Story and photos by KJ Philp, January 2016 Issue.
Winter in Arizona is a unique blend of holiday traditions and Southwest splendor. While this might mean putting up holiday decorations on unseasonably warm December days or hosting an onslaught of out-of-towners who are determined to escape the frighteningly frigid temperatures “back home,” for us it translates to patio dining among the most exquisite light shows in the Valley.
Nestled near the entrance of the Desert Botanical Garden sits Gertrude’s, a modern American restaurant that has offered “fresh ingredients directly from the farm and pasture to the plate” since it first opened its doors in the spring of 2013.
Named after the garden’s environmentalist founder, Gertrude Divine Webster, this restaurant boasts seasonal menus expertly designed to showcase local ingredients from artisans and farmers around Arizona and the Southwest. Additionally, Gertrude’s sources fresh herbs and vegetables from its patio and community garden located on the property.
What could possibly pair more perfectly with a December dinner date than a light installation just in time for the holidays? Lucky for you (and your out-of-town guests) the garden is hosting its annual “Las Noches de las Luminarias,” in conjunction with “Bruce Munro: Sonoran Light at Desert Botanical Garden,” through the end of the year.
But first, dinner.
To get started, my dining companion and I decided to share Gertrude’s Greens, a medley of Arizona greens and watermelon radish in a lemonade dressing. While this delicious combination came exactly as advertised – and would be best enjoyed on a hot summer day – it would have been nice to have a fall-themed option (think: Brussels sprouts and root vegetables) as well.
To balance the sweetness of the dressing, I couldn’t resist the savory tepary bean hummus, which was served with pickled vegetables and house-made crackers that actually melted in my mouth.
From there, it was time to select a bottle of wine. Our love of pinot noir superseded our goal to continue with the local theme and we opted for California’s Simple Life. With notes of strawberries, ripe cherries and rose petals as well as aromas of savory herbs, this vintage offers a “perfect balance between its dark fruit character and lively acidity, which makes it an easy pairing for a variety of foods.” This was an important factor, because with such diverse menu offerings, I knew I’d be sampling more than my fair share of menu items in my quest to capture the true essence of Gertrude’s.
For our main courses, my other half settled on the Niman Ranch flat iron steak almost instantly. The 10-ounce steak, decorated with peppercorn sauce, arrived among an ornate presentation of thyme-scented cauliflower and Shishito peppers (which came with a warning: some pack more heat than others).
For me it was all about the vegetables, as per usual. I ordered the heirloom tomatoes, decorated with chermoula, black olive powder and Thai basil, and the roasted golden beets, also accented with chermoula, Arizona quark cheese, candied pecans, agave and blue cheese (which was fairly easy to navigate around). I also helped myself to some of the cauliflower and Shishito peppers.
Ordering plants as a main course in the state’s most famous garden only seemed appropriate (shameless vegan disclaimer), and these veggies lived up to every bit of the hype. The careful consideration given to complimentary, yet not over complicated, flavors just made sense.
Last, but not least, my date gave in to the decadent dessert menu and decided on the red wine and chocolate torte. This treat, red wine, golden beet jam, pistachio brittle, pink peppercorn and rosemary Chantilly cream, looked amazing (near irresistible, if I do say so myself). Lucky for her I steer clear of sweets, and she was able to enjoy the confection while I treated myself to another glass of wine before heading out into the garden for a tour of the light installations.
According to Gertrude’s executive chef Matt Taylor, he’s drawn upon his Canadian family’s farming roots to meld this ingredient-driven seasonal menu with subtle Southern and local influences. Additionally, he believes that this secret in the garden has the potential to become one of Arizona’s iconic restaurants. And I could not agree more.
So, when your next wave of holiday houseguests arrive and you want to serve them an Arizona experience that’s as magical as the season, don’t forget about Gertrude’s at the Desert Botanical Garden.
For more information on “Bruce Munro: Sonoran Light at Desert Botanical Garden,” which runs through May 8, 2016, visit dbg.org.
1201 N. Galvin Parkway, Phoenix
10:30 a.m.-9 p.m. Mon-Fri
8 a.m.-9 p.m. Sat and Sun
Brunch to 4 p.m.