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Jul 30, 2008 06:22 AM

Bravo, Aria

Had a really wonderful evening at this just opened Italian in Stamford on Washington (next to the driveway leading to the Summer Street parking garage.)

While the location is a bit off the beaten downtown track, the space is absolutely sensational -- comfortable country Italian with an elegant chandelier and four-sided winerack greeting you at the entrance. (Cleverly masking what otherwise would be an eyesore stairway to the basement) In a town overloaded with italian, there is no other setting that compares. The corner main booth would be wonderful for a big family party, and it's all like something out of a Coppola film. ( I once looked at this same 1 story space for an office years ago, and the transformation is brilliant and breathtaking.)

Lotsa room between tables and good sound conditioning made for easy conversation. But tables close enuf for convivial atmo.

The cuisine is largely Sicilian influenced: "fresh from the garden and the sea." Though the only water nearby is the unlovely Mill River, Stefano the owner does keep a small herb and tomato garden on the premises.

We started with gnochi in a creamy gorganzola for the table that was perfection. I also apped on a tuna tartare that was tasty, but the slices cut just a mite too thick. The raw fish helped transition from the rich gnochi to my main dish of black ink risotto with calarmari. Nicely el dente, the calarmari firm, but not rubbery, the squid ink savory, the rice delicate. (They offered two other risotta, green and brown.)

A whole Branzini was fileted tableside, nicely done with fork and spoon in the Italian manner by Conner, straight from the ol sod, but annointed honorary Italian. ( His and the bus service was almost impeccable, save for small details like not offering lemon slice with the peligrino, late bread, and a slight confusion on the drink order) The fish was moist and extremely flavorful for a freshwater fish. Had only a taste, but this was far more refined than the grilled Branzini we had last month at Spadaro. Others shared the Dorada, and a seared tuna on seaweed salad, that was just ok, and felt a little out of place on the Italian menu.

A superb bottle of 1984 vin santo tasted like a warm sweet goodnight kiss. Albeit Tuscan.

The prices were a touch under Columbus Park, Il Falco, Emme, Sienna. But cocktails are double digits, and like most restaurants, they make money on liquids. btw, the bar looked inviting, and when the place eventually, hopefully, fills, a good spot to wait for a table.

Only three tables taken on a Tuesday night, but there has been little marketing or word of mouth. They supposedly do a good lunch crowd ... but this is off the T and at least in the evening not a lot of foot traffic, nor any retail on their block. If they can hold out a year or two, should attract the Trump crowd.

Though Stamford hardly needs another Italian, Aria has a lot going for it-- great space, menu and execution. Stefano is a New York vet, who sold out there to start up here. IMHO is another local that deserves support against the Town Center chains and Houlihans which is about to open around the corner.

All in our party of 4 agreed: Aria certainly deserves an encore. (Sorry, couldn't resist)

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  1. My wife and I had dinner at Aria recently and had mixed emotions.

    On the down side, we were greeted at the door and then later waited upon by a guy who acted far too familiar. He immediately made jokes about our last name, he made wisecracks at the table, etc. It was off putting from the beginning and made us feel uncomfortable throughout the meal. I do realize he was trying to be friendly and connect with us, but it was too much too quickly as he had never met us.

    Next, the environment has a identity crisis. After stopping by to check the place out previously we went in expecting a high-end adult, romantic setting. I agree with louuuuu that the space design is wonderful, but it seemed strange to have tables with kids running around us, people in shorts and sneakers at the bar mixing with others in suits and dresses, etc. Not a bad thing, but not what I expected at this price level.

    The space is also somewhat noisy to our ears. It could use a carpet or at least a few rugs.

    There are also many upsides. The food preparation was beyond reproach. The wine list was lengthy and covered a wide range from $30 to $many hundreds. The wine we wanted was not available, but we were quickly offered another which turned out to be great.

    The service, beyond what was mentioned above, was very good. It was a little strange as a couple of people seemed to be working the table, but didn't know what the other had done (oh, he already took your dinner order?). No real issue here.

    The check was quite pricey. The food quite varied from pizza to high-end veal dishes.

    Overall I think I would go back for a casual dinner, but if I wanted a high-end romantic meal this would not be the place.

    1. I also give the place a mixed review.

      Good: waitress was fantastic, servers all attentive but not overly so. I liked the candle-lit atmosphere and didn't find it too noisy, but the place was only half-full. My eggplant parm rollup app was very good although could have been cooked a little longer. One more major up for the place is that I thought the prices were very fair.

      Mixed: my husband's cantaloupe was not great in the proscuitto app, and my risotto tasted much more brothy than cheesy. It felt more like a microwave meal than a proper risotto.

      I would go back, especially to try the gnocchi that Lou recommended. As we were leaving, the place was filling up and had nice energy.

      I agree with jrlpking that this is NOT the place for a quiet romantic dinner, but my husband and I felt like we had a lot of privacy at our table because the other tables were pretty far away. I liked having the buzz of people around me, but not so close that I could hear their conversations or feel like they could overhear mine.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Stamford Talk

        Where do I begin?
        First, as was stated here there was a server, host? a someone who was overly familiar as well with my party. The owner was incredibly smug and rude as well. They both spent way too much time at our table, we didn't come out to hear their life stories, we came out to talk with one another.
        The service was good. Place was empty save for one other table with a couple of guys in shorts and baseball hats- huh? Same as the above mention, what is up with that? When one more table came in the place became very noisy- it's all hard surfaces.
        Food was good- my dish was a sicilian dish not on the menu that the owner was making a big deal about. The waitress had to ask the chef if it was even available. Then when it came (it was a pasta dish) it was on a plate, not hot and looked like a brown clump with no garnish or thought to presentation. It was almost as if the chef was annoyed that the boss was offering this dish again without talking to him first so he did it but not happily.
        Overall- owner has to get his ego in check. No one should take business for granted these days.