Chuck Haralson and Ken Smith were inducted into the Arkansas Tourism Hall of Fame during the 43rd annual Governor’s Conference on Tourism
We rarely go to a restaurant on its opening weekend; there are usually far too many kinks to be worked out. But the buzz for Bravo Cucina Italiana was strong and, since it's a chain, where, presumably, the processes have been honed over the years, we decided to go ahead and give it a shot.
As you might expect, there were kinks in the service, all hazards of a brand new crew working together for the first time. Despite reservations we had to wait 10 minutes when we arrived. There was some table confusion as to where we were to be seated, and it took some time for our dessert course to arrive. That said, despite the crowd of more than 200 there when we arrived, we were quite pleased.
After our server delivered bread and olive oil (tinted a paprika red), we ordered up the grilled steak flatbread ($7.99) for an appetizer. It's large and tasty enough to be a nice lunch by itself. The long rectangular crispy bread was very light, almost the consistency of a cracker, yet with the texture and taste only a wood fired oven can provide. The steak slices were very thin and matched well with the arugula. We adored the caramelized onions that brought up the sweetness quotient.
We also tried the lobster bisque ($5.49 on its own, $3.99 with a meal), which had a nice savory and slightly cheesy broth filled with substantial chunks of lobster meat, with just a little spiciness left on the tongue at the end. And the insalata rustica was a great little salad with pears and dried fruit and pancetta and spicy pecans ($5.99 on its own, $2.99 as a side).
The grilled tilapia with crab ($19.99) was one of the best tilapia dishes we've had in a long time. The fish was perfectly cooked, topped with a nice mixture of crabmeat and spices. We were especially surprised by the crispy potatoes that came with the dish — very crispy, but with an impossibly creamy center that almost made us wonder if the potatoes were mashed and reformed before frying.
The Chianti-braised beef ravioli ($12.99) was our favorite, not just for the incredibly soft pasta surrounding neatly shredded and strongly flavored beef bits, but also for the paired cubes of sweet potatoes that were sauteed with sage and brown butter—a deliciously salty and sweet combo.
Our indecisive party ended up deciding on the tres dolci plate instead of a single dessert, thinking that smaller desserts might not explode us. We were intrigued by the slightly maple taste to the otherwise average tiramisu, and pleased by the almost-too-sweet chocolate cake topped with vanilla gelato. But it was the berry cake that made us the happiest. The light sponge cake dotted with raspberries and blackberries with more of that gelato on top made a great ending to a near perfect meal.
Mind you, it wasn't a cheap meal. Dinner for two ran in the $70 range. For those on a budget, after scanning the menu and finding many of the same favorites there we'd encourage you to try Bravo Cucina Italiana out for lunch.
Bravo Cucina Italiana
17815 Chenal Parkway (Promenade at Chenal)
We were shocked over the size of the kids meal pizzas. For $4.50, we were expecting something in the five to six inch range. Instead a 10" round of cheese pizza was delivered to the table. Other nearby tables with children shared the shock, especially the one with four kids right next to us. Quite massive — and if you look at the deals offered by the big pizza chains, quite competitive.
Sun.-Thu. 11 a.m.-10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. 11 a.m.- 11 p.m.
Full bar and a large wine list. Credit cards accepted.