Aria Tuscan Grill, a Bit Inconsistent

I apologize for my long absence from the blog world but sometimes life can just get too busy.  Don’t worry, I have still been out and about around Charlotte, trying everything from eating with my hands Ethiopian to brewery crawling in NoDa.  So on to the good stuff, reviews.

Friday nights are traditional girls nights for us.  After the long school week there’s nothing better than a night out with the girls, bottles of wine, good food, and lots of catching up.   We ventured uptown to Aria Tuscan Grille on two separate occasions recently.  The first experience was lovely, hence why we came back.  The second time, not so much.  Let’s start with the good.  Aria has a wonderful atmosphere, very chic, warm, and alive.  The interior is beautiful.  The bar is lined with bottles and bottles of wine, champagne, and liquors; live music creates a relaxed vibe; and the dining room is full of life. We started the meal with some of their signature Champagne cocktails.  I ordered the Italian Bliss; campari, rose wine, a drizzle of cherry syrup, and prosecco.  A very delicious combination of fruitiness and bitterness to start a fabulous evening.  Followed by an earthy white bean dip and fresh bread.  Simplicity at its best.

The bread had a crusty exterior and soft inside, perfect for scooping up the rustic white beans with just a hint of onion and herbs.  Good quality olive oil elevated the beans taste.   Next came cheese.  You can bet if there’s a cheese plate on the menu we’re ordering it.  I think most of the girls I dine with, myself included, could live off cheese, and maybe a side of prosciutto.  Delicious cheeses, perfect accompaniments.  On to the salad.

Tuscan salad with arugula, beets, shaved fennel, endive, gorgonzola, and walnut vinaigrette.  My salad was a little under seasoned and under dressed.  Luckily they had some really good olive oil at the table and that problem was solved.  Once I added the olive oil, salt, and a bit of pepper the salad came together very nicely.  At this point in the night cocktails had been finished and I was sipping on a delicious Barbera anxiously awaiting our pizza.  Let’s talk about that for a second.  The amount of pizza we consume is pretty absurd, but to me,  there’s nothing better than a meal consisting of a good salad, pizza, and wine and Aria definitely does it right.  The pizza was pretty amazing.  We shared the Wild Mushroom with goat cheese, caramelized onion, arugula, & truffle oil.

Thin crispy crust all the way through with a heavenly combination of toppings.  The mushrooms earthy flavor was rich and concentrated like they had been roasted before added as a topping.   Every thing just went together perfectly, I couldn’t get enough of it (hence why we came back).

After splitting the pizza, we decided some dessert was necessary.  And not just one dessert, but two.  We really wanted to try the marscapone cheese cake but needed some chocolate too, and hey, girls’ gotta have chocolate.

Word to the wise: do not skip dessert at Aria.  I’m really not even a huge fan of cheesecake, but this cheesecake was so light and fluffy that it even turned me into a lover.  Must have been the marscapone.  And the cake.  There aren’t even words.  Layers of chocolatey hazelnut majesty.  Served with homemade hazelnut gelato. It was to die for.

Our first dining experience at Aria was perfect.  Our server was friendly and charismatic, the food was delicious, and the atmosphere was both energetic and relaxed.  That’s why I was so sad to have to share the bad news…our second dining experience at Aria just didn’t hit the mark.  We came back the next week when a friend was visiting and we were planning on a night out on the town.

We ordered drinks and it started off well.There were some highs: Aria does it right with their drinks.  Spot on.  I forget which drink I got but it was some sort of cucumber and herb combination.  Cool and refreshing.  I would definitely order it again.

We ordered our food, salads and pizza again, and then it got a bit confusing.  After about ten or fifteen minutes our pizza came to the table.  No salads, no explanation.  Just dropped off by a not-so-nice server.  We couldn’t find our own server to explain so we just started eating.  After a decent lull in service, he finally came over to the table and when we inquired about our salads he replied matter of factly that they would be out next .   After the pizza?  It was bizarre.  I know there are people who prefer to eat their salad after, but we made no such request and salad is listed before pizza on the menu and we knew that isn’t Aria’s norm because we  had just dined the week before!  It was a mistake that he tried to cover up instead of fixing.  Unfortunately, there were a lot of lows: dinner was rushed, it was hard to find our waiter to order a glass of wine to have with the pizza (since it came out so early), and just an overall weird experience.   Our first time at Aria was a nice, long, relaxing dinner, that made me want to come back.  I had such high expectations for the second night and was pretty disappointed at the end of it.  We did manage to try a new pizza, along with our favorite mushroom pizza.  Pizza d’Aria with prosciutto di parma, gorgonzola, and sundried tomato.  Great, crispy crust and a creative combination of toppings.  I still prefer the wild mushroom pizza but this was tasty as well.  After the bad experience, we decided against staying for dessert, sadly.

Bottom line: Aria was inconsistent, providing a wonderful dining experience one week, and a not-so-great time the next.

Pros: great cocktails and wine, delicious wild mushroom pizza, desserts

Cons: spotty service, inconsistent, didn’t fix mistake

I will probably give Aria another try, and don’t want to write them off completely.  The wild mushroom pizza is pretty heavenly, as well as the desserts.  And if you’re looking just to get drinks, their cocktails are great .  I hate to see a restaurant not get good reviews because of bad service, but if you want to have a successful business and develop a loyal following of diners, you have to train your employees.  There are too many good restaurants out there for anything less.  Hopefully, if we dine again, I can share good news with you.

Aria Tuscan Grill on Urbanspoon


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