Crowd-pleasing Ciao Bella Too is a classic treat
Special to The Seattle Times
Ciao Bella Too, sister to the popular Ciao Bella near University Village, is like the Italian restaurant in the 1996 movie "Big Night." Not the quiet and authentic one presided over by Stanley Tucci and Tony Shalhoub, but the boisterous Italian-American joint across the street. Tucci and Shalhoub reluctantly conclude that sometimes you have to give the people what they want, even if it's huge portions of spaghetti and chicken cacciatore rather than understated risotto. The crowd-pleasing Ciao Bella Too definitely gives the people what they want.
All this happens in a room designed to reassure. There's a small wine bar near the door and a fireplace in the center of the room. The walls are adorned with colorful plates and sconces, some with candle-shaped lights and some with real candles. Since the kitchen is in front, there's no bad seat next to the kitchen door and you can watch the cooks at work, tossing serving after serving of pasta into bubbling stockpots while you wait for a table.
A chalkboard lists daily specials, which might be veal with artichoke hearts in gorgonzola cream sauce or rigatoni with sausage. Anything with the gorgonzola sauce is a safe bet - the regulars rave about it.
The menu is divided into charmingly named sections like "dal mulino alla tavola" (pasta, "from the mill to the table") and "dal pollaio alla padella" (chicken, "from the henhouse to the frying pan"). There is also a selection of pizzas.
The only part of our meal that failed was the part we didn't pay for: Entrees come with a complimentary green salad that manages to be both overdressed and bland.
The wine list consists of inexpensive Italian bottles, the kind of simple, acidic and low-tannin wines that won't win at a wine tasting but pair well with food. Naturally, Chianti and the like are available by the glass, and San Pellegrino's delicious citrus sodas are also available.
It's hard to talk about a classic Italian-American restaurant without taking a "been-there-done-that" tone, because we've all been there and eaten that. But what would we do without a place like Ciao Bella Too, where our favorites never go away, the specials always sound great and waiters treat you like a regular on your second visit?
Antipasto Rustico: This platter of vegetable delights includes artichoke hearts, grilled eggplant, marinated zucchini and more. CBT does eggplant right: flavorful and not at all watery.
Pollo Cacciatore: An Italian-American classic, this breast of chicken smothered in a "hunter-style" sauce of tomato, pepper, onion and olive is served with roasted potatoes and lemony spinach. Our only complaint: too heavy a hand with the dried herbs.
Penne alla Gorgonzola: Penne rigate is tossed with pancetta, mushrooms, broccoli and tomatoes in a gorgonzola cream sauce. Rich, delicious and big enough to serve one at dinner and two the next day for lunch (or breakfast, if you're out of cornflakes).
Lemon sorbet: Served in a hollowed-out lemon, this generous portion of sorbet (also available in orange) is a perfect refresher after garlic and gorgonzola.
Itemized bill, meal for two:
Antipasto Rustico, $7.50
Pollo Cacciatore, $14.95
Penne alla Gorgonzola, $14.95
Lemon Sorbet, $4.95
Glass of Chianti, $4.95
Can of Aranciata, $1.95