We’ve been eating our way around Maplewood as of late, and finally made our way recently to an old favorite, Acero. One of Jim Fiala’s trio of restaurants, Acero features Northern Italian cuisine, a nice change from the heavier Italian fare that’s so pervasive in the Lou. We’re happy to report the eatery was every bit as good as we remembered it.

From the all-Italian wine list we had a glass of Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco ($11) while we noshed on an order of Gnocco Fritto ($4). These ‘meat donuts’ consisted of delicate puffed pastries topped with prosciutto de parma and sea salt. We don’t use the oft-overused phrase “melt in your mouth” lightly, but these savory, salty delights seemed to do just that. They definitely made our short list of favorite starters!

We opted for salads next, the Mixed Field Greens ($7) and L’insalata Mista ($7). The field greens were topped with parmigiano and pine nuts and dressed with a judicious amount of white balsamic and citrus, making for an extremely tasty balance of sweet and tangy. The mista, or ‘mixed,’ salad was sweet and crunchy, thanks to a delicious combo of cranberry, locally sourced pecans and apple, and balanced with the sharpness of onion and blue cheese.

We went with an old favorite and an unfamiliar dish for our mains, the Egg Raviolo ($13) and the Orecchiette ($10). We try to delve into new dishes when we take our culinary excursions, but we always have to have the egg raviolo at Acero. It’s just that good—a gorgeous egg yolk the color of a Tuscan sunset ensconced in a delicate pasta and resting in a rich sauce. We hope it never leaves the menu! To offset our raviolo habit, we tried something we hadn’t had before, the orecchiette, which means ‘little ears,’ referring to the cup-like shape of the pasta. In addition to the tender pasta, this dish consisted of tomato sauce with bits of pancetta pepato (a delicious Italian bacon variant), mint and ricotta. Upon reading the menu description, we were immediately curious about how the role the mint would play in this dish, as it’s definitely a flavor that can easily overpower. We were surprised that the mint really only hit our palate on the finish, providing a nice, cooling note and serving as a really interesting counterpoint to the spicy sauce.

We finished up with the Panna Cotta ($8). The delicate custard came drizzled with a salty caramel sauce that really took the dessert to new heights with the double whammy of salt and sweet. From the substantial array of after-dinner libations, we enjoyed a House-Made Lemoncello ($6), one of our favorite ways to end a fine Italian feast.

Not only was the food first-rate, but the Acero menu was surprisingly easy on the wallet. There was a pick-your-own four-course option available starting at $30, which presented diners with an affordable opportunity to sample their way through the menu. We plan to head back and take advantage of it in the very near future!

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