I cannot tell you how excited I am about these cooler, albeit still mild, fall temps currently prevailing in Central Arkansas. With that in mind last week, I made dinner reservations at Ciao Baci for my wife’s pre-birthday celebration.
When I think about outdoor dining in Little Rock, Ciao Baci is typically top-of-mind. While I love their cozy, covered patio tucked along the side of the restaurant, there are now a few tables set up outside along the driveway that caught my eye. Al fresco dining at its finest, this new, three-table area is away from the rest of the restaurant but still close enough to feel like part of the action.
The setting in this new spot is romantic, especially as the magic hour turns into darkness and the candlelight casts just enough glow off a bottle of Green & Red Vineyard (Napa Valley 2015 Syrah). Per my request, the wine was selected by management as a pairing with the duck special, a dish I had been eyeing the prior day on the restaurant’s social media. The bold, juicy, and for lack of a better adjective, grapey, red wine proved to be a wonderful compliment to the duck.
This duck dish, which I am keeping my fingers crossed will end up on Ciao Baci’s upcoming fall menu, was executed to perfection. Tea-brined, pan seared and cooked to a medium-rare, the duck breast itself had a soft, tenderness to the bite and a mild flavor that was heightened by the accompanying blackberry barbeque sauce. Chef Jeffrey Owen is a master at combining ingredients, as evident by the sweet potato hash, arugula, and pickled onions that also called the plate home. If you manage to get a little of everything on the fork, the end result is a marrying of sweet, savory, salty, and subtly tart flavors.
The veggie soup, which we split, was just as satisfying, as was my wife’s Chicken Campanelle a la King, a hearty pasta offering with grilled chicken, mushrooms, peas, and roasted peppers. Think of this dish as elevated comfort food, but I guess the same can be said for most of Ciao Baci’s menu. As for the soup, I particularly enjoyed the soft pieces of potato and red beans, along with a nice heat that I imagine came from more than a dash or two of cayenne.
Our only issue proved to be a lack of stomach space for dessert, which, by most accounts, is an area where Ciao Baci has significantly upped its game. If you do not believe me, go check out the pictures. Next time around, which I promise you will be sooner than later, we will make sure to save room for dessert.
As for this night, it was about good wine, great food, and an outdoor setting that made for a time to remember.
Phone: (501) 602-0238
Hours: Monday-Thursday 4 p.m.-12 a.m.; Friday 4 p.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday 4 p.m.-1 a.m.; Closed Sunday (Reservations strongly recommended but not required)