When you step into La Hacienda at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, it feels in every way like you have stepped into another world. Hacienda, meaning a large ranch house or estate, evokes a sensual luxury with its wood-beamed ceilings, beehive fireplaces, and dark mahogany furniture.
Sandoval, who is often referred to as the 'Father of Modern Mexican', is not only a Top Chef Master but has opened 30 Latin restaurants across the globe. Nominated by James Beard in 2011 as 'Best Restaurateur', and in 2006 by Bon Appetit as 'Restaurateur of the Year,' he has also won acclaim for being the first chef to bring Latin Cuisine to Dubai, Qatar, and Serbia.
Leading Sandoval's team are Executive Chefs Forest Hamrick (both Hacienda and Toro concepts) and Conor Favre (executive chef of the Princess). Forest has been with Hacienda since 2010, and an impressive 19 years at the Fairmont Princess Scottsdale.
In talking with Chef Hamrick about Mexican fare, you can sense the passion he has for both the cuisine and the people of Mexico. In his words, "I think people's perception and knowledge of Mexican food is skewed. We make everything from scratch and truly take pride in what we produce and serve, from the moment you walk in the door. You won't find burritos, nachos, or sopapillas. Expect a truly authentic Mexican dining experience with exceptional service."
And this was my experience this month, seated at the bar, where Zach Moller crafted exceptional cocktails to make the perfect introduction to this culinary expedition. The cocktail program, designed by John Wilhelm, encapsulates the diverse flavors of Mexico ranging from smokey to spicy.
Featured Cocktails in order from left to right:
Blackberry Sangria (Red wine/brandy/orange curacao/blackberry/lemon)
The Grapefruit Paloma (blanco tequila/lime/pampelmousse/aperol/grapefruit soda)
The Cucumber Cocktail (cucumber vodka/lime/ancho chili/ginger beer)
Serrano (house-infused serrano-pineapple tequila/fresh lime/organic agave)
Barbary Fig (Blanco tequila/lime/prickly pear using a whole fruit puree/hibiscus)
Blood Orange (blanco tequila/Solerno blood orange liqueur/lime/agave/pomegranate ponche float)
The Tacos and Tequila Menu, which rolled out June 3rd, was by far the highlight of the tasting. It comprises three tastings of Chef Sandoval's favorite tacos, one of them being a signature recipe of Chef Hamrick on his travels to Baja. The resident 'Tequila Goddess', Christine Lorde, was on deck to introduce us to the tequila pairings that were selected specifically for each taco dish. For tequila lovers, La Hacienda has an impressive selection of 240 tequilas, sotols, mezcals, and bacanoras.
From top clockwise:
Chicken Tinga Taco made with 100% stewed chicken thighs with salsa molcajete, guacamole taquero, pico de gallo
pairing: Casa Noble Blanco
The buttery sweet finish and light citrus notes of this tequila complemented the citrus in the baja sauce and pico de gallo
Barbacoa Taco with braised shredded short rib, salsa brava, guacamole, red onion, radish and cilantro
pairing: Herradura Anejo
Cocoa notes in the anejo brought out the flavors of the spicy paprika in the salsa brava and the rich chili flavors of the short rib
Shrimp Taco with arbol chile rubbed gulf shrimp, jack cheese, cabbage, habanero pico, baja sauce
pairing: Casa Noble Reposado
The vanilla and spice notes in the reposado paired perfectly with the arbol and habanero
The following "Antojitos", or small plates, were among my favorites - dishes that can be enjoyed with cocktails at the bar, or shared at the table with your date. The ceviche packed a lot of heat, which was balanced out by cucumber and avocado. I loved that there were a number of vegetarian options on the menu, such as the Squash Blossom Quesadillas and Caramelized Cauliflower, featured here. For a hearty finish, the Queso with the fiery chile morita salsa and chorizo was perfect.
Clockwise from top left:
1. Ceviche Divorciada gulf shrimp, serrano-herb broth, fresno chile broth, red onion, cucumber, radish, avocado
2. Squash Blossom Quesadillas salsa verde, calabacitas, queso fresco
3. Caramelized Cauliflower
pickled chile chimichurri, tortilla cotija crumble
4. Queso Fundido melted oaxaca & chihuahua cheeses, rajas, chile morita salsa