Cafe Reviews


Mexican Temptation: It was Oscar Wilde who said that he could resist everything except temptation. Me, too. That's why I find myself constantly drawn to the restaurants at the beautiful Scottsdale Princess Resort. It's impossible to eat here and not have a good time. Foodies know that the featured dining room, Marquesa, is a jewel, practically in a league of its own. But not many folks realize that La Hacienda, the resort's Mexican restaurant, is not far behind.

As you might expect from the only Mexican restaurant rated four stars in the Mobil Travel Guide, La Hacienda doesn't feature tacos, burros or enchiladas on its menu. Instead, you get enchanting, reasonably priced dishes, fit for a grandee.

The place looks like the home of a grandee, too. Various forms of Mexican art--plates, framed fabric, papier-mƒch‚ figures--line the walls. Mariachis make the evening seem festive.

Get into the mood by sipping a potent Cuervo Gold margarita and dunking two kinds of fresh chips into a zingy charred tomato salsa or black-bean dip. This should put you in the right frame of mind for what will follow. If your idea of a Mexican appetizer is a cheese crisp or taquitos, La Hacienda will broaden your horizons. The empanada a la Yucat n ($5.25) is irresistible: fried pastry dough filled with roast suckling pig and huitlacoche. What's huitlacoche? In this country, it's known as corn smut, a disease that blackens and swells up corn kernels. In Mexico, though, this corn fungus is prized as a mushroomlike delicacy. Over the past few years, it has started to turn up in a few north-of-the-border restaurants, becoming a trendy ingredient of adventurous American chefs. I've run across it in New York, but as far as I can recall, I haven't seen it anyplace else in this town except La Hacienda. If the empanada isn't temptation enough, check out pato adobado ($5.50), sliced, adobo-charred duck in mole sauce, served with a cornmeal/green chile flan. La Hacienda's signature main dish is cochinillo asado ($21), roast suckling pig moistened in a fruity marinade of bitter orange and tamarind with black pepper. Discreetly draped, it's wheeled tableside and carved up before your eyes. This last visit, though, I found other temptations. One is zancarron de ternera refugio ($16.50), luscious veal shank in a broth of tomatoes, garlic and ancho chile. It comes with one of the best side dishes I've encountered in a while, a head-turning mix of black and white beans, hominy and cracked wheat. Pechuga de pato con melaza ($17.75) is another winner, sliced duck marinated in tequila and molasses, softened with a raspberry pasilla-chile sauce. Again, the kitchen found a way to gild this lily by teaming it with an exquisite tamale pie. As you might imagine, desserts exhibit the same flair you find in the appetizers and entrees. Both the light orange flan ($3.95), glazed with burnt sugar, and intense flourless chocolate caramel cake ($3.95) sent us home humming. La Hacienda is at 7575 East Princess Drive, just north of Bell Road and east of Scottsdale Road. Call 585-4848.--

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Howard Seftel