So I'm looking at the hours, and I'm thinking, "Hey, great... they're open until 10. I can sneak out once everybody's down, grab a seat at the bar by 9:00 or 9:30, and get myself a simple plate of pasta for dinner." And I really should have learned by now that it rarely works out that way.
First of all, because the kitchen was kind enough to send out their new parmesan and summer truffle risotto for me to try (I added its price to the tip line -- weird personal quirk). It's a really nice risotto that I enjoyed quite a bit. Nice creamy texture, a very mellow parmesan flavor, a hint of pungent truffle... good stuff. It didn't taste like Parmigiano Reggiano. Which is fine, I'm not one of those "the king or nothing" type of people. There are lots of delicious cheeses out there. But I wonder if it was something else, or if it was just something about the technique that mellowed it out so much. DeRuvo came out afterwards and we talked risotto texture a bit, too. This was a little stiff for my preference, but again, I'm not in the "there is ONE right way to do risotto" camp. I tend to like mine a little looser, and DeRuvo said he generally does as well. But the reason I bring it up is because he indicated this is partly -- of course -- because they're using Arborio, which tends to make a stiffer risotto. He told me he's going to be getting some Acquerello rice, which I've never had but I understand is one of the newer subtypes of Carnaroli. Unless I misunderstood, I think he said it's even creamier than Vialone Nano, which would really be something. But I might have misunderstood -- it might have just been a reference to flavor. In any case, from what I've heard, Acquerello is some special stuff so I'm anxious to give it a try once it's in.
This was what I came for, and it was actually the only dish that I didn't enjoy. I need to be clear here -- this is at least 75% my issue. Probably more. If I came at this totally clean, I'd probably say it was a fine pasta. It was more Italian-American than anything, very saucy (I left a good third of a cup in the dish), tons and tons of garlic in big slivers and rather acidic. The pasta itself was great -- made in-house, thick with a really nice bite and flavor. But it's SO not Amatriciana. I really, really wish they'd just call it something else. It's parmesan instead of pecorino. The garlic is overpowering. The guanciale is smoked (this drives me crazy), cut into tiny dice and the fat is barely detectable. It just doesn't resemble Amatriciana at all, and when you've been thinking all day about that plate of Amatriciana you're going to have for dinner, it's really frustrating.
Okay, I forgive you. It's barely Italian, but you're right, Christina, it's a great dish, so who cares? It's kind of absurdly over the top. It's almost too much. But it isn't. Beautiful, huge tentacles with a lightly crisped, seared exterior and sweet, tender meat inside. Fingerling potatoes, diced finocchiona, marcona almonds, lots of sauteed scallions, all dressed with a horseradish(!) aioli. It's just big and delicious. DeRuvo mentioned that at the other Davanti Enotecas, they chop the octopus and toss it with the potatoes, almost like a chunky potato salad. It's so much better this way. It's so satisfying, going at those big tentacles with a steak knife, getting that great pan-seared texture... serving it with the aioli, yes, but I can't imagine wanting to bury it within. Plus it's just cool. My dinner looks like it's going to reach out and grab me, and I'm totally okay with that.
I'm not sure what it says about the menu, but this is the second trip in a row that sorbetti sounded just perfect afterwards. They've actually improved since last time, when one of the three was awfully icy. These were all beautifully smooth and full-flavored. The dark frutti di bosco on the top was the densest of the three, sweet and almost creamy in texture. The blood orange had a very pronounced bitter component that I loved. And the strawberry lemonade on the bottom was like a little treat from Chicago, reminiscent of Italian lemonade from the neighborhood stand in the summertime.
I wonder if it might take them a little longer than normal to really settle in over there. It seems like there are a lot of competing forces at work. Is the menu Italian Italian, Italian American, or Contemporary Italian? Is the menu DeRuvo's, or is it out of the corporate playbook? Does he make the food he made while working in Italy, or the food that he suspects will do best in Scottsdale? I get the sense that DeRuvo's being pulled in a lot of different directions, and frankly I'm impressed that things are coming together as solidly as they are, so far. It feels a little schizophrenic to me, but I think it'll come together, and there are already some great dishes coming out of the kitchen. I'm mostly excited to see what happens as DeRuvo's influence over the menu grows.