EATS & DRINKS

Berretto

121 W. Central Ave., Bentonville | (479) 278-1522 | www.illberretto.com

By Case Dighero | Photos by Meredith Mashburn

 

Bentonville is teeming with people during a recent First Friday, which has become an important cultural, if not civic ritual for people living and working close to downtown.  At times I feel as if I’m swimming upstream against a massive school of people, shifting sideways to traverse designer handbags, strollers and lives well spent — if this isn’t a sign of a society leapfrogging the pandemic, then I don’t know what is. Still, my companions and I need a break from the heat and the people, and as we arrive at the outside of the dimmed windows of Scotch and Soda and then open the doors, it’s as if we wandered through a portal into whole new world.

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Croquettas, Patas Bravas,
Corn Fritters

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Gina, Chef Sam, Rosalba, Marcos

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Suddenly we are embraced by cool, dark vibes with a hillbilly gothic ambience that includes animal heads on the wall, oversized iron lightworks and long, billowy gowns of maroon drapes cascading over exposed brick. The ambience tows the line exquisitely between feminine and masculine nuance, a nod toward the accessibility and inclusion of both the Scotch and Soda cocktail bar and Berretto.

 

That’s right, located inside Scotch and Soda is Berretto, a small kitchen helmed by chef Sam Diaz, a young culinary auteur who has developed a reputation for rustic, stylized tapas-esque cuisine. Diaz has worked under some of the brightest stars in Bentonville, including Matt McClure of the Hive and Rafael Rios of Ye-Yo’s fame — both entities not only beloved by regional foodies, but also nominated for James Beard awards. Needless to say, Diaz comes from good stock, both figuratively and literally.  Flanked quite literally by her family of sisters, she has developed a passion and nuance for cuisine that hails from her Miami roots. Her finesse is a hodgepodge of experience that includes Cuban, Mediterranean and a delicious dose of the High South for good measure, but don’t let the myriad flavors throw you, the menu flows with as much deliberate, beautiful intention as the drapes that adorn the walls.

We nestle in close to the brick walls, and the food appears in delightful bursts of color and texture. First up are the tapas of Patatas Bravas ($11), crispy gems of potato embellished with fresh herbs, fried garlic slices and rich fondue; then come pillow-like Corn Fritters ($12), fried like hushpuppies with oregano, Calabrian peppers, pecorino and garlic aioli; followed by Croquettas ($10), breaded, crispy cylinders filled with salty prosciutto, fresh lime squeezes and homemade hot sauce.

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Braised Pork Shank

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Charcuterie Board

Our tapas odyssey marches onward with a flurry of stout, pretty cocktails from the Scotch and Soda bar. My favorite of the evening, Dame Joan Collins ($12), bright, easy flavors of lemongrass vodka swirled with lemon and sparkling water, could quietly cause serious harm if not monitored closely — a condition certainly inspired by its namesake. My cohorts licked their chops in unison at the Beauregarde ($12), devised with gin, rum, blueberry coconut syrup, pineapple, lemon and crème de violette, and the Gallagher ($12), an herbaceous culmination of gin, watermelon, mastiha, kaffir lime chili syrup, and salt — both drinks teeming with seemingly opposing ingredients that mysteriously dwell harmoniously. 

 

Diaz’ Charcuterie Board ($13) might just be my new favorite in Bentonville, featuring a trio of cured meats sliced paper thin with homemade pickle vegetables, toasted crusty bread and an ethereal apple mostarda. A brilliant opportunity to stack, smack and repeat for dinner. Still, her sandwiches are nothing short of culinary nirvana — the Eggplant Parmesan ($13) is completely vegetarian, with fried eggplant stratified in hearty tomato sauce, fresh basil, fresh mozzarella and provolone cheeses, and crunchy grilled baguette; omnivores will appreciate the Braised Pork ($19), which is slow cooked until falling off the bone, then stacked high with arugula, pickled shallots, Fresno aioli and shaved parmesan on garlic-laden French bread.

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Ricotta Raviolini

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Tajarin

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Affogato

Another standout dish on the menu is the Tajarin ($19), long delicate twines of pasta smothered in homemade zucchini caponata, pecorino, parmesan and lemon mascarpone.  Again, Diaz’ special skill in creating completely vegetarian food that is undeniably bold is refreshing, and nobody in the Natural State is doing it like she is.   

 

We’re full, slightly tipsy, but before we head back out to the sensory overload of First Friday in Bentonville, we indulge in a wispy, petite Mason jar of Pistachio Gelato ($6) and a super creamy, delicious Affogato ($8) — both a fitting end to our meal.

 

No doubt, chef Diaz is making quite the impression on the ever-crowded food scene in Bentonville, and rest assured, her place is secured for antiquity because of a talent and nuance that is all her own…and a restaurant that transports us all to a whole new world.   

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Eggplant Parm

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