Gourmands in the Valley know Cafe Monarch well. For over a decade the famed Old Town Scottsdale restaurant has been building an unassailable reputation as the finest fine dining restaurant in town. It’s hard to imagine a more elegant upscale culinary experience than what the impassioned staff at this local institution provides every night; but for those who have been pining for an even more elevated dining experience, their wish has come true.
Quite simply put, Reserve is Cafe Monarch on steroids. Whereas Monarch offers a four-course prix fixe menu, Reserve serves up a staggering 12-course culinary adventure. Exquisite indulgences like Royal Osetra caviar and Mishima Wagyu abound. And while each restaurant boasts one of the most impressive wine selections in the nation, the wine pairing at Reserve is an experience in and of itself. Even the most discerning sommeliers are destined to discover something revelatory.
When I asked Chef de Cuisine Benjamin Wald what his primary goal was with Reserve, his answer was simple. “We wanted to create the best restaurant in town,” he says. And that edict is evident in every conceivable detail — from the preparation to the presentation to the impeccable service. Unfortunately, there is no Michelin guide for Arizona, but if there was, you had better believe that Reserve would be earning its star(s).
Wald’s commitment to culinary excellence is embedded in his illustrious pedigree. While attending Johnson & Wales University in Providence, he studied under legendary French chef Alain Ducasse, recipient of 21 Michelin Stars. Later he would go on to work under Executive Chef Patrick O’Connell at three-Michelin-starred, Forbes-Five-Star, and AAA-Five-Diamond Inn at Little Washington. It’s safe to say that the prodigious young chef knows what he is doing.
The same could be said about the entire staff at Reserve. From top to bottom they exhibit an elevated level of knowledge and commitment to excellence that is truly beyond comparison. Upon entering the restaurant, you are greeted with a welcome cocktail in the quaint entryway and reminded of any special dietary accommodations that have been made in preparation for your menu. These are the kind of subtle details that remind you that this is a different class of restaurant.
After the welcome drink, you will make your way to the intimate courtyard dining area. Monarch vets will surely remember this space as it was once home to the original Cafe Monarch. As much as we love the opulent new venue across the street, there was always something magical about the old courtyard; it possesses a romantic Old World charm unlike anything else in town. As you sit down the sounds of tranquil fountains flowing harmonize with classical music in the background. It’s hard to imagine a more intimate or serene location for your culinary journey.
And what a splendid journey it is. As with Monarch, the menu is ever-changing, but each of the 12 courses I sampled was nothing less than sublime. We began with the aforementioned Royal Osetra caviar, exquisitely paired with champagne, orange, yogurt and mint. That was followed by a roasted pimenton soup with pork belly, goat cheese and sambuca and then a lovely dish of crab and asparagus served with black garlic, herbs, and a quail egg. All as close to perfection as possible.
From there we were treated to a transcendent corn pudding with lobster and parmesan followed by a flavor-bursting scallop with grape, cashew, coconut and curry. If you have experienced the handmade pasta at Monarch before, then you can imagine what Reserve’s sweet onion agnolotti is like. Enveloped in freshly shaved truffles and bursting with fennel, herbs, and citrus, it was nothing short of spectacular.
The protein courses were equally impressive. We enjoyed an inventive rabbit dish replete with cipollini, leeks, peas and guanciale followed by a delectable pairing of duck and succulent foie with preserved cherry tart and honey. Then a unique game course with currant, hazelnut, parsnip and rapini followed by that legendary Mishima Wagyu: a perfectly prepared striploin perched atop a fine mushroom hash covered with king crab and cognac. Dessert may be optional at Monarch, but not at Reserve; our meal culminated with not one but two sweet courses — house-made ricotta custard and decadent caramel chocolate cake with bananas.
The entire meal was nothing short of spectacular. In fact, it’s hard to find a single fault in the culinary experience that the folks at Reserve deliver. During the course of your meal, you begin to feel intoxicated by the magic that is being conjured before you. Every touch, every sip, every bite seems determined to win you over by the time you set down your napkin in satisfaction. And while dinner there certainly isn’t cheap (the tasting menu is $285 per person, excluding tax, tip or wine pairing), for those who appreciate this sort of thing, there is simply no equal. This is by far the best dining experience you can possibly have for hundreds of miles. Cafe Monarch, we can definitively say you are no longer the best restaurant in town…and you have yourselves to blame.
For more information about Reserve and to make a reservation, visit reserveoldtown.com.