By Becky Bracken
Swing open the big, wooden door at Rusconi’s American Kitchen and leave the hustle and bustle of busy Scottsdale life behind as you stride into another world. Rusconi’s is a place where time slows down, almost imperceptibly, and friends and family come together to mingle over exquisitely crafted plates, prepared and served with an undeniable love of great, seasonable, sustainable ingredients. When you’re the real deal like Rusconi’s, there’s no pretense necessary. And the result is delicious.
Restaurant pretense is easy to spot. Check that – it’s something you feel. And despite the fact that Chef Rusconi is creating outstanding dishes that could stand up in the fussiest of dining rooms, the vibe of Rusconi’s American Kitchen is relaxed, warm and friendly. It seems like an intentional choice. Although the menu and wine list are impressive, it’s presented by Rusconi in a way that makes even the most high-brow of cuisine feel natural.
The restaurant space itself is striking. A skylight hovers over the middle of the action, illuminating not just the dining room during daylight hours with a soft glow, but also the work of local artists hung throughout the restaurant like a gallery and available for sale.
And although the name is Italian, Rusconi’s American Kitchen serves inspired American fare, reimagined for discerning Scottsdale diners.
Chef Rusconi graduated with a culinary degree from New England Culinary Institute in Montpelier, Vermont and became a pioneer of the sustainable food movement. Besides earning a few Mobil 4 Star Awards, Rusconi is known locally for overhauling the menu at LON’s at the Hermosa Inn.
His food philosophy is simple and reflected in every bite served at Rusconi’s American Kitchen. “Buy the best ingredients and treat them with love and respect, then apply proper technique,” he says. “Only by doing that will you be able to deliver the best quality possible.”
Starters like perfectly creamy mac and cheese get an upgrade of white truffle and goat cheese and grilled peach fondue with bread and mild Fresno chiles will blow any goat cheese lover’s mind.
For lunch, basics like the “kitchen” burger come dressed up all fancy with goat cheese, caramelized onion and arugula. Salad options include a chilled gulf shrimp with arugula, shaved fennel, mangoes, citrus fruit and avocado that’s perfectly refreshing on a hot day. The grilled sustainable salmon with blackberry glaze, small potatoes, roasted corn and baby cabbage is so perfectly moist is practically falls apart, mingling with the sweet glaze and earthy veggies.
Entrée offerings take advantage of the restaurant’s wood-fired oven, like the roasted natural chicken served with roasted corn and herbed farro salad, grape tomatoes, green beans and sherry jus and grilled beef tenderloin medallions, served with a side of the truffle mac and cheese, carrots, green beans and a red wine reduction.
The brunch menu is full of delicious Benedict options like the Arizona, with pork chile verde; pancakes like the bananas foster; and decadent berry- and mascarpone- stuffed French toast with salted caramel, brioche, lemon-scented mascarpone and strawberries.
Menus are seasonal and updated frequently, so each time you visit, there’s something new to taste.
When it comes to wine, Rusconi’s is not playing around. Their philosophy, “Conserve water… drink wine!” is backed up by a wide range of available varieties.
One of Rusconi’s friends, who is also a waiter at the restaurant, retired a few years ago as the sommelier for the Sanctuary Camelback Mountain Resort’s restaurant, elements, and he was generous with his vast knowledge. He explained he was bored at home, so he asked his friend Rusconi if he could come to the restaurant to hang out and wait tables, which is a stroke of luck for Rusconi’s diners. One of his current favorites from the label The League of Rogues, called The Countess, he says, is the rose being made in Paso Robles by two former ASU students. He’s also a fan of their League of Rogues red, named The Absent-Minded Professor.
“It’s just a beautiful, tasty wine, isn’t it?” he asked with his charming French accent.
Rusconi’s represents the best of all restaurant worlds: impeccable food in an atmosphere that’s fun and inviting. It takes a chef like Rusconi to marry them all to create this universe that’s all his own. We’re just happy to be able to visit whenever we can, sans the uncomfortable pretense.