This Week's Cafe Review: Bellissimo Cibo at Unassuming Ciao Bello
Ciao Bello is a monster all its own, and an impressive one at that. The decor is charming, the service molds itself to what the diner desires (Want to be chatty? They can be chatty.) and the food is some of the best Italian in the city.
Photo by Kaitlin Steinberg The chianti-braised beef cheeks could rival any of the best dishes at the best steakhouses in Houston.
Sure, Tony's does miraculous things with food, turning commonplace ingredients into works of art beyond what diners could possibly imagine. But sometimes--and in my case, more often than not--I don't want a tasting menu filled with delicate eccentricities. I want a big bowl of fabulous, mind-blowing pasta. I want melt-in-your-mouth beef that I have to get a doggy bag for because it's just so much delectable meat. I want an unfussy salad with greens and a simple dressing.
This is not to say in any way that I don't like Tony's. I love Tony's. I love knowing that on the rare occasion I get to eat there I'll have a truly special meal. But Ciao Bello is the type of place I can eat once a week, and I can show up in jeans after a long day and not feel out of place.
The best thing about Ciao Bello? The chef, Bobby Matos, and the rest of the staff pay the same attention to food as do the chefs at Tony's. It's different food, less expensive food at Ciao Bello, but no less marvelous. With the exception of a few lackluster (but definitely not bad) dishes, Ciao Bello produces the same quality of food that makes my eyes roll back in my head in bliss when I dine at Tony's, only it's more comfortable and more familiar.
Walking into Ciao Bello for dinner every few weeks, I find myself thinking, "Hello, old friend. I'm back. Sorry it took me so long."