Worth Every Lira
When even kitchen-phobic Chow, Baby is capable of boiling water for pasta, heating up some Patsy’s marinara sauce, and throwing in handfuls of yummy pine nuts, it just doesn’t seem cost-effective to go out for Italian food. But then there’s Ciao, across from Bass Hall on Commerce, where you get the bill and you think, “That’s all? For all this?” Not that it’s cheap, exactly; it just feels like a good got-my-money’s-worth value.
This charming bistro was launched a couple of years ago by the extra-charming Albanese brothers, of Fizzi and Ruffino’s fame. Ciao is a little more accessible (that is, you’re not suddenly aware of how little your clothes cost ) than its siblings, but its menu of classic Italian dishes with modern touches, its sunny Tuscan décor, and a pleasant sonic mix of E-Z alternative and lively big band show a familial attention to detail.
Plus the food is great. The Nostra pizza ($6.95 at lunch, $7.95 dinner) is thin-chewy and sauceless, with grilled chicken, sun-dried tomatoes, asparagus, goat cheese, and fontina. Theoretically Chow, Baby could make gemelli Siciliana ($9.50 dinner) at home, but it’s highly unlikely that Chow, Baby would be inventive enough to combine eggplant, salami, black olives, and slivers of garlic and toss with twisty pasta in a light, sweet marinara sauce. It was a great dish, and even better later that night, with the flavors all melded and the pasta still dente.
Service was attentive and honest, with our waitress acknowledging right off that the desserts were not housemade. Which was nice to know, as the ones we tried weren’t that great, tending toward killer oversweetness. Eat at Ciao, but wave off the cannoli.
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