Now close to twenty years ago, I discovered Sedona Arizona for the first time sometime in my twenties and an Italian restaurant named Dahl & DiLuca was relatively new on the scene at the time, receiving applause and accolades, including a AAA vote for being one of the most 5 romantic restaurants in the country. Back then, I wasn’t yet a foodie and was far too young to have known what defines a romantic experience because everything is hopelessly romantic in your twenties, at least it was for me.
I knew there was something special about this restaurant gem, something you couldn’t put your finger on, something that illuminated not just great Italian cuisine, but much much more. It was a dreamy experience and above our price range at the time given that my dining budget in my twenties was far from ideal. Being a rookie in the agency world was an honor back then, so it was rare to get a handsome salary for working those 20 hour days. And so, my first visit was a splurge so many years ago on what I recall as a perfect full moon night!
I returned 3 or so times over the years, in my thirties and later in my early forties and each time was as memorable as the first, although I saw the restaurant evolve. One of those trips was a luxury meets rustic drive through the Utah and Arizona canyons, and I remember how romantic the ambiance was even though I wasn’t on a romantic journey at the time — the bar scene was bustling but quietly so, the ambiance dreamily surreal with a piano player calming our spirits in the background and the wine pouring in the foreground of what felt like a rustic old world villa-themed grotto meets elegant bistro.
As I watched the scene with a wry smile on my face, happy to be sipping my Cab at the bar while waiting for our table, Roman-born Andrea, the charming owner at the time with his oh so Italian flamboyant but tasteful style, starting chatting with us and our two “new” pals we had met moments before. It wasn’t long before Andrea started pouring me wine after I described my preference for old world and out came a Zin and a Brunello, the latter I oddly hadn’t been exposed to yet. Endearing, generous and memorable is what comes to the forefront of my mind.
I also met ever so gracious Lisa Dahl on that very same night, his partner in culinary crime, who was behind much of the cooking, and remains so today. She now runs the restaurant with her “front of the restaurant” team who includes Tyler Backus, Michael Siedel and Jim Franckowiak (aka Ambassador of Romantic Affairs).
My nostalgia and positive memories of the place were so high given that each experience surpassed the previous one, that I was a little reluctant to return on my recent trip in January, especially given how many fine dining experiences I had under my belt between my last visit and today. I didn’t want to ruin the memory of this romantic gem that had always been an integral part of my Sedona experience each and every time I returned.
But, as it would so happen, I found myself browsing through the Dahl & DiLuca site one late evening as I was planning our culinary and other travel reviews while in Sedona, part of a cross country journey that would take us through a dozen states. I saw Lisa’s face glaring back at me and remembered her from so many years ago and decided I had no choice but to return to one of my favorite foodie haunts in America’s west. And so, we did, lining up a reservation after a few email exchanges to taste the latest and greatest, letting Lisa, chef au extraordinarie do the choosing. What a treat, I thought, to have her decide my culinary fate on an evening.
Bruschetta is always good at an Italian restaurant, but imagine a variation with prawns and scallops topped with chives in a scampi sauce (pictured below). It was a heavenly way to start off our evening. We didn’t just have Lisa’s recommendations but also the voice of Scott Yates, one of our other gracious hosts, Brian, our knowledgeable waiter who is an excellent storyteller and David Dimler, who among wearing other hats, is also Dahl & DiLuca’s wine steward. It was David who set us straight with some fabulous wine pairings throughout the evening.
We started with a 2013 Vermentino, Temuta Argentiera ‘Poggio Ai Ginepri’ from Bolgheri, which is in the Italian province of Livorno on the foothills of the Colline Metallifere.
This Mozzarella-filled ambrosial radicchio completely number surprised us. It was wrapped in prosciutto and filled with mozzarella, tomatoes, jam and a balsamic reduction sauce — first grilled and then baked. Yum!
I can’t seem to be completely fulfilled with a meal unless there’s a salad on the table somewhere along the way. Give me my lettuce — simple is often the best, especially when you are tasting numerous dishes.
They have a couple of Caesar options on the menu — what’s most worth mentioning is the signature creamy lemon garlic dressing. Apparently they source their olive oil locally from Wilcox Arizona, so obvious advocates of using local farmers and purveyors as much as seasonably possible.
Onto their Della Casa Exotica, which is what I had on that oh so food orgasmic evening. It is lightly tossed in a balsamic shallot Dijon vinaigrette with parmesan, gorgonzola and Amaretto glazed pecans. So so delish!!!
I hadn’t yet moved onto the 2010 Chianti Rufina Riserva, Frescobaldi ‘Nipozzano‘ from Tuscany, but when I did, I was in oh such Italian wine joy – thanks David. Even though I had vowed to stay away from cream and cheese as much as physically possible on our trip, it’s an impossible goal when you’re A) a foodie, B) doing restaurant reviews and C) love cheese, especially laced throughout Italian dishes in just the appropriate amount.
The Ravioli Romana is made with Quattro formagio cheese in a crimini and button mushroom truffle cream sauce and topped with chives.
A lighter soup is Lisa’s carmelized onion and sherry concoction, served with a parmesan and garlic reduction. The size was perfect, understanding what came before and what we were still planning to taste.
There are many chicken and veal dishes on the menu, served in a variety of classic Italian styles — parmigiana, scaloppini, valdostana, rosmarino, piccata and my favorite dish, so suited for the ambiance and their raison d’etre — the Romeo & Juliet, which is sauteed scaloppini of veal and eggplant finished al forno with their signature marinara and mozzarella served with capellini pomodoro.
I was falling in love with my 2010 Super Tuscan Tenuta Argentiera ‘Pogio Ai Ginepri’ from Bolgheri which I requested a tad early and yup, as I expected, it was my favorite of the wine that David paired with our savory dishes. As my palate was in savory heaven, the Vitello Piccata came marching out of the kitchen, which came recommended from both Brian and Lisa. It is a sauteed scaloppini of veal cooked in a delicate lemon-caper and chardonnay sauce.
Classic pasta dishes are also in abundance if you wish to skip the meat altogether. For example, non-meat eaters can get lost in the Gnocchi alla Vodka, a potato gnocchi served with vodka sauce, the Garganelli Paradiso, a spicy mushroom sauce with chevre or the Fettucine Primavera which is topped with a medley of seasonable vegetables topped with a pesto cream sauce and pine nuts.
I for one wished we had more time in Sedona so we could return and focus on pasta dishes alone. Anthony was dying to try the Lasagne and the Tortellini della Nonna with prosciutto and green peas (we both grew up with that dish) and I am a sucker for Angel Hair pasta and here, they prepare it simply, my favorite — tomato and garlic solo! Perfect, just like I order it in Italy.
There’s seafood for fish lovers (Scottish salmon – yum, yum, yum) and classic grill options, like the Australian rack of lamb chops with lemon and herbs, the White Mable Farms pork chop with asparagus and the Black Angus filet with portobello mushroom, white truffle and gorgonzola sauce. If only we had room!!
Somehow we managed to save room for dessert, or at least my southern Italian partner in dining crime did – how can you pass up Panna Cotta, a Hazelnut Gelato drowned in Espresso served with Biscotti, a Lemon soaked Chiffon Sponge cake layered with candied fruit and sweet ricotta or Cream Brulee? Or, how about a flourless chocolate cake with vanilla bean gelato and blackberry merlot sauce paired with a lovely Zinfandel or a classic Tiramisu paired with a 10 year Tawny port? Is your mouth watering yet?
They whipped up a combo for us, which included a Cannoli of course and we had a delicious dessert wine to pair with it, thanks to David, who poured the Moscato d’Alessandria – Donafugata ‘Ben Rye’ from Sicily.
Lisa, together with head chefs Ray Leza and Ruben Pedroza were responsible for smile after smile all night long as we tasted old Italian cuisine in a romantic atmosphere with the piano playing in the background, just as I had remembered.
The decor has since changed however since my last visit. While keeping with classic romance and Italian villa style, the motif is now more modern and the layout a bit more elegant, with the piano in a different location — ahhh yes, the things we remember, the things we notice!! The bar was still funky and full of countless colorful bottles of spirits, liqueurs, brandies, cognacs, ports, sherries and dessert wines, all of which could be blended with a late night coffee with your dessert.
Below, is a private table for the ultimate in romance, tucked away behind a closed curtain — apparently, many a’ proposal has happened there.
The waiting area, which is in front of the check in desk is not far from how I had remembered it although I know they made a number of design tweaks since my last visit.
Alas, down the hallway to the restrooms – I looked for the painting I had remembered on the wall and couldn’t be sure whether it was still there or not – regardless, the ambiance was still charming, still old world, still rustic and luxurious at the same time and still oh so Italian.
If you want romance, exceptional service (ask for Brian), old world meets chic modern ambiance under one roof and exquisite Italian food, then Dahl & DiLuca is a must for your Sedona visit. I’d argue that it’s worth going to Sedona just to dine at Dahl & DiLuca alone, but then again I’m a bit biased and am a hopeless romantic who loves great Italian food and they do both exceptionally well.
It’s also worth noting their two other restaurants: Cucina Rustica in Sedona VOC, which I haven’t tried yet but Lisa was eager to get us over there (if only we had more time) and their new wood fired pizza restaurant Pisa Lisa in West Sedona.
Dahl & DiLuca
2321 State Rte 89A
Sedona, AZ 86336
NOTE: we were hosted but I can assure you all opinions expressed are entirely my own. LOVE LOVE LOVE this place!
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