Tapas with Alex Stratta at Prado
Some of the most exciting culinary Valley news this year was the announcement that renowned chef Alessandro "Alex" Stratta was returning to Arizona to helm the kitchen at Prado at the Omni Scottsdale Resort at the Montelucia. Chef Stratta is the recipient of a number of world-class accolades, including a James Beard Foundation award for Best Chef Southwest in 1998 while at Mary Elaine's at The Phoenician in Scottsdale, induction into the Las Vegas Hall of Fame, and chosen to be Iron Chef Italian on Iron Chef USA. He also honed his skills at acclaimed restaurants such as Louis XV at the Hotel de Paris in Monaco, Le Cirque in New York City, and Renoir at The Wynn in Las Vegas, before becoming Executive Chef and owner of his namesake restaurant Alex at The Wynn and, later, Tapas with Alex. His luxurious French-influenced 2008 tasting menu at Alex was one of the most memorable meals I've ever experienced. That was also the same year that Alex was awarded two stars in the Las Vegas Michelin Guide, one of only 14 in the country. Of Italian and French background and fluent in French, Italian, Spanish, and English, Chef Stratta showcases his superlative skills at Prado by combining French techniques with Italian and Spanish-inspired cuisine. To introduce this distinguished chef in his new role as Chef de Cuisine, Prado invites guests to spend a Summer with Stratta with special events including Sip of Spain, Tapas with Alex, an Evening for You, and a new summer menu, and I recently was invited to experience Tapas with Alex.
Prado is named after the famed museum in Madrid and its stunning décor draws upon the Moorish and Spanish architecture of Andalusia (I had previously featured it in a 2009 article for AZ Wine Lifestyle). We were led to our front row seats in front of the wood-burning grill and greeted with the Queen of the Night cocktail. Named after a cactus flower that blooms one night a year growing onsite in front of Joya Spa, it was a well-crafted libation balancing AZ Distilling Co.'s award-winning Commerce Gin with Campari, Cointreau, and fresh lime juice.
"My food is actually very simple, all ingredient-driven," Chef Stratta tells us as he starts to prepare our dishes. "I'm interested in the origin of food. I read a lot of books, but not cookbooks - history. Where food comes from, that's what excites me."
We begin with an addictive pistou, a Provençal version of pesto with herbs, almonds, olive oil, cheese and tomato. Packed with flavor, it's fantastic slathered on the toasty-chewy grilled bread.
"This is one of my favorite summer dishes," Chef Stratta says as he sets before us the first course - sweet grilled Viking scallops from Nanutcket on a bed of fresh vegetables. It's a wonderful melange of textures with simply-dressed raw zucchini, artichokes, radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, and celery hearts, “all super light and delicious as far as I'm concerned." We heartily agree. It's an amazing plate that sings of summer.
One bite of the second course and I couldn't help but exclaim that this is my new favorite octopus in town, lightly charred and achieving that magical balance of meaty and tender. Braised for two hours, Chef Stratta's Ligurian octopus is kissed with smoke, draped with ethereal slices of jamón Ibérico de Bellota, and perched on a bed of baby potatoes nestled in a sauce of roasted Poblano, Anaheim, and jalapeño peppers, green tomatoes, cilantro, lime juice and olive oil. "My goal is to do the best version of this or that, whatever dish it may be," says Chef Stratta. Mission accomplished.
Our third course delivers a beautiful piece of crispy-skinned Mediterranean sea bass with a salad of watercress, clementine segments, roasted peppers, olives, and green beans tossed with sherry vinegar. The crowning touch tying all the elements together is a swirl of saffron aioli. I'm especially struck by the combination of juicy tart-sweet clementines with the creamy aioli. "I just hope people understand and respect the simplicity," Chef Stratta notes. "Sometimes people expect fireworks, but fireworks are all about the quality of the product." Our final dish exemplifies this philosophy in the most delicious way.
All of our dishes were expertly paired with a Basque white wine, Bodegas Itsasmendi Bizkaiko Txakolina, by beverage expert Jim Cunningham. "It's from the Northern region of Spain right along the waterfront so it pairs wonderfully with the seafood dishes," Jim explained. "It's nice, light, bright, and you may even find a hint of bubbles in there," It's a perfect pairing with the Mediterranean cuisine at Prado.
"I want to reintroduce people to familiar flavors done with a little bit more care and attention," said Chef Stratta. He does more than that. With such a stellar introduction to his fabulous food, I cannot wait to return to explore his new menu.
Visit this link for information on the next can't-miss "Tapas with Alex" event taking place on June 18th.
I received a complimentary media invitation.