Primo & Pasta


Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, July 2017

Written by Gail Collins

Without ever having traveled to Tuscany’s hills or any other destination on the boot, many of us consider ourselves aficionados of Italian cuisine. Knowledge of the proper pronunciation of bruschetta (broo-skeh’-tta) or the inauthentic combination of meatballs with spaghetti doesn’t dissuade us. We’re willing to eat and learn. Fortunately, from more than a dozen trips to Italy, I can reassure you that it is not only customary, but necessary, for Italians to feed you well. There are many reasons.

Olive oil pulses through the populations’ veins with the average native consuming 14 joint-lubricating liters per year. Multiple-course meals multiply the ways to savor fresh pasta, seafood or veal, garden produce, focaccia and gelato. Wine flows like the Tiber River into Rome from the world’s number-one producer. Still, village vines are hoarded and pressed into house wine to compliment boar stew in San Gimignano or cassòla in Sardinia. Ah, Italia!

Now, those yearning for fine Italian dining need travel no farther than historic downtown Flagstaff. Ascend Group, who also own Horsemen Lodge and Northern Pines Restaurant, felt the city’s longing for ravioli and glitz, and opened La Vetta Ristorante Italiano on North Leroux in February.

La Vetta shines in snowy, sparkling, stacked stone with glittering lights, glass partitions and contemporary denim and dove-colored S-booths and banquettes. Vibrant impressionist, Italian-inspired canvases pop on the walls and Rat Pack tunes invite diners to indulge. General Manager Kevin Crow, with a fine dining background from Josephine’s Modern American Bistro, employs upscale expectations. “Checking quality regularly and teaching staff has been a busy, positive experience,” he said.

“Vetta” translates as summit or peak in Italian and honors Arizona’s tallest mountains. It also serves as the culinary goal for Executive Chef Dylan Tobin. With a well-logged past in Flagstaff kitchens, Tobin began cooking in a café at 14 years old and advanced to sous-chef at 18 before landing in a commanding position at La Vetta at 23. Aiming for classic, yet inventive cuisine, he wowed owner Steve Alvin at his tasting interview with cioppino, now a standard on the menu. The spicy acidity of the tomato broth, swimming with succulent mussels, clams, cod and shrimp, is balanced by a scoop of creamy parmesan risotto.

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