Archive for the ‘ Restaurant Reviews ’ Category


Santa Fe School of Cooking

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

I was first introduced to the Santa Fe School of Cooking in 2012, as it was a stop on my culinary tour of Santa Fe, New Mexico for the USA Today and Rand McNally’s “Best of the Road” rally. (By the way, Santa Fe ended up winning the “Best Food” category in small town America) A year later, I was excited to have an opportunity to go through a complete class, and, enjoy a wonderful meal indicative of the region.

The Santa Fe School of Cooking (SFSC) is a state of the art facility where classes are taught by some of the best local chefs.  The demonstrations are not only entertaining, but educational, informative…and, the meals you prepare, are amazingly delicious.

Santa Fe has a strong culinary identity that encompasses, Spanish, Mexican and Native American traditions. When you attend one of the classes, you’ll learn a great deal behind the cultural mix that is truly distinct to the region.

The venue at SFSC almost makes you feel like you’re on the set of a cooking show—large mirrors overhead provide different vantage points, with great lighting and ample space to work and interact with the chefs. After the chefs have presented the menu for the day, they invite students to don an apron and join them in the kitchen area where they guide students through the preparation methods. Then, it’s all hands on deck—everyone gets an opportunity to participate in every aspect of the meal preparation.

On this day we were preparing gourmet tacos where the fillings included pork, chicken and shrimp. We even made homemade tortillas from blue and white corn. Once the meal was competed, all the taco ingredients where plated and lined up. We then removed our aprons, grabbed a plate and began feasting on the fruits of our labor.

The experience at the Santa Fe School of Cooking is one that skilled cooks, to the novice will enjoy. It’s both education, and something fun and unique to do with your sweetheart.

At the entrance/exit of the SFSC is a lovely market at which you can purchase many of the ingredients and utensils used in the classes. If you’ve ever been to the Santa Fe School of Cooking, please leave a comment below and share your experience. And, perhaps a description of the meal you helped prepare.

Santa Fe School of Cooking Contact Information:

Address: 125 N Guadalupe St – Santa Fe, NM 87501
Phone: 505-983-4511

Hours: 9:30-5:00 Mon-Fri – 9:30-5:00-Sat – Noon-4:00-Sun
: $75 to $98 per person

Beckett’s Table: The soul of culinary confection

Monday, July 7th, 2014

Written by: Terri Campbell

Opened in 2010 Chef Justin & Michelle Beckett, along with Scott and Katie Stephens, launched a ‘new’ vision including ‘old’ favorites.  Nestled between the elegance of the Biltmore area and the hip and trendy Arcadia neighborhood, Beckett’s Table is an upscale dining experience with a comfortable casual feel.  The restaurant owners and chefs strive to support local farms and the culinary community by creating gastronomic dishes inspired by the soul food of the south using local Arizona produce and other ingredients––right down to regional vino on their extensive and award-winning wine list, which is managed by Scott and Katie as the resident sommeliers.

The restaurant décor has a modern and cozy feel, with an inviting brick-lined bar, block walls, subway tile, distressed concrete floors, and leather-capped, comfy cushioned chairs.  In the cooler months of the year, the patio has an inviting fireplace for guests to gather around to share their stories.

As stated on the website, “Chef and owner Justin Beckett has created an eatery where you and yours can gather around his kitchen to indulge in a hearty assortment of seasonal, American dishes. The neighborhood restaurant is a safe haven for sophisticated foodies and families alike. Expect excellent food and service without pretension or fluff. Beckett’s Table is a special place to bring close friends and relatives to make lasting memories over incredible comfort food.”

Beckett’s Table has been featured on “Check Please Arizona” and “Table 42” In addition; the restaurant has won several awards and/or accolades including:

Best Comfort Food
Arizona Foothills

Top Chef – 2013
Arizona Restaurant Association

Arizona’s 50 Best Restaurants
Phoenix Magazine

Best Chefs America: 2013
Best Chefs America

Valley’s Top 11 Chefs
Arizona Foothills

We began our soulful culinary journey with a few cocktails and wine, then we moved on to several tantalizing appetizers and salads…eventually savoring several mouth-watering entrées and finishing with a couple signature desserts.


  • Legend City Cocktail- A tribute to Phoenix nostalgia named after the long-gone amusement park! This was a wild ride of Woodford Bourbon, House-Made Honey Syrup and Lemonade, Ricard, Peychaud Bitters and a twist of lemon.
  • Farm to Glass- An ever changing and always fresh; seasonal organics muddled and mixed into a happy beverage.  The special this day included a mix of lemon and bourbon topped with a grilled lemon garnish.  This tasted like I should be sitting on a porch with my granddad in a rocking chair. Old fashioned fun.
  • Palmaire- Beckett’s home, the little house located on Palmaire, was the inspiration for this magenta-infused cocktail.  Ketel One Orange Vodka, pomegranate liquor, pomegranate juice, house-made honey syrup and lemonade soda, garnished with pomegranate seeds & fresh mint.  A cooling summer delight.
  • Duckhorn Pinot Noir- A glass full of berries with a hearty finish.  Not your traditional Pinot!


  • Heirloom Tomato Salad – heirloom tomatoes, lavender, gina’s feta, puffed quinoa
  • Veggie Chopped Salad – seasonal vegetable gems, seeds, fruit, champagne basil vinaigrette
  • Deep Fried Deviled Eggs, hot sauce aioli, pickled fresno.  Sinfully delightful!


  • Red Rock Cod -quinoa tabbouleh, preserved lemon yogurt, chimichurri quinoa and pesto.
  • Scottish Salmon, garden vegetable ragout, pesto, blistered tomato.  Fresh to the last nibble.
  • Steamed White Bass, mcclendon’s select organic vegetables. A light but fulfilling and flavorful dish.  Try it with a touch of cracked pepper as a garnish.
  • The Special of the Day:  Meatloaf with mashed potatoes and green beans with mushroom gravy- Comfort food at its best.  Our friend threatened to lick his plate after the last bite.  It’s just that good!


  • Cheddar biscuits with apple butter.  In a word, YUM!  The apple butter in combination with the cheddar and bacon made this a culinary trip for the taste buds.  Savory, salty and sweet!


  • Strawberry “shortcake”- maple bourbon ice cream, cookie crumb, praline.  Tasty, but… Where was the cake? It must be a play on words…
  • Toasted Coconut Cake, brown butter ice cream, coconut pudding, smoked cashew.  A moist mouth-watering sensation of the tropics.
  • Chocolate Dipped Bacon S’mores, caramel, house made marshmallow, whipped peanut butter, graham cracker.  I was not a fan of the chocolate covered bacon, but the combination of peanut butter with toasted marshmallows and graham crackers tasted like I was sitting around an old fashioned campfire. A flashback to childhood.

BOTTOM LINE: Beckett’s Table is a casual hip neighborhood restaurant with a touch of elegance…where, when you enter, you feel right at home.  Beckett’s Table, is a must when visiting the Phoenix area.

Beckett’s Table Contact information:

Phone: 602-954-1700
Address: 3717 E. Indian School Rd | Phoenix, AZ 85018
Hours: 5pm to 10pm Tuesday – Saturday – Sunday 5pm to 9pm

Here is an outstanding video on Beckett’s Table:

Talavera typifies fine-dining

Friday, June 20th, 2014

The Four Seasons is synonymous with luxury and uncompromising quality…the Scottsdale location in the northern part of the city embodies those guiding principles that make the brand so coveted. Nestled at the foothills of Pinnacle Peak (an iconic rock formation and historic North Scottsdale area), amid towering saguaro cacti and giant boulders, the resort embraces the desert’s rugged landscape through its thoughtful design. The property provides a desert sanctuary and momentary sojourn for its guests and visitors.

I recently embarked on a Scottsdale culinary journey and wanted to make sure that Talavera (The resorts fine-dining restaurant) was one of those stops. Scottsdale is well-known for its diverse and high quality collection of outstanding restaurants—as you will see and read, Talavera lives up to the community’s restaurant reputation. The seasonally-inspired dishes that are artfully presented, along with a world-class setting, make Talavera a destination that certainly summons the gastronomic enthusiast.

Scottsdale locals, as well as many tourists, will be familiar with the drive to the Four Seasons Scottsdale—it shares the same route as the historic Scottsdale dining attraction, Pinnacle Peak Patio. Since the six decades when the Scottsdale landmark was built, the area has grown up into one of the most coveted places to live in Scottsdale. The desert landscape and elevated surroundings of Pinnacle Peak certainly provide a sensational resort and dining setting for the Four Seasons and its Talavera Restaurant.

As soon as you enter Talavera and its adjacent lounge, you can feel the memories from Scottsdale’s frontier days, with its vibrant Southwestern décor woven throughout. The textures, materials and colors are a cornucopia of design elements…rustic, yet highly refined, in its Southwestern style. My girlfriend Terri and I remark at how intricate the decor was and that many of the design combinations were so unique that we would never have thought to put them together…yet they work with great synergy.

Terri and I were joined for dinner by another couple, which allowed us to try several dishes during our dining experience. We started the evening out with a few of their crafted spirits while we delved into the menu. Our cocktails included:

  • Springtime Lemonade – Ciroc, lemon, rosemary, simple and lemonade…a crisp clean concoction.
  • Sonoran Oasis – Absolute Pear, Canton, house lemon cello, orange juice and pineapple…a taste of the tropics and Italy all in one.
  • Hanger one cocktail – Sunizona, tomato, grapes, thyme and agave…a unique combination playing homage the Southwest.
  • Jalisco Heat – Partida blanco, strawberry with Jalapeno and lime. This was the biggest surprise and perhaps our favorite drink…the heat from the Jalapeno provided the cocktail a perfect yin and yang affect.

We then began to dive into the menu. First up was:

  • Iceberg wedge salad with avocado, lump crab, blue cheese and Nueske’s bacon…a seafood lovers delight.
  • White Asparagus Salad with Maine Lobster, corn panna cotta, chorizo and lemon truffle was a refreshing summer sensation with a Mexican flair.
  • Lobster & Corn Bisque with short rib croquette and charred corn was an interesting combination of surf meets turf, but with far too few lobster bites.
  • Roasted artichoke hearts with bacon and olives was a savory sensation.

Entrées included:

  • 8oz Buffalo Tenderloin wrapped in bacon with a purple sweet potato mash and a brandied cherry glacé. This filet was so lean and tender…the bacon and cherry combination set the dish off masterfully.
  • Chilean Sea Bass with a potato risotto, artichokes and braised oxtail. Tender white fish takes a dip in a flavorful potato risotto.
  • Diver Scallops with spring pea risotto and crispy pancetta was another savory surf meets turf combination…where the sea and land collide, creating an explosion of flavor.
  • Copper River Salmon with Oregon truffles, ramps in a mushroom broth was a delicately prepared dish full of gastronomic gusto.


  • Fresh Seasonal Berries with a frozen yogurt and honey Florentine was a perfect palate cleanser to a decadent meal.
  • Grilled Strawberry shortcake with a cheesecake mouse and caramel powder…need I say more.
  • I really wanted to try the Croissant crusted Crème Brûlée with berries and crispy orange, but no one else did and I just didn’t think I could finish it given the extraordinary dishes that preceded it.
  • We also had some locally roasted coffee presented in a large stainless steel French Press that was so aromatic and delicious.

Dining at Talavera really is an experience…in addition to having many wonderful entrees to choose from, they also have creative tasting menus and pairings to explore. You can dine both inside or out on the patio to take in the extraordinary views. We thought it would be a bit warm to dine outside, so we opted to stay in. In hindsight, we wish we had chosen the patio as the weather soon cooled off and was quite comfortable outside. After dinner Terri and I checked out the lounge patio where some excellent acoustic music was being performed. We then strolled the grounds and sat next to a mesmerizing water and fire feature, as a once-in-a-100 year “Honey Moon” rose over the mountains and illuminated the dark surroundings like a giant spotlight.

Over all, it was a fantastic evening had by all. Our only critique was that of the service…while our server was well informed and personable enough, he did seem quite busy and left us waiting much too long between courses. We did like however that the restaurant manager came by each table during the main course to make sure everything was satisfactory. If you’ve ever dined at Talavera Steakhouse at the Four Seasons Scottsdale location, please leave a comment below and share your experience or favorite dish.

Contact Information for Talavera Restaurant at the Four Seasons Scottsdale

Address: 10600 East Crescent Moon Drive, Scottsdale, Arizona 85262
Reservations: (480) 515-5700 | Open Table
Hours: [September-May] Tuesday to Sunday 5:30 pm – 9:30 pm [June-August] Thursday-Sunday (same hours)
Website: Talavera Restaurant
Attire: Resort casual

Sanctuary “elements:” Where Yin Meets Yang

Tuesday, June 17th, 2014

Written by: Terri Campbell

Arizona is recognized for some of the most amazing resorts in the world.  Sanctuary, located in the heart of Scottsdale is an upscale resort at the top of that list.

In addition to the breathtaking scenery, tranquil spa and modern classic rooms, Sanctuary houses the award-winning restaurant, “elements” and “Jade Bar”.

Atop Camelback Mountain with jaw dropping views of Mummy Mountain, “elements” has wall-to-wall windows that showcase the setting sun flickering on the swaying palms, an inviting negative edge pool, ambient music and private/secluded booths… a recipe for romance.

The decor has an Asian flare, clean and modern. This theme carries through the entire restaurant, from the bamboo accents to the Yin and Yang shaped salt and pepper dishes atop each table.

The menu consists of farm fresh American cuisine with an Asian influence. “elements” is home to Executive Chef and television personality Beau MacMillan. As stated by the Food Network, “Beau MacMillan inspires his staff with his passion for fresh ingredients. His ingenuity in the kitchen is stimulated by his belief that food should not be overworked, but rather appreciated for its simplicity and natural perfection.”  Chef Beau keeps things fresh by implementing menu changes that pair with each season (3-4 times annually).  We were fortunate enough to sample the brand new summer menu and all it has to offer.  We began our culinary journey of the menu with a couple of signature cocktails and tantalizing starters.


  • Jade Bar’s  Botticelli – American harvest vodka, aperol Italian bitters, freshly pressed lime and grapefruit juice topped by 2 oz. of champagne.  This beverage was a refreshing sensation of bubbly fun!
  • ‘elements’ The Fiery Mandarin – vodka, serrano pepper, orange zest, cranberry and lemon. A unique combination of sweet and spicy ingredients, which fits perfectly within the well-balanced yin and yang theme.


  • Hamachi Sashimi – the watermelon, jalapeño and yellowtail is a refreshing summer sensation of flavor to help cool the brazen Arizona heat.
  • Salt Roasted Beets – the Asian pear, roasted beets, sunflower seeds and creamy boursin cheese created a potpourri of texture and flavor.  A brilliant array of color designing an artistic masterpiece.


  • Bacon Wrapped Filet of Beef- titillating steak spice atop the tender filet, charred onion, oyster mushrooms with a balsamic chili glaze. A mouth-watering amusement ride for your taste buds.
  • Hawaiian Nairagi – the sticky rice, avocado, lobster and mango kimchee produced a cornucopia of seasonally inspired ingredients that beautifully accentuate the delicate fish.  Served medium rare, neither of us was familiar with this native Hawaiian fish, but we were particularly impressed with the mild flavor and tender texture.


  • Brussels Sprouts and Pork Belly Hash- the al dente vegetables paired nicely with the salty savory pork.
  • Lobster Mac n’ Cheese with Mushrooms- richly decedent…a few bites was more than enough to satisfy the richest of palates.


  • Honey Poached Apricots with citrus sponge cake, almond granola and orange sorbet.  Tangy and sweet with the granola topping to add a touch of crunch.  Another well balanced set of ingredients marrying the restaurant’s yin and yang theme.
  • Chocolate Stout Torte- dark chocolate mousse, malt crumble and salted caramel gelato, a chocolate lover’s dream.  But what drew us to this dessert was the Caramel gelato, a melt in your mouth creamy delight.


The grounds, the décor and the menu items, were a visually appealing culinary journey.  The well-balanced unique and fresh ingredients piqued our senses creating a very memorable and romantic dining experience.   Sanctuary’s “elements”…it’s where Yin meets Yang.  If you’ve been to “elements” before, please leave a comment below and share your dining experience.

Sanctuary’s ‘elements’ Restaurant Information:

Address: 5700 East McDonald Drive – Paradise Valley, Arizona 85253
Reservations: 480.607.2300
Website: elements restaurant

Great Table 42 video on ‘elements’ restaurant:

Citizen Public House: Where comfort meets class

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

Scottsdale, Arizona has long been a hotbed for innovative culinary cuisine and trendy nightclubs, especially clustered within the downtown/old town area. I recently received a suggestion from one of my readers encouraging me to try one of the latest gastronomic experiences, Citizen Public House (CPH). My readers rarely steer me wrong, my dining and cocktail experience at CPH was no exception.

Nestled in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, Citizen Public House does not have a flashy exterior or entrance, but what it lacks in glam and glimmer, it makes up for with vivacity. CPH is not fancy or pretentious, like some Scottsdale establishments…it just feels good. It’s a journey that begins with that first step over the threshold…the warmth of the staff in the open and airy space envelopes you. The tables and cozy seating niches flank the central focal point of the restaurant…the bar—also known as, mixology central. Here, the artisan cocktail makers create concoction you’ve likely never experienced before.  There are no everyday drinks from which to imbibe. Each cocktail creation has its own distinct personality and killer looks, the libations traverse the landscape from rich and warm, to light and tart. The bar resides underneath the building’s original large slanted wooden beams overhead. The interior is slightly modern with a mild industrial feel. While the floor plan is wide open, there is an intimate patio and semi-private dining alcove for larger parties.

Because creative cocktails are part of the CPH DNA, my guests and I decided we’d order a variety of drinks throughout the night and share each of them. One thing you’ll notice as you enter the restaurant is a cluster of barrels across from the bar…smaller than wine or whiskey, but similar nonetheless. The mixology professors have created a series of cocktails, which are age for up to six months in the barrels. In other words, they are blending various spirits together to make truly unique cocktails.

We tried two barrel-cocktails and really enjoyed the Boulvadier, we however would not order the Negroni again.

  • Boulvadier – Maker’s 46 Bourbon, Campari with sweet vermouth.
  • Negroni – Beefeater 24-gin, Campari and Sweet Vermouth.

We then tried several of their “house” cocktails:

  • The Persian – Absolute Wild Tea vodka, elderflower liqueur, sweet and sour, Persian cucumber juice, lemon peel served on the rocks.
  • Citi-zen – Absolut Pear vodka, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, sweet & sour, rock candy, lemon twist, served straight up in a martini glass.
  • The IM-Port – Jameson Irish Whiskey, Tawny Port, tobacco bitters, Guinness stout foam, smoked sugar rim on the rocks.
  • Real Irish Crème coffee for dessert…coffee, Irish whiskey with thick, rich, sweet cream on top.

The Persian was really good, full of flavor and uniqueness. The namesake “Citi-zen,” was good, but a bit on the bland side and we’d probably not order that one again. The IM-Port was the biggest surprise…none of us would have ordered it if it were not highly suggested by AJ (our server). As soon as the drink hit my taste buds, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to like it. But then, just a second or two later, as my palate began to process the wild mix of flavors, I was pleasantly surprised…enthralled even. My guests all had pretty much the same reaction and assessment. For dessert, many folks will order a Baileys with coffee, but at Citizen Public House, they make a real Irish Coffee with Irish Whiskey and a sweet extra rich cream on top…it was delicious!

The dishes to follow continue the adventure, each plate its own family of uniquely unexpected textures and tastes that command engagement of all the senses. Sophisticated, yet accessible, the menu invites guests to open their minds and palates.

The food menu is split into the following categories: Bar Snacks, Starters, Sandwiches, Entrees and Dessert. We decided we’d try at least one items from each of the four categories.

Bar Snack:

  • Bacon fat heirloom popcorn – chunks of bacon with popcorn tossed in bacon fat. Addictive…need I say more?


  • Pork Belly Pastrami, which was a tender pork belly, rye spaetzle, Brussels sprout sauerkraut and mustard jus. A little on the fatty side, but tender and full of flavor.
  • Deep sea crab cakes with smoked red pepper aioli and celery root slaw…absolutely delicious!
  • The Orginal Chopped Salad so famous it has its own Facebook page. Let me tell you, this salad is a MUST! It has cold smoked salmon; freeze dried roasted corn, chopped arugula, Israeli couscous, Roma tomatoes, black currants, pepitas and asiago cheese. The salad is tossed/blended with the perfect dressing right at your table.


  • Truffle Grilled Cheese – White truffle scented mashed potato, Emmental melted onion, French bread with a simple field of greens. I thumbed my nose at this item, but the ladies I was with really wanted to try it, so I acquiesced and was so glad I did.


  • Pan seared scallops with Tender Belly Hampshire bacon, roasted corn grits, wilted snow pea greens and cola gastrique. Outstanding dish…highly recommend it.
  • Fair-Trade Short Ribs with a local coffee rub, roasted parsnip puree, dried cherry BBQ sauce and sautéed greens. Similar to the Pork Belly Pastrami in that it was a bit on the fatty side for my tastes, but this dish goes well with the CPH gourmet pub motif. No question full of flavor and I loved the roasted parsnip puree.
  • Featured special was a Sauteed Branzino (European Seabass) with beet puree, sautéed spinach, charred yellow tomato vinaigrette, fried leeks with micro celery. This dish was so artfully plated and an item I’d never had before. Branzino is thinner than other Seabass (i.e. Chilean) I’ve had and they prepare it with the skin on, and, in a way in which it is eatable. It was both unique and delicious.

Capping off the evening were desserts created by renowned pastry chef, Tracy Dempsey, celebrating several childhood classics in a grownup wardrobe.


  • Apple Turnover with apple crumble ice cream topped with a vanilla glaze…this was good, but the PB&B was better.
  • PB&B Pudding Jar – banana, caramel & vanilla pudding, vanilla wafers and peanut butter shortbread fingers. Decadent…enough said.
  • Real Irish Crème coffee for dessert…coffee, Irish whiskey with thick, rich, sweet cream on top. Stronger than Baileys, but equally intoxicating.


I usually don’t go out of my way to talk too much about the service at a restaurant, but in this case, I’d be remise.  My guests and I collectively agreed that AJ was one of the best servers we all had ever experienced. From his knowledge of the menu and its collection of complex ingredients, anticipating our needs before speaking a request, to his personality, passion, and downright enthusiasm for his job. AJ made sure our experience would not be one we’d soon forget…this gentlemen could write a manual on the craft of service.

Bottom line:

An evening at Citizen Public House cannot be contained within the word “dinner” or even in the phrase “dining out.” It’s a place where comfort meets class. The food and cocktail ingredients are as imaginative, as they are delicious.

If you’ve ever been to the Citizen Public House in Old Town Scottsdale, please leave a comment below and share your experience and/or favorite dish or cocktail.

Citizen Public House Restaurant Contact Information:

Address: 7111 E. 5th Avenue Suite E –Scottsdale, AZ 85251
Phone: 480.398.4208
Hours: Open 7 days a week 3 pm to 11 pm
Late Night: Thursday – Saturday ’til 1:30 AM

Mother’s Day at the Wigwam

Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

As someone who has lived in Arizona off and on most of my life, I have always been familiar with the historic Wigwam Resort, but for whatever reason, a visit had eluded me. As a travel blogger on the road most of the time, it’s been years since I had been in Arizona during Mother’s Day—so, this year, I wanted to make it special for Mom. As most of us do, I researched online for the best places for Mother’s Day brunch. My folks live west of Phoenix in Wickenburg, so I was looking for a place that was fairly close to them…I (re)discovered the Wigwam.

The Wigwam has a fascinating history that dates back some 80 years and is tightly connected to Arizona’s Five “Cs,” Copper, Cattle, Cotton, Citrus and Climate. In Arizona’s early days, Goodyear Tire & Rubber discovered that long-staple cotton extended the life of its tires, so the company bought 16,000 acres of Arizona land for cotton farming. The Organization House, built in 1918, was the first building on the Wigwam site and was established as lodging for ranch suppliers. Guests intimated that it would be a great place to spend a winter vacation, as did Goodyear executives whose families often accompanied them when visiting the farm. On Thanksgiving Day, 1929, The Wigwam officially opened its doors as a guest ranch. While this resort property in Litchfield Park has steadily grown over the past 80 years, a portion of the original structure, (The Organization House), remains as the cornerstone of The Wigwam’s authenticity and southwestern charm.

The Mother’s Day brunch at the Wigwam is a popular event (as I’m sure other holiday brunch affairs are), so, in an effort to accommodate as many people as possible, brunch is served in one of two large conference rooms.  The center corridor between the two dining areas acts as the buffet section, which is complete with a live piano player. The beautiful music emanating from the grand piano is mic’d into the dining rooms. Each buffet table, as well as each dining table, was adorned with vibrant and elaborate flower bouquets.  Reservations are required and as you check in, you’re escorted to your specific table depending on your group’s size.

It can be a challenge to serve quality epicurean food in a buffet setting, but the folks at the Wigwam did a marvelous job. The size and diversity of the food selection was also impressive…from poached salmon, King Crab claws, pork loin, prawns, salads, fresh fruits & cheeses, to omelets and pancake bars, they had something delicious for everyone. I was also extremely impressed by the fact that each time we went to the buffet, it looked as though it had hardly been touched. Each culinary display was refilled and kept manicured throughout the brunch. The wait staff was also top notch, frequently coming by our table to see if we needed anything, and, to remove unwanted dishes.  Of course, no brunch would be complete without dessert. Each dining hall had several beautifully arranged dessert tables with an array of items to indulge oneself.

After our lovely dining experience, my girlfriend and I parted ways with my folks and we perused the Wigwam grounds, which encompasses over 440 lushly landscaped acres. As we entered the reception area, we were struck by the elegantly crafted adobe-and-timber structure, accented in a rich palette of southwestern colors and materials. The main pool area is a desert oasis, complete with cabanas and 25’ water slide.

The Wigwam is a beautiful Arizona landmark and it’s nice to see this historic property looking far younger than its age. If you’ve ever stayed or dined at the Wigwam, please leave a comment below, I’d love to hear what your experience has been like.

Wigwam Contact Information:

Address: 300 East Wigwam Blvd.
- Litchfield Park, Arizona 85340
Phone: 623.935.3811

SKY: luxurious Lappish cuisine with a view

Monday, March 24th, 2014

On my last evening in the Lapland capital of Rovaniemi, I was looking for a really nice place to enjoy one last Lappish meal before my departure. I asked a number of the locals which restaurant they thought I should try; nearly all said, “SKY Restaurant.” SKY is located at the Ounasvaara Ski Resort area at which earlier in the day I had fun snowshoeing and tobogganing. SKY derives its name from the amazing views that greet and entertain diners. Large plate-glass windows expose the dining area to a star-lit sky and city lights below. The restaurant is located atop one of the ski runs, where I imagine if you were eating lunch you’d observe skiers racing down the slopes.

The ambiance of SKY is formal, but not stuffy—The service superb and the presentation exceptional. Most of the food is locally grown and sourced…for example; the seafood comes from a well-known fishing village called, Inari. The Lapland staple meat of reindeer comes from Salla where the lichen (a regional delicacy enjoyed by both people and reindeer) is picked by hand by the staff throughout the surrounding area. The chefs at SKY try to utilize all the local seasonal delicacies throughout the year, and, the ideology is to use no processed foods. The chefs are akin to where the ingredients come from and also train the staff on the sources by often sending them to the origin of the ingredients. This level of dedication certainly shines through as evidenced by my server’s knowledge…she was able to answer all of my ignorant indigenous culinary questions.

For a region with no vineyards, I was also impressed by the extensive wine selection…and, again, how well informed my server was as she described each one in great detail prior to each course being served. My meal was prix fixe, so each course was paired perfectly by either the chef or on-site wine steward.

Each course was not only decadent and full of flavor, but also artfully presented. The main course of reindeer filet was not just plated beautifully, but the presentation as it was brought to the table was something that I’d never experienced before. As the dish made its way to the table, I noticed a glass dome over the plate, but could not see through it. As the server delivered the entrée, I could then see that the glass dome was full of smoke. I really wanted to take a photo, but before I knew it, the server had removed the dome and released a plume of wonderfully scented spruce smoke into the air. It was quite dramatic and amazing how the smoke flavored the food. The following items are what I tried during my dining experience:

First course was a traditional onion soup paired with G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut.

For an appetizer, I had the Rainbow Trout from Vanttauskoski, it had roe of trout, fried king crab and pickled winter vegetables. This dish was served with a “Le Haut Mesnil” Sancerre wine.

For the entrée, it was roast of reindeer…a reindeer filet with parsnips, cep and spruce smoke. This dish was paired with Masi Costasera Amarone Classico Riserva red wine. The wine was absolutely fantastic and a vintage I’d never had before.

For dessert it was a milk chocolate and blueberry concoction served with Château Roumieu Sauternes, a mildly sweet dessert wine.

It wasn’t just enough to have dessert, so to finish the evening off we had cherry marshmallows and salty caramel chocolates served with Martell V.S.O.P cognac.

If you’ve ever eaten at SKY, I’d love to hear what dishes you’ve tried and/or like best. Please leave a comment below and share with my readers and me.

SKY Restaurant Information:

Phone:+358 16 323400

Alchemy turns food into fun fare

Wednesday, March 19th, 2014

Located in the San Diego community of South Park (just east of downtown) is a neighborhood restaurant the locals rave about, so I had to check it out for myself. Alchemy is a casual and slightly eclectic place serving up some interesting culinary fare and craft cocktails. The focal point of the space is the bar, as well as the large and ornate stainless steel tree sculpture. There is also a random pattern of books affixed to the ceiling creating a literary collage, while the exposed duct work provides a bit of an industrial look. The walls are adorned with original artwork that periodically rotates, showcasing local talent.

My date and I started off by ordering glasses of wine, accompanied by the restaurant’s most popular, or perhaps, its most well known dish, the Taro Tacos. These pork belly tacos have thinly sliced spicy cucumbers, micro cilantro and are topped with bacon salt. Each bite sent us closer to hog heaven!

We decided we’d try a few additional items from the “Bar Snacks” menu, which are quite affordable. Next up was a cup of the sweet potato soup, which was both creamy and full of flavor. Then, we tried the Norwegian Cabbage Roll…this colorful dish was a large piece of purple cabbage filled with roasted lamb, then rolled up topped with juniper berries and accented with fresh dill. The dish was a distinct set of flavors than neither of us had experienced before. Then it was the Red Snapper Ceviche served with some freshly fried corn tortillas lightly dusted with sea salt. This was the first time both of us had tried, and/or, even heard of a ceviche being made with Red Snapper…it was outstanding—so much so we almost ordered another one.

We then shared a fish market special entree for the evening, which was Seabass topped with roasted cherry tomatoes and capers on a bed of Asian noodles. It was cooked to perfection and the ideal final course for our meal. Final main course that is!  We did decide to indulge in dessert.

For dessert, we opted for the blueberry bread pudding with bourbon caramel, topped with streusel and cinnamon gelato.  If that were not enough, we also tried the duo of house-made sorbet accompanied with two cups of coffee with Baileys Irish Crème swirled in for good measure—this was like a dessert itself…a hug-in-a-mug even.

Alchemy truly feels like a neighborhood establishment where everyone knows your name…where new friends meet and old friends reconnect. If you’ve been to Alchemy before, please leave a comment below and let my readers and me know what dish or aspect you enjoy most.

Alchemy Restaurant information:

Phone: 619-255-0616
Website: Alchemy San Diego
Address: 1503 30th Street – San Diego, CA 92102
Menu: Sample Dinner Menu

Nili takes guests on Lappish culinary journey

Thursday, March 6th, 2014

Restaurant Nili in downtown Rovaniemi, Finland is a local staple that whisks guests away on a culinary journey by creating a dining experience that embodies the fresh ingredients from its Arctic region. The interior furnishings are traditional Lappish, with hand crafted materials such as reindeer horns, Lappish woods, and reindeer leather that accent the rustic design. While the setting may be agrarian, the culinary dishes and presentations are well refined.

During my visit I tried the following menu items:

Appetizer – Tender reindeer rillette à la Chef Kyllönen with marinated forest mushrooms, Lappish cheese and Juniper berry sauce. I’ve had reindeer several times now while vising the Lapland region, and this dish was by far the tastiest preparation. The local cheese and Juniper berries really set this starter item off well.

Entree – Arctic Circle Pike Perch from Kemijarvi is the world’s most northern wild pike. This dish was served in a lightly crusted breadcrumb,  accompanied with with a parsnip puree and king crab sauce. The combination of ingredients was so wonderfully palate pleasing.

Dessert – Cloudberry Panna Cotta is a local classic creamy dessert that is similar to a Crème brûlée, but truly unique, as are the Cloudberries that topped the dish. Cloudberries are indigenous to the Lapland region and are quite sensitive to the environment…if the conditions are not ideal, the harvest can be significantly impacted.

If you’ve ever been to Restaurant Nili…please leave a comment below and let me know what your favorite meal is there.

Contact information for Restaurant Nili:

Phone: +358 (0) 400-369-669
Web: Nili.fl
Address: Valtakatu 20, FI-96200 Rovaniemi, Finland

Restaurant Juuri serves fantasic Finnish experience

Saturday, March 1st, 2014

As a self-proclaimed “foodie,” I absolutely love it when I discover a restaurant that can play a symphony for my taste buds, while at the same time exciting my other senses. During a trip to Helsinki, Finland, I had an opportunity to dine at Restaurant Juuri, an authentic European-feeling bistro providing a warm, inviting and intimate ambiance–which set the stage for a gastronomic experience I won’t soon forget.

Juuri is located off a quiet, cobblestone street with a minimalistic storefront and signage. The large arched bay windows both invite diners, while providing views of passersby. The name “Juuri” means “roots” in Finnish and has sort of a duality to its meaning—in addition to  the food being inspired by Finnish heritage, much of the produce they use is root vegetables. Juuri is celebrating its tenth anniversary this year and their longevity is certainly due in part to their commitment to producing a first-class dining experience.

The amuse bouche for the evening was a trout tartare, a single bite that simply teased my palate. As I painfully, but enthusiastically waited for my next course, I sipped a bit of sparkling wine made from local berries. Playing host to my wine were three distinct artisan breads that come from a bakery just down the street. Each bite of the bread was graced with a generous layer of hand-churned butter.

Since I was in Finland, I wanted to try everything Finnish, so I asked my waiter to recommend some seasonally inspired and locally produced dishes. Juuri serves an array of Sapas, which if I understood correctly, is a Finnish play on the Spanish word, Tapas…loosely meaning, “small plate/portion.” This was the perfect opportunity to try a variety of Finnish dishes, while not stuffing myself. For my starters, I tried these three Sapas:

  • 10-hour turnip with Swiss cheese and linen seed.
  • Sugar salted trout with red currant and licorice.
  • Grout sausage with lingonberry and mustard seeds.

For my entree, I had a local Whitefish with Whitefish potato cake and a roe vinaigrette. This delectable dish was further enjoyed by a local pilsner brewed by a solo artisan brewmaster.

I don’t often opt for dessert while dining alone, but in this case the portions were modest, allowing me enough room to indulge. I had the Brioche chocolate pudding with ice cream and parsnip puree. Yeah, I know, the parsnip sounded odd to me too, but let me tell you, it worked! The dessert dish had an almost yin and yang symbiotic thing goin’ on…it was both unique, and delicious. The entire meal, from the ambiance, the service to the taste and artfully presented dishes was sensational.The folks at Juuri use authentic flavors infused with passion and the skill to use what the local lands provide. If you’re a foodie like me and find yourself in Helsinki, don’t miss a chance to dine at Restaurant Juuri.

If you’ve ever been to Restaurant Juuri in Helsinki, Finland, please leave a comment below and let me and my readers know what you like best, including your favorite dishes.

Restaurant Juuri Information:

Phone: +358 50-4398465
Address: 27, 00130 Helsinki, Finland