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Sit outside for up-close views of Boynton Canyon, or get cozy indoors with floor-to-ceiling windows and suspended lighting that makes it feel like you're dining among the stars. Chef David Schmidt takes a resort staple – lobster bisque – and turns it into culinary high art with beech mushrooms and a drizzle of lemon oil. Schmidt serves his buffalo tenderloin with a poached pear, Marcona almonds, gorgonzola and pearl onion agrodolce. 525 Boynton Canyon Rd., Sedona, 928-282-2900, L'Auberge Restaurant on Oak Creek Sedona Awards: Top 10 Southwest, Condé Nast Traveler (2013)It makes perfect sense that Chef Rochelle Daniel – having honed her French-fusion cooking skills under Matt Carter at Zinc Bistro in Scottsdale – should take over the top toque at L'Auberge, where the seasonal menu is likely to feature apple-butter-slathered foie gras with gingerbread or some other glorious twisting of Gallic culinary convention.
Admirably, Daniel prefers to do her twisting with Arizona-sourced ingredients, meaning the wisps of apple in your pumpkin bisque, poured over a huddle of fresh crab right in front of your eyes, were farmed down the road. Yet no matter how personally addictive we find the pine-smoked venison, it's the splendid creekside setting that makes L'Auberge the epitome of Arizona destination dining. 301 Little Ln., 928-282-1661, School House Restaurant Cottonwood Awards: People's Choice Award, The Great Sedona Chili Cook-off (2013)Nestled inside an antique schoolhouse, this New American diner opened its doors in 2013 under the helm of Chef Christopher Dobrowolski and his wife, Laura Fayette-Dobrowolski.
Konefal has an excellent handle on the classics, skillfully adulterating shepherd's pie with creamy polenta and jazzing up butternut squash with coffee.
Meanwhile, pastry chef Fioravanti's desserts are exceptional – rich and decadent without the twitch-inducing sweetness of American recreations.
Pop into the adjacent Tinderbox Annex for a cocktail and house-made charcuterie before dinner, and know you're dining at one of the high country's great gastropubs. San Francisco St., 928-226-8400, Pizzicletta Flagstaff Awards: Best New Restaurant, Arizona Daily Sun (2011); Best Restaurants, Arizona Highways (2013)What started as one man's hobby of making pizzas in a wood-fired oven in his backyard became Pizzicletta, a 650-square-foot, 15-seat, open-kitchen restaurant south of the train tracks in Flagstaff.
Though his degree is in geology, owner and chef Caleb Schiff developed a passion for pizza when he first visited Europe.
The steak frites has a Southwest twist: It's topped with chimichurri and chili butter. Nor do they exclusively dine in the prime culinary corridors of Scottsdale and Phoenix. Valley food fanatics do not nosh on foie gras-stuffed quail alone.And just to make sure we've covered every base, we asked Valley food experts to rank their favorites, too, in a range of styles and categories. Cottage Place Flagstaff Awards: Award of Excellence, Wine Spectator (1996-2010); Top 100 Restaurants, Open Table (2012)Talk about rarified company.In 2012, this longtime Flagstaff fine-dining favorite was recognized by Open as one of the nation's 100 best restaurants, joining fellow Arizona honorees Kai, Binkley's and Shin Bay. Chef Frank Branham excels at continental cuisine with subtle Southwestern influences, charming diners with dreamy concoctions like house-made ravioli filled with forest mushrooms, onions and goat cheese, served in a sweet marsala cream sauce.