Had dinner the other nite at this EXCELLENT restaurant in Somerville of of N. Gaston street.
Pretty little surroundings, nice and quiet inside (we sat in the "second" room, not the one with the Bar); and the hostess Peggy is a dead-ringer for Carmela Soprano of the TV series.
The host and waitstaff are very very friendly and accomodating to every desire, although I couldn't quite figure out who was who - I think technically we could consider one person the HeadWaiter, one the Waiter (but he was also what could be the Sommelier, and he took care of dessert) and of course the Runner, busboy, etc. Regardless of who was who, the service was excellent.
They have one of my favorite wines on their extensive, well priced wine list which features many nice Italian varietals.
We began with an order of Zupa Di Clams and a bowl of Minestrone. The Zupa Di Clams were superb, the sauce rich and heady and filled with garlic and the clams obviously fresh. (In fact, I believe this was Zupa rivals the one at my Italian food benchmark, the excellent CasaDante in Jersey City which has the best Italian food and we've been going for over 25 years but I digress). The minestrone was incredibly fresh and hearty and filled with tender vegetables and beans. There was even some escarole in the soup which was still crunchy!!! and not soggy and mushy.
They offer house-cured olives and a wedge of Pecorino Romano, but you have to ask for it. Instead of the traditional olive oil served with the very good bread, they offer two purees, one a red pepper and one a basil puree, redolent of good olive oil and lots of garlic.
We then shared an arugula salad with crumbled bleu cheese, caramelized onions, tomato and a balsamic vinaigrette. Perfect in between, and the sweet onions, salty bleu cheese, pair excellently with the peppery arugula (too bad the tomatos are tasteless but this is true everywhere until they are in season).
The entrees are heavy on veal and pasta selections, as well as a few chicken and seafood entrees, and they have daily specials (mostly fish).
For my main course, I had a "Veal and Shrimp Arrabiata" which consisted of three shrimp and 3 scallopine of veal with a spicy tomato sauce with olives and capers. The sauce was nice and spicy, but it lacked depth and flavor. They actually cooked the shrimp correctly, so they were tender and just done, not overcooked and tough. The veal was a little bit tough and also a little bit bland. The dish was served with a wedge of gratin potatos and some vegetables, broccoli and carrots mostly, which was a nice departure from the standard side of spaghetti w/ red sauce. Excellent gratin and the vegetables were not overcooked. A very nice entree overall but could have used a bit more bold flavor.
My companion had the Gnocchi Bolognese, which is a huge bowlful of very good gnocchi and an excellent, subtle, sweet, meaty, hearty, rich bolognese. Couldn't ask for a better Bolognese, and there was enough for an army.
We also split a side order of sauteed spinach with garlic, flawlessly executed. Our dinner went exceptionally well with the wine, as well.
CiaoBello has an oldfashioned dessert cart that they wheel around the dining room (and leave out so you are tempted all through dinner).
They had apple pie, peach pie, tiramisu, flan, creme brulee, chocolate-mint cake, fresh strawberries, cheesecake and cannoli. Unfortunately, they serve Cool-Whip or something, which they have sitting in a bowl. We discussed this because we noticed it was left out with the dessert cart, signaling that it was not fresh whipped cream which would have fallen flat.
However, I had a piece of cheesecake that was HEAVENLY. It was the lightest, fluffiest cheesecake I have ever eaten. THe crumb crust was just as light - I could barely feel resistance when I put my fork through it. Too often, cheesecake is gummy and heavy and the crumb crust is rock-solid. This was the exact opposite and was a fine way to end the meal.
Ciao Bello. Excellent place for a romantic or friendly dinner. a Definite winner.