The jinx has been broken. This seemingly wonderful location, with waterside dining and a comfortably spacious interior, has been home to more doomed restaurants in the last decade than we can remember.
But we think that the arrival of Arezzo has turned the tide.
Big, robust, confident and experienced are adjectives that accurately describe the decor, the service and the food here.
Arezzo is an Italian restaurant in the tradition of the best of New York's Arthur Avenue, but with the sophistication to please today's tastes.
No silly "farm fresh" or "locally sourced" produce menu accolades here -- it is winter, after all, and not a whole lot is locally sourced from Connecticut farms at the moment.
Instead, the ingredients are, as with all fine Italian food, the best that can be obtained, prepared with simplicity and care, and presented in abundance with style and gracious pleasure. It is an old-fashioned concept of simplicity that is especially welcomed in today's hyped world.
Named for a city in central Italy, Arezzo has the feel of a fine ristorante anywhere in Tuscany. The high-ceilinged, expansive dining space is rustic, with rough-hewn wood beams, soft-peach rubbed plaster walls, flattering lighting and formally set tables with a slightly odd note of white paper tabletops in an otherwise impeccable and warmly inviting atmosphere.
Service is big, bold and attentive throughout the meal, even when the place is packed on a Saturday night. Noise level is energetic, but conversation is still possible.
Arezzo's menu is entirely traditional, but the presentation and quality is anything but ordinary.
We started with a minestrone soup that was filled with brilliant fresh vegetables, al dente pasta and beans in a rich, homemade broth accented with fresh herbs. A house specialty of polpettini, or mini meatballs, arrived atop a bed of romaine and a bright, fresh tomato saucing. A flourish of freshly grated Parmesan and we devoured this with memories of my Nana's Sunday kitchen.
Grilled spicy Italian sausage is lovely served alongside crisp-edged polenta fingers and ultra-green broccoli rabe.
Other starters of note are perfectly crunchy fried calamari and zucchini tossed together and sauced with peppery marinara. The fragrance of a heap of mussels and clams steaming in garlicky wine broth wafted from the table next to us, and our tablemates also praised the house salad of green beans, red onions, bacon, shrimp and toasted walnuts.
Pastas are all intriguing upgrades on classics. Fettuccine is smothered in a medley of at least three kinds of wild mushrooms and a dribble of truffle oil.
Lobster-filled ravioli are perfectly cooked and served in a bright cherry tomato sauce instead of the heavy cream that usually smothers this delicate dish.
Saffron-flavored garganelli is sauced with light veal ragu, while pappardelle is perfectly paired with rich oxtail ragu. Wild garlic gnocchi is potent with a rich tomato sauce and shaved ricotta salata. A really nice note is that each tomato sauce is different and suited to its presentation instead of the "one sauce fits all" theme in so many Italian restaurants.
The main course menu lists some fine meat and poultry dishes, such as chicken roasted with rosemary and garlic served with roasted potato and baby onions, or probably the best version of veal sorrentina that we've tasted in years with the finest prosciutto, burrata mozzarella and enough rich Marsala sauce to cover the accompanying mashed potatoes.
But seafood seems to be a chef specialty, as evidenced by the outstanding cioppino, lobster arrabbiata with garlic and pepper.
Desserts are house made and simple in the classic Italian style. Bread pudding is dense and rich with an almost burnt caramel sauce. Panna cotta is cooling and simple. Tiramisu is soft and creamy in the style of an old-fashioned homemade pudding cake.
Arezzo is an important new addition to the fine Italian restaurant list in Fairfield County.
AREZZO RISTORANTE & BAR
5 Riverside Ave.,Westport, 203-557-9375, www.arezzowestport.com
HOURS: Lunch daily 11 a.m.-3 p.m. Dinner Sunday-Thursday 5-10 p.m.; Friday, Saturday 5-11 p.m.; brunch Sunday10 a.m.-3 p.m.
CREDIT CARDS: AE, V, MC
PRICES: Appetizers approximately $15-$8; main courses approximately $30-$14; desserts approximately $9