The sun slowly set like a curtain down the red rocks surrounding the architectural feast known as Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill, Sedona's newest fine-dining experience.
The orange ball descended on what seemed like a 360-view of the Sedona red rocks and cliffs, as Mariposa owner Lisa Dahl walked around the tables and talked to her guests.
The pastel light inside the restaurant was constantly changing as it flowed throughout the large windows and open spaces. A huge butterfly mirror reflected the red rocks back into the lounge. Fireballs blazed in iron sculptures outside, changing the mood from afternoon starkness to fiery salsa.
Dahl appeared from the kitchen and shook hands with a table of guests and chatted with them.
Her stunning dark hair was let down and she was wearing a black dress and looking elegant. Not the professional chef's coat that she usually wears.
Dahl approaches our table and explains that she thinks the restaurant becomes more romantic when it's dark outside. She's right. The fire, light, architecture and the Latin music set the mood for dessert and other dreamy treats.
This restaurant is where the earth, fire, water, sun, red rocks and light all meet.
And at the center of the vortex is Dahl.
Who is Lisa Dahl?
Dahl is a successful Verde Valley businesswoman who now employs over 200 people. And the hard-working chef said if "anything could bring her to tears," it is that employees are still working for her after 10 and 15 years.
Lisa grew up in Indianapolis and worked in San Francisco in the fashion industry until she moved to Sedona after a personal tragedy. She came here to start a healing process more than 20 years ago, never realizing she would be embarking on a career as a restaurant owner and chef.
Dahl's other Sedona restaurants include the Dahle DiLuca, Ristorante Italiano; Cucina Rustica, Rustic Tuscan Cuisine; and Pisa Lisa, Authentic Woodfire Pizza. Her newest restaurant, The Mariposa, is a "Latin Inspired Kitchen Steak & Seafood Grill."
Dahl is not married, and admits she does not have a normal home life and is hardly ever home.
"But I've had a 'significant other' for a number of years who has survived, somewhat, the stresses of the restaurant business," Dahl explained, they do get the share the "joys of travel."
Scott Yates, a photographer and videographer, is also involved in Dahl's work, as he has spent the last decade of his career as marketing director for her restaurants, managing their marketing and media.
Scott's photos are "breathtaking" and are part of the reason that the restaurant is being reviewed for stories in Architectural Digest and magazines like that, the chef explained. Dahl has also published "The Elixir of Life Cookbook," a cookbook and Sedona memoir which is about to go into its fourth printing.
"My best time of the day is every time of the day," the chef said. "I love to have both parts to my life," Dahl said to her role as a chef and then as restaurant owner and host.
The chef starts with an hour of exercise and then at the Mariposa at 10 a.m., preparing food and taking care of hundreds of interruptions and thousands of details. That ends at "five to six" when she goes home and gets a clean chef's coat and "brings something beautiful to put on later."
Dahl returns to the Mariposa kitchen, eventually changes into a dress (transitioning like a butterfly she jokes) and stops at each of her four Sedona restaurants to talk and shake hands with guests or check in with employees. Dahl eats dinner about 9 or 10 p.m. and is in bed by midnight or 1 a.m. until she repeats the routine the next day.
Lisa Dahl's newest restaurant was noticed right away on the national level. Barely open, the Sedona restaurant was named one of USA Today Travel's "hottest new restaurants to try this summer."
Dahl said she explored Argentina, Chile and Uruguay to develop her Latin inspired menu that is cooked in a wood oven and wood grill, as well looking at the wines in those countries. She displayed a chunk of split oak that is burned to heat her ovens, adding that they use about three cords a month.
"I thought that doing South American influence cuisine was the right cuisine because it's strong, it's very earthy, and with the property as masculine and as intense as this property is ..." Dahl said referring to the Mariposa site. "It spoke to me to do a Latin inspired cuisine."
"I thought it would fun to combine the earthiness of South American with a primitive grill," pointing out that they use as "very natural" wood-fired grill and oven.
But guests quickly learn that the Mariposa is more than going out to dinner, it's an experience. It's where you go for your anniversary, take your mom on mother's day or for that romantic meal when you spring the "big question" on your lover. Starting last week, the Mariposa officially opened for lunch.
And she is proud that there is formal dining room in front of huge windows and red rock views for guests who want to get "dolled up," and a less formal dining area outside in the open air, which is in view of the setting sun and garden boxes filled with herbs growing for use in customers' dishes.
Dahl said it took three architects and some great cooperation by the Town of Sedona to get the proper zoning approvals for the restaurant.
Dahl said she worked closely with Verde Valley and Arizona artisans to create and "organic composition" to her building. The restaurant's custom-made, barb wired chandeliers were a "whimsical accident that turned out to be one of my favorite things," she said.
The important thing was to tie in the Arizona artisans with the natural elements, marry them with nature, and not obstruct the views in any way. A new water fountain at the front entrance will add to this. "It's meant to be healing on multiple levels," she added.
"The true art is God's creation outside these windows," Dahl said smiling. "The true brilliance is how we framed these views in order not to be obstructive, but to bring in art and artists' work to allow them to marry with nature."
Last Question for Dahl
Being such a large employer in the Verde Valley, I asked Dahl what she looks for an employee?
She responded: "Passion."
"Passion is dedication and commitment in loving what you do," she said.
"You have to adore the work. We work harder in this industry than any other industry. But every day I am working in the restaurant, I come home and I feel so rewarded."