When asked about his passions, Chef Peter DeRuvo has simply answered, “Eating.” Pursuing that solitary passion, on the other hand, has proven wildly complex for the skilled Italian-cuisine specialist.
DeRuvo is a culinary nomad, his wanderings throughout the food world seemingly devoid of schedule and continuity. A protégé of Chez Panisse alum Paul Bertolli and other Bay Area luminaries, DeRuvo has cooked in kitchens across the U.S. He spent a year in Tuscany learning to plant, harvest and press olives, and once traveled to the French Riviera to forage for morels.
So ask any food lover in the Valley, and they’ll tell you: Being a DeRuvo fan means always anticipating his next move.
During his first six-year stretch in the Valley, DeRuvo hopped from job to job, transforming such restaurants as Sassi, Prado, Cuoco Pazzo and Davanti Enoteca into delivery systems for his handcrafted pasta, intensely flavored sauces, specialty meat dishes and craveable spins on focaccia. After a short sojourn in Chicago, he returned to the Valley in 2014 to the collective cheer of his followers, hosting a series of pork-centric dinners at Pig & Pickle before taking over the kitchen at EVO in downtown Scottsdale this spring.
In just a few months, DeRuvo has established the two-year-old EVO as one of the better Italian restaurants in town. It’s an easygoing, intimate place, with a well-stocked bar, a modest but clever menu, and late-night hours, which let you pop in for snacks like “crisp” (read: twice-cooked) penne with pesto or garlicky balls of fried pizza dough and a glass of wine when the rest of the world has hit the hay. The handsome dining area is outfitted in leather and wood. The lights, atop twinkling chandeliers and inside tiny glass orbs, are always low.
Also charming: the cocktails, which are just as well-conceived as the food. So while it’s easy to imagine spending an evening cuddled up with supple pasta or a wood-fired pizza, you’re probably going to be consuming them alongside an expertly mixed concoction, such as a blushingly pink Monroe’s Mule tricked out with raspberries and ginger beer, a smooth and delicately sweet Italian Margarita, or the EVO Maid, a refreshing mix of Hendrick’s Gin, cucumber, mint, lime juice and soda. The wine list is decent as well, deep in California and Italian varietals, a few semi-sparkling selections, and with enough bottle, glass and on-tap choices to suit your spending limit.
DeRuvo has a well-documented fondness for offal, and he keeps a rotating selection on hand at EVO like other restaurants rotate seasonal vegetables. His pork belly dish, crisp and extravagantly spiced alongside cool cubes of watermelon, fresh basil, jalapeño and fried shallots, may not resemble anything you’ll find in Italy, but it’s delicious nonetheless. A stacked sandwich of seared rare beef heart with mustard and tangy giardiniera between thick slices of crunchy toasted bread is solid. DeRuvo is the type of chef you can trust with roasted marrow bones, head cheese, tripe and springy slices of mortadella, pork sausage brightened with olives and creamy cubes of lardo.
And if DeRuvo gets wind of your penchant for animal bits and bobbles, he’s likely to send one of the restaurant’s friendly and knowledgeable servers to the table to entice you with suggestions of an off-menu nose-to-tail charcuterie plate (fantastic) or, if you’ve hit the jackpot, his porchetta. Meltingly tender with a pleasingly crunchy skin, the sturdy pork roast is a kind of ode to all that is pig, cooked for 10 hours and exceptionally seasoned with fennel and tiny bits of salt that crunch deliciously between your teeth. His isn’t just the best porchetta in town; it also may be the only one.
If odds and ends aren’t your thing, there is a very good steak bruschetta with a spread of Brie and sturdy stalks of asparagus; meatballs made of veal, beef and pork in a tangy pomodoro sauce; and a deep-fried chicken thigh with crisp skin served with creamy olive oil mashed potatoes and a decadently rich duck gravy.
In any case, you will want to try DeRuvo’s version of focaccia, a shareable stuffed flatbread that has followed him around in many of his restaurant conquests in one way or another. At EVO, he stretches the oiled dough until it is as thin as filo, folding it around luscious mascarpone and tart crescenza cheese. When it’s baked, the dough becomes crisp and almost impossibly delicate, the sprinklings of sea salt and drizzles of honey adding to its deliciousness in ways you never thought possible. You’re tempted to order it again for dessert.
Even DeRuvo’s pastas, made daily with flour, water and salt, are the kinds of things you think about on the way home, like ear-shaped orecchiette with fennel sausage and escarole; chitarra, long black strands of squid-ink-infused pasta flavored with crab in a sauce kicked up with Calabrian chiles; and large, broad ribbony noodles of pappardelle in a long-cooked meaty ragu of beef, veal and pork accented with bright tomatoes. The bavette – long, flat, narrow noodles perfectly peppered and buttery – may be the most underrated of the lot. But the best is the single giant raviolo filled with an egg yolk and truffle-scented ricotta, and served carbonara-style with tiny cubes of bacon and Parmesan.
You’ll also find a nice selection of personal pizzas in classic styles as well as daily specials put together with things like lobster, smoked salmon and roasted eggplant. Like DeRuvo’s pasta, the thin-crust wood-fired pies have a simple elegance about them. There is a very good margherita and an even better prosciutto, in which the salted ham of Italy meets with a subtle cauliflower crema, mozzarella, sweet and spicy Peppadew peppers, and a handful of fresh local greens for an elevated version of the Italian countryside.
And then comes dessert, perhaps light and airy Italian doughnuts or a rich and nutty babycake of brown butter topped with a cloud of house-made whipped cream. How do they hold up? Like DeRuvo, predictably well.
Contact: 4175 N. Goldwater Blvd., Scottsdale, 480-265-9814, evoscottsdale.com
Hours: M-F 4 p.m.-2 a.m., Sa and Su 11 a.m.-2 a.m.; happy hour 4-7 p.m. daily; late night food daily until 1:30 a.m.
Highlights: Raviolo ($11); orecchiette ($17); squid ink chitarra ($18); focaccia DeRuvo ($16); spiced pork belly ($13); prosciutto pizza ($13)
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