Now that Valley restaurant veteran Chris Nicosia has a few months under his belt as executive chef and partner at The Craftsman Cocktails + Kitchen, we decided to check in and see how he’s doing. Nicosia spent close to eight years at now shuttered Sassi, a popular Italian restaurant in North Scottsdale, and before that, almost 12 years at Desert Mountain. Here’s what he had to say:
Q: How’s your new gig now that you’ve settled in?
I don’t know if I’ll ever be settled in because nothing is the way that we hope it will be when the dust (from the pandemic) settles. It’s just like the opening of any restaurant. You get the doors open and, unfortunately, now you just have to hope that people are comfortable with going out to eat. Luckily, the space that we have is custom tailored for the times we’re living in now. The garage doors open up and it provides and indoor outdoor space on the inside.
Q: Is it hard to develop regulars during a pandemic?
I’m in a part of town where I’ve spent a lot of my career, so once people found out I was back on the radar so to speak, they’ve been coming in and thankfully they’ve been coming back and telling their friends. We can’t go on TV shows and do segments, can’t do charity events because there aren’t any, so we really have to rely on social media and word of mouth. We’re also doing it the old fashioned way with snail mail and putting out flyers and things like that.
Q: I’ve read that your food is familiar, but not predictable. Can you give an example?
People right now want something comforting and familiar. Just going out is enough for a lot of people. You’ll see things that you recognize on the menu, but we elevate them just a little bit. That’s what I mean by familiar, but not predictable. For example, the fish and chips aren’t going to be a heavily battered greasy dish. We call it fresh and chips because I never know what fresh fish is going to be around. It could be scallops, it could be shrimp or oysters. Whatever is freshest. It allows us to change it up a little bit and make it less predictable.
Q: Did you bring any dishes over from Sassi?
Yes, there are dishes that will probably follow me my whole career. The meatballs are pretty much the same ones we did at Sassi and the orecchiette with house-made sausage was our most popular dish at Sassi. Also, the apple brown butter cake. That came over from Sassi and I brought my pastry chef too.
Q: Do you make bread in-house?
We make focaccia, flat bread and laffa (Iraqi pita bread) in our brick oven and use Noble Bread for everything else. I have a sandwich next week (starting Jan. 24) at Noble Eatery (as part of Noble’s weekly chef collaboration): roasted pork with spicy Calabrian goat cheese, fig balsamic, arugula and Meyer lemon served on Noble Bread’s soft semolina sesame hoagie.