One of my favorite things that spring brings is al fresco dining. Whether it’s a backyard meal or drinks on a pretty restaurant patio with friends, there’s something about the combination of warm weather, cool friends and a soft breeze that makes it so special. When I approached Arezzo Ristorante & Bar in Westport, Connecticut, recently, I couldn’t help but notice how perfect it would be for a night out of al fresco dining with friends.
Just steps from the trendy shops of downtown Westport, this Connecticut restaurant sits alongside the Saugatuck River. On a warm day the view is stunning, and the atmosphere is just right. A joint venture between restaurateur Juan Ceballos and brothers Vinicio, Sergio and Bolivar Llanos — all chefs. The brothers have been working together for more than 20 years, and have crafted an inventive menu featuring both traditional Italian dishes and more contemporary flavors as well. I was invited with a group of Connecticut bloggers to try out a sampling menu recently.
Arezzo has been recently renovated, adding a wine and tapas bar and a wood-fired oven that turns out crisp, flavorful pizzas. If you go for the tapas, try the Lobster Arancini with Saffron Aioli and Lemon. The crisp fried rice balls, coated in breadcrumbs, are creamy on the inside and dotted with meaty bits of lobster. It’s such an inventive take on a lobster dish. On my recent visit, everyone raved over the Rosemary Marinated Shrimp Skewers as well.
Behind the bar, the knowledgeable bartenders have also crafted a creative drinks menu with everything from more traditional martinis to colorful cocktails. If wine’s more your speed, tell them what you love to drink and they can point you toward a vintage you might just love — as I did.
In the restaurant, we tried a sampling of dishes that showcased Arezzo’s array of offerings. A tender Short Rib Tortellini (front) was well-seasoned and bursting with flavor. And the pasta itself was so silky. Fresh pasta is made daily at this Westport restaurant. Cavatelli ai Pisell (rear) was served with hot and sweet sausage ragout (it’s a tomato-based sauce), giving it a rich bite that elevated this pasta to sublime. As for the mushroom risotto (center), the combination of fresh porcini mushrooms and a touch of truffle oil gave this creamy dish a pleasant earthiness.
A perfectly cooked Roasted New Zealand Lamb Chop was tender and had a hint of rosemary flavor. It was served with a stack of spinach, tomato, and Yukon potatoes, which provided a perfect accompaniment to each bite of the lamb.
Pan Seared Halibut was served with a caponata puree, fregola and vegetables. It was an interesting dish, though not one I would go back for. I found the halibut to be cooked more than I like it to be. Still, the flavors of the caponata puree did pair well with the firm white fish.
And then there’s dessert … oh the desserts. This Nutella Pizza was out of this world with a crispy, slightly sweet outside and melty chocolate inside. We also tried Arezzo’s Panna Cotta, which was wonderful served with a berry puree.
This Italian wine, served with dinner, was lovely as well.
I love when Connecticut restaurants take advantage of the natural beauty of the Nutmeg State. Arezzo does, for sure. The patio is a perfect spot for catching up with friends — and I love that it overlooks both the river and the picturesque downtown area. Can’t you just imagine relaxing on this beautiful stone patio with a little memorable food and a cool cocktail?
Inside, the cozy dining room seats 60 and has fun mood-lighting (it was blue when I visited!). The orange walls are dotted with art from the galley next door — and it’s worth taking a moment to really check out the pieces.
The cozy lounge and bar area is perfect for after-work drinks too.
The true test of any restaurant is whether I would return — and this is one I would love to go to again. Especially if that craveworthy Lobster Arancini is involved. It’s a cool spot.
5 Riverside Ave.
Westport, CT 06880
Disclosure: As a blogger, I am required to disclose that I was provided a free meal at an event held for bloggers at this restaurant. However, all opinions and experiences are my own.
Sarah Walker Caron is a cookbook author, freelance writer and founder of Sarah’s Cucina Bella. She is the author of four cookbooks including The Super Easy 5-Ingredient Cookbook and One-Pot Pasta, both from Rockridge Press. A single mother to a tween and a teen, Sarah loves nightly family dinners, juicy tomatoes plucked fresh from the vine and lazy days on the beach. She also adores reading and traveling.