Another new favorite downtown is Pizzeria Virtù (6952 E. Main St., Scottsdale AZ. Tel: 480-663-9797. www.pizzeriavirtu.com), in the heart of Old Town and the latest offering (with a February 2020 premiere) from well-known local chef Gio Osso. With a black-and white, laid-back feel, the restaurant’s friendly service is matched by its remarkable food. It’s all about the little touches here, such as the napkin that comes rolled up and adorned with a sprig of rosemary. Then there’s the food, and nothing I say will prepare you for how good it is. The burrata is a piece of heaven, the silken cheese complemented by the sweetness of wine-soaked figs and salty chewiness of prosciutto. Pizzas, made in a wood-fired oven that you can see from your table, have a heavenly, thick crust and toppings ranging from the simple and sublime Affumicata (charred tomatoes, garlic, basil, smoked scamorza cheese) to a hearty Diamante (mozzarella, sausage, peperoncini, prosciutto). Don’t neglect the pastas, either. On one visit, mine is simply but elegantly tossed with garlic, olive oil, Calabrian chiles, and a scattering of mudicca (Italian breadcrumbs) to add texture and soak up all the goodness. Dessert? The Budino is Nutella pudding with vanilla crema and hazelnut praline: need I say more? Whatever else you do, be sure to stop in this brilliant new spot!
Before or after dinner, a little wine might just hit the spot, and Old Town Scottsdale is quickly becoming wine tasting central. Did you know Arizona has a wine industry? Trust me, you’ll be hearing more about it, as the state now boasts over 100 wineries. Settle into the comfy tasting room of LDV Winery (7134 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale AZ. Tel: 480- 664-4822. www.ldvwinery.com/tasting-room.html) and you’ll see why this is an up-and-coming wine region to be taken seriously. The room is lovely, with photos of vineyards and grapes, a nice patio, and comfortable seating inside. Settle yourself under a photo of Lucy and Ethel stomping grapes, and get down to why you’re here: tasting LDV’s remarkable wines. I sample a beautiful full-bodied Viognier before moving on to a series of reds: a 2015 Grenache (jokingly referred to here as “”the desert Pinot Noir’), and the wonderful Decade (a Petite Syrah/Syrah/Grenache blend) that’s amazing, bold, smooth, and gorgeous. Their Signature Petite Syrah is similarly rich and flavorful, and whatever your taste in reds or whites, I suggest you visit LDV’s tasting room, which reopened its doors this past April.
Just across the street, you’ll also want to check out the tasting room of Merkin Vineyards (7133 E. Stetson Dr., Scottsdale AZ. Tel: 480-912-1027. www.merkinoldtownscottsdale.com/), which reopened in May 2020 in a wide-open, commodious space. Helmed by rock singer MJ Keenan (how many Grammywinning winemakers do you know?), Merkin is doing some wonderful wines, and I start with Dos Ladrones, a Chardonnay/Malvasia Bianca blend that’s unoaked, light, and (in our wine guide Lindy’s words) “pretty.” Their 100% Malvasia Bianca (a grape that this region is doing much to popularize) is similarly light and fruity, while their Tarzan (Tempranillo/ Grenache) is something I could drink all night. This hopping place (“not your mom’s wine bar,” smiles Lindy) has rock music, a large wooden bar surrounded by tables, and great food to accompany your tastings, whether it’s local bread with strawberry/citrus butter and house-made mustard, tepary bean hummus, nice salads, or such inventive favorites as lasagna cupcakes. A new pizza oven is being installed as we speak, so you can see what’s about to be served.
You might also want to check out Benjamin’s Upstairs (7111 E. 5th Ave., Scottsdale AZ. Tel: 480-398-4208. www.benjaminsaz.com), located in the “hidden” speakeasy above the well-known Citizen Public House Restaurant. Open Thursday through Saturday evenings, this intimate space, which debuted in late summer 2020, offers an intriguing array of shareable plates, and an accompanying list of sparkling wines and classic cocktails. Helmed by chef Ben Graham of Citizen Public House, it has a nice private feel and, needless to say, good food and beverages.
Please, though, do take some time off from eating, drinking, and shopping (I know it’s difficult) to get some culture. One of my favorite sites in the area is Taliesin West (12621 N. Frank Lloyd Wright Blvd., Scottsdale AZ. Tel: 480-860-2700. www.franklloydwright.org/taliesin-west), Frank Lloyd Wright’s Arizona residence and studio. I love one new addition to this mustsee site: the self-guided audio tour. Download the app, put in your earbuds, and you’re good to go at your own pace, stopping and starting the voice tour if you want to linger at Wright’s design studio, on the “prow” (an outdoor promenade overlooking glorious views), or in the onsite cabaret theater. The narrator’s voice is interspersed with Wright’s own as he talks about the various spaces and his love of the Southwest. I interact with my virtual tour guide as if she’s a real companion, and boy can she talk! (To be perfectly honest, I occasionally fast forward through her spiel, but please don’t tell.) “Did you see the fireplace?” she’ll ask, or she’ll deliver a lecture about compression of space and diffusion of light. She’s earnest and full of information, whether it’s about the design features of the various rooms, the use Wright put them to, or the art scattered around the property. Best of all, you can go at your own pace, lingering here, observing there, and it’s a great way to see this important architectural wonder.
Another don’t-miss spot is Wonderspaces (7014 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale AZ. Tel: 480-718-2156. www.arizona.wonderspaces.com), an astonishing new museum that opened in 2019 in Scottsdale Fashion Square, just a few steps off the Luxury Wing. Well, the word “museum” doesn’t quite suffice for this spot, which expands the boundaries of what we think of as art, with a varying series of installations, from light and sound explosions to participatory experiences in which you’re an essential part of the artwork. When I visit, I walk into an igloo-like dome and find myself at the center of an ever changing pattern of light and color. I watch a woman sit for a machine-created portrait that joins the series of portraits on the wall. I don a headpiece to take a virtual trip down a fantasy river. I relax in a “Rainbow Room,” and I watch the constantly-shifting light on Mount Fuji. I stand entranced by the detonations of light and sound that play across the walls of the “Light Leaks” installation, and just when I try to move on, the patterns change, the sound intensifies, and I can’t drag myself away. I don’t know if any of these exhibits will still be running by the time you visit, but there’s bound to be something challenging and exciting.
Challenging and exciting: that could describe Scottsdale. It might surprise you to hear that, but as someone who’s been coming here for years, I find that just when I think I know it like the back of my hand, I discover something I’ve never seen before. Just when I think that maybe it’s finally “done,” that it will never change, all kinds of new things pop up to prove me wrong. There’s so much going on in this city, perfectly located in the long-reaching shadow of the desert and mountains, that every new visit brings a fresh set of revelations. That combination of time-honored and brandnew is what I most love about Scottsdale.