Last night we had one of the best meals we have eaten in the USA, right here in Phoenix. A few weeks ago when we visited the Desert Botanical Gardens, mum pointed out the restaurant in the gardens and mentioned it had been recently redone by a well-acclaimed chef. I checked it out when I got home, and Executive Chef Stephen Eldridge is alumni of other well-known Phoenix dining hotspots such as Quiessence (Arizona’s answer to New Yorks farm-to-table dining experience Blue Hill at Stone Barns).
So when my grandparents told me they would take me anywhere I wanted to go for dinner for my Christmas present, I finally settled on Gertrude’s, and boy am I glad I did.
We turned up to the Botanic Gardens after dark, and walked through the open entrance gates towards the restaurant. It was weird walking through the Botanic Gardens after closing time.
They seated us out the back under some space heaters, next to this beautiful fountain. We remarked what an amazing place Phoenix is. We were dining at 9PM at night in the middle of winter, outdoors, in light clothing (some of us in sleeveless).
There were a few things on the menu that I was excited about before we got there: juniper crusted bison, coconut mole, smoked dark chocolate, and poblano mole smothered fries (not together of course).
Between the four of us we managed to polish off four appetisers, four mains, and two desserts. We started with some interesting drinks made with house syrups – I went for a Berry Basil Lemonade.
For appetisers, I ordered the juniper crusted bison carpaccio with marinated mushrooms, chevre, pickled red onion, arugula and a mild lemon oil. It was my second time eating bison (the first being in a burger), and it was sliced paper thin, gamey yet sweet and punctuated with the piney juniper.
Second was the appetiser special of shrimp and grits with bacon and a fennel puree.
We also had some poblano mole and cilantro crema smothered fries, poutine style, and a huge plate of melt-in-your-mouth tender cornmeal crusted calamari, red onion, fennel, pickled peppers on a bed of arugula and a sweet garlic aioli.
After that feast, it was time for the mains. Out came a soft and perfectly cooked fillet of chargrilled salmon, sitting amongst shrimp and mussels and atop a coconut green mole sauce.
The other dish we tried was the entree special, a striped sea bass atop a honey kabocha squash puree, fennel, charred mushroom, apple and a star anise, bay and sherry vinegar sauce, finished with a drizzle of cilantro oil. The flavours melded so perfectly – it was exciting to find a restaurant that pushes boundaries and succeeds, it seems somewhat of a rarity. In Australia chefs are well-known for their experimentation, but outside of the country I often have trouble finding places that can delight the tastebuds with unique flavour combinations. Gertrude’s did this perfectly.
We quite literally polished off every morsel of food. Our waiter was impressed – but it was too good to leave anything behind.
Only my nan and I could possibly fit dessert in. I was so full – but I couldn’t miss out on their smoked chocolate. I had a black tea semi-sweet chocolate pot du creme, topped with smoked dark chocolate sauce. The plate was smeared with a whipped white chocolate ganache and sprinkled with a salted peanut brittle powder. Completing the triptych was a cube of salted caramel milk chocolate truffle and a spiced bittersweet chocolate shortbread.
Nan ordered the blood orange olive oil cake with a scoop of Garden Carrot and Ginger ice cream, bourbon raisins and pistachio brittle.
I was mildly disappointed the others couldn’t do dessert as I was wanting to try their Prickly Pear and Sriracha sorbet – but I guess I could leave that for next time…