Scrumptious Sedona: Dine amid one of the world’s stunning views

A couple of months ago I mentioned that I was elected to the board of directors of the Association of Food Journalists. Last month I attended the organization’s convention in Phoenix, Ariz., where attendees shared ideas and learned from many well-respected food journalists from across the country and beyond. In another column, I will share this experience with you, and of course, some recipes.

Today, I’d like to take you along with me to Sedona, a two hour’s drive from Phoenix where I spent the weekend after the conference.

Sedona has to be one of the rarest places in the world, set in the northernmost reaches of the Sonoran Desert. Crowned with stunning red mountains and rock outcroppings and blessed with a beautiful climate, it might be the place you to want to consider for your next vacation. It is a town famous for its spiritual energy and restorative powers.

Just as rare is the story of the incomparable Lisa Dahl and the Dahl Restaurant Group. Having found her way to Sedona some 20 plus years ago after a personal tragedy, (for more visit ) Dahl has gone on to build a dynamic and impressive restaurant group. Honoring her son Justin’s memory is part of each of her restaurants. It began with Dahl & Di Luca Ristorante Italiano, followed by Cucina Rustica, Pisa Lisa, and Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill. In 2019 she will add a second location of Pisa Lisa, her fast-casual, wood-fired pizzeria concept and the debut of Butterfly Burger, a “couture-burger lounge.” Dahl mentioned that the menu will feature close to a dozen of her award-winning burgers such as the Funghi Sublime, smothered in sautéed mushrooms and finished with imported truffle gouda and truffle Dijonnaise; the Chimi Burger, a Black Angus beef burger with white cheddar, Louis remoulade sauce, shredded romaine and crispy onion strings; and The Hipster Burger, a vegan’s dream made from lentils and walnuts with green goddess salad, roasted tomato and pimenton aioli. The menu will include robust salads and side dishes such as Parmesan Dusted Duck-Fat Fries; Quinoa Tabouli; Mediterranean Orecchiette Pasta Salad; and Mariposa Gold Yukon Potato Salad. Butterfly Burger will be home to a dozen signature sauces, which Dahl plans to roll out in specialty grocery stores.

I wasn’t surprised about the burger concept; Dahl has long been considered a “grill master” with multiple wins under her belt from Scottsdale Culinary Festival’s annual Burger Battle. This year, she took home the top title of Judge’s Choice Award for her Funghi Sublime, giving her the “golden ticket” to advance to the World Food Championships. She also went head-to-head with celebrity Chef Bobby Flay on an episode of Food Network’s “Beat Bobby Flay.”

Dahl is one of the country’s leading female chefs and restaurateurs who has pioneered the culinary scene in Sedona since her arrival to this paradise. A James Beard House-featured chef and completely self-taught, Dahl is widely credited for Sedona’s recent emergence as a national “foodie destination.” And I just learned last week…. she won the highest award in the Arizona culinary scene, “Top Chef” in the Foodist Awards by the Arizona Restaurant Association. Along with being a chef and restaurateur, Dahl is a best-selling cookbook author with “The Elixir of Life.” Her mantra, “when you cook with love, you feed the soul.” She believes that flavors should never be overworked, food should speak for itself and only the finest ingredients should be used from the best sources available. Dahl is also an interior designer and designed the décor within each of her restaurants.

A current passion project for Dahl is “Project Soup Hope,” a philanthropic initiative to raise money (a percentage of proceeds from every soup purchase goes to hurricane relief) The restaurant group has already raised $29,000 for José Andrés’ World Central Kitchen in Puerto Rico, which supports the many who are still living with the hurricane aftermath.

The Sedona visit led me to three of the chef’s four restaurants where the hospitable Dahl spent some time talking with me at each location. The first experience was at her newest restaurant, Mariposa—Latin Inspired Grill where the views from the patios are spectacular, perhaps the finest in the world. Exploring the grounds before dinner at sunset was the “appetizer” of what was yet to come. Inspiration for the restaurant came from Dahl’s visits with chefs in Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. Herbs used most often come from the gardens in the courtyard.

Gazpacho, a favorite of mine, had just the right texture, and spiced to perfection. The crispy onion strings topping Lisa’s Favorite Chopped Salad adds a dimension to the salad of Romaine with house- made chipotle ranch dressing, pico de gallo, all-natural pepper bacon and gorgonzola. The handmade empanada I savored was the Portobello, with poblano, caramelized onion queso, served with chimichurri. The Seafood Lover’s Trio (cold water lobster tail, Hokkaido seared sea scallops and jumbo grilled tiger shrimp) is impressive. Mom’s favorite Au Gratin potatoes, layered with white Cheddar, baked golden brown with perfect crispness on top, is served as a side. I could eat this as a meal. To balance the richness of the potatoes I accompanied it with grilled asparagus and herb butter. Lisa’s Lovely Lemon mashed potatoes with luscious lobster scampi will have to wait for another visit. Prickly pear cheesecake with seasonal nut brittle and pomegranate was the luscious sweet ending to my first Dahl restaurant experience.

Pisa Lisa is Dahl’s casual concept. She said, “I’ve always wanted to bring an authentic pizza experience to the Verde Valley. I learned the art of crust making from a master pizzaiolo in the U.S. I went to Napa, not Naples and I am proud of our product as it is exactly what I wanted it to be; ultra-thin and indescribably delicate. What makes our wood-fired pizza unique is the balance of Neapolitan and Roman style thin crust, allowing each pizza to be the perfect canvas for our delicate, decadent combinations.”

I am always hesitant when I order pizza outside of New Haven or New York City; is it going to live up to my expectations? And that it did, was my conclusion after biting into the half Melanzane Parmigiana (mother sauce, provolone, mozzarella, ricotta, grilled eggplant, Picante peppers and Parm-Regianno) and half Siciliana (Provolone, mozzarella with sliced lemons, shaved fennel, oregano, Parm-Reggiano, finished with organic arugula) pie. The Greca salad (Romaine hearts organic cucumbers, red onions, grape tomatoes, baby Nicoise olives, imported feta, tossed with Greca vinaigrette) accompanied the pizza. Tuscan tomato bisque, a signature soup and a favorite type of soup of mine, especially on a cold night, had to be tried. It could be a meal in itself with a loaf of crusty bread. Lisa was happy to share her recipe with you here. Rest assured, I will be making this recipe soon. A side order of the magic marinated mushrooms is a must. You won’t be able to pass the gelato display case without at least sampling a flavor, or two, or three. And that I did. Prickly pear is surely a flavor you must try.

The third restaurant I experienced was Dahl & Di Luca Ristorante Italiano, her foray in the restaurant business, in 1995. She said, “When I opened Dahl & Di Luca, I wanted to create a sophisticated supper club that lovers and companions would continually come back to for special moments and celebrations.” The beautifully designed, sophisticated yet comfortable dining room reminded me of Italian restaurants of years past. The ambiance and background of the piano player’s music is perfect for enjoying Dahl’s take on the flavors of Italy. The Caprese d’Amore is a beautifully presented plate of organic cluster tomatoes, whole milk mozzarella, fresh basil and the “famous” Portobello mushroom. Crispy arancini risotto balls, stuffed with spicy pepper, mozzarella and peas served with warm marinara sauce followed. The pasta dish I savored was Ravioli Romana, a delicate quarto formaggio ravioli, sautéed Crimini and Champignon mushrooms with a white truffle cream sauce. The Vitello Picatta, tender sautéed scaloppini of veal medallions was prepared in a lemon-caper Chardonnay sauce served with orzo pilaf and green beans. The lemon lavender panna cotta with organic huckleberry coulis sauce was the perfect palate cleanser, not too sweet with just enough tartness. Wine connoisseurs won’t be disappointed. Dahl & Di Luca touts one of the best wine lists with more than 1,000 bottles of wine focused on European varietals from France, Spain and Italy. They won Wine Spectator’s “Award of Excellence” for 13 consecutive years.

Check out the recipe for Pollo Al Rustica, a popular dish from Dahl & Di Luca Ristorante Italiano, at I guess I will have to return to Sedona to visit Cucina Rustica and the two new restaurants.

Place carrots in a food processor and mince to a medium pulp. Remove and set aside in a bowl. In a stockpot (not aluminum), place ¼ cup of the olive oil and heat until smoking. Add chopped carrots and reduce to medium-high heat. Constantly stir to keep from browning too quickly or burning. When carrots become golden in color, add minced shallots and garlic. Add a little more olive oil and continue cooking until the ingredients in pan are evenly coated, soft, and colored. This is an important stage because the careful caramelization sets the flavor. When all of the vegetables are evenly cooked and the oil has reduced, add the red crushed pepper and fresh basil, stirring quickly, not to burn. Add tomatoes and raise heat to sear them but not burn the fresh basil, then bring to a boil. Continually stir the bottom of pan to keep the sediment from burning. Then, lower to a simmer and cook for an hour or as long as needed to bring out the robust color. When tomatoes have cooked and plumped up and oil forms back on top, puree the mixture with a hand-held food processor until smooth. Bring back to a boil and add chicken or vegetable broth. Cook until it comes to a second boil. Add pesto, if using. Add black pepper and stir. Reduce heat and check flavor and consistency (there should not be any remaining chunks of tomato or carrot). Simmer to allow the flavors to marry. Add cream and incorporate. Thin with additional broth to achieve desired consistency. Add a dash more olive oil to fully rusticate the flavor.

What chef would you like me to interview? Which restaurant recipes or other recipes would you like to have? Which food products do you have difficulty finding? Do you have cooking questions? Send them to me: Stephen Fries, professor and coordinator of the Hospitality Management Programs at Gateway Community College, at or Dept. FC, Gateway Community College, 20 Church St., New Haven, 06510. Include your full name, address and phone number. (Due to volume, I might not be able to publish every request. For more, go to