One of the first things we do when planning a trip to another city, even if it is a location we travel to frequently, is search for new restaurants. Eating good food and drinking good wine is important to us, especially when we travel and cannot cook for ourselves or reach into our own wine cellar. If we find a good restaurant with an interesting wine list we feel like we’ve hit the jackpot. That was the case recently when we discovered nona urban eatery in Old Town Scottsdale.
Nonna urban eatery is located on East Main Street in Old Town Scottsdale, tucked in among small shops with western-themed storefronts. When you step into nonna you will forget you’re in Old Town Scottsdale. You will feel as though could be anywhere, really. The space is open and light. A large mural behind the bar caught my eye immediately. The colors and style of the mural appealed to me and the kitchen is open to the restaurant, another feature I enjoy.
The next thing I noticed was Valentina’s welcoming smile. She was busy, but calm, and I felt at home immediately. We were free to choose any table, Valentina told us, and we chose a table next to the open kitchen. Gian Franco looked up at us and smiled, taking just a momentary break from lunch preparation.
A Blending of Cultures and Culinary Experiences
Valentina Huerta and Gian Franco Brugaletta are the couple behind nonna urban eatery. Their urban eatery combines the foods of their childhood memories (Mexico for Valentina, Venezuela and Italy for Gian Franco), with their professional experience in France and Italy.
Before continuing his culinary training in Italy and France, Gian Franco trained as a chef in Caracas where he became a sushi specialist. He went on to open the Buddha-Bar Monte-Carlo as the sushi chef.
Valentina completed her MBA in Nice and managed two boutique hotels there. It was a good life, riding her scooter along the Mediterranean to and from work every day. Somehow the couple managed to find time to take cooking classes in Morocco.
Valentina’s career brought her back to the U.S. three years before Gian Franco would join her. For those three years they spent their vacations together and planned for their future.
An Urban Eatery
Both Valentina and Gian Franco have spent more years living abroad than where they were born. That is not to say childhood memories do not influence their culinary point of view. To this day Gian Franco only makes pasta from scratch, because that’s his childhood memory. Mole occasionally makes an appearance on the menu at nonna, incorporating the flavors of Valentina’s childhood.
But, Gian Franco’s culinary style is heavily influenced by his training as a sushi chef and his time spent cooking in Italy and France. When he and Valentina talk about food it is often in French, because that is their language of food.
Just as their culinary experience cannot be conveniently categorized, neither is the menu at nonna urban eatery. That applies to individual dishes as well as the way the menu is written. You will not find appetizer, salad, entrée and dessert listings. Rather, similar items are grouped together. This leaves the diner free to choose the dishes they prefer without regard to category. There are no rules at nonna.
Well, maybe there is one rule. Valentina wants her guests to be mindful of the food Gian Franco prepares and of the fresh ingredients he uses to prepare them. She hopes diners will put away their phones and talk to each other, talk about the food and talk about the wine. Enjoy!
Lunch and Dinner
Our first meal at nonna urban eatery was lunch, which suited us perfectly. We ordered several small dishes to share. The scallop and crab arancino, a nod to Gian Carlo’s Sicilian family history, was better than any we tasted in Sicily. Sweet, salty, crunchy on the outside, this dish has everything you could want. I could have eaten one all by myself.
Next we moved on to Bruscetta with three toppings. Proscuitto de Parma (hand carved by Gian Franco) with melted butter. Oh my, this was off the charts delicious. Once again, that combination of salty and sweet butter was amazing. Goat cheese with grilled vegetables – who wouldn’t love their veggies like this? And finally, pork tonnato with capers. This combination of pork and tuna was unexpectedly delicious. I’m so happy we tried this dish.
For lunch on another day I enjoyed the crab and barley salad while Pete chose a summer salad with ciabatta croutons, parmesan and anchovy dressing. We shared a warm butter cake with fruit compote for dessert.
The dinner menu is similar, but expanded from the lunch menu. Yes, we enjoyed dinner at nonna as well. The October evening was warm and we chose a table outside. I chose grilled octopus, which was cooked perfectly, and Pete chose pasta e vongole. You know the pasta was handmade, right? We lingered, unhurried, over our meal and wine. What a delicious and relaxing evening.
An Interesting Wine List
Valentina strives to offer her guests a varied and interesting wine list. She is always looking for delicious wine with an interesting story. She loves to offer wines from small producers because she knows every bottle is important to that winemaker, just as every dish Gian Franco prepares is important to them. She also believes wine doesn’t have to be expensive to be delicious and offers many wines by the glass.
We found several Arizona wines on the list, something we always look for when in Arizona. Who could pass up the opportunity to taste a Petit Manseng from Callaghan Vineyards in Elgin? And I found a delicious Sauvignon Blanc from Aridus Wine Co. that was familiar to me.
Friday is bubbles day at nonna, that means Cava and Prosecco for $5 per glass, because to Valentina Fridays are made to enjoy bubbles. It is a tradition she brought with her from France.
Many first-time diners find nonna just like we did, by searching online for new restaurants. And, Valentina told us, repeat customers often bring friends with them when they return. The menu changes monthly at nonna urban eatery, so we are already looking forward to dining at nonna next time we are in Scottsdale.
Valentina and Gian Franco do not take reservations for lunch or dinner at nonna, except for large parties. Valentina assured us that it isn’t necessary. Just come in, she encouraged, if there isn’t a table immediately take a seat at the bar and enjoy a glass of wine. “We won’t let you go hungry. We will feed you,” she assured us. I believe her.