First Impressions: Woodland's Aria makes its cuisine sing

04/12/2013 12:00 AM

04/13/2013 7:52 PM

First Impressions visits dining spots in the region that are new or have undergone recent transitions. Have a candidate for First Impressions? Email us at taste@sacbee.com.

Aria Mediterranean Bistro

614 Main St., Woodland

(530) 662-0300

www.ariaonmain.com

Aria Mediterranean Bistro, offering upscale but far from stuffy dining on Main Street in Woodland, opened Jan. 25. The Woodland Opera House is across the street, which explains the restaurant's name. Serving lunch, dinner and Sunday brunch, Aria's cooking emphasizes Mediterranean flavors, mostly focusing on Italian cuisine. The restaurant is the dream of Glenn Haffner, who spent 15 years running delis and kitchens for Nugget Markets.

Menu: Aria embraces the vast Mediterranean region and its approach to dining without limiting itself by borders. You'll find plenty of pasta dishes, but there's also an intriguing Egyptian chicken salad with curry, dates, walnuts and garbanzo beans with a toasted fennel vinaigrette. There's a special lasagna Bolognese on Tuesday and Wednesday; New Zealand lamb shanks braised in Chianti and served over risotto on Thursday, Friday and Saturday; and a marinated flank steak served daily with fresh vegetables. The brunch menu is a three-course offering with choices for each course.

Price point: The Sunday three-course brunch is $23 ($12 for children). For dinner, appetizers, including crispy risotto cakes with prosciutto and caramelized onions, are around $9. Main dishes, including several pastas, are mostly in the mid-to-high teens, with only three dishes above $20. For upscale dining at this level, that's reasonable.

Ambience: With high ceilings, a sit-down bar and plenty of exposed interior brick, the room has warmth, plenty of period charm and touches of elegance. There's outdoor seating along the sidewalk on Main Street.

Drinks: Beer and wine, with an emphasis on the wine bar. The wine list emphasizes local and regional selections, along with Italian wines.

Happy hour: Half off appetizers and $3 for the red and white house wines from 2-6 p.m. weekdays.

Service: We stopped by for a Sunday brunch and were impressed by the polished service. Our waiter was personable, poised and knowledgeable.

First Impression: Are we in sleepy Woodland? This place has plenty of potential and we were surprised by the level of professionalism in the front of the house. Since we visited for brunch, our meal offered only glimpse of Haffner's kitchen skills. So far, his cooking is dynamic, even bold with flavors.

The fresh herbs in our flank steak and pasta dish really popped. There was nothing subtle about it, yet there was enough balance and complexity to make it all come together. If we were to quibble, it would be that the dish was lively to the point of being assertive. But that's better than bland, any day.

The brunch comes with a nice offering of fruit and housemade pastries. My first course, melon wrapped in prosciutto, was tasty but clunky – oversize pieces of melon with too little tissue-thin prosciutto. The cannoli was reasonably good, but unlike some of the savory dishes, its flavors were mild-mannered, if not overly tame.

Try it if: You embrace cooking that showcases freshness and lively flavors.

Forget it if: Your idea of Sunday brunch is all-you-can-eat on the cheap.


Call The Bee's Blair Anthony Robertson, (916) 321-1099. Follow him on Twitter @Blarob.

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