Barely a month old when the pandemic hit, the ultra-luxe Italian steakhouse reemerges with toned-down ambitions. Out: caviar and $100 cocktails. In: exquisite small plates and crazy-good beef.
When The Americano opened on February 5 in North Scottsdale, nobody knew that all hell was about to break loose. Metro Phoenix was having a phenomenal tourism season, bars and restaurants were packed, and there were just 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the entire United States.
Back in those halcyon days, it seemed perfectly reasonable to open a modern, sexy, Italian-inflected luxury steakhouse with enchanting commissioned art covering the walls – not to mention caviar service, a raw bar, tableside tuna tartare and a jaw-dropping steak program built around Italian purebred Piedmontese cattle and Japan’s famously marbled Miyazaki A-5 Black Wagyu beef. High times, indeed.
Things quickly crashed to Earth in more ways than one for The Americano. Around the time in March when you-know-what hit the fan, founding partner Stefano Fabbri (of Pomo Pizzeria fame) parted ways with the restaurant, followed in short order by executive chef Matt Taylor (Mora Italian), who left for a job in Canada. As a result of all the internal and external tumult, The Americano reopened with a less-ambitious, scaled-down menu that is more congruent with the pandemic mindset: bigger portions, lower prices, less froufrou.
That said, the place still exudes sultry glamour and polish, with an escapist pizazz that’s certainly welcome in these hyperreal times.
Although many fancy, expensive, takeaway-unfriendly selections have been temporarily scrapped, you’ll find no lack of good things to eat and drink, beginning with an impressive cocktail list I hope to explore more thoroughly one day. I’m guessing nothing will eclipse Versace on the Floor, however – a frothy little number combining serrano and Fresno chile-infused vodka with coconut white balsamic vinegar, mesquite honey and a dreamy drift of basil oil foam. Treating myself to a rare in-restaurant dinner, I was tempted to lick the glass.
Spongy house-made focaccia, strewn with various herbs and veggies (rosemary this time), gets the meal off to a fine start, accompanied by briny green olive tapenade and (if you ask nicely) smoked butter, its smoke-filled glass dome lifted at service for a fine dining moment. Grilled octopus, another appetizer, offers up smoke, char and a swish of romesco, but my heart belongs to a trio of ultra-tender, parsley-flecked meatballs, fashioned from Wagyu beef and bathed in bright, creamy tomato sauce that tastes like it was cooked on Grandma’s stove.
The Americano Wedge salad (the classic steakhouse salad with tomato, Gorgonzola, crisped pancetta and buttermilk dressing) isn’t a wedge at all, but rather chopped iceberg scattered with the aforementioned goodies. Clearly, something was lost in translation. The Caesar, on the other hand – three leafy bundles of baby gem lettuce topped with pecorino, orange zest and crunchy garlic crumbles – is just right. Drizzled with colatura (anchovy “drippings” made from fermented anchovies and salt), it’s a light but pungent version I love.
The menu features just three house-made pastas offered in small enough portions to be side dishes: a vivid green spinach-parsley garganelli tossed with a summer pesto of broccolini, Castelvetrano olives and herbs; agnolotti with fresh corn and celery root, its sweetness cut with creamy smoked fontina; and fat, slippery pappardelle (my hands-down favorite) smoothed with a gravy-like tomato sauce chunky with tender nubs of milk-braised lamb, the dish dotted with dabs of mascarpone and strewn with mint.
As for entrees, a woodfire-roasted half chicken is moist and crisp-skinned, but there’s no hint of the balsamic glaze mentioned on the menu and precious little soubise to make the roasted fennel more interesting. A much better dish is Niman Ranch pork Milanese, the meat pounded to tenderness, then breaded, fried and served with grilled lemon half and a sharp arugula-treviso salad. It’s a late-summer Italian classic that I’m delighted to see resurrected here.
I could make a meal of sides such as charred broccolini (jazzed up with Parm, lemon, controne chile and garlic crumble) and chive-flecked potato purée (luscious with olive oil), but if pushed to pick just one exceptional thing, I’d say The Americano’s métier is red meat. Those meatballs, for one; and a fat, juicy Americano burger for another, layered with gooey American cheese, crispy pancetta, marinated tomato and bitter greens, the whole gloriously messy thing given a slather of faintly spicy “secret sauce.” One night’s special proves my point nicely: a 16-ounce ribeye, grilled over oak and mesquite, brushed with tamari and Worcestershire (which give it a savory crust) and finished off in a 1,600-degree oven. Mighty good with those dreamy spuds.
The Americano has been thrown for not just one loop but two or three, and it has brushed itself off and kept on going with more panache than many restaurants ever manage. I admire the tenacity, and I’m rooting for a bright future.
Cuisine: Italian steakhouse
Contact: 17797 N. Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, 480-573-0001, theamericanorestaurant.com
Hours: Tu-Su 5-9 p.m. Open for dine-in and takeout.
Highlights: Focaccia with olive tapenade ($6); Wagyu meatballs ($17); The Americano burger ($17); pappardelle with milk-braised lamb in tomato sauce ($19); prime ribeye ($55)