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At Ciao Bello, Eggs and Flour Combine to Create Dishes of Perfection

Looking for pasta paradise? You'll find it at Ciao Bello.

Never having had beet-stuffed ravioli before, I was initially skeptical. Do beets have enough flavor to create a compelling dish? Will the starch in the beets work with the starch in the pasta? Is the texture pleasant? The answers, I found, are yes, yes and yes. Rarely have I been so pleasantly surprised by such a simple dish. The purées are sweet but earthy (they're roots, after all), and the smooth texture contrasts with the chewy chestnuts and crisp sage. And then there are the vibrant colors, which end up smeared all over the plate; think of Frankenthaler or Pollock canvases. The doppio ravioli is a multi­sensory experience.

In a menu as extensive as Ciao Bello's, though, it's no surprise that there are a few items that fall short of the greatness that is the pasta. Pan-roasted Atlantic salmon errs toward Asian influence, due mainly to its overly sweet Meyer lemon glaze and the bed of black rice on which the non-Italian fish rests. Chicken paillard is tasty but fails to beguile with either unique or pleasantly traditional flavors. Even these items aren't bad, though; they just don't have the wow factor of the pastas, which admittedly are hard to top.
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Everyone raves about Ciao Bello's pasta and the Neapolitan-style pizza, so I was surprised when several friends suggested I order the beef cheeks. Even the bartender who took my order informed me that meat is truly where Matos shines. Seriously, I wondered. I was under the impression that his forte was tagliatelle, ravioli, orecchiette and the like, so if he thought he could top that, I'd like to see him try.

Doppio ravioli surprises and delights with pockets of bright red and yellow beets and a topping of crunchy chestnuts.
Troy Fields
Doppio ravioli surprises and delights with pockets of bright red and yellow beets and a topping of crunchy chestnuts.

Location Info

Map

Ciao Bello

5161 San Felipe St., 100
Houston, TX 77056

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Galleria

Details

Hours: Sunday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.; Saturday, 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.

Crispy Tuscan kale: $8.95

Bruschetta: $10.95

Warm goat cheese salad: $9.95

Cappelletti: $18.95

Pappardelle bolognese: $18.95

Pansoti: $17.95

Corzetti alle vongole: $19.95

Doppio ravioli: $19.95

Pan roasted Atlantic salmon: $23.95

Chianti-braised Wagyu beef cheeks: $26.95

Desserts: $9.95

Here's a lesson I learned: Never challenge a chef, even if it's only mentally.

I thought Matos could do no better than the pasta I had, so delicious it requires a moment of reverent silence when it's brought to the table. But I was wrong. The beef cheeks, oh, my heavens, the beef cheeks! Meat so tender it falls apart with a sigh in a sticky sweet Chianti glaze on a warm bed of fragrant wild-mushroom risotto — this is Ciao Bello's pièce de résistance.

Upon tasting the first melt-in-your-mouth morsel of perfectly braised beef, redolent of mushroom from the wilted fungi beneath it, I closed my eyes, leaned back in my chair and promised myself I'd remember that moment and how wonderful it is when good, simple food has the power to make everything else in the world seem unimportant.

I recently came across a Twitter rant by the digital editor of Saveur magazine in which she lamented the fact that when you write about and are surrounded by amazing food constantly, it starts to lose the allure that it once held. Foie gras is a weekly meal, and shaved truffles are no longer a delicacy, and you feel as if you can't give credence to anything that isn't avant-garde, unique and mind-blowing. She continued with the most important thing I've read in a long while:

"But then sometimes you have the moment, and it's magical, and you remember that people love this, and you are people, and you love it."

I think food writers — and really, all people who love food — need to be reminded once in a while that not everything must be cutting-edge and exclusive. Not everything needs to be Tony's. There's a need for Ciao Bello, too, and all the satisfied people who take comfort and pleasure in its homey character and classic food are proof of that.

kaitlin.steinberg@houstonpress.com

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