars, (the lat­ter owned by rock band vo­cal­ist May­nard James Keenan), plus Dos Cabezas Wine Works and Cal­laghan Vine­yards, both of which have been served at the White House.

Ca­duceus, by the way, is lo­cated in Jerome, a fun lit­tle his­toric cop­per min­ing town well worth vis­it­ing.

“I think we’re mak­ing some in­cred­i­ble strides (with Ari­zona wine),” Ca­ballero says, “and I think there’s a lot of re­ally ex­cit­ing wines we’ve been putting out, which is re­ally cool….”

Ari­zona has 106 li­censed winer­ies and three high-desert viti­cul­ture ar­eas: Verde Val­ley, north of Phoenix at 3,500 to 4,000 feet in el­e­va­tion; Sonoita, an AVA south of Tuc­son at 4,800 to al­most 5,000 feet; and Will­cox, an AVA also south of Tuc­son, at 4,200 to 4,600 feet.

At Bour­bon Steak, with its clean de­sign and sub­tle light­ing, the din­ner menu of­fers some­thing for ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing Amer­i­can Kobe beef, poul­try and fish, slow­poached in but­ter, grilled and fin­ished over sea­soned wood-fu­eled flames. Duck fat fries can be a fun treat as an amuse bouche, while other fa­vorites in­clude ahi tuna tartare and lob­ster pot pie.

Cock­tails are of­fered at the bar or on the two-level out­door pa­tio with fire pit ta­bles.

Above and be­yond the food and the drinks, out­side my third-floor bal­cony I can see one of six pools at the re­sort. Among these, by the way, is the 7,000-square-foot Sun­set Beach pool with 830 tons of soft sand to mimic the beach – com­plete with col­or­ful beach chairs, be­lieve it or not! also dis­cover the Fair­mont’s Well & Be­ing Spa, a 44,000-square- foot re­treat, where I ex­pe­ri­ence stand­ing un­der minia­ture “water­falls” in­spired by the Grand Canyon Hava­su­pai Falls, and I find the eu­ca­lyp­tus in­hala­tion room a nice ex­pe­ri­ence, too. The spa also in­cludes a rooftop pool with pri­vate ca­banas, co-ed water­fall grotto and a “healthy spa cui­sine” menu.

For golfers, the re­sort has two 18-hole TPC Scotts­dale cour­ses, home to the PGA Tour’s Waste Man­age­ment Phoenix Open.

Of course, when talk­ing sports, it’s good to re­mem­ber that the city of Scotts­dale is the pop­u­lar site for base­ball’s an­nual spring train­ing sched­ule.

Dur­ing Hanukkah, the Fair­mont re­sort was plan­ning a nightly meno­rah light­ing, ac­com­pa­nied by latkes and ap­ple­sauce in the re­sort lobby. The re­sort’s La­goon Lights also fea­tured an eight­meter-high meno­rah, a 1.5me­ter drei­del, and 1.5-me­ter gelt.

Through De­cem­ber 31, the re­sort is also plan­ning, among many at­trac­tions, an out­door ice skat­ing rink made of real ice, and a four-story Christ­mas mu­si­cal tree that plays 17 songs to 70,000 syn­chro­nized lights.

It’s all made for cel­e­brat­ing, of course, un­der the Ari­zona sun.

(Fair­mont Scotts­dale Princess)

LA HA­CIENDA, which fea­tures the recipes of Chef Richard San­doval, con­sid­ered the fa­ther of mod­ern Mex­i­can cui­sine, is housed at the Fair­mont Scotts­dale Princess. Right, the Tequila God­dess, Katie Sch­nurr.

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