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: Rusconi's American Kitchen Location: 10637 North Tatum Boulevard Open: Just over a week Eats: American Price: Between $11 and $30 per person
As of last week, fans of chef Michael Rusconi, whose former gigs include Lon's at the Hermosa Inn and the Royal Palms Resort, can finally pay the culinary expert known for his use of sustainable fare a visit at his new restaurant in Paradise Valley.
As well they should.
Like a rose between two thorns, Rusconi's American Kitchen sits between a Panda Express and a Corleone's in a busy strip mall at the northeast corner of Tatum and Shea. Given the amount of fast-casual eateries in the center, the locally owned restaurant seems already to have caught the attention of neighborhood diners looking for a meal sans fluorescent lights and an ordering counter.
And for those still on the fence, all one would have to do is open the door.
The aromas will hit you first. Heavy and soothing, they come from the restaurant's wood-burning grill used for many of Rusconi's American eats. If that isn't enough to get you to sit down, something on the small, seasonal menu might.
If you are not sick of pork belly just yet (I'm close), it is available as an appetizer ($9) with a poblano glaze, creamy grits, and an apple relish. I wish mine was a bit warmer and the poblano and apple relish flavors were bolder, but the chunk of meat was dead-on tender and the grits nice and thick.
For large plates, there is a solid pork osso bucco ($16). Slow-roasted and lightly seasoned, its accompaniments of asparagus and garlic-heavy mashed potatoes are well-prepared and complement the dish's comfort factor, but most enjoyable is the prickly pear braised red cabbage. Slightly sweet and a bit crunchy, I found it to be the best part of the plate and went poking under the mashed potatoes with my fork in search of any stray bits that might have gotten away.
But the restaurant's standout entree might be its butternut squash ravioli ($15). Inside three large pillows of homemade pasta, the butternut squash is wonderfully fresh and flavorful. If you're looking for a dish to bring in the fall season at Rusconi's, this one might be it.
Rusconi's scene is small and cozy. An atmosphere of clean, contemporary décor with low lights, wood-wrapped walls, and the din of conversation (refreshingly) higher in volume than the restaurant's background music. The waitstaff is friendly and helpful -- especially given some of the timing lags of a week-old establishment -- with servers stopping by frequently, filling water and wine glasses, and making sure guests know their dishes are on the way.
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Chef Rusconi seems to have found the perfect neighborhood for his new restaurant. And his small but solid menu of affordable and seasonally changing American cuisine (as well as upcoming lunch and late-night offerings coming in October) should keep guests coming back for more.