Last March, as COVID-19 swept across the country, the Arizona Biltmore didn’t bother devising health and safety protocols that would allow it to continue serving its guests. The resort simply shut down, turning the pandemic into an opportunity to quietly perform $70 million worth of renovations.
In May, after being closed for more than a year, the Biltmore reopened. It was already a very nice resort, a desert palace that attracts CEOs and foreign dignitaries and United States presidents. It is now insanely nice. And a major pillar of its reinvention is Renata’s Hearth, a Central- and South-American-inspired restaurant helmed by chef Jesus Figueroa Ortega, formerly of Cafe Monarch and Tarbell’s.
We stopped by on a recent Thursday. It was a scene.
The Vibe: Extremely luxurious, of course, but cozy, too. Blankets hang off the backs of half-moon leather booths and throw pillows with southwestern patterns line the brown leather banquettes. No petite seats here: If you’re not at a booth or a banquette, you’re in a large, leather chair. There are several long tables, too, ideal for big parties ordering from the “Mesa de Familia” section of the menu. And, of course, the room itself — formerly home to Wright’s at the Biltmore — is spectacular, with its ornate stone and marble engravings, floor-to-ceiling windows, and art-deco nods to Frank Lloyd Wright, whose style permeates the entire resort.
Smoke is a big deal at Renata's. The menu is subtitled "The Essence of Smoke," and as you read through it, you'll observe that many ingredients are smoked in some way. That includes the star cocktail here, which is called Los Muertos. It contains serrano-infused blanco tequila, activated charcoal, agave, lime juice, black lava salt, and smoke. It’s ferried over to your table inside a big bell jar. The server whisks off the glass top, smoke floods out into the air, and you’re presented with a purplish-black drink with black salt on the rim. (In the case of my Muertos, the black salt lined the entire side of the glass, which meant every time I reached for my drink, I got salt on my finger. I’m not sure if that’s intentional — probably not — but I didn’t mind. I just licked it off.) This drink costs $18, and I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but I think it’s actually worth it. It’s delicious, for one. But it’s also so dense and heavy and boozy that it took me as long to drink it as it would have taken me to knock back two drinks. Look at it that way, and I was saving money!
We also tried the Margarita Verde (Mezcal, ancho reyes verde, cilantro, lime), which tasted faintly like a morning juice cleanse spiked with alcohol and was rimmed with some kind of crushed-up Chilean candy. “They put it on watermelon in Mexico,” the server informed us. I give whoever devised the cocktail program high marks for creativity, but I wouldn’t order the Verde again. The Cactus Blossom (prickly pear, chareau aloe liquor, lime) and the Bésame Mucho (tequila reposado, ginger syrup, blackberries, lime juice, club soda) were OK, but in terms of flavor profile, they weren't too different than what you’ll find in other mixology-type establishments.
The Starters: The menu implies there is a guacamole cart on the premises. I saw no such cart. Our guac arrived in the hands of a server holding a stone bowl. The chips had a Doritos-like dusting, which I don’t mean as a slight. But for $15, I’d have liked my guac with a little more kick. Oh well.
The Argentinian Red Shrimp ceviche ($22) was more impressive. It’s served inside a large shell balanced atop a stool of ice. The shrimp is meaty and fresh and enhanced by a spicy, smoky red sauce. (The ingredients listed on the menu are lime juice, valentina broth, and smoked paprika topos.) I also loved the chimichangas (smoked chicken, mole negro, charred corn, black beans). The chicken was so very smoked that I almost forgot it was chicken. It was almost like a new kind of meat. The chimis are smallish — closer in size to a skinny enchilada than the bricks they serve at Tex-Mex joints — but you get two.
The Entrees: We only ordered one main: the Chilean sea bass, a simple cut of fish prepared so delicately prepared it vaguely resembled creme brûlée. Some mole verde, pickled peppers, and Peruvian rice rounded out the dish. Can’t go wrong with this one.
If I return to Renata’s — and I'd love to in a few years once I've saved up enough money — I’ll bring three friends and order the Tomahawk, a 44 oz. Oaxaca-spiced wagyu that costs $144.
Random Note: There’s a caesar salad on the menu, and the guy sitting next to us asked if he could get that as a chicken caesar salad. The server brought him 1.) a pretty large salad and 2.) a whole Jidori chicken, which is its own $55 item on the “for the table” section of the menu. The server asked the guy if he’d like the chicken cut for him, and the guy said OK. So for about three minutes, the server was kind of standing over the guy, slicing up his gigantic chicken with a big, long knife. I felt bad for both of them. (Chicken looked juicy, though.)
Inside the Arizona Biltmore, A Waldorf Astoria Resort
2400 East Missouri Ave.