Cress on Oak Creek

There is no shortage of remarkable experiences to be had in Sedona, and dining at Cress on Oak Creek at L’Auberge de Sedona has to be at the top of that list. First you have the setting: intimate, linen-clad tables underneath the sycamore trees along the banks of Oak Creek. Flickering candles add a touch of romance. A menu would have to be exceptional to compete with these surroundings, and Cress’s new executive chef, Michael O’Dowd, is certainly up to the task. Most recently, Michael was the chef at Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa in Phoenix. He’s cooked at the Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., and the Ritz-Carlton & Stanhope hotels in New York City.

Michael’s fall menu is as creative as it is delicious, and you’d be smart to add on the wine pairings. Not only does it make the dinner that much more special, you’ll walk away with some new favorites (and a bit of an education). We started with an heirloom-tomato salad featuring pickled strawberries and beets, spiced pecan soil (you have to taste it to believe it), goat cheese, mascarpone smear, micro greens and pearls of aged balsamic and olive oil that resemble caviar. Paired with a Beaujolais wine, the first course is an explosion of flavor. Next up was Marcona Almond Dusted Sweetbreads surrounded by lentil dahl, poached black grapes, burnt pineapple, avocado mousse and tiny greens. Our third course was Water and Earth Tartare featuring black and blue buffalo and ahi tuna accompanied by sea-salted vinegar chips, preserved limes, quail eggs, saguaro blossom sap, pickled cactus buds, gherkin relish and blue cheese crema. Having fallen in love with steak tartare in France, this course was our favorite. Course No. 4 showcased slow-roasted prairie quail stuffed with merquez sausage and figs with a side of the most memorable, creamy spinach we’ve ever tasted.

The entire, three-hour-plus meal finished with a dessert sampler of chocolate-beet cake, toasted marshmallow, a lemon wedge cake and lemon curd. Our palates were in paradise, and our heads were spinning from the wine, the scenery and the expertly executed courses. Thanks for the ride, Chef Michael. Erika Ayn Finch. Photo courtesy of L’Auberge de Sedona

Cress on Oak Creek, 301 L’Auberge Lane at L’Auberge de Sedona. Open daily, 5:30-9 p.m., for dinner. MC, Visa, AmEx, Disc, DC (928-282-1661) (Very Expensive)

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