SCOTTSDALE, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- James Beard award-winning Chef Scott Conant is debuting a new summer menu at The Americano, an Italian-inspired steakhouse in north Scottsdale. An elegant and modern eatery, the restaurant is found along Scottsdale Road, just south of the Loop 101 Pima freeway. The restaurant is quite sizable, and upon entering, it's easy to be blown away by the elevated aesthetic. The energized staff works like clockwork, from the sectioned bar area to the luxurious grandeur of the dining rooms and main floor. It's clear that guest experience is considered the highest of priorities among the staff, and it shines through the exceptional food curated by Chef Conant and his kitchen. The layout for the dining room includes an open kitchen concept, so patrons can view the hustle and bustle of the hardworking kitchen staff as they prepare and serve up tantalizing dishes.
When it came to designing new summer cuisines for his menu, Conant says a lot of the inspiration behind the new dishes came from the seasons themselves.
"Going to the Farmer's Market, seeing the products that are available and then weaving in local produce at their peak with the highest quality proteins. I think that is the key to embracing what is in season," Conant said.
As the saying goes, the quickest way to anyone's heart is often through their stomach. It's no surprise then that since The Americano opened, it quickly gained traction of loyal patrons and fine-dining enthusiasts excited to try the cuisine of Chef Conant, a recognizable figure from various shows on the FOOD Network. Chef Conant's dedication to old-world hospitality, contemporary Italian cuisine, Mediterranean seafood, and versatility from cooking to tasting lends to a memorable dining experience for all guests. It's all part of the experience Conant wants guests to be able to walk away with.
"I want our guests to walk away happier than they were when they walked in. I believe The Americano has a decided point of view with the food that I really hope resonates with people," Conant said. "I want the environment to invoke happiness and for people to really feel the upbeat energy and conviviality. The service is knowledgeable yet friendly. The goal is for guests to feel cared for and for them to express that as they are walking out."
Minutes after the doors opened, tables began filling up quickly, both in the dining room and bar sections. The immediate rush was a thrill to see, with a heightened sense of excitement on guest's faces as they hurried to their tables and began perusing menus. The upbeat servers and staff make frequent rotations around tables, assuring food, drinks, and plates are brought and removed promptly. The staff has superb knowledge of the extensive wine collection and food menu, down to exact ingredients and preparation. While the staff and kitchen remain on their A-game, the atmosphere is still laid back, classy and enjoyable for guests.
This environment wouldn't be what it is without the guidance of Conant, who initially set out for a different career path when he was a teenager.
"I attended a vocational school in Waterbury, Connecticut. I was hoping to get into the program to become a plumber, but it was full. As a second choice, I ended up in culinary arts while simultaneously working in the kitchen at a family friend's restaurant. I immediately fell in love with food and food culture, which continued to grow as I traveled and eventually attended The Culinary Institute of America. I've been pursuing this career for over 35 years now," Conant explained.
Throughout that 35-plus year career, Conant has had quite the journey and made quite the impression on the culinary world. Like any profession, giving back and helping train and guide the next wave is always a humbling and enjoyable experience. With so much experience and knowledge to share, it's no surprise that one of Conant's favorite aspects of his job are the teams and kitchens he's helped assemble over the years.
"The teamwork and the sense of camaraderie in all the restaurants. I love the team – speaking to them about what they love and want to pursue, what their motivations are and how we can move things forward by inspiring one another. I like seeing people become better at it on the daily," Conant said.
The Americano Walkthrough
The Americano dishes are absolute fire and really hit across the food spectrum and flavor palate. From seafood, salad, pasta, sides, meats, and dessert, the creations are sure to satisfy those culinary cravings!
The Chilled Seafood Platter was as eye-catching as it was tasty. The flair and color alone were enough to get my stomach rattling, and I'm not the biggest seafood or shellfish connoisseur to begin with. Right out the gate, the presentation was on point, with each sampling explained proficiently by the server.
The oysters were insanely fresh and featured two unique styles, with one being more West Coast themed with a sweet, almost strawberry vinaigrette-like sauce. The oysters had diced fruits added into them, giving a comprehensive flavor profile. The lobster, equally as fresh and delicious, was a hefty portion, as was the shrimp. The salmon belly tartar had great textures combined with caviar and crispy lavash bread, which gave a nice hint of salt. The scallop crudo stood out, elevated by the use of Calabrian chili peppers, which are native to Italy, to provide a sweet spice sauce atop fresh raw scallop.
The Heirloom Tomato Salad radiates ingenuity, and it looks AND tastes absolutely wonderful! It's innovative, with the base being the lower third of a fresh tomato topped and smothered with whipped feta, cherry tomatoes and cucumbers. It's fresh, has an outstanding balance between the different flavor profiles and has visual appeal.
The Olive Oil Poached Octopus is another visual delight and undertakes a taste journey you wouldn't expect. The texture of the octopus with the fingerling potatoes was an interesting combination, but it works! The salty and bitter additions by the olives and capers enhance the unique dish. There's a great use of garlic and a copious amount of olive oil that helps keep the octopus exceptionally juicy and proficiently cooked.
All hail the pasta! The Pasta Al Pomodoro is Chef Conant's signature dish, and for something seemingly so simple, it has a world of depth in terms of flavor and execution. Chef Conant emphasizes using fresh basil and incorporates a labor of love into his signature sauce. Conant peels and de-seeds Roma tomatoes and simmers them down in a pan for three hours with a hefty portion of butter. The house-made noodles and sauce have such an impact on the palate; I'd argue this dish was some of the best pasta of my life. A must-try!
The Campanelle Al Gamberi is a fun seafood-meets-pasta dish featuring generous chunks of prawn and shrimp, and believe it or not, shavings of sea urchin (which is rich in protein and dietary fibers)! The seafood shines while complimenting the campanelle noodles with softened breadcrumbs. The Agnolotti Del Plin was out-of-this-world that paired a foie gras emulsion with braised duck, resulting in an almost dumpling-style dish. Conant designed the dish to saturate with a recioto, an Italian wine made using the Passito Method (an Italian term used to describe a method of making/fermenting sweet wines). It's savory with an excellent near creamy sauce (somewhat explained above) with the occasional crunch via chives. The duck was superb and blended insanely well with the sauce, making this dish a strong recommendation for pasta enthusiasts!
Kicking off the course was the Diver Scallops, a new summer menu item served up with an asparagus puree. The scallops are U10, so they're quite sizeable and hearty. The puree provides a great earthy-flavored base paired with the mushrooms to accompany the scallops. The pine nut gremolata is a nice Italian dry garnish adding a touch of salt, parsley, lemon and garlic for a bold and robust finish.
The next dish is a New York, 35-day dry-aged 14 oz. steak served with a potato puree and charred asparagus. The steaks are imported from Niman Ranch in California and are excellent cuts of beef. Cooked medium-rare, the steak is delicious with a top and bottom char. The sauces served alongside are all exceptional and add various elements that enhance the meat in different ways. The truffle jus was my favorite with a savory and delicious taste. The potato puree is served with a chicken jus, keeping the savory element alive. The potato puree is reminiscent of Thanksgiving, with a pleasant aroma and great flavor.
If you still have room for dessert, you won't be disappointed by the options at The Americano! The Caramel Budino is a heavenly thick caramel pudding, not too overwhelming on the sweet side, and just the right amount of saltiness. The vanilla whipped cream and caramel popcorn contribute soft and crunch textures, continuing The Americano theme of elegant presentation.
Although I'm not the keenest on desserts and sweets, I do have a weakness for cheesecake! The Tiramisu Cheesecake held a spectacular consistency lighter than a typical cheesecake, but I was all for it. It was more whipped and airy and had a homemade ladyfinger crust. The cheesecake was topped with soft milk foam, paired great with this dessert. The Chocolate Tortino was very sweet and more of a darker chocolate. It held a well-layered interior and was a nice light dessert snack compared to the others. A great pick for someone still craving something sweet but not too heavy after dinner.
Enough could not be said about the professionalism and execution by The Americano's kitchen and staff as they create and serve up exemplary cuisine. The kitchen and staff operate as a team effort, all excelling at their respective roles to ensure a wonderful guest and dining experience. Chef Conant's goal of having guests feel cared for and to walk out happier than when they walked in is easily achieved with the curated experience and bar set at The Americano. To any and all considering this fine establishment, enjoy your meal and experience!
This is the fourth segment in a breakout series on chefs in the Phoenix metro. Arizona’s Family Foodie is sitting down with chefs around the Valley to tell their stories of triumphs, perseverance, and dedication to their crafts. There is a sizeable amount of work, research, and experimentation that culminates into what gets placed in front of you on a plate or in a drink. These are the stories of the creative minds behind those delicious meals or cocktails, and how their passions for food and beverage bring us joy and closer together.