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Ciao Bella is located at 1640 Second Avenue at 85th Street, and is open for dinner from Monday through Thursday from 5:00 – 12:00 AM, Friday and Saturday 5:00 – 1:00 AM, and Sunday from 5:00 – 11:00 PM, with Sunday brunch from 12:00 – 4:00 PM. Ciao Bella is also open for lunch on weekdays from 12:00 – 3:00 PM. Ciao Bella boasts ample sidewalk and balcony seating on its first and second levels, weather permitting, and its second floor is available for private parties and corporate functions. For more information on private parties and reservations, please call 212-794-9494 or visit www.ciaobellanyc.com.
Ciao Bella: A Portal to La Dolce Vita
By Nancy Walman
Calling to mind the warmth and sophistication of the Italian spirit is newcomer to the Upper East Side, Ciao Bella, a restaurant specializing in all things Italian chic. The newest addition by Enrico Proietti, the longtime Italian restaurateur who boasts such East Side staples as Per Lei, Baraonda, and Bella Blu, Ciao Bella is a swanky, yet decidedly neighborhood-friendly, addition to a strong portfolio filled with over 30 years of restaurant successes. Now with former Per Lei chef, Fabrizio De Togni, recently taking over the kitchen, the food is being kicked up a notch to match the ultra-chic space and the posh crowd of Upper East Siders filling it.
The space, an airy bi-level locale on the corner of 85th and Second Avenue, boasts a festive and creative atmosphere that makes the perfect backdrop for Chef De Togni’s robustly flavorful food. With large floor to ceiling windows, ample amounts of natural light, and wraparound sidewalk seating, there’s no bad seat in the house. The colors of the decor reflect the restaurant’s energy—vibrant red tones color artfully arranged tiles on the side walls and bar, as well as the restaurant’s signature leather tray ceiling. Eclectic pop art by Warhol and Keith Herring hangs on the walls of both the main dining room and the second floor, which also features space for private parties and romantic balcony seating—all in all, the spacious restaurant and its hospitable staff capture the warmth of the Italian spirit and create the perfect dynamic atmosphere for its standout culinary offerings.
Ciao Bella’s strength lies in the harmonious partnership between owner and chef. Proietti’s desire to let his chefs flourish and explore their creativity has been one of his secrets to success in the past, and Chef De Togni relishes in his creative freedom. With 20 years of experience around the world to fuel him with limitless inspiration, De Togni has the perfect set of tools to hone Proietti’s vision.
De Togni’s influences date back to his early youth, when he spent hours admiring his father’s confectionary work at the bakery he owned in the center of Milan. His career took off in the same city: he attended the CFP Vellesana Sondalo Culinary School and secured his first kitchen job as helper at La Greppia before working his way towards a position as Sous Chef of La Tradizionale, a regional fish and seafood restaurant.
De Togni’s professional pursuits then took him on a voyage around the world when he took on the responsibility of launching a branch of the famous Paper Moon in Istanbul, Turkey, a role that would lead him to cook in subsequent Paper Moon kitchens around the world, and eventually leading him to New York City. It was here that De Togni’s talents and Proietti’s entrepreneurial vision met paths; within two years of arriving, De Togni was whipping up signature dishes like Pappardelle Cocoa Duck Ragu that quickly propelled Per Lei to its vast popularity. Now at Ciao Bella, De Togni has used his worldwide experience to develop an unquestionably Classic Italian menu that’s sure to please.
Diners may begin with an array of De Togni’s signature crudis: tuna with avocado, Gaeta olives, and sesame seeds; salmon with avocado and cucumber; and a blue crab and mango ceviche with orange dressing. Carciofi alla Romana, or Pan-Fried “Burnt” Artichokes generously doused in Ciao Bella’s signature olive oil are dangerously addicting—the olive oil is available for purchase at the restaurant, and this dish makes it a real temptation. Those who stick to the classics will be pleasantly surprised by the Tortino di Melanzane alla Parmigiana, a variation of Eggplant Parmigiana served with 18 months aged Parma Ham. A house favorite, it’s the perfect example of how fatty, heavy dishes typically associated with Italian cooking can be lightened up and modernized, providing a perfect balance of sweet and salty.
The list of pastas and primi piatti is plentiful, though each requires extensive work—all pastas are made fresh in house. Risotto Carnaroli comes flavored with gorgonzola rather than parmesan; its strong flavor is perfectly counterbalanced by sweet apple chunks and earthy, spicy green peppercorn. Paccheri al Tonno Fresco, oversized rigatoni with fresh blue fin tuna, Gaeta olives, capers, cherry tomatoes, and fresh herbs, are artfully prepared, while a regular special of Fettucine with Veal Shank dazzles with a non-tomato, non-cream based sauce that is a mysterious as it is satisfying.
Main courses are plentiful and well balanced, including a Saltimbocca Alla Romana, or Veal Scallopini with Parma Ham and sage, all served alongside roasted potatoes and spinach. The health conscious will find great pleasure in the Salmone Scozzese Organico, a grilled organic salmon served with baby bok choy and sweet peppers, all drizzled with a ginger-infused olive oil that adds a perfectly subtle hint of exoticism—it’s a perfect example of a healthy yet robustly flavorful dish. For a real treat, diners can opt for the Carre’d’Agnello, or American rack of Lamb, which is grilled rather roasted and served with eggplant, diced lemon, and a pignoli vinaigrette that lightens up the dish and adds a pop of unexpected flavor.
Dinner at Ciao Bella would not be complete without dessert, and all items are made fresh in house each day. A Millefoglie Espressa comes layered with puff pastry, cream Chantilly, strawberries, and a caramelized Porto wine sauce that adds a layer of sophistication to a comfort classic. The real showstopper is perhaps the simplest dessert—a Carpaccio d’Ananas, or Pineapple Carpaccio, which has been marinated over night with cinnamon and star anise and is served with lemon sorbet. Refreshing, unusual, and puzzlingly simple, it’s a dessert that’s not to be missed.
One of the factors contributing to the standout execution of the food is simply the quality of the ingredients that the restaurant uses on a day to day basis. Ciao Bella does not use purveyors; instead, the ingredients are sourced directly from farmer’s markets multiple times a week, emphasizing freshness and quality over convenience and cost. De Togni also goes out of his way to find unusual ingredients that are little known and difficult to find.
Following the same philosophy is Giorgio Manzio, Ciao Bella’s sommelier and recurring winner of Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence. He says of the wine program, “We may not carry every Pinot Grigio from Italy, but we make sure we carry all of the best ones,” emphasizing that it’s not how many bottles are in their cellar, but how good they are and what kind of value they provide the customer. A large majority of those bottles are Italian, with many strong choices in the $40 price range (a great bargain), while glasses are available from a wider geographic range in red, white, and champagne varieties. Keen to offer a bargain at any price point, even Manzio’s most high end wines, which range up to $9,000 a bottle, are significantly less expensive than at other restaurants, as Manzio sourced each bottle directly by auction to ensure the best price possible. Manzio’s list is organized cleverly by region rather than varietal—assisting in what he calls “pairing by analogy,” or geographical pairings between wine and food—and earning him another Wine Spectator award in Ciao Bella’s first year.
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