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Bespoke’s upstairs kitchen

Honest Cuisine

by Nikki Buchanan | Photography by Heather Gill | Scottsdale magazine | December 26, 2013

Gio Osso, who opened his winsome 34-seat bistro in Scottsdale’s Bespoke Inn to instant acclaim last June, likes to say he grew up in “that part of Italy known as New Jersey.” It’s a jokey reference to the Old World Italian upbringing that informs his modern Mediterranean cooking, but don’t think for a second that Old World means old-school.

Like the tiny, luxurious B&B it inhabits, Virtù defies ready description. “Italian” is too specific, “Mediterranean” too broad-brush and bland. So maybe it’s safer to say Osso’s frequently tweaked menu is simply a series of personal meditations on ingredients and dishes he knows and loves (most of them recalling Spain, Italy or Morocco), augmented by more-than-occasional leaps into the delicious unknown.

The small, charming space—its soft buttercream walls offset by black-trimmed French doors, a copper-topped bar and suspended Edison bulbs—is tasteful and low-key, the perfect backdrop for food so startlingly good it stops conversations.

Spanish octopus, blackened and smoky from the grill, comes accompanied by fennel, arugula, lemony chickpeas and a smear of spicy Calabrian chile butter. Meanwhile, a duo of tartares—one steak, the other tuna—arrive in tiny glass jars, the first capped with preserved lemon crema and crispy fried capers, the second with a seriously spicy pappadew aioli sprinkled with chile flakes. A dollop of briny tapenade and exquisitely crunchy, olive oil-rubbed Noble Bread serve as accompaniment.

Osso combines a glistening orb of creamy burrata with grilled pear, olive oil-dressed greens, honey and Marcona almonds for a dish so light and elegant that ordering two or three of them seems perfectly reasonable. And then there’s the utterly outrageous grilled asparagus, strewn with crumbled Feta and candied bacon, perfumed with truffle oil and topped with a fried egg, the plate streaked with foie gras hollandaise. Why not eat it as an entree and call it a night?

But that would mean missing the enormous prosciutto-wrapped pork rib chop, served on a bed of creamy risotto studded with butternut squash, candied pecans and pork cheek. Luxardo cherry demi-glace brings a sweet counterpoint, while fried sage leaves and strings of crispy fried leek add salt, crunch and a bit of earthiness.

Two chunks of lightly seared tuna, deep pink to their very edges, taste so rich and meaty they could pass for an under-the-sea version of steak. Served with a mound of pearl-like fregola (similar to Israeli couscous), mixed with charred tomato, onion and salty oil-cured olives, this dish typifies healthy Mediterranean cooking.

The don’t-miss dessert: affogato, a classic Italian treat of cold gelato (in this case, hazelnut) topped with a shot of hot espresso. For something more playful, however, consider The PB &J, combining crunchy, sugar coated squares of pan-fried cinnamon rolls with fluffy peanut butter mousse, red wine-simmered grapes, peanuts and salted caramel. There’s a lot going on here, and every salty-sweet inch of it is good.
Then again, you might want to simply drink dessert, given that Virtù has been winning raves from cocktail culturists for its cleverly named, labor-intensive beverages for months now. Possibilities include the elegantly feminine Nuova Bellezza (combining Grappa, St. Germain, cabernet syrup, lime juice and red grapes) and the Singapore Slang, a clever spin on the original Sling, given a Southern accent with Texas-made Tito’s vodka, Luxardo cherry, orange juice and bitter lemon soda.

“Virtù” is a concept developed by Machiavelli (yes, that Machiavelli) describing traits that lead to the achievement of great things. From what I’ve seen and tasted at his wonderfully likeable little place, Osso found the perfect name.

Where to Sit
On the ultracharming, tree-shaded patio, especially for lunch and brunch

What to Drink
Virtu Starter Kit, a citrusy, grapefruit-tinged take on the classic martini

What to Wear
Anything from an expensive suit to dressed-up jeans

Valrhona chocolate scones, duck confit Benedict and tortilla Española with piquillo jam

Virtù Honest Craft
Bespoke Inn, 3701 N. Marshall Way, Scottsdale, 480.946.3477

Lunch: Tue.-Fri., 11am-2pm; Dinner: Daily, 4-10pm; Happy Hour: Mon.-Fri., 4-6pm
Menu: Appetizers, $11-$15; entrees, $18-$29; desserts, $7-$10; cocktails, $10-$11