Tony Vallone hasn’t gone out of his way to promote his new restaurant, Ciao Bello, yet it’s near-packed early on a Wednesday night. Sheesh. Given the stature of the Vallone name around town, this is not a big shock. Also not surprising is that Ciao Bello is another gold star on his already dazzling resume.
Walking in you’ll notice that the place is a near replica of the restaurant’s previous iteration, complete with high ceilings, beautiful bar, and a window into the kitchen. It’s a nice enough space, but prepare to get a little cozy -- the dining room is so crammed with tables, so you’ll need to think thin if nature calls.
Once your food arrives, though, you’ll immediately forget about the vociferous neighbors only a forearm’s length away. The caprese salad is standard at best, so start with one of the more creative options... Like the antipasti, a gorgeous selection of stuffed mushrooms, roasted peppers, artichoke hearts, eggplant, salami, and more, each tastier than the last, perfect for sharing.
The much-touted osso bucco ravioli meets its delicious expectations. Tender, disintegrate-in-your-mouth strings of buttery osso bucco hide inside a glorious pasta pillowcase, topped with a rich and meaty sauce. Totally dreamy. The Chicken al Matonne, too, is a win -- a lemony poisson, seared, pressed flat, and cooked under a brick. Moist and satisfying from the first bite to the last.
Finally, save room for the Zeppole Zia Maria, warm, beignet-like doughnuts topped with powdered sugar and served with a side of pastry cream. These puppies top a crazy-enticing list of meal-enders.
Ciao Bello is touted as a casual Italian place. And that’s true in the sense that you can leave your tux at home. But when the median pasta costs $17, I’d say you’ve moved right on into the upscale. However, the food is outstanding and the service supreme. So as long as you don’t expect to get outta there for less than two or three Jacksons, you’ll come out seeing stars.
Ciao Bello - 5161 San Felipe (at Sage)