Arezzo's tunnel-arcade entrance doesn't give a hint. This Italian restaurant and bar has the best outdoor dining in Westport. Overlooking the Saugatuck River, Arezzo has two patios that seat 150. The place has been around for years but has vastly improved since one owner bought out the other.
On a recent afternoon, rowers glided down the river and American flags lining the bridge flapped in the breeze. The warm sun, umbrellas and woven bistro chairs let us imagine we were in Italy. Italian hospitality was immediate – a complimentary plate of herb-topped thin crust (cheese-less) pizza from the wood-burning oven and a dish of sweet and sour eggplant caponata. The thin crust was speckled brown and was crisp, with good texture and enough salt to give it flavor. It didn't need the drizzle of truffle oil.
New on the menu is pizza with figs and prosciutto, and my favorite topping, prosciutto and arugula. But today, our eyes catch the antipasti and salads. We order a couple to share. Carpacchio, rounds of raw filet pounded into melt-in-your mouth tenderness, was topped with a terrific arugula salad dressed in vibrant lemon dressing. But the truffle oil on the carpacchio was cloying, and the slices of mild cheese lacked parmigianao-reggiano's salty granularity.
Insalata di Carciofi is a salad of "shaved artichokes," which turned out not to be the traditional raw shaved artichoke salad, but finely sliced marinated artichoke hearts. Tossed with chopped radicchio, in a lemon dressing, it was a light salad, enjoyable despite the slices of parmesan, and yet again, a note of truffle oil.
The waterside setting steered us to the Tagliolini Nero Frutti di Mare, house-made squid ink pasta with shrimp, scallops, calamari, mussels and clams ($22). The waiter returned to apologize. They were out of the squid ink pasta. Could they substitute the house-made tagliatelle? We were pleased with the texture of the long, twining noodles, just coated in fresh tomato sauce, with clams and mussels still juicy in their shells.
The menu says that Mediterranean Sea Bass al Forno ($24) is roasted whole in the wood-burning oven, but the two filets, joined by a charred tail, had been broiled instead. Perfectly cooked, not one second too long, the fish came with fresh escarole sautéed in garlic and olive oil, and little roasted potatoes. The wonderful simplicity of Italian cooking was on this plate, with a half lemon to squeeze on the fish and escarole.To drink, we enjoyed an organic Italian Saladini-Pilastri rosé ($10 by the glass.)
For dessert, Shiacciata Di Nutella is described on the menu as warm pastry filled with hazelnut spread. It's actually like a pizza sandwich; the warm crust is spread with the sweet child-like indulgence of chocolate and ground hazelnuts.
(Note: Street parking on Riverside Ave. can be difficult in the evenings, and Arrezo offers valet parking.)
Arrezo, at 5 Riverside Ave., Westport, is open for lunch, Monday to Sunday, 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.; dinner, Sunday through Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m.; and Friday to Saturday, 5 to 11 p.m. Information: 203-293-7494 and www.arezzowestport.com.