A venture to this state park is on the must-do list for many, the park being the only spot in North America where you can dig for diamonds and other gemstones and keep your finds.
When you walk into Fayetteville's Vetro 1925 Ristorante, you get the feeling that you're in for something special. The sleek illuminated bar, track lighting and abstract paintings tell you that you're somewhere sophisticated and modern. The rich hardwood floors and exposed brick walls make you feel that you are somewhere comfortable and familiar. From the decor to the cocktails and cuisine, by chef Alan Dierks, Vetro 1925 excels in balance.
At 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the restaurant was lively. We were seated at a table next to an Italian family who were engaged in an animated conversation in their native tongue with one of the servers. Later, an Italian couple was seated at the table on the other side of us. This had to be a good sign.
We perused the menu over cocktails recommended by our server, the Spanish Harlem and Milano Cocktail. The Spanish Harlem ($12) reminded us of a stripped-down margarita — no saccharine sweet-and-sour mix or syrup, but a few simple ingredients combined to make a drink that was both familiar and one-of-a-kind. At Vetro 1925, the sweet, woodsy tequila (Hussong's) is enhanced by fresh lime juice and balanced by Cointreau. The Italian vermouth Cinzano rosso and bitters help round out the flavors of this strong, smooth cocktail.
The Milano Cocktail ($12) was a great drink to have at the end of the long day. With its combination of Woodford Reserve, Luxardo Maraschino Liqueur and bitters, it was similar to an old fashioned. It's a punch to the throat but goes down smoothly with a delightful little burn. It is served "up" so there is no ice to get in your way. It's now one of our favorite cocktails.
For an appetizer, we selected the house-made mozzarella ($12). The cheese was fresh and spongy and sat on a bed of greens in a pool of rich, nutty olive oil. The milky flavor of the mozzarella was enhanced by Maldon sea salt. Sharing the plate was a mixture of chopped fresh tomatoes, basil and juicy, sweet local baby tomatoes, offering one last taste of summer.
For the main affair, we ordered a fall dish from the pasta menu, Gnocchi e Pollo ($21). The sweet potato gnocchi were a bit denser than traditional gnocchi made from white potatoes, which we liked, and they were flavored with a hint of cinnamon. The smoked chicken, woodsy shiitake mushrooms and pancetta offset the gnocchis' sweetness. Brandy butter sauce and fresh shaved ricotta rounded out the dish.
The gnocchi were by far our favorite part of this entree, but there were not enough of them. The dish was mostly chicken with just a few sweet potato dumplings, and the pancetta, while very good on its own, overpowered some of the more interesting flavors on the plate.
We also sampled the Tortellini di Granchio ($32). Having a bite makes you want to chew in slow motion, to savor every flavor for as long as you can, because you know it will probably be a long time before you have another dish this incredible. Two large bacon-wrapped scallops, seared on the outside, tender and bouncy in the middle, were served with rich blue crab tortellini, pesto, aged balsamic vinegar, pan-fried pancetta and freshly grated Parmesan. Classic Italian flavors came through perfectly in the sweet-tart aged balsamic reduction and nutty pesto.
No Italian dinner is complete without a dessert, or two if you ask our wife. The Tiramisu ($7) was a must since it is her favorite dessert. With one bite, we knew Vetro's would be at the top of our list. Balancing the rich, bitter espresso were lady fingers soaked in sweet liqueurs — neither flavor overpowering but rather complementary. The mascarpone layers were mildly sweet and the cocoa flavor was subtle. A garnish of dark chocolate piped into "1925" was a fun touch.
Vetro 1925 succeeds at marrying traditional Italian flavors with modern presentation. As Little Rock residents, we don't get to Fayetteville often, but having dinner at this eatery is a reason to go in and of itself.
17 E. Center St.
Vetro 1925 knows how to do dessert. Aside from having some of the best tiramisu around, their Torta All'Arancia was citrus bliss. The flavors are reminiscent of a traditional Italian olive oil cake. Vetro's version is a gluten-free blood orange and ricotta cake (made with almond flour) drizzled with creme anglaise and topped with powdered almonds. The cake is dense and moist with fresh orange flavor that is perfectly tart-sweet.
5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Monday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Friday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday.
Credit cards accepted, full bar.