#70 - Ciao Bello, Houston TX

The Cowboys kicked off the football season in Houston.  As soon as my mom found that out in early 2013, she decided they were going to the game.  Since my parents had both retired in the spring they had lots more free time.  They came to my house in mid-August, stayed 2 weeks, and then drove to Houston with me. I was glad to have them with me, because that 8 hour drive to Houston stinks. The drive there isn't bad, but the return trip is always killer, especially once we hit the halfway point in Dallas. All I want to do is stop and take a nap. Which I actually did, and had my mom take the wheel for a while.

We had arrived in Houston on Thursday night, which if course is a super busy restaurant night. We asked the concierge for recommendations and said a lot of places downtown would be really crowded and a reservation would probably be necessary.  But he also strongly recommended Ciao Bello, which is only about a mile from the hotel and they said it was delicious. 

I liked the place as soon as we walked in.  There's a small bar basically right at the door that wraps halfway around a huge floor-to-ceiling wall of wine and liquor bottles. I know they're maximizing space, but it's kind of crowded.  Especially because the hostess stand is just to the right.  The ceilings in the main dining room are super tall, going all the way up to the 2nd floor. The only exception is the right side, as that is upstairs seating.  I'd never seen anything like that before, but really like it.  I didn't see the upstairs so I can't speak to it, but I feel like the downstairs is the place to be.  The restaurant is on the end of a strip mall, so there's only one wall with windows--but they are huge and let in lots of light. 

Photo courtesy of Ciao Bello
We didn't have a reservation, but were still seated right away.  It wasn't the best table, as it was in the corner near to the kitchen.  But it was Thursday night, prime dinner time, and we didn't have to wait.  Sometimes you just have to make small sacrifices.

Our server was awesome.  I can't remember his name, but he was very friendly, and had so much personality.  He was born in Greece, raised in Italy, and has lived in the US for a few years.  Sometimes it was hard to understand everything he said, but that didn't detract one bit from the experience.

I started with a glass of Stephen Vincent sauvignon Blanc.  I had never heard of it, but it was reasonably priced and so that worked for me.  I love it!  Definitely found myself a new white.  It's almost got a little peppery bite, but it's absolutely delicious.

We started with an order of calamari.

Served with Calabrian Chiles ricotta crostini and crispy prosciutto
Love that it was served on a wood plank!  It comes with prosciutto, but my dad is vegetarian so we omitted it. My mom doesn't like calamari, so that just meant more for me and dad.  I usually don't like fried food that isn't crispy, but this dish was an exception to that.  The calamari was perfectly cooked, hot, and outstanding.  The chiles definitely added some heat, but the ricotta was the perfect thing to cool it down.  The ricotta was homemade, creamy and fantastic.  I could have easily eaten just a bowl of that.

As usual I was struggling with what to order.  Everything looked good, but I kind of wanted pasta.  I finally settled on the papardelle Bolognese

This has to be one of the best dishes I think I've ever had.  The pasta was homemade and you could tell the sauce had slow cooked for hours, and it was perfectly seasoned.  I was absolutely in heaven.  I still had sauce left after the pasta was done so I sopped it up with the bread.  And what I really liked is that it wasn't tons of food.  It was more than enough, but not a typical double-serving.

I wish I had room for dessert, but then I would have had to roll myself back to the hotel.  It was already close, with all the food we had eaten. 

Will I go back?  Absolutely no question.  The food, atmosphere and service were all outstanding.