STILL SEEKING CIAO: New owners, same good food.
The ownership had changed since the last time we were at Ciao, but the quality hadn’t. It’s still high — far higher than one would normally expect from an unprepossessing little restaurant in a nondescript area of downtown Little Rock.
Ciao has various veal, fish, pasta and other dishes on its everyday menu, but it also has specials of the day that are really special. Pasta St. Michel was a wonderful mix of shrimp, Italian ham and mushrooms with alfredo sauce on fettuccini. The sauce was rich without being too rich, which is often a danger with this sort of thing.
Our other entree, another special, was salmon with a romano cheese crust, served on linguini with a lemon butter sauce. Sauteed vegetables came with it — a little mushy, but good. The salmon was very well cooked, the crust perfect.
Earlier, for appetizers, one of us had scampi. The shrimp were tender and fresh-tasting, not as spicy as some, perhaps, but in a lot of butter and oil. And, as with the shrimp in the Pasta St. Michel, perfectly cooked — not overcooked, as is frequently the case in lesser establishments. The other appetizer was focaccia bread served with olive oil, balsamic vinegar and chopped garlic for sopping.
The salads that came with the dinner were fresh mixed greens and a tomato wedge, with a tangy house dressing that included mustard and tarragon.
For dessert, we split a mixed-berry sherbet that proved to be the perfect thing after a big meal. Raspberry was dominant in taste and color, but we’ll take their word that other berries — blackberry, perhaps? — were involved.
The sherbet is not made on-premise. The chocolate creme brulee and the tiramisu are. The chocolate creme brulee has long been a favorite at Ciao. The tiramisu is new, and owner Becky Mobly, also new, says it’s the best in town.
Our only complaint was that we could have only one bottle of Pieroni, a good Italian beer. Then the supply was gone. We settled for a good Arkansas beer, Diamond Bear. A glass of chardonnay that accompanied the salmon was quite good. Ciao has only wine and beer in the way of alcohol.
Becky and Tony Mobly bought Ciao from Suzanne Boscarolo in October. They’d been managing the restaurant for about a year before that. It’s the first restaurant they’ve owned, though they’ve worked in the business for years. One of the few changes they’ve made to the decor is to add paintings and photographs by local artists on the walls.
One advantage of Ciao’s location is that it’s very close to The Rep, and not far from Robinson Center. When there’s a play at The Rep or a touring Broadway show at Robinson, Ciao usually gets a big pre-show crowd, starting around 6 p.m. On those nights, it’s a good idea to have a reservation.
The Moblys’ 7-month-old son, Benny, has become quite an attraction himself, according to his mother. He’s always there at lunch, and sometimes at dinner.
405 W. 7th St.
The good news is that the food didn’t suffer with a change in ownership. The specials are truly special.
11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 5:30 to closing Tues.-Sat.
Great place for a pre-show dinner if you’re headed to The Rep or Robinson Auditorium. Moderate to expensive prices. Credit cards accepted. Beer and wine available.