It's been almost two years since chef Gio Osso opened his first restaurant, Virtu Honest Craft, on the first floor of a quaint bed and breakfast in downtown Scottsdale. The restaurant seats just 25 diners, but its small stature didn't hold it back from achieving almost immediate success. In its first years, Virtu earned a slew of national awards and nominations, including being named one of the 2013's Best New Restaurants by Esquire, a "must-try" restaurant by The Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe, and a semifinalist for the James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant 2014.
Now, Osso's just days away from opening his second restaurant, a new concept called Nico in downtown Gilbert. And to say the chef is worried would be an understatement.
"I'm shitting my pants," Osso jokes.
With less than 10 days between the chef and Nico's debut, Osso stands in the middle of the yet-to-be-completed dining room on an usually hot spring day. Tufted booths, Edison bulb light fixtures, and a small, tiled wood-fired oven are in place, but many of the details of the space have yet to be put in place.
The same can be said for the restaurant's menu, which Osso says he's tweaked dozens of times and will probably continue to change after the doors are open.
"As a creative person ... you can never settle on one thing," he says. "I can't really get a feel for what we're doing until I'm in there doing it."
If one thing's for sure about Nico, it's that it won't be a carbon copy of its brother restaurant, Virtu. Osso's careful to clarify that diners will be still be able to expect quality though — Nico will be a different concept made with the same elements. In other words, Osso says he's not planning on "dumbing" anything down just because he's opening in an East Valley suburb instead of in the heart of the Valley's fine-dining scene.
"They're still looking at Gilbert as a cow town, and they're wrong," the chef says. "I'm like, 'No, I live here.'"
With Nico, the chef says he plans to take his cooking "more towards [his] roots," which means Southern Italian fare. While Virtu takes inspiration from Italy but also Mediterranean cuisine generally, Nico will lean more toward peasant cuisine and family recipes.
Though downtown Gilbert has seen a huge influx of dining options over the last few years (with more to come), Nico will be the first owner-operated restaurant to join the scene. It will also be the first entirely new restaurant concept to venture into the waters since other downtown Gilbert restaurants including Barrio Queen, Pomo Pizzeria, Zinburger, and Lo Lo's Chicken and Waffles all have other locations elsewhere in the Valley.
As such, Osso says he hopes Nico, which is named for his son, will be the area's first real dining destination. He's also trying to temper his own expectation's for the restaurant's debut — as in, he's doesn't assume Nico will earn the same amount of accolades as his first restaurant.
"I don't think that's possible," Osso says. "I don't know what to expect."
Still, the chef says he's ready to give it his all.
"Even though achieving perfection is impossible," he says, "we can sure as hell try."
For more information about Nico, visit the Nico website. You can view the restaurant's menu below, though dishes may be subject to change.