Inn Crowd: It's not easy to put your finger on just what it is that boosts a very good restaurant into the ranks of the very best. But whatever it is, it appears to be happening at Lon's.
The exceptional meal I had here left me transfixed with admiration for the chef, the same sort of admiration I feel after listening to Luciano Pavarotti sing or watching Ken Griffey play center field. Like those artists, the kitchen at Lon's seems to be operating at peak form.
A recent dinner got under way with some formidable appetizers. Two big, juicy seared scallops accompanied by a scoop of fragrant broccoli risotto ($8.95) prime the taste buds in a hurry. Equally compelling is the hard-hitting polenta pie ($7.95), teamed with an aromatic wild mushroom ragout.
The operative phrase for Lon's entrees is "wood grilled." About half the dishes are prepared in that fashion. The wood-grilled rack of lamb ($23.95) is simply phenomenal, four wonderfully meaty bones that can get a carnivore's heart thumping long after he's finished gnawing them. The sides aren't neglected either, as one bite of the stirring shallot basil couscous and wild mushrooms will quickly make clear.
Ahi tuna is a menu cliche, but the wood-grilled model here ($22.95) is mesmerizing. Thick and meaty, it's paired with basmati rice and an artful curry sauce.
Sometime last year, the talented pastry chef who used to work at 8700 came on board, and he's made dessert worth lingering for. Creme brulee doesn't usually get the needle on my excitement meter moving. But Lon's version--a gingered creme-brulee tart flanked by caramelized bananas and mango sauce ($6.50)--gets my needle jumping just thinking about it. The pear-and-pumpkin tart ($5.50) is also superb, packed into a pecan crust and served with a berry sauce.
It's hard to believe any setting could match food like this, but Lon's patio comes close. It's changed location since last year, when the restaurant's outdoor seating overlooked the pool. Now, the patio has been moved out front, alongside a gurgling fountain and colorful flowers. (The parking lot's there, too, but a low wall blocks out most of it.) Nearby Camelback Mountain looms over the wall just off to the east.
Right now, Lon's can stand toe to toe with any restaurant in town. It's located in Hermosa Inn, at 5532 North Palo Cristi in Paradise Valley. Call 955-7878.
Restaurant Update: About six weeks ago, I reviewed Tulupa, a new restaurant set in the Scottsdale Mall near the Civic Center. Although the appetizers and main dishes were strong, the desserts were weak. Now the manager informs me that Tulupa has ditched its supplier and creates its own desserts in-house.
I also noted that "Tulupa brews possibly the worst cup of coffee in Maricopa County." The manager blamed it on a water mix-up, which he assures me has been straightened out. Maybe it shouldn't have been. That's because after the review appeared, he told me that scores of people made a point of asking for the awful java. I guess what they say about publicity is true--even when it's bad, it's good.
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