We love Italian food. Unfortunately a couple of our favorite choices have left the scene recently. The Villa was a nice choice and had a long history. Bruno’s was a very nice option and it may come back if the rumors are true. Without those two we have been left with a bunch of average to better than average chains – think Olive Garden, Johnny Carrino’s, Macaroni Grill and Bravo in that order – and local places like Café Prego.
Well this week we added another local establishment to our dining resume. Vesuvio Bistro was an absolute revelation. We went to Vesuvio a couple of years ago with another couple. On that occasion, there was a guest chef who prepared a fixed price, three course meal with two choices for each course and a wine selection for each course that came from the sponsoring winery. It was fine but it did not let us experience all the Vesuvio had to offer.
This week was a completely different experience. We joined two other couples for a delightful evening as we celebrated Fat Tuesday and Mardi Gras in style. The restaurant is located inside of the Governor’s Inn at Market and Merrill in West Little Rock. While they were certainly busy, they were not overly so and we never felt rushed so that our table could be turned. In fact, we enjoyed a leisurely paced meal that lasted over three hours which gave all of us plenty of time to savor our food and drink courses and the conversation that was going on. The wait staff was attentive, charming and funny but also very knowledgeable about their menu and also about their competition.
We started the evening with the Chef’s Choice of Antipasti. This was a $30 plate that consisted of a variety of olives, cheeses and meats. One person could easily make a meal of this but for the 6 of us it was a perfect way to start the meal. The complimentary bruschetta, bread and tapenade were all excellent as well. Wine was ordered from an extensive list and again having a knowledgeable server made all the difference. Martinis were ordered from a solid array of choices.
Then it was on the main event. While some of my companions opted for truly excellent looking steaks topped with gorgonzola and caramelized onions or pasta dishes with a variety of seafood, yours truly put his faith in the recommendation of co-workers, Foursquare followers and our waiter. The specialty of the house is a pasta dish that consists of handmade spaghetti, shitake mushrooms, basil and lots of butter. But that is only part of the story. That dish is then brought to your table still hot from the stove and then is poured into a giant wheel of fresh parmesan. The grated layer of parmesan on the top of the wheel is quickly melted into the spaghetti and butter. All of it is then scooped out of the cheese wheel and served either by itself or with chicken or shrimp. This was absolutely the right choice. The dish was so good and the preparation was so ingenious. I really can’t believe I have not seen spaghetti prepared that way anywhere else. I can’t wait to go back just to get my hands on more of it and my five companions all felt the same way.
Once these entrees had a chance to settle, it was on to dessert and coffee. The usual suspects were there – gelato, tiramisu, etc. But again, I took a chance on a dish with a twist. This time it was a sliver of cheesecake wrapped in a light pastry then deep fried. Yes it had a bit of an Arkansas State Fair or Riverfest sound to it but it sure did not taste like it. This was fair food done in a gourmet fashion and it was just what the doctor ordered to put a sweet ending on a great meal.
So all in all, I think all six of us can give Vesuvio Bistro a big thumb’s up. Reservations would be recommended. Dress code is casual. Prices are actually quite reasonable. Most entrees are between $15 and $25 not much different than what you would find at a Macaroni Grill or Bravo but the quality is so much better.