Written by Hulda Lawrence
Ciao Bella is located at 1640 Second Avenue at 85th Street, 212 794-9494 and in one year has attracted a considerable following. The floor to ceiling windows looked out on heavy equipment for the building of the Second Avenue Subway. Outdoor tables are ready for mild weather.
Our guide to the cuisine was Georgio Manzo, the sommelier who has a fine and reasonably priced cellar with many glasses from $10. My companion began with a Negroni and my choice was an excellent Montepulciano. With the drinks came warm, crusty bread and a marvelous dipping sauce of sun dried tomato, olive oil, anchovy, pepper and garlic. In addition to wines by the glass, bottles are available and Georgio searches and finds wines at reasonable prices.
We began with a choice from the "Insalate," Insalate Ciao Bella, a chopped salad of roasted peppers, avocado, hearts of palm, tomato, lettuce and lemon dressing. It was very tasty. Then we had two selections from the "Antipasti." We enjoyed an exceptional Carciofi, pan-fried artichoke, Roman-style with extra virgin olive oil and parsley; and Tortino di Melanzane alla Parmigiana con Prosciutto di Parma 18 Mesi E Piccola Insalate Verde: eggplant Parmigiana cake with 18 months aged Parma ham and small green salad. Its name is complicated, but the dish was very good. Other antipasti include Frittura Mista, seafood Tuna Tartare and Carpaccio di Filetto Di Manzo. Then comes "Il Grano," a number of pasta creations. We shared Pappardelle con Salsiccia e Funghi Porcini. This pasta was fine, at $16. All the pasta is made on the premises.
Although the menu describes each dish in both Italian and English, the friendly servers, all from Italy, will happily aid in your choices.
All these "starters" are nicely priced from $10 for our chopped salad to $16 for the pappardelle.
Although we had consumed a good bit of food, Giorgio insisted we share two main dishes of sea bass and veal. Entrees start at $19 for Chicken Milanese.
Then came desserts, all of them made in the house. A Carpaccio Di Ananas or Pineapple Carpaccio has been marinated overnight with cinnamon and star anise, accompanied by lemon sorbet; it was delicious. We also enjoyed a very good Tiramisu. My decaf Cappuccino was so good, I had a second. The cups are very small!
Saturday and Sunday Brunch is served from noon to 4 p.m. with Eggs Benedict at $12 and omelettes at $12. Special Panini served warm with a green salad are $11 and $12. An extra treat is Hazel Crust French Toast with Carmelized Banana and Organic Merck Forest Maple Syrup at $12.
At the completion of our luncheon we were introduced to Fabrizio De Togni, the experienced and talented chef who is adding his own touches to the expanding menu.
Incidentally, the restaurant is on two levels with private rooms available for social functions.
Hours: Dinner Monday thru Thursday 5 to 12 a.m. Friday and Saturday 5 to 1 a.m. and Sunday Brunch from noon to 4 p.m. and dinner from 5 to 11 p.m.
It is a long bus ride to Sazon, at 105 Reade Street (212) 406-1900 in the heart of Tribeca, but the ride is worth it. "Sazon" means a spicy addition to almost any dish. Here is a new place where Puerto Rican cuisine is presented in great surroundings. There is a bar area for quick fixes and a lower level for private parties with live music. On the ground floor is the main dining area, with its high ceiling and leather covered walls adding to the warm island colors and a party-like aura.
We began with cocktails ... a Sazon Mojito for my companion and a Calle Guava, Calle sol for me. It was done with Tommy Cahama White Rum, Guava Juice, Licor 43 and Chambord. The mojito was made with Cruzan Vanilla Rum, Kumquats, Muddled Lime and Mint with Ginger Ale. Cocktails start at $9 for Sangria to Trinidad K.O. $14.
With our cocktails came a dipping sauce of garlic and white beans with warm bread. We read the menu leisurely and with the assistance of Ramiro, our server from Mexico, we decided on two appetizers: Camarones con Rum, grilled shrimp with Puerto Rican Rum Glaze; and Tortita de Huelles, Puerto Rican crabcakes with salsa criolla and garlic lemon alioli. Both were very good and were $8 each.
In addition there are Empanadas of shrimp, chicken, beef and veggie at $2 each. There is a sandwich selection with sides of rice and beans, yucca fries or potato salad. Then there are wraps like El Yunque of grilled adobo chicken, cheese and avocado wrapped in a green leaf at $11. There are soups of chicken, root vegetables and shrimp from $6. Salads like Sazon Chopped Salad of shrimp, avocado, hearts of palm, white cheese and coconut lime vinaigrette are $7 for small to $14 for large.
Chef Ricardo Cardona has developed a menu with many dishes with which we are not so familiar. His particular touches embellish all the dishes. For our entrée we chose Sazon Paella which includes lobster, chorizo, clams, shrimp and saffron rice. One order is sufficient for two to share. It was very good. On another visit I would like to have Pollito, "little chicken," which has boneless roast Cornish hen with a stuffing of sweet plantain and guava sauce. Pernil is a large portion of three pounds of roast pork leg with pigeon pea rice and sweet plantains. Other main choices are Bistec en Salsa and Ropa Vieja, shredded stewed beef with black bean rice and sweet plantains.
After, we were brought a platter of four wonderful desserts. There were Churros with hot chocolate sauce and Guava empanadas stuffed with guava paste and cheese. Especially good is a dessert that incorporates a peanut butter cookie and very tasty is Tembleque, an eggless flan with strawberries and pineapple. The desserts are unusual and are a fitting conclusion to an exceptional meal.
Hours: Monday thru Friday 11:30 a.m. to 2 a.m. Lunch, Dinner and Brunch.
Saturday 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Sunday Brunch 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Friday and Saturday here is late night dancing on lower level.
The dollar sign indicates the approximate cost of dining for two persons, excluding beverages, tax and gratuity.