John Mariani’s Review of Ciao Bello
Above: Esquire food critic John Mariani reviewed Ciao Bello in January 2011.
Over the years Tony Vallone has owned, and sold, various casual Italian restaurants and trattorias, and last year opened his best yet, one that comes closest to his own passions about la cucina casalinga. Ciao Bello, opened last year, is not 180 degrees from the elegant Tony’s, for you’ll find the same care of preparation by Chef de cuisine Cesar Toriz, even similar dishes like the fedelini amatriciana, crudi, and osso buco with risotto.
But Ciao Bello is very different in its brightly lighted décor, with high ceilings and very high decibel levels, more for a crowd that wants to eat without fanfare and be in and out in an hour or so. It has a long menu, with salume and antipasti like shrimp Livornese with olive oil, garlic, and white wine; several salads; and well-made, thin crusted pizzas. The housemade pasta and risotto section alone lists 15 items, including outstanding renderings of osso buco-stuffed raviolo with porcini mushrooms; agnolotti with stuffed squash in a light sage sauce; linguine with shellfish, wine and tomato; and a daily risotto. Portions for these are generous enough for a main course.
There are nine seafood dishes, with a terrific red snapper mandorlate with tomatoes, vodka, and the bright idea of crispy eggplant to give texture and sweetness. For a hefty main course, go with the shortrib braised for a long time in barolo wine, and if you want something simple, the succulent “Aunt Mary’s grilled chicken” with lemon, white wine and mushrooms is an ideal choice. One dish I’m dying to try next time is available only at brunch–Tony’s fried chicken on a Belgian waffle with the Italian touch of amaretto syrup.
Among the desserts, I liked best a nostalgic Sicilian cannoli and old-fashioned zeppole fritters with just enough lemon to cut their sweetness.
There’s a bar up front that’s popular after six p.m., backed by a multilevel wine and spirits case that includes just about anything you could want to drink in this kind of atmosphere. Wines by the glass start at $7, while bottles are split fairly evenly between Italian and California labels.