Review No. 117: Verona Italian Restaurant
190 Highway 65 North
57.7 percent finished reviewing Conway restaurants
She Said: I was battling hunger pangs and losing, so I felt like a carb-fest was in order. We’d heard there was a new restaurant in the building across from the movie-theater complex and had it on our radar. Once I gave up on my deli-turkey-meat and veggies dinner plans at my desk, I told He Said what our dinner plans were to be! Never mind my post-vacation diet plans. Calories, you’re on deck!
He Said: A new Italian restaurant sounded good to me. They had only been open for a few weeks, but that was as long as I wanted to wait, so I was game.
There are already Verona Italian Restaurants in Benton and in Heber Springs, and the menus of those establishments suggest that the three are under the same umbrella, so this place seems to be part of a small regional chain of restaurants rather than a purely local one.
She Said: It was pleasant enough, with photos on the wall of various Italian destinations, such as Venice and Rome (I didn’t notice if one of the photos was Verona), and our booth by the windows was comfortable. There’s a large bar-flavored furniture product, but there’s no alcohol here. (too bad that you can’t enjoy a chianti with your spaghetti here, Conwegians). The dining area has a lot of natural light, the mood is more Fancy Diner than traditional Italian restaurant. I do think it’s nicer on the inside than the exterior might lead you to believe.
He Said: It’s not a very large space, and it does feel a little more fast-foody than formal dining-y. This feeling is enhanced by your paying the bill at the counter rather than from your table.
She Said: I ordered an unsweet tea, my go-to when there’s no vino or cocktails. When it arrived, I could quickly tell it was sweet, and when I told our server, he switched it out immediately and waited while I made sure it was right. It was tasty, maybe a little weak, but that meant I could drink more of it, as we were there for an early dinner. We were also given to-go drinks along with the check.
He Said: They have Coke products. They do not have Barq’s Root Beer, or Mello Yello, which are in fact Coke products, but are not always available. Dr. Pepper usually isavailable, and that’s what I had. And got a free to-go cup without asking.
She Said: As I mentioned, I was HUNGRY, so I was all about it when the waiter suggested the focaccia bread appetizer, which is toasted with melted mozzarella and tomatoes and a tomato-based dipping sauce. It was tasty, but the bread was a little wilted and softened by the cheese. What I did love were the rolls that came to the table along with the meal; they are little twists, with a perfect crust and tender, tasty bread inside. If I’m going to eat bread, it needs to be as good as these. They come with sauce and butter, but I thought they were delicious plain.
For my entrée, I was really vacillating among three choices, the lobster ravioli, the shrimp scampi and the chicken piccata, all dishes I’ve enjoyed in other area Italian restaurants, and in Italy. (The menu is extensive, so it’s hard to choose!) The lobster ravioli comes with a “pink sauce,” which our waiter couldn’t really explain to me except to say it was his favorite. I asked him how tomato-y it is (because I don’t like tomatoes, as you know, dear readers), and he said he isn’t a big red-sauce fan and he likes it, so lured by the promise of lobster, I chose that. It comes with salad, and I asked for a Caesar salad to be subbed for the house, which he did, and told me later there was a small charge for that substitution.
The salad was fine, and on its own was more than a meal, partly because they really overdid it with the cheese—there was a big mound of it on top of the greens. He Said and I disagreed on whether it was parmesan or not; I didn’t think it was, as it was very soft and tasted more like mozzarella. Anyway, more is not necessarily better when you’re looking for the satisfying mix of cheese, greens and croutons with dressing, but it was filling!
The lobster ravioli sauce was pretty red, and when I looked up pink sauce later at home, I found that it is essentially a red sauce with cream, herbs and perhaps vodka and white wine, though this was missing the alcohol, or the taste of those. So, it was a strong tomato taste, and I didn’t like it and wished I had ordered the shrimp scampi. But I was hungry and scraped off the sauce, for the most part and ate three of the four large raviolis stuffed with lobster meat. These, too, were disappointing to me. The meat was bland and not as tender as I have had before. But again, it was filling!
He Said: It was parmesan, Jones.
I do agree about the bread, though. That was quite tasty. Also, being a fan of the red sauce, I liked the focaccia bread appetizer more than you did, though it had perhaps too much mozzarella—certainly more than my low-fat diet appreciated, and, with the bread that came on its heels, probably redundant.
I did have the house salad, and ordered the house dressing, which was a tomato-basil vinaigrette. This was delicious, the highlight of the meal, for my money, and as a vinaigrette was low fat to boot. The salad was very enjoyable.
I ordered the chicken piccata. This is a traditional Italian dish that consists of chicken breast in a sauce of butter, capers, lemon juice and white wine. In America it is usually served over pasta. The chicken breast is usually served in strips, and is also traditionally breaded or floured and then browned.
Anthony Bourdain wrote in the New Yorker in the article that launched his media career that chicken is chicken, and it’s going to taste pretty much the same no matter what you do to it. To some extent he was correct. It was certainly true in this case. The dish was pretty bland (you would have no doubt enjoyed it, Jones), but partly this was because the chicken, which was not as tender as it might have been, hadn’t been floured and browned, but seemed like it might have been grilled instead. At any rate, though the sauce was not bad, it was pretty thin. The dish was nothing to write home about, as my mother used to say.
She Said: I would not have liked that chicken piccata, Ruud, as the reason I like that dish is the dredging and pan frying that makes it what it is. If I had chosen that, I would have been sorely disappointed. And if that was parmesan cheese on my salad, it was the softest, blandest parmesan cheese I have ever eaten. One of the joys of a good Caesar is the flavor and texture mix of the ingredients, and this cheese did not contribute to that.
He Said: So you think you’re getting the last word here? Parmesan.
She Said:Our service was attentive, and the server was personable and certainly wanted to please us and make our visit enjoyable. The complaint I had with our experience was that the dishes came too close together. The appetizer came, and immediately the rolls, then the salads and minutes later, the entrées, so I had a buffet of food in front of me. Now, I know we’re not in Italy, but the dinners I’ve had in Venice, Florence, Rome, Sorrento and Vernazza—though maybe not in Verona, I don’t know, I’ve never been there—have been the evening’s main event and the courses are paced, so you have time with each one as well as to anticipate the next plate adventure. Heck, the Italian dinners I’ve had at Pasta Grill and Bruno’s in Little Rock were well paced, if not quite as slowly. I brought home most of my salad from Verona because I’d barely tucked into it before the hot entrée arrived. And then, of course, there’s no way you can think of dessert, because you’re stuffed to the gills from eating so quickly.
But we witnessed something at Verona that deserves its own paragraph because it was offensive to both He Said and me, and probably to the diner it happened to. A woman arrived to eat, and instead of saying, “How many?” and being told “One,” and seating the diner, the waitress said to the woman dining on her own, “No date tonight?” At this, He Said looked up across the table at me with huge, disbelieving eyes—and maybe a little fear. And then the waitress said, “Well, I guess you’ll enjoy your book!” This young woman may have been well meaning, but women dining alone generally don’t appreciate questions about their date status or independent dinner plans. I’ve written about this for Rock City Eatsbecause there is a definite dynamic involved for women dining alone. Many women I know won’t do it at all because they feel too self-conscious and awkward—because of questions just like this. I enjoy this practice, and dine on my own occasionally in Conway, Little Rock and have done so in Paris, Florence, Prague, Budapest and Thessaloniki, and I’ve learned not every restaurant is right for this experience.
If you want your restaurant to be one that women enjoy on solo outings—one of life’s little luxuries—here’s what you do:
- Ask how many in the party.
- When she says, “One,” you ask them the seating questions you ask all your guests, such as “Would you like a table or a booth?” etc.
- And don’t seat them automatically at the bar (I wouldn’t go back to a place that did that because that means I have to talk to the people next to me—no thanks) or in bad seating you can’t pass off on bigger parties.
- Don’t comment AT ALL on the fact that she’s alone. Don’t say, “Just you?”
- Seat her as you would any other sized party,
- Be your glorious, charming, server self.
He Said: Yes, Jones, that was a pretty thoughtless greeting. I know some people—including the one I was sitting across from—who would probably be turning around and heading to Pasta Grill at that point.
But as for my own experience, I did feel pretty rushed. Not quite sure why that should have been, since the place was not packed. I felt like the server was intending to be attentive, but since all the food arrived within minutes of each other, he was there taking things away before we had time to finish them. He snatched my salad without asking before I had finished it, apparently because I had started to eat my entrée when it arrived. My mouth was full, and before I could say anything, poof! The salad was no more. And I really liked that salad dressing. Sometimes, it must be said, a waiter can be too attentive.
What We Got and What We Paid: One focaccia bread appetizer, Caesar salad substitute for house salad, lobster ravioli, chicken piccata, Dr. Pepper and unsweetened iced tea for $50.34.
Elapsed Time from Our Arrival to Food Arrival: 10 minutes for appetizer, 4 more minutes for salads, 4 more minutes for entrées.
She Said (Or Was It Worth the Weight I Gained): I gained 1.2 pounds for this meal, and I think it was worth half a pound, maximum, probably less.
He Said: As far as Italian food goes, this reminded me of Olive Garden. It’s less genuine Italian and more what Americans think Italian food ought to be.
So… He Said and She Said: Go here for plentiful pasta meals served quickly!
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