Our friend Dave Johnson, General Manager, sommelier, and partner of Ocotillo, had shared his vision of Ocotillo with us last year so it was with eager anticipation that I awaited its debut in late September. It is an impressive and ambitious project with well-thought-out details and archictecture, and a recent Saturday night's full house attests that this collaboration with Chefs Walter Sterling and Sacha Levine is well on its way to success. In fact, I was told the Friday night before, they had 400 covers. Nicely done Ocotillo!
Ocotillo opened with a brunch menu initially, and four of us met to enjoy the dinner menu after it had launched in mid-November.
I asked bartender Brian Loesche to surprise me with a couple of his libation creations and he kindly agreed. Thank you Brian for the great cocktails! Both were well-balanced, fresh, and bright. Left: Pimm's, yellow chartreuse, ginger syrup, lemon, lime, simple syrup, and Peychaud's bitters. Right: Viejo rum, dry curaçao, lemon, honey syrup, AZ Bitters Lab Figgy Pudding bitters, Aztec chocolate bitters, and freshly-grated cinnamon.
Many have told me the fresh locally-sourced vegetable dishes here shine, and the beet salad didn't disappoint. Pecan wood-smoked beets were tumbled onto creamy ricotta and strewn with arugula, truffle honey, and roasted pistachios with a simple dressing that allowed each element to make its own statement.
The grilled lemongrass pork steak was listed under Small Plates, but made a perfect entree for me. Recommended by our helpful server, this was fantastically juicy and captured all the bright flavors of Asian cuisine I love with its tangy house pickles and chopped peanuts and fried shallots for texture.
Our friend Andrew Gooi shared a bite of his dish and it was another winner - crispy-skinned roasted Pekin duck on a bed of polenta drizzled with a rich duck jus and garnished with the tart pop of pomegranate seeds.
I was also happy Elise passed a share plate of her Ocotillo Chicken which is fast becoming a signature dish. It's a stellar taste of Arizona on plate, with the tender roast chicken, honey and citrus sourced locally, as well as the dates and pecans that elevate the humble potato salad. A brilliant combination.
A perfect sweet treat to end our evening? Buttery Meyer lemon pound cake with ice cream and fresh berries.
After dinner, GM Dave graciously offered a tour of the grounds of this expansive property. After being shown the tubs of fresh bucatini, campanelle and creste di gallo, I know I'll be ordering pasta on my next visit. In addition to the main dining room where we were seated, there is an adjacent open-air beer garden with communal tables and its own bar and cozy fire pit, a large landscaped courtyard area with outdoor seating, and a separate O to Go coffee bar with daytime hours. Dave also pointed out a built-in screen that flips out for movie viewing on the lawn, and told of us plans in the spring for a jasmine-covered ramada to shade the al fresco picnic tables. With what Ocotillo has already accomplished, I can't wait to see more.