My brother, Nick, was recently down in Phoenix visiting his girlfriend, Lauren. He’s been down to the US quite a bit lately so I asked him if he would mind doing a guest post for me the next time he got the chance to eat somewhere interesting. So here is his review:
A few weeks ago, I was combining a work and pleasure weekend in the Phoenix area. I’ve been making relatively frequent trips down visiting my girlfriend, Lauren, who is there right now on an internship. It has been a lot of travelling around the US, but so far it has afforded me the chance to go back and visit cities in more in-depth than one normally could on short vacations. So maybe, if I have been to some interesting places again, and this post is popular, I’ll write a post again!
This last trip was close to Lauren’s birthday, so I made it an occasion to try one of the finer restaurants in Scottsdale. Though we don’t have the refined palate that Robyn does, we really enjoy going out and have tried many different restaurants the last few years. After much research (that Robyn would be proud of us for doing!) we settled on Deseo, a restaurant at the Westin Kierland Resort.
We were drawn to the restaurant based on interesting online reviews and pictures espousing the creative Latin food and especially the excellent bread (details on that later). The clincher was the featured dining experience, called ‘The Rail’. This was essentially a chef’s table’ experience where one ate at a bar right in front of the kitchen, but ordered off of the general menu. This allowed us direct interaction with the chefs and kitchen staff at work. Something neither of us had done before.
Previous reviews had indicated it was important to book ‘The Rail’ well in advance, as it booked quickly. We did make a reservation, but it was completely unnecessary. Despite being a Friday night, and the hotel seemingly busy, the restaurant was quite quiet, with only a handful of other couples and small groups out for dinner. We were promptly seated, directly in front of the ceviche prep counter, with a fantastic view of the goings-on in the kitchen proper. It’s very interesting to observe a kitchen at work, but when both of us faced the same direction conversation is a little more difficult and we had to turn around and face backwards to interact with the wait staff.
We started our meal with Mojitos, a specialty at Deseo. We ordered different drinks, names escaping me now, and both were great! Definitely true cocktails, with freshly muddled fruit and the mint or alcohol flavour not overpowering. They disappeared very quickly and I could easily have ordered a second, but we were planning on wine as well.
Dinner decisions were much more difficult. We enjoy sharing dishes as we can try more things, but we weren’t familiar with many of the dishes on the menu! After much debate, we consulted the waitress, who did an excellent job of explaining and recommending choices. Deseo gets top marks for their staff knowledge.
We decided on 2 appetizers: rainbow ceviche, and kobe beef tenderloin on flatbread and one entree: lamb chops, with a side of roasted artichokes. We were told the side orders are large enough to split between two, and found this to be true.
Deseo’s bread lived up to expectations! Served with butter sculped to look like a small cactus, the rolls were crispy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. Apparently they are made with corn flour, the texture and taste was very interesting and different than breads I’m used to. There was a subtle sweetness to it as well. Definitely a standout and lived up to the billing.
The rainbow ceviche, made right in front of us, was excellent! I love raw fish (sashimi, sushi, ahi tuna, ceviche…) so this was my choice and i enjoyed it! I loved the bright, citrusy flavours,and the fresh fish was excellent without a strong “fishy” taste.
Watching the chefs plate the different ceviches was really interesting, each quite different than the other. I was really impressed by their ability to remember not just the recipe, but how to plate it as well, all while managing multiple orders. At one point, the chef noticed me observing him squeezing a small, oblong and green fruit that sort of resembled a tiny zucchini, except the innards that squeezed out looked just like caviar. He explained that it is actually a type of lime from Australia known as a finger lime, and offered me a small taste on a spoon. It tasted just as advertised! A mild, sweeter,, lime, but in little bubbles like caviar. Can’t say i have ever seen that ingredient in the stores in Edmonton, which is too bad because it’d be fun to pick up sometime. It was the interaction like that which made experiencing ‘The Rail’ unique from other dining experiences.
The kobe beef tenderloin on flatbread was good, although nothing exciting. Tasty, but not remarkable, if you know what I mean. I have tried kobe beef before and am still waiting to experience what the big deal is with it.
Lamb chops were cooked very well, tender and tasty, albeit a bit fatty. Interesting that again the dish was good but really doesn’t stand out in my memory as special or unique.
I enjoyed the roasted artichoke served as a side, with their smoky flavour, but then I quite like artichokes. Lauren was less impressed by it.
Dessert was a must this evening, since it was a night to celebrate Lauren’s birthday. We often have different tastes in dessert, but we chose to split something as neither of us wanted a full serving. She picked the ‘Chocolate Cigar’, again a recommendation of the waitress. This wasn’t a true Cuban kept in a humidor, but a sugary confection that reminded us of another fancy-plated dessert from the Hardware Grill in Edmonton. This was a “Cuban cigar” made of a very rich, fudgy chocolate mousse, a set of marzipan matches, and a tall cappuccino cup filled with espresso gelato. Full points for presentation, three-quarter points for taste. It was good, but like so many of the other dishes it doesn’t rank near the top of either of our lists.
Deseo was a very interesting experience. On one hand, wait service was very good, prompt and very knowledgeable about their dishes. On the other, not everything we ordered lived up to our perhaps too-lofty expectations, yet, it wasn’t necessarily disappointing either. Sitting at “The Rail” was a fun way to observe a busy kitchen at work, and the chefs were friendly and open to interaction. Presentation of dishes was creative, and the environment interesting. The wine list was very good, featuring a good mix of reds and whites by the glass or bottle, and they made a point of sticking to theme and serving wines only from Latin countries.
Would I return to Deseo? Not right away. There are too many other places to try in the Phoenix valley. Would I recommend others to try it? Maybe if you were really interested in culinary arts and wanted to interact with the kitchen, or if you were staying at the Westin Keirland. The Latin flavours were very interesting, worth trying if you haven’t tried them before. The food was well prepared and fresh tasting, but seemed to lack a WOW factor we were looking for. So to summarize a very contradictory recommendation; give Deseo consideration, but consider other places too!
Thanks for the great, detailed review Nick! I think I might be crashing one of Nick’s trips to visit Lauren down in the States in the new year. I am hoping we will have some great culinary adventures that I can blog about! (ie this Arizona gem) I’ve got a very exciting week coming up… lots of fun eating opportunities, including Mosh Burger 2.0 and a Dish Crawl!