We visited Ciao Bella as a dinner for my department so this review is of the meal at that event not the normal restaurant menu. My disclaimer is that I did go to Ciao Bella once before and the food was good, I had my first octopus steak. It is quite expensive for the area and the food but that is for another time. Now for the review of the three course meal. First off, we ate in the basement of the restaurant which they call a wine cellar. It was way too small for the number of people in attendance which meant we were really crowded. The extremely odd part about this location was that it was unreasonably hot. The AC didn’t work well and it was supposed to be a wine cellar. There is no way that wine should have been in an 80 degree hotbox. The upstairs part of the restaurant was easily 15 degrees colder.
My first course was a salad with what I think was mango vinaigrette, I can’t really remember, which says a lot. All I remember about this salad was that it was drowning in dressing. Truly not a great way to start a meal. It really is not that hard to toss a green salad in dressing and serve it crisp and fresh but I think they were overwhelmed by the twenty of us being served at the same time. Personally, I think the salads were good to begin with but sat around until they were already to come down together.
My second course was very interesting. It was a dish that would have worked perfectly if not for one glaring misstep. I ordered a seared duck breast which was supposed to be served over mango risotto and then surrounded with side by side sauces, one mango and the other a port wine reduction. I will give them credit where credit is due, the duck was cooked wonderfully. It was medium so not tough, my knife ran through the meat without much effort and the fat layer on the top melted in my mouth. The sauces were also very good accompaniments; personally I really liked the tang of the port wine reduction added to the smooth texture of the duck breast. The mango sauce was a little too sweet and somewhat shutdown my palette.
So what was the misstep you ask, well I’ll tell you. They added what tasted like American cheese to the mango risotto. Now you’re asking, “Wait, American cheese with mango, duck, and port wine sauce, that sounds odd”. I reply, you are correct and it was not in the original description of the dish. At first taste all I could think of was Kraft cheesy macaroni in the blue box. And let me tell you, though I love the blue box, it made no sense on this plate and it tasted so strange with mango mixed in. I truly believe that someone made a huge mistake with that or maybe they were drinking the wine that was spoiling in their sauna of a wine cellar. In order to make the dish work I had to take the risotto off my plate and eat it as a side dish. The last thing on that dish was crispy onion strings on the top. Fun but completely unnecessary on top of a potentially sophisticated duck entrée.
Desert was a crème brulee. Ok, but somewhat forgettable. Yes it was creamy and sweet and yes the sugar was torched well but it was just a standard crème brulee, nothing that blew me away. The one annoying thing was that it was a little warm when served. I like my crème brulee nice and cold with a solid sugar top to crack through. I feel like the cold texture makes it all that much better, but that’s just me.
All in all, I just think that the kitchen was overwhelmed but the amount of people they needed to serve simultaneously and it showed in the quality of service and the quality of the food. All the dishes could have been so much better if they didn’t miss standard production rules like don’t let a dressed salad sit around and didn’t add weird things to the entrée like the cheese product from the Kraft Blue Box. It was a very different meal than the first time I went with Virginia so I would not recommend Ciao Bella for parties larger than 8-10.
Overall Recommendation: 5/10