Last weekend a pact made over a year ago was finally fulfilled – I took a weekend trip with Katie and Sabrina, two of my best friends! I met both of them about two (…three? two? Time is weird, who knows) years ago but I feel like we’ve all been friends our entire lives. Aww. We originally all lived in Seattle together but Sabrina moved to San Francisco right about the time I moved to Austin a year+ ago, and the three of us hadn’t hung out all together since, even though we told each other we’d take a trip together at least once a year. TRAGEDY.
Finally we got our schedules organized and decided on enjoying some scorching desert splendor in Scottsdale – partially because it was cheap and easy for all of us to fly to, partially because I found a sweet deal on the awesome Saguaro resort right in the middle of Old Town, and partially because… let’s be honest, all we really wanted to do for two and a half days was lounge by a posh pool and sip on tropical cocktails. Mission: accomplished!
Seriously, next time you’re in Scottsdale, stay at the Saguaro. Its design is so colorful and fresh, with interesting decor touches and lush palm trees and cacti everywhere. I was in love with everything about it.
If there’s one thing that defines my existence as a human, it’s my passion for all things related to gemstones, horses, and mystical southwestern desert landscapes. Basically I want to be Stevie Nicks? I don’t know. Anyway, Scottsdale really spoke to my dusty ol’ soul. I want to retire there and become a crazy old tan lady who sells giant turquoise pendants and power crystals.
Okay, so let’s settle down and talk about everyone’s favorite aspect of traveling: going out to eat and drink! Here are the highlights:
We walked right across the park to AZ88, which has an extensive cocktail menu and big, comfy patio. I ordered one of the best mojitos of my life (their secret? both light and dark rums, plus ginger ale), Katie got a gorgeous Salty Dog, and Sabrina was extra festive and had a Celebration Champagne, complete with rainbow sugar.
Oh yeah, they also have fresh waffle fries with a trio of gourmet dipping sauces (remoulade, barbecue, and blue cheese), so obviously that had to happen, too.
For actual dinner on our first night, we went to Citizen, a restaurant I kept seeing glowing reviews for while doing my “where to eat in Scottsdale” internet research, and we definitely weren’t disappointed. Its menu reminds me of some of my favorite gastropub type places in Seattle. Lots of interesting, rich flavors, lots of meat, lots of creative, strong cocktails. We of course had to start with its signature drink, the Citi-Zen: Absolut Pear vodka, Domaine de Canton ginger liqueur, housemade sweet & sour, rock candy, and a lemon twist. It was basically an elevated lemon drop. So good.
The rest of our meal was really good – we shared their famous chopped salad (Scottsdale is the land of chopped salad, or at least two of their hottest restaurants are all about it. I have the recipe below!), awesome fried chicken and waffles, rich and decadent gorgonzola-emmental mac & cheese, and incredibly tender short ribs. We were so stuffed. I don’t even have any good pictures of the dinner itself because (a) the lighting was crazy low and (b) we couldn’t wait for pics, we had to scarf everything instantly because it was so appealing!
Sidenote about the bars in Scottsdale: I don’t know what’s going on with the nightlife scene here, all I know is that our first golf cart driver (yep, everyone takes golf carts instead of cabs) was really enthusiastic about us checking out this place Giligin’s (what… an amazing website they have), which turned out to be a bona fide “midget bar” with little people serving Jell-o shots… then we saw a drag competition at a gay bar, featuring a pretty acceptable Robyn performance… then a ridiculously named dance club, Axis/Radius, with the most aggressive fog machine I’ve ever encountered. Citizens of Arizona, I ask you: what IS this?! Obviously it was fun and quite the experience, but I think patio cocktails were more our pace after one night of that insanity.
The lovely Saguaro itself is home to one of the hottest Mexican restaurants in Scottsdale, Distrito, which in my opinion is a liiiittle overpriced for the portion sizes (we shared three small plates and a carafe of sangria on the restaurant patio the second night and everything was tasty, yet tiny, and somehow we still ended up with a $90 tab). The good news is, Distrito also does the pool menu, meaning while we were lounging poolside we could eat really good tacos ala carte alongside our pitchers of blood orange lemonade cocktails (as Katie demonstrates below).
By the time the third day rolled around, the three of us were kind of on the same page… if we had to put another tortilla-derived product into our mouths, we were going to hurl. (And this is coming from someone who lives in Austin! But seriously, if you saw the amount of chips, queso, and guac we stuffed into our mouths by the pool and at the bars, you would believe me.) We were walking around Old Town (honestly we didn’t even venture outside that area of the city, we had no reason to) when we stumbled upon a place called Rehab Burger Therapy and the name really called out to us. By this point in the weekend, we practically needed rehab. Better burgers than methadone, right?
Luckily, Rehab turned out to be awesome – way better than what it needed to be. I have a soft spot for kitschy, themed-out island/surfer bars, so this place was right up my alley. I dove into the Hawaiian Burger topped with black forest ham, swiss cheese, fresh pineapple, and teriyaki aioli. On the side we had something much better than regular ol’ potato fries – sweet potato tots! Complete with an abundance of dipping sauce choices (I think we went with spicy ketchup and chipotle ranch). This was hangover food at its very finest and it totally hit the spot. Oh, and just because we were in burger rehab, that doesn’t mean we weren’t allowed to drink! This place has really great frozen margs, and our fantastic/hilarious bro server generously added a lil’ extra pomegranate liqueur in them for us. I definitely downed two in about 15 minutes. Sorry for partying.
I ended up getting to enjoy one last meal in Scottsdale… my flight was the last of ours to leave and what should I see when I get to my gate? Oh, of course, my flight was delayed for at least an hour. By this point it was almost 9pm, and somehow, despite the giant burger I inhaled earlier, I was hungry again. Fate smiled upon me, because right across from my (stupid, delayed, dumb US Airways) gate was the airport outpost of Cowboy Ciao, a popular Scottsdale restaurant I’d wanted to try but hadn’t had the time!
Obviously eating and boozing is the preferred method of spending time at the airport, so up to the Cowboy Ciao bar I went. I ended up ordering their chopped salad, which is pretty much the same chopped salad at Citizen (makes sense; its creator, Chef Bernie Kantak, used to be the head chef at Ciao but left to open Citizen), but there’s no such thing as too much of a good thing, right? I got my huge salad and the great airport bartenders hooked me up with some serious glasses of zinfandel, and I was in business for the next couple hours.
What makes this salad SO good? I think it’s the combination of textures, flavors, and colors mixing together in a particularly satisfactory way. All I know for sure is that I’m not alone; the Scottsdale Chopped Salad has its own Facebook page. The chef was generous enough to share his exact recipe on there, and now I’m going to share it with you so you can replicate it at home, which is something I plan to do in the very near future.
The Original Chopped Salad
1/2 cup smoked salmon
2/3 cup freeze dried corn
2/3 cup chopped arugula
2/3 cup cooked Israeli couscous
1/2 cup diced Roma tomato (tossed with 1 tbsp balsamic and 2 tsp olive oil, one large basil leaf chiffonade, & a pinch of salt and pepper)
– 1/4 cup black currants
– 1/4 cup toasted pepitas
– 3 tbls ground aged asiago
Dressing: 1 cup mayonnaise. 1/4 cup buttermilk. 1 tbsp pecorino Romano. Juice of one lemon. 12 basil leaves. 1 teaspoon minced garlic. Combine thoroughly in blender.
Toss the dressing with the rest of the salad ingredients (go lightly – the salad doesn’t need much extra flavor or texture) and enjoy!
Something about the saltiness of the smoked salmon plus the crunchy, sweet freeze-dried corn plus the peppery arugula plus the chewy currants… I could keep going, but I won’t. Just… make it!
In the end, though, our Scottsdale trip wasn’t about eating and drinking at all (despite what this post may make it seem like)… it was really about friendship. Awwww. I miss Katie and Sabrina so much all the time, and it was so refreshing to spend over 48 hours of uninterrupted BFF time with them. Being in a beautiful, sunny place with great dining and shopping doesn’t hurt either, but I would have had just as much fun no matter where we were.