Many talented chefs call metro Phoenix home, but few can claim as many accolades as Alessandro Stratta. Over his more than 30-year career, he's won just about every award to which a chef can aspire, including being named one of "America's Ten Best New Chefs" by Food & Wine in 1992 and earning the James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 1998. Just five months after taking over as executive chef at Renoir restaurant in Las Vegas, Stratta collected five stars from the Mobil Travel Guide. And in 2008, when the Michelin Guide took its first foray into Sin City restaurant reviewing, it granted Stratta's namesake restaurant, Alex, two coveted stars. He's been an Iron Chef, a Top Chef, and now, he's taking over one of the Valley's most promising dining venues.
"I have very high expectations for this restaurant," Stratta says with a smile.
He's sitting in a plush lounge seat at Prado at the Omni Scottsdale Resort & Spa at Montelucia, a restaurant that opened with much fanfare in 2009 and that Stratta hopes to revitalize. The luxuriously appointed fine dining spot debuted under Italian chef Claudio Uricuoli, who left to work for Chris Bianco and is now half of the talent behind cult favorite, Noble Eatery, then fell into the hands of chef Peter DeRuvo, who left after just nine months. Since then, the property has changed ownership and names several times, and Prado, once poised to be a top Valley dining destination, has limped along as yet another resort restaurant in a town that no longer loves resort restaurants.
But the present attitude toward fine dining and hotel restaurants in Phoenix doesn't faze Stratta. And besides, he's already proved he knows how to make it work. It was here, in Phoenix, at a hotel, after all, that Stratta earned his James Beard award, for his work at Mary Elaine's at The Phoenician. Longtime Valley residents may remember Stratta as the young, up-and-coming talent of the day, who was doing the type of simple, almost rustic fare that's far more common now than it was back then.
"I was doing what, I would guess, was very progressive at the time," he says. "But people liked it. It was cool."
He spent eight years in total at the Phoenician as both executive chef of Mary Elaine's and of the hotel as a whole, before being lured to Las Vegas to take over Renoir restaurant at the Mirage. Though Stratta says he didn't want to leave Phoenix, the move would be the beginning of a lengthy business relationship with then-Mirage owner Steve Wynn, a relationship that spanned three successful restaurants — Renoir, Alex, and Stratta — all located at Wynn's Las Vegas hotels.
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In 2015, Stratta struck out on his own with Tapas by Alex Stratta, but the restaurant shuttered later the same year. So, with his young daughters both living in Phoenix and with the chance to take over as chef de cuisine at Prado, Stratta jumped at the chance to return to his old stomping grounds.
Stratta's plan for putting Prado back on the map is simple: "Good food. Good service. The rest just happens," he says. The restaurant will continue to serve Spanish-inspired cuisine, and Stratta will infuse the menu with his signature simple, elevated style that takes old-school cooking traditions and translates them for modern fine dining. A full menu has yet to be finalized, but for now, the chef's offering new dishes as specials of the day including a torchon of foie gras balanced with peach and ginger chutney, and pillowy potato gnocchi tossed with roasted spring vegetables in a delicate Parmigiano butter sauce.
And while, back in the day, Stratta may have be hungry for that third star, these days he says his goals are far more straightforward.
"I just want to have busy restaurants."