EATS & DRINKS: REVIEW
908 E. Rolling Hills Dr., Fayetteville | (479) 435-9555 | www.isabellasfayetteville.com
By Case Dighero | Photos by Meredith Mashburn
Isabellas is bustling; the dining room is filled with small tables of guests chatting and eating, and the bar is crowded with more people standing and sitting over tall, pretty cocktails and wine. Owner and front of the house guru Nickki Golden is traversing it all, stopping here and there to visit, usually laughing with the guests she knows, and comforting those who are new — though the ratio of friends to newbies is slim because Nickki is beloved in Fayetteville. In fact, with her husband Todd and their other concepts that include seafood and sandwiches, she probably knows everybody in town.
Along with a friend, I’m eating Crispy Fresh Mozzarella ($12), deep fried pillows of cheese, covered in pickled peppers, chopped kalamata olives and fresh basil, barely floating above a puddle of hearty red sauce. It’s warm and comforting as I pull long, thick strings of cheese from the plate to my mouth — my technique perhaps bordering on the obscene, but precisely what fried mozzarella is supposed to do.
The Goldens launched Isabellas in early spring of this year, no doubt a delayed labor of love due to the pandemic, yet another example of how the restaurant business was forever damaged…though this story ends happily. Nickki continues to work the room as plates of food land on our table — jumbo shrimp, beef carpaccio and Diver Scallops ($17), perfect, wobbly gems caramelized on the outside with a cool, briny center positioned over a dark amber chianti beurre blanc and crunchy carrot salad. We order a bottle of wine but allow it to breathe a bit while we sip our French 75 Martinis that seem to glow a brilliant, light purple color from the inside out.
Crispy Fresh Mozzarela
More food arrives — a velvety lobster bisque, Caesar salad and a scorching hot French Onion Skillet ($11) of dark sauteed sweet onions covered in beef broth and draped with garlicky croutons and melted Havarti and Swiss cheese. Mmmm, my happy mood continues as the wine hits my lips.
Everyone is happy. The guests at each table seem to be either huddled close or laughing uproariously, including ours at any given moment. The ambience is classic black-and-white, from the floor to the linens, to the tabletops and wall décor — a striking juxtaposition to the colorful language and people scattered throughout the dining room. And of course, as if from a scene in a movie, the couple next to us seem to be falling more in love by the minute.
Next, we were presented with several varieties of gorgeous pasta, including a hearty Tagliatelle ($21) twirled high and drenched in classic Bolognese sauce then topped with fresh basil ricotta, followed by a more delicate Orecchiette ($24), tiny ear-shaped dumplings floating in a creamy broth, then embellished with parmesan brodo and topped with slightly charred coins of sausage…delectable. My friend, a sometimes vegetarian, marveled over the Beggars’ Purses ($21), adorable bundles of pasta stuffed with parmesan and mozzarella over a pool of tomato sauce and fried bits of pancetta… as I mentioned before, sometimes vegetarian.
The menu is also chock-full of steaks, fresh seafood and — one of my new favorite dishes in Fayetteville — Veal Sweetbreads ($32), a classic study in super delicate offal, seared with brandy, cream and prosciutto. The menu calls for it to be served with orzo pasta, but I prefer it with the more rich, salacious risotto. Another standout on the menu is the Halibut ($38), seared exquisitely with preserved lemon, capers, sundried tomatoes and basil polenta.
As the evening slowly begins to wind down, we hear more chatter focused on our gracious and gregarious hostess: “Thank you, Nickki…Everything was perfect, Nickki…See you next week, Nickki!” And as we finished our meal, complete with a slice of olive oil cake and basil ice cream crepes, I couldn’t help but repeat the same: “Thank you, Nickki…Everything was perfect, Nickki…See you next week, Nickki!”