Everyone’s looking for a bargain these days. But eating on the cheap doesn’t mean you have to eat cheap food.
Take, for instance, the lunch specials offered at Ciao Italian Restaurant off West 7th Street downtown. There’s a nice list of possibilities served up for $5.45 - a Caesar Salad, Fettucini Alfredo, Cheese Tortellini Pesto, Linguini and Meatballs, Cheese Manicotti Marinara, Fried Cheese Ravioli and Fried Beef Ravioli. Now, I’m a big fan of T-Ravs (toasted ravioli) so the Fried Beef Ravioli caught my interest. These come out almost too hot to handle, crisp on the outside and surprisingly juicy on the inside. They’re served up with a liberal application of marinara sauce in a long ramekin, a stew of rich tomato, onion and spices. Perfect not just for the raviolis but for that awesome soft white bread you get with any meal.
But if you’re truly looking for a bargain and want to eat Italian style, just order up the Focaccia Bread ($3.79). Not just a pile of starch, the big basket of warm herbed bread comes with two more ramekins -- one of balsamic vinegar and olive oil with clumps of roasted garlic, one of Feta cheese, red onions, green onions and black pepper. This one simple dish is enough to satisfy those who favor a lighter diet -- indeed, it might well be worth skipping the entrée so you can share up the soft bready delight with a glass of Irony (a pinot noir noticeably featured on deck).
One more round of bargains can be found on the lunch menu -- the $2.99 “Just A Bite” dessert selection. We’ve tried a few. The Chocolate Truffle (served as a half-moon) is so rich and decadent, the smaller portion is enough. That thin slice of Key Lime Pie is still as pungently tart and creamy as the full size model, and the Chocolate Crème Brulee is cute and sweet in its half-size ramekin. Probably the size we should all be ordering in the first place!
Of course, you don’t have to search out bargains to enjoy Ciao’s. I haven’t tried it myself, but I keep hearing big stories about the Ultimate Beef Tenderloin that’s on the menu for $46.99. I think I’ll stick with a meal that won’t wipe out my dining budget for the week!
You’ll find Ciao’s Italian Restaurant at 407 W. 7th St. in downtown Little Rock. Lunch specials are offered from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday. (501) 372-0238.