Finally, my last Dine Out post of the year – Ciao Bella. I remember two years ago a few of us showed up at Ciao Bella on Halloween Day, in our costumes, trying to get a table for dinner. To my surprise, they actually let us in, despite the funny looks on some diners’ face. It was a short but pleasant meal, but it warranted a return visit during this year’s Dine Out.
The menu was pretty simple, nothing fancy, with a bit of something for everyone. To start, I ordered the Crab & Lobster Bisque. I was expecting it to be like any other bisques, of which chefs make the broth from lobster shells, extracting all the essences to cook up a creamy, flavourful soup. To me, this one tasted like a tomato soup with chunks of crab meat and a bit of lobster meat. I couldn’t really taste the essence of crab and/or lobster in the soup itself. All my friends ordered the bisque and they all agreed.
For entree I chose the Grilled Veal Chop. Each entree came with pasta (which was penne in a tomato sauce), seasonal vegetables, or roasted potatoes; I opted for pasta. I have to say, I don’t see veal on menus a lot. And even if it’s on the menu, I don’t tend to order it, so this was a good opportunity to have it. The veal chop was huge! We didn’t have a choice in doneness, so they were all cooked to around medium, but the meat around the bone was more pink, more like medium rare. It was grilled nicely (check out the grill marks!), with simple seasoning that was quite flavourful. The pasta was just average. It’s basically cooked store-bought penne and tossed in a tomato sauce. Enough carbs to fill you up.
Ciao Bella is an Italian restaurant, so I couldn’t help but ordered myself a Tiramisu. It’s pretty good. Light, creamy mascarpone cheese with Kahlua/espresso-soaked ladyfingers. It was also a decent serving size. Best dessert on the menu.
I also tried other desserts that my friends ordered. The Chocolate Mousse was okay but rather ordinary. What caught our attention was the Italian Gelato, as it’s plated like a hard boiled egg! Well, the restaurant didn’t do it themselves, because I’ve seen it before. You can actually order them through gelato companies. I guess we were all expecting a couple of scoops of gelato but ended up seeing these “hard boiled egg” wedges just caught us by surprise.
The service was pretty good. Food came out quickly, yet we didn’t feel rushed even though there was always a line-up at the door. Decor wise, I feel that the restaurant seems a bit dated. It’s been around for 15 years and perhaps they never updated its look all this time. They consider themselves fine-dining, but I think over the last 15 years, the restaurant scene in Vancouver might have elevated the definition of fine-dining and Ciao Bella’s decor just doesn’t cut it. I like that it has live piano performance almost everyday; I was even more surprised that the pianist was playing a recent hit song from Adele!
Overall, food was of decent quality and of good value. You can tell they use store-bought pasta or ready-made gelato product, but I wonder if these shortcuts are acceptable for fine-dining anymore. To claim to be a fine-dining restaurant, I think Ciao Bella has room for improvement. Nonetheless, a great restaurant to have in the West-end neighbourhood.
Ciao Bella Italian Restaurant & Piano Bar
703 Denman Street, Vancouver