We get lots of mail from readers about their favorite restaurants, and that's a good thing. We want feedback, and with all the food activity going on, we might not be aware of a new venture in town right away.
So, we were happy to get an e-mail from an enthusiastic patron of Ciao! Pizza Bistro Italiano in the glitzy Quarry Lake development off Greenspring Avenue. At first glance, we thought it was just another pizza joint adding its pies to our palates.
But then we saw the menu: veal truffle, risotto pescatore, salmon pistachio, plus personal-size gourmet pizzas like the Mediterranean pizza with lamb sausage, artichoke hearts, and feta cheese. Okay, we were intrigued.
We went on a Friday evening and found out that many other diners have already discovered the suburban bistro, co-owned by chefs Genarro and Giuseppe DiBenedetto. Genarro DiBenedetto has four other restaurants with various names around the state. This is the brothers' first Ciao!
There was a 20-minute wait the night we visited, so we settled into the tiny bar area to take in the scene amid the din of happy chatter. The space is pretty and
modern—olive and mauve hues, recessed ceilings, mood lighting from decorative sconces. It's a glorified storefront but has a hip vibe for a neighborhood joint.
Our bartender, despite tending to several other customers and busing tables as well, took the time to make several menu suggestions while we were waiting for our table. By the time we were seated, we were ready to dig in.
A basket of fresh baked ciabatta wedges with seasoned olive oil arrived immediately. Lemon water from a frosty pitcher was a nice touch.
We were soon nestling into a platter of mussels fra diavolo ($8.99), plump specimens in a spicy marinara sauce, and portofino pizza ($10.99), one of the bartender's recommendations, a crisp, thin crust topped with prosciutto, caramelized apples, goat cheese and a drizzle of balsamic. The sweet-salty flavor with a hint of cinnamon is a dynamic combo. It also turned out to be excellent breakfast fare the next day.
There are any number of delicious sounding pastas, but we went with the seafood Mediteranneo ($16.99, dinner). Laced with generous amounts of shrimp and scallops and topped with lump crab, the fettucine had just enough Alfredo sauce to enhance, not drown the dish.
Even the entrée salads are interesting. Spicy arugula is the star of the mignon salad ($11.99), a generous portion with tender beef tips, roasted peppers and potatoes, pine nuts, and gorgonzola cheese. Toss with the balsamic vinaigrette on the side if you'd like.
There were a couple of quibbles. Unless you score a booth, the tables are close enough together to make you feel like you're part of your neighbors' conversations. And there were lapses in service—a 15-minute wait for a glass of wine, too many dishes arriving at the same time. But that could be kitchen timing with busers running out with food as soon as the plates are garnished. And it was our server's second day on the job.
No surprise that there's a tempting dessert list. We bypassed the tiramisu, profiteroles, and spumone for two dainty cannolis ($4.99) dipped in chocolate. Welcome to the neighborhood, Ciao! and thanks to Martin, the e-mailer who tipped us off to its charms.