When a new spot opens in town, we can't wait to check it out — and let you know our initial impressions, share a few photos, and dish about some menu items. First Taste, as the name implies, is not a full-blown review, but instead a peek inside restaurants that have just opened, sampling a few items, and satisfying curiosities (yours and ours).
Restaurant: Nonna Urban Eatery
Location: 7240 East Main Street, Scottsdale
Open: Two months
Eats: Seasonal Italian
You might not believe us when we say Nonna Urban Eatery has only been open for two months.
First of all, many of your fellow diners will be repeat customers. You’ll know this because they will be greeted with a huge hug at the door from Valentina, whose warm, Sonoran heart can be found firmly planted on her sleeve. With a shout of delight, she will guide her new best friends to one of a handful of tables, and point out what has changed on the menu since they were here last Tuesday.
The other thing about Nonna’s is subtle, harder to pin down. Though on our visit there were a few signs of those stressful, newborn days – water service was slow, for example – there is an overall sense that you are in good hands at Nonna’s. The place has a familiar quality to it. It already feels like your favorite neighborhood Italian restaurant, even if this is only your first visit.
Valentina’s husband, Chef Gian Franco Brugaletta, was born in South America, raised by European immigrants, spent 10 years in Sicily, and recently ran the Buddha-Bar Monte-Carlo in Monaco. You can practically trace the path his life has taken across the single page of your menu: Nonna’s chicken and vegetable soup shares real estate in the antipasti section with edamame and yellowtail sashimi, while the lobster and farro risotto sits comfortably above a tampiqueña – ribeye carne asada with refried beans, salsa, and caramelized onions. The menu can best be described as traditional Italian, with a few pleasant surprises.
It's as if Nonna found some good salmon at the market today, and wanted to try her hand at tartare, along with the pasta al salmone she knows you love.
Realistically, though, you might not see any of these items when you visit, as the menu changes every few days. One can only assume that in their travels, Valentina and Gian Franco have learned the only thing consistent about food is that it’s best when it’s fresh, in season, and homemade. The result is a menu that is short, simple, and throws a couple of curveballs.
For your sake, we can only hope that the yellowtail sashimi is featured when you go; this dish both looks and tastes like something you’d get at any high-end sushi restaurant. The yellowtail, served with thinly sliced roasted tomatoes and fresh jalapeño peppers, sits on a bed of arugula and is drizzled with truffle oil. Fresh avocado on the side rounds out the presentation and the flavor. Is it salad? Is it sushi? Who cares — it’s unbelievable.
If you order anything but pasta, make sure you go with friends who don’t mind sharing theirs. Tagliatelle bolognese is there for the die-hard traditionalists, and the lobster risotto was added to the menu the day we arrived. The restaurant’s campanelle, like tiny, delicate ribbon curls, was served with salmon and asparagus. The creamy white wine sauce that accompanied it, with a punch of lemon to complement both the fish and the veg, made the entire dish sing.
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Any dining etiquette misgivings we might have had about going from a raw, Asian inspired fish dish to a warm, home cooked Italian one were solved by that brilliant Italian equalizer: white wine. The Tuscan Vermentino that connected our random choices like a global deus ex machina was one of only six whites on the menu. Add to that six reds, a handful of bubbly options, and four beers on tap, plus assorted bottled and canned options. Like the rest of the menu, the drinks were simple, carefully chosen, and probably change regularly, at the whim of the people steering this ship.
By the time dessert rolls around, you will be so confident in your captain that you’ll be content to have the decision made for you. When we visited, a failed experiment in fudge (it came out too soft) meant that the entire restaurant was treated to a deconstructed s’more: a cup of chocolate sauce with a graham cracker and marshmallows on top. If Nonna’s can continue to surprise and delight guests like this on a consistent basis, it will be your new favorite go-to in Scottsdale.