By Christina Barrueta
I love arriving at the Montelucia Resort, which sets the mood for its signature restaurant, Prado. Inspired by the Moorish and Spanish architecture of Andalusia, its golden yellow walls and vibrant splashes of cobalt blue and red immediately transport you to Southern Spain.
Prado is named after the famed museum in Madrid, and stepping through the wooden double doors, you feel as though you’ve entered a luxurious European villa. It’s a beautiful space with soaring arched ceilings and exposed beams. There’s a marble-topped bar with high tables that opens onto the pretty courtyard, a cozy lounge delineated by plush banquettes and low tables, and an elegant dining room featuring a wood-burning brick oven. A highlight is the mosaic-tiled outdoor terrace that overlooks the row of fountains, especially romantic at dusk with the backdrop silhouette of Camelback Mountain.
Our first visit was Prado’s MBar for Happy Hour, and it’s still a favorite way to spend time with good friends, sipping a glass of Spanish wine or well-crafted cocktail (a favorite is the Amante Picante with organic tequila, cucumber, lime, and a splash of green Tabasco) and $5 tapas. Some of our favorites are the crispy calamari with smoked paprika aioli, the spicy Merguez lamb sausage, and the grilled whole prawns with Cacho de Cabra chili from Peru. The burrata (a fresh mozzarella with an oozy, creamy center) with sweet slow-roasted tomatoes is another perfect tapa, and I also love the La Quercia prosciutto. Satiny slices of this high-quality domestic prosciutto are served with crusty bread on a wooden board, and we often order two.
While a meal can be made of tapas alone, Prado’s menu is extensive. In addition to the regular menu, there is a full page of daily specials. As an active member of the Slow Food movement, Chef Claudio Urciuoli’s priority is on quality ingredients and seasonality, and I’m always drawn to this page to take advantage of what is local and fresh.
Recent specials included “Tutti Frutti” farm heirlooms (so-named because the tomatoes were from a variety of AZ farms), served with mozzarella di bufala and fragrant wild oregano which is imported still on the branch from Italy. Artisanal ingredients also showcased the red and yellow beet salad with “lollo rossa”, a delicate frilly red leaf lettuce, dill pollen, and Minus 8 vinegar (a limited production vinegar made from frozen grapes in the style of ice wine). Every time I visit Prado, I’m introduced to a new pasta. This time it was “calamarata”, a tubular pasta cut in wide calamari-like rings, served as both white and black squid-ink calamarata, with day-boat scallops and Controne beans, a delicious heirloom variety imported by a single farmer in Italy. I love to see whole fish offered on a menu and so had to order the wood-grilled Orata. Stuffed with orange, fennel, and lavender, and served with a side dish of cranberry beans, pioppini mushrooms, and local “Tim’s” bacon (of Tim Wilson’s Meat Shop), this was fantastic. The quality of the seafood at Prado also shone in the halibut special, served over thinly sliced purple Peruvian potatoes, smoky pork shoulder, and roasted tomatoes.
Desserts are also well thought-out. If you’re a chocolate fan, leave some room for the crispy churros with warm chocolate sauce for dipping, or the chocolate pot de crème – luscious and rich, made with Claudio Corallo’s amazing artisan chocolate. Another recent highlight was the warm blueberry and nectarine cobbler, served in its own terra cotta cazuela.
Last month, we attended an Arizona wine dinner featuring the excellent wines of Pillsbury Wine Company in Cochise County. Hosted by the ever-gracious General Manager, Pavle Milic, this was truly a special evening. On arrival, we were led to reserved seating in the lounge where we joined Sam Pillsbury and the other guests as his 2008 Rosé “One Night Stand” was poured – perfect with the passed hors d’ouevres of grilled Medjool dates with habanero and Tim’s Bacon, heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella, and La Quercia prosciutto-wrapped figs. When dinner was ready, we were led to King Ferdinand’s Cellar, a lovely private dining room glowing with flickering candles. Prado had chosen to keep the group small so that we could dine together and Sam could discuss his wine and answer questions. I loved the intimacy of being able to sit at one table and, as Pavle mentioned, he wanted us to feel like we were guests at someone’s beautiful home. Well, he certainly succeeded! Chef Claudio also spent time with us describing his philosophy and the passion he brings to sourcing out ingredients. We started with grilled wild prawns (so sweet and tender, I ate them crispy heads and all) with those wonderful Controne beans and wild oregano, paired with Pillsbury 2008 Pinot Gris Casa Blanca. The pasta course was Croxetti with Maida yellow tomatoes and Cilento olives, a medallion-shaped pasta that in medieval times was traditionally stamped with a coat of arms, paired with Pillsbury 2006 Roan Red. This was followed by a Colorado lamb T-bone with harissa-spiced Merguez sausage (made locally by Schreiner’s), olive pesto, and grilled vegetables picked hours earlier from Singh Farms, all paired beautifully with the limited production Pillsbury 2007 Petite Sirah. We ended this spectacular meal with melon from Duncan’s in Litchfield Park with truffle honey and fennel pollen, paired with a Spanish liqueur called Patxaran. Pavle explained this was a family favorite – a Basque liqueur flavored with anise, Spanish sloe berries, and coffee beans.
I’m always impressed by Chef Urciuoli’s technique for cooking authentically and simply to allow the quality ingredients to shine through, and especially appreciate the ever-changing menu with its focus on seasonality and freshness. A passionate chef, exquisite food, and a magical ambiance. It all comes together at a restaurant called Prado.
at Intercontinential Montelucia Resort
4949 E. Lincoln Drive
Scottsdale, AZ 85250