By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Acclaimed chef Lisa Dahl is ever the optimist — even when it came to opening her second Pisa Lisa in the Village of Oak Creek in July.
“I didn’t like the idea of opening the slowest month of the year, but, in a way, it’s a godsend,” Dahl says.
“The busiest month is around the corner — September, October. This is giving us the opportunity to ease into it. What I’m thrilled about is it’s not really slow. That’s blowing my mind.”
Serving wood-fired pizzas, organic salads and artisan gelato, Dahl’s Pisa Lisa debuted in 2013 and quickly became a destination. The new Oak Creek store is her sixth restaurant in red rock country.
Named after an affectionate term given by Dahl’s late father, Pisa Lisa shares signature personalized touches evident throughout the restaurant.
Popular food selections are named after her family members like the Da Dorothy pizza after Dahl’s mother and made with Mother sauce, provolone-mozzarella, fennel sausage, picante peppers, Parm-Reggiano; and the Justino pizza dedicated to her late son and made with Ricotta, provolone-mozzarella, San Danielle prosciutto gold, organic arugula and white-truffle oil.
The new location will also feature Tuscan tomato bisque soup along with gluten-free, vegetarian and vegan options. To meet customer demand, there are two Mugnaini pizza ovens, both embellished with mosaics, as the expansive space has allowed Dahl to broaden the dine-in menu inspired by Pisa Lisa’s first location.
“We have two ovens, and they’re bigger than our original, so wait times are less,” she says.
“All the people (in and around Oak Creek) have been waiting a long, long time — three years — to go through COVID. The timing got us between a rock and a hard spot. Labor and construction hit us square between the eyes and delayed us. We were committed to the project, though. At long last, it’s darling.”
Pisa Lisa Oak Creek introduced new dishes like the antipasto selection Lisa’s Plate, an antipasti sampler with fresh bocconcini mozzarella, tomatoes, finnochio slaw, magic mushrooms, caselveltrano olives and fire-roasted artichokes.
The dessert menu is rich with choices like affogato and newcomer cookie monster, a warm and molten giant chocolate chip cookie sundae with strawberry-stracciatella plant-based gelato (vegan and gluten free).
The lemon lover’s cheesecake made with homemade limoncello is among the favorite flavors, which change seasonally.
Beverage offerings include natural sodas, local mead, 16 taps for craft beers, and wines. Grab-n-go items are aplenty, including paninis, prepped pizzas, morning treats and locally sourced roasted coffee.
The new 3,500-square-foot restaurant has an expansive dining area with 110 seats (64 indoors, 46 patio seating) as well as two communal artisan-style butcher board tables.
The elevated bar (seating 14) surrounded by an eclectic collection of music memorabilia from the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s are sourced from a Capitol Records executive by Dahl’s brother, Jay Levinson. The centerpiece is an 8-foot vintage chandelier fitted with handblown glass and LED lights made by sculptor Dale Evers.
Cooking with love
As the executive chef and CEO of the Dahl Restaurant Group, Dahl has earned international recognition for her cuisine stemming from five restaurant concepts: Mariposa, Cucina Rustica, Pisa Lisa, Butterfly Burger and Dahl & Di Luca Ristorante Italiano.
Her cooking styles are diverse, including traditional Italian cuisine, rustic Mediterranean fare, South American-inspired dishes, creative burgers and wood-fired pizza.
Dahl lives by her mantra, “When you cook with love, you feed the soul.”
She’s hoping to spread those feelings to the Valley — when she finds the right space and offer.
“I wanted to be stronger operationally in Sedona first,” she says. “I always planned it with the hopes before the pandemic that Pisa Lisa and Butterfly Burger were the types of restaurants that would do well in any market. I want to first go into San Diego and Phoenix, where we’re so well known by travelers.”
Still, she’s a celebrity in Sedona. Dahl recently struggled to leave a coffeehouse because three locals jumped up to share their love of her food.
“I had my earbuds in. I had to take them out,” she says with a laugh. “They were beaming. They had been in at the early stages of Pisa Lisa. They loved it and were telling me how proud they were to have something they could call their own out here on that side of town.”
Dahl, who moved to Sedona 26 years ago from the Bay Area, immediately saw a need for restaurants in red rock country. She lives in Oak Creek, in a townhouse on the heels of Cucina Rustica. Along with being a two-time James Beard House-featured chef, Dahl was recognized with the top honor of 2019 Food Pioneer award by the Arizona Restaurant Association’s Foodist Awards.
“I feel like a pioneer,” she says. “This is too pretty out here to not be thriving. This is the gateway to Sedona.”