Ciao Bella is one of those little neighborhood Italian restaurants that attracts and deserves a cult following. Tucked away on the north side of 45th, my wife and I must have driven by a thousand times without even noticing it was there. And, of course, once we did discover it existed, we assumed by its appearance and location that it was too expensive for our student budget.
We were wrong.
Ciao Bella’s food is not only great, it’s also easy on the wallet. A five star meal of salmon ravioli, cioppino and crème brûlée only set the two of us back $40. The total was $45 after factoring in a delicious Moretti Birra la Rossa red double bock. I was leaning toward a lighter lager, but our waiter politely insisted I try the heavier, more German-tasting la Rossa. When he brought it to the table, he assured me that, if it tasted anything less than perfect, it was, of course, free of charge. That’s service.
Which brings me to the waitstaff. The waiters are warm, accomodating and honest. It appeared as though only two were taking orders and serving, but somehow they seemed to manage a full restaurant with ease. Regulars were greeted with lively, relaxed, familiar conversation. Newcomers received a kind smile and light chatter.
We were quickly seated outside by the fountain, our (delicious!) bread and olive oil were continually refilled and the waiters were attentive and polite without being intrusive. They seemed to know that I wanted something before I did.
Our waiter also never hesitated to make a recommendation and never led us astray. When my wife asked if pasta came with the cioppino, he noted that it did not and that, unfortunately, the portion was probably too small for “hungry young people”. He smiled, though, and told her it would be no problem for the chef to serve the cioppino over spaghetti… in fact, he said he preferred it that way, too. No extra charge for what wound up being a pretty large portion of pasta and seafood.
The wine list looked broad, if not deep, with a good sampling of affordable and pricey wines. The food selection wasn’t huge, but every dish was mouthwatering. And, of course, the service was spectacular. I can’t wait to go back.
A reviewer elsewhere had wondered whether the proximity to 45th would make outdoor dining noisy. I must admit that I didn’t notice anything but the rare car horn. The relative silence is due primarily to the hedge between the dining area and the street and the fountain situated in the center of the dining area.