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An hour and 45-minute drive from our house is one of my favorite destinations - Sedona, Arizona. Needless to say, we make frequent visits to this mesmerizing city awash in natural beauty with its majestic red sandstone formations and outdoor activities, art galleries, gorgeous resorts, and thriving dining scene. One of those beautiful resorts is L'Auberge de Sedona, an idyllic property located on the banks of Oak Creek with meandering paths leading to posh cottages and guest rooms.
It's not only one of our top choices to check in for a pampered stay, but also a must-visit to enjoy breakfast, lunch or dinner in a beautiful bucolic setting. Last year, this luxurious property became part of the DiamondRock portfolio. Exciting upgrades being implemented include a renovated resort pool, expanded spa, and new dining program led by Director of Food & Beverage Chef Franck Desplachin (formerly of Enchantment Resort and St. Regis San Francisco) and Executive Chef John Gapasin (formerly of Michelin Star-awarded restaurant LUCE in San Francisco), which we were invited to experience.
Our blissful stay began with checking into a creekside cottage complete with an outdoor cedar shower, wood-burning fireplace, and French doors opening onto a private deck under the canopy of sycamore trees. You can read more about the property details here in my previous feature.
We were also spoiled by the chefs, who welcomed us with this wonderful multi-course amenity array! Greeted with a bottle of wine and cheese plate, and Chef Gapasin's scallop crudo enhanced with ginger, served in cucumber boats, and garnished with briny pops of salmon roe, was a delicious way to begin our visit.
Welcome cocktails included a new favorite, The Botanist (yerba-mate infused AZ Distilling Commerce gin, white vermouth, basil syrup, and lemon); and a past favorite, the Negroni No. 9 (with three white vermouths, three amari, and three gins, previously spotlighted here on my Five Negronis in Sedona article). And I was also thrilled to learn that their new pastry chef is Morgan Gurney. I'm a huge fan of her dessert talents (see here) and, trust me, you'll want to order her sophisticated take on S'mores with milk chocolate cremeux, handmade graham crackers, salted chocolate crumble, and toasted marshmallow cream.
We spent the afternoon relaxing on our patio and enjoying the sounds of the creek before strolling to Cress on Oak Creek for dinner. During the day, guests can enjoy lunch and breakfast at Etch, while nightfall brings white tablecloths and candlelight ambiance with a fine-dining transformation to Cress.
The sprinkles of rain earlier had cleared just in time for us to be seated for dinner on this beguiling terrace. The prix-fixe menu at Cress offers three or four courses, or chef's six-course tasting menu.
With such a magical setting, a glass of Taittinger champagne was the ideal partner for a duo of amuse-bouches to introduce our feast.
Shrimp ceviche was given a Peruvian flair with the traditional marinade called leche de tigre, while smoky trumpet mushrooms were embellished with an umami-rich black garlic aioli - two perfect bites to herald what was to come.
We were happy to see Michael, who has waited on us before and always pairs our wine with expertise. For our first course, he chose Pierre Chainier 1749, a Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, and Napa Valley’s Truchard Pinot Noir.
The sauvignon blanc with its bright acidity and the pinot noir with delicate tannins were excellent complements to our first course and it was hard to choose which pairing I preferred, so I declare it a draw! Our beautifully-plated smoked trout tartare was sourced locally from Sedona's Rainbow Trout Farm and decorated with a seaweed-coated tuile, avocado mousse, horseradish cream, and crunchy jicama cubes dusted in salty-tangy tajin.
More wine pairings along with fantastic surf and turf courses followed, first with plump pan-seared Maine scallops bedecked with salmon roe and served with a colorful melange of summer squashes, yogurt sauce accented with peach and sweet red peppers, and crispy eggplant croutons (which were so good, I ate mine and stole my husband's too). Next, we dined on luscious pork belly braised for 24 hours, crowned with a puffy chicharone, and plated with a charred pepper chutney, sweet-and-tangy pineapple aigre doux, and purple Peruvian potatoes confited in bacon fat. You’ll want to make sure you get a taste of each harmonious component in every bite.
Sous Chef Yannick Law’s poisson du jour was a superbly-cooked fillet of pan-seared halibut set atop of puddle of golden beet puree, cosseted by roasted cipollini onions, fennel, and finished with an aromatic blood orange and lemongrass beurre blanc, Marcona almond dust, fennel fronds, and a brilliant accompaniment of pickled blueberries.
As Michael poured a glass of Sequoia Grove Cabernet Sauvignon for our next course, he shared a personal anecdote - “This is a fun one because it was the Cabernet we poured by the glass when I started here 18 years ago.” It was also a perfect partner for a slice of juicy roasted beef tenderloin capped by a tarragon and lobster wonton encrusted with crispy quinoa for a nutty textural surprise, velvety celeriac espuma, and rich veal jus.
Chef Morgan’s sweet delights arrived in the form of Lemon Meringue which featured crunchy slabs of meringue, local honeycomb, and silky lemon curd with strawberries three ways (fresh strawberries, an intensely-flavored sorbet, and strawberry-goat cheese mousse), along with decadent petit fours cleverly presented in wooden box - an extravagant finale.
After such a luxurious repast, we slept in before heading to Etch the next morning for one last meal creekside.
I started brunch with a bright and refreshing cocktail, the Charred Jalapeno Margarita (jalapeno-infused mezcal, chareau aloe vera liqeur, pineapple, and cilantro), and later sipped on the vibrant Ginger Swing Mocktail (sparkling cider, candied ginger, fresh berries and lemon) which I spiked with gin on our waiter’s smart recommendation.
We were also treated to some R&D dishes the chefs were working on as Sous Chefs John Morehouse and Joseph Wickman indulged us with their delicious challah French toast with apple compote, and a crisp and airy Belgian waffle with fresh berries.
Hopefully Chef John’s decadent lobster roll on brioche with a side of drawn butter and french fries makes it on the new menu because it was incredible.
Chicken wings are a weakness of mine and Chef John’s rendition were superlative - crispy wings cloaked in a garlic jalapeno butter and showered with a fragrant tequila lime zest. And while Chef Franck’s salad of fresh greens tossed with pepitas, sugarsnap peas, salami and crispy shallots looked deceptively simple, it was so addictive, I couldn’t stop eating it.
And of course, one last sweet treat to end our leisurely al fresco lunch. You can see the video of Chef Morgan’s amazing “Tart Tatin Situation” with layers of caramel apples, cherry granita, oatmeal cookie-cherry crumble, and vanilla gelato topped with ginger beer here.
It was such a delight to meet this team of talented chefs, and their spirit of collaboration on such a winning menu. “That’s what it’s all about,” shared Executive Chef John Gapasin, “giving your sous chefs some ownership, passing on your opinion and knowledge, and engaging the kitchen. I’m really proud to be with these guys.”
More changes are in store. Look for an outdoor pizza oven to be added, with Pastry Chef Morgan traveling to Italy to be educated on VPN certification, and a new afternoon tea service. Also, in November, you won’t want to miss “An Intimate Weekend with Isabel and Michael Mondavi,” an exclusive food and wine event in collaboration with the Michael Mondavi Family Estate. You can find out more about this special event at this link.
L’Auberge de Sedona Resort is located at 301 Little Ln, Sedona, AZ 86336 in a secluded location within walking distance to the shops and restaurants of uptown Sedona. Call 1-800-905-5745 for reservations.
I was hosted by L’Auberge de Sedona and our stay was complimentary
Kimpton Amara Resort and Spa is one of my favorite getaways any time of the year. In the fall, this native New Englander loves the autumn hues, in the winter, nothing's cozier than sitting in front of a fire pit under the stars and toasting marshmallows, and in the spring the colors are vibrant and the hills awash with spring blooms.
Summer in Sedona is just as welcoming, and the perfect opportunity to escape the soaring temps in Phoenix. On this August trip, I was also looking forward to checking out the newest cocktails and Executive Chef Logan Stephenson's latest menu at Saltrock Kitchen, Amara's on-site restaurant. We checked into our pretty creekside room on a Friday afternoon (visit a prior feature for more property details).
And snacked on a welcome of chips and salsa and make-your-own-margaritas on the balcony, where we lingered and enjoyed the view.
Saltrock Kitchen at Amara Resort is my favorite destination for expertly-crafted cocktails using creative, handmade ingredients. You can learn more about their talented mixologist, Ardi Dulaku, through my previous interview by clicking the photo below.
The cocktails at Saltrock change four times a year and I always look forward to the latest additions to the menu. Not surprisingly, once again, the three seasonal cocktails I tried were impressive, but Desert Storm might have been my favorite. Meant to capture the clean, sweet scent after a desert rain, this was recreated by combining Kettle One Vodka with the bright botanicals of Chareau aloe vera liqueur, lime juice, and a fantastic fresh, herbaceous component via housemade celery syrup.
Midnight Canyon is inspired by "late-night Sedona hikes and the bright, moonlit canyon," and I loved the combination of small-batch Edinburgh gin, red Zinfandel wine, lemon, and bitters with a touch of sweet plum puree for a dark fruit refresher that showcased the team's skill. Southern Hospitality, "a salute to SaltRock's Executive Chef Logan Stephenson who hails from the South," also takes advantage of seasonal fruit and wasa complex libation melding Elijah Craig bourbon, lemon, soda, a housemade grilled peach and Mexican tarragon syrup, and two bitters - Angostura and Peychaud's - all lending depth to a drink that sang of summer.
Having learned about Chef Stephenson' Southern roots, I had to order his grits, and this dish didn't disappoint. A flavorful swathe of grits were given a Southwestern influence with the smoky chile kick of chipotle and decadently gilded with rich crispy pork belly and a lacy-edged fried egg.
Labeled as crab cake on the menu, while my favorite dish of the night was not what I would exactly call a crab cake, I certainly would call it delicious! Picture a toasty handmade cornmeal sope topped with sweet chunks of crabmeat draped in a spicy, buttery chipotle sauce, crowned with a thatch of fresh arugula and aromatic lemon zest, and accompanied by a creamy poblano aioli. Yes, please.
And my husband's prime ribeye steak with pasilla chimichurri, grilled brocolini and roasted garlic was so perfectly seasoned and juicy that I kept stealing a piece. Tip: Ask for an extra side of this zesty housemade chimichurri spiked with smoky-fruity pasilla peppers to slather on every bite.
I can't wait to see what the fall season will bring to the menus, but there's still time to take advantage of Amara's “Escape the Heat” discounted-stay package available Sunday to Thursday through Sept. 13, 2018 with rates starting from $259 per night (40 percent off high-season) and a daily $20 resort credit. For more information or to book your stay, go to http://www.amararesort.com/ or call 877-488-1908.
I received a media invitation and was hosted by Amara Resort.