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Rustica unites Italian, Southwest and Southern cuisine

Christopher Martin awaits new customers at Rustica Bistro and Wine Bar in Prescott Valley.<br>
TribPhoto/Cheryl Hartz

Christopher Martin awaits new customers at Rustica Bistro and Wine Bar in Prescott Valley.<br> TribPhoto/Cheryl Hartz

Prescott Valley's most distinctive dining experience just might be at Rustica Bistro and Wine Bar. It's Italian food with a Southwest twist, topped with amazing wines, according to chef and owner Christopher Martin.

It's free delivery, a casual lunchtime atmosphere or an evening of fine dining complete with full linens, soft lights and music - indoors or on the patio by the firepit. It's a place for parties, wedding receptions and business luncheons. All this and reasonable prices, too.

"Where else can you get Veal Marsala delivered for $12?" said Martin. "The most expensive thing on the menu is $19 for filet mignon."

Martin, the oldest child in a brood of nine Kansas kids, learned to cook from his mother, who herself was the middle child in a Virginia family of 15, and his Italian paternal grandmother.

"My first toy was a stove," he said.

He came west in 1993 to pitch for the Yavapai College baseball team and stayed to cook.

It's a far cry from aerospace engineering, his first course of study, but working with math bored him.

He learned more about cooking by reading on his own, and training and filming cooking segments under experienced chefs in a show called, "Savor the Southwest," when he was just 19.

He said for 10 years, he took on the task of "fixing people's restaurants," moving on when each business achieved success. He also spent five years running a seafood restaurant in Virginia.

After Mike Arntzen closed Lonesome Valley Food & Wine, he teamed with Martin to open Rustica at the same location.

"I can cook and Mike does an amazing job with wines," Martin said. "It's a good Italian pairing."

Diners will find the restaurant different in more ways than menu changes. Martin moved the 200-plus wine selection bar to the back so it's centrally located between patio and indoor dining. He made the formerly curtained-off kitchen visible to diners because, "I want everyone to see what we're doing. The Health Department (staff) comes here to eat, and so do other restaurant owners."

Combining his Italian, Southern and Southwest experiences has inspired Martin to make such varied dishes as brushetta with roasted pablano peppers, pollo alla marsala, and lobster and shrimp in a cream caper sauce.

"I make it palatable for where we live," he said. "Spices and aromatics are very beautiful, and they sell."

He likes to see patrons exchange plates and bites of food between tables.

"It's a testament to what we do," said Martin.

He also likes to visit tables and make sure his patrons are satisfied.

"We're only as good as the worst plate out of the kitchen," he said.

As owner/operator, Martin generally goes into the restaurant at 5 a.m. and leaves at 9 p.m. to accomplish all the tasks required of cooking, baking, ordering and bookkeeping.

Still he makes time for his family. He and his wife, Andi, a nurse, have five children between them - 11-year-olds Kyra and A.J., Andrew, 8, Madison, 7, and Christopher, Jr., 4.

He has time for the community, as well, sponsoring motorcycle runs for Toys for Tots and other non-profit organizations - "anything I can do to help kids and the neighborhood."

Martin also is part-owner of the Yavapai Bandits football team, for which he used to play quarterback.

Pitcher, quarterback, chef - it's clear Martin is a take-charge type of guy, and Rustica is showing the benefits after just two months of business.

Rustica is open Tuesday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday nights Martin reserves for themed wine dinners, wine pairings and cooking classes. Friday and Saturday nights are "to have fun" with specials such as ostrich, elk and buffalo.

"I wanted to bring a good product to town. I've waited for this," Martin said.

It's at 6546 E. 2nd St., Suite B, in Prescott Valley. Phone is 928-772-2726. Website is rusticabistro.com.

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