North by Northwest: Tavola Trattoria is Italian Treat
photography by Beth Hall
He wooed guests with his modern Latin restaurant on the Bentonville Square, Table Mesa. Now almost a year old, Tavola Trattoria is the latest buzz around town from owner and chef Carl Garrett.
The casual Italian bistro, located off the square on SE A Street, next to Tusk & Trotter, offers an inviting dining experience with a variety of traditional and non-traditional Italian cuisine.
“The concept is modern Italian,” Garrett said. “That’s basically taking Italian food from its roots and beginnings, but also being able to modernize it, in a sense, with local ingredients and things we feel we would be able to put our own spin on.”
For starters, the Caesar Salad: a large bed of lettuce sits atop a Parmesan basket, but the most unusual aspect is the dressing. Tavola’s homemade crème fraiche is a French version of sour cream with buttermilk and heavy cream. The richness of the dressing complements the typical anchovy taste, making it a surprisingly unique salad. Though there are multiple other salads and appetizers to choose from, in an individual or large portion, one not to miss is the Mozzarella Caprese for just under $10. The tomatoes are roasted directly on the vine and come plated as such, atypical for the traditional dish. The flavor is robust with the cheese, fresh basil and kalamata olives bordering the plate.
“What we’re offering is something much more than mainstream Italian food,” Garrett said. “It’s extremely fresh ingredients, but a twist in some things we do. We try to use local ingredients from the farmer’s market. We also have a local grower who produces basil and mint.”
As seen in the first course, the food is upscale, but Garrett wants the atmosphere to be more casual. The décor evokes a warm day on the Italian coast with sierra orange walls, blue and white sailor-esque chairs and large windows. Though there are several areas for private dining via curtains, the private patio dining would be the best bet for a party, as the interior admittedly can be very noisy at dinner.
“We’re not that expensive; we have more casual dining, but we want our food to be presented in an upscale way,” Garrett said. “We could go toe-to-toe with a lot of good restaurants in New York and Chicago, and our visitors tell us that.”
A well-rounded restaurateur for 35 years, Garrett’s most recent venture before northwest Arkansas was an upscale, Mexican restaurant in downtown Seattle. Looking for somewhere to grow, Garrett’s wife Lindie picked Bentonville off the map.
“Northwest Arkansas was appealing to us because of the potential for growth and the potential for just finding good real estate opportunities,” he said. “We also looked at Savannah, Charleston and Jacksonville, but fell in love with the historic area here; who wouldn’t want to be part of a historic square?”
Currently expanding Table Mesa into the space previously occupied by Phat Tire Bike Shop, the eclectic bistro will hold up to 40 or more people. However, the focus is still on the food at Tavola and making the most of what they have now.
The menu provides a variety of options, in individual or family-style platters, from pasta, meat, seafood, pizza or Stromboli; and most dishes cost about $15.
Never having eaten veal I was hesitant to try the Veal Marsala, but I was instantly rewarded. The marsala wine reduction was deliciously sweet, offsetting the veal, and paired with mashed potatoes and fresh seasonal vegetables — in this case crisp green beans.
For something more unique, try the Tavola Pizza — roasted pears, mozzarella, gorgonzola, pecorino cheese, onions, arugula and house pesto. It doesn’t look like a typical pizza — with purple pear slices and arugula piled high on top — and doesn’t taste like a typical pizza. Though the different cheeses were too much for my palate, the combination of the flavors was a rare find.
“We’ve modernized the food, and it’s our own riff. We use riff, a musical term also synonymous with the culinary arts,” Garrett said. “We can add our own riff to it, make a nice sound and it can really reverberate into a lot of other different ingredients.”
Similarly to the previous entrees, everything tasted was distinct — the Saltimbocca Chicken was rich, but the wild mushroom ravioli sets it apart; the lemon cutlet, my personal favorite, is simple and fresh with lemon butter chicken, mushrooms, artichokes and cheese served in a white wine reduction.
Final word of advice: don’t miss the desserts. Desiree’s Cake is a homemade Italian cake soaked in mascarpone and Frangelico creams and topped with nutella and chocolate; it’s creamy and delicious. The Tiramisu, also made in-house, was a show-stopper, as one of my guests said it was some of the best and most authentic she’d had since spending time in Italy.
“We don’t try to educate people as to who we are,” Garrett said. “We just let the food speak for us.”
108 Southeast A Street | Bentonville, AR
479.715.4738 | tavolatrattoria.com