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August 29, 2012

Lon's at the Hermosa

Prosciutto e Melone Dominic Armato

  DISCLOSURE: I drafted this post back in early June, and though I didn't know him then, I've since spent some time hanging out with Mr. Travis Nass, mentioned therein.  

Date night! Something classy. Something relaxing. Something refined. Well, heck, Lon's has been languishing on the to-do list for the better part of two and a half years. Perhaps it's time to see what Mr. Megargee's old ranch has to offer.

The Hermosa is a charming little place, to be sure. Though I doubt much of the current structure predates the renovation, it's nice to be somewhere that feels old, and when approaching the host stand means making your way through a tree-strewn courtyard complete with fountain and lanterns on a warm-but-not-too-warm evening, it's hard to conclude that sitting inside makes any damn sense.

Duck Confit CrepeDominic Armato

The patio is one of those locations that makes you briefly feel as though you're on vacation when you're not, where I expect even the chronically uptight would be quickly pacified by a cocktail from The Last Drop. Presiding over the bar at The Hermosa is Mr. Travis Nass, liquor legend and self-proclaimed "spirit guide" who takes a decidedly culinary approach to mixed drinks, creating complex and shockingly distinctive cocktails by casting a wide net in search of unconventional juices, atypical aromatics and obscure spirits, to which he applies the instincts of a liquor savant, a boozy Rain Man in waistcoat and handlebar mustache. The day's punch, cognac and pineapple made smooth and aromatic with earl grey tea and freshly grated nutmeg, was good enough to drink all night. And one of his many respectfully reprised classics, the Mesquite Sour, tamed smoky whiskey with mesquite syrup, lemon, egg whites and an intoxicating touch of AZ Bitters Lab's mas mole bitters. I'm always astounded by the alchemy at work in a perfect cocktail, where all elements are present and spoken for, but it's hard to tell where one ends and the next begins. I'll be returning to The Last Drop, and soon. (Note: Since drafting this nearly three months ago, I've had the opportunity to spend a lot of time with Travis and his concoctions, and my estimation of his talents has only grown.)

Foie GrasDominic Armato

Thus properly loosened, we turned our attention to the menu, where surrendering myself to Jeremy Pacheco's kitchen seemed the best course of action. Notably, I wasn't asked at what temperature I'd prefer my lamb. This would later prove to be the best thing that didn't happen all evening. Our server's revelation that Lon's prosciutto is cured in-house inspired both intrigue and suspicion. Bacon, soppressata, mortadella, okay... but prosciutto? With such a delicate product, any mistakes will be right out in the open. But the tasting menu started with the prosciutto e melone, I opted to trust in the chef, and my trust was well-rewarded. Fresh honeydew and cantaloupe bracketed a beautiful tangle of prosciutto, sliced to an unusual thickness that, again, inspired doubt but was shockingly appropriate. It was clean and sweet, possessing a fantastic texture with just enough give so that the thickness provided a delightful chew and forced you to linger even longer on the cured fat. This was some really, really good prosciutto. So much so, in fact, that I wish they'd just ditched the balsamic. It was completely unnecessary and, thankfully, easy to work around.

Corn and Shrimp RisottoDominic Armato

For me, this was followed by a griddled crepe with a sweet and tender duck confit filling. A little bit of brightness from fresh citrus and a small puddle of complex, smoky mole livened it right up, and the almost crisp texture on the crepe gave the dish some body and kept it from devolving into what would have been admittedly tasty mush. Nice balance, well-executed, a great start. My ladylove, who passed on the chef's tasting menu and opted instead to design her own, selected a winner in the foie, a rather generous slab beautifully browned with apricot jam, pistachio butter and some manner of gastrique for acidic punch. Fruit, acid, a nutty counterpoint... the structure of the dish is on the first page of the foie gras playbook, but prepared here with a compelling selection of ingredients and tack-sharp execution, it stood out as an unusually good foie/fruit/acid preparation.

Hermosa Arizona GreensDominic Armato

My third course was the swing and a miss of the evening, a corn and shrimp risotto that came close but didn't quite sit right with me. To say that opinions vary on proper risotto texture would be a putting it diplomatically. But these grains felt a touch underdone as opposed to al dente, with an odd texture reminiscent of Vietnamese broken rice, and a shortage of the natural creaminess that I associate with good risotto. But the flavor was excellent, a burst of fresh corn with sweet, delicate rock shrimp and crab, and I enjoyed that much despite my textural misgivings. My ladylove hsa a hard time resisting a good salad, and if they were all this well done, I'd have a harder time. I believe it involved apple, pecans and a very mild, creamy goat cheese, but beyond that all I recall is that the bite I swiped was mighty tasty.

Pan Seared HalibutPecan-Roasted LambDominic Armato

I snagged just a fleeting taste of her halibut as well, just enough to determine that it was a beautifully cooked piece of fish, tender and moist with a crisp crust, with a light, desperately trying to hold onto spring mix of pea puree, mushrooms and ramp fumet. My lamb, however, was absolutely fabulous. A pair of chops arrived, carved from a full rack and set atop salty tepary beans and a touch of cured pork. What struck me most, however, was that deep, deep red color. They'd served it to me in a state of rareness that defied any wiggle room when it came to classification. It was rare. Which, though I'll generally target the medium side of medium rare when it comes to lamb, suited me just fine. I dig rare lamb too, but I was surprised to see it come out as such, since I suspect most folks wouldn't be quite so open. I asked our server if this was how it was typically served, and she explained that they solicit a temperature request when it's ordered a la carte, but for the chef's menu, it's served quite rare. When she then hastily offered to take it back and bring one that had spent more time on the grill, I said, "Don't you dare," explaining that I was perfectly happy with it exactly as-is, just impressed that the kitchen had the courage to send it out like that. And it was dynamite. Grilled over pecan wood, it had a wonderfully smoky character balanced by earthy, salty beans, and its almost natural state tripped every lusty, carnivorous receptor I have in my head. Beautifully done.

Goat CheesecakeDominic Armato

Desserts did the job. I got a little taste of the "Candy Bar," salted caramel coated with chocolate and spiced up with some ancho and cayenne, the former of which added a touch of warm fruitiness and the latter of which added a little tickle to the back of the throat. My cheesecake -- made with goat cheese -- was smooth and creamy and accompanied by Grand Marnier macerated berries. Neither were anything I'll remember for long, but both were delicious finishes to the evening. Though certainly not flawless, my first experience with Lon's was an excellent one, providing a couple of dishes that will stick with me for some time, and a brief respite in calming surroundings. What's more, I have a great deal of respect for some of the choices made by the kitchen, and the cocktails are not merely a bonus but an attraction all their own. Not only wouldn't I hesitate to return, but I intend to make a point of it.

Lon's at the Hermosa
5532 N. Palo Cristi Road
Paradise Valley, AZ 85253
602 955-8614


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