Friday, February 15, 2008

Ciao La Vanderia

(210) 822-3990
226 East Olmos Drive

Look, I'm an easy girl to please on date nights, but when my honey told me he made reservations at an italian restaurant for Valentine's Day, I was a little meh. Italian on Valentine's? "How cliche" said I to my obnoxious little foodie self.

Oh ye of little faith. I brightened as we pulled up to the charming little Ciao La Vanderia in the gorgeous, woodsy part of the Olmos Park neighborhood. Noticeable absence of the cheesy white and red table cloths so typical of so-called "authentic" italian eateries? Check. Intimate, sleek, yet non-pretentious atmosphere? Check. Old laundry machine and dryer vent pipes? Check. Wait, what? Oh yeah, the place used to be a washateria. Tongue-in-cheek. Cute. I dig it.

Upon entering Ciao, my honey swelled with pride when we noticed the mayor of Saytown dining with his wife in a romantic little corner. We assumed that this was a reflection of my honey's impeccable taste in date night venues. Can he pick 'em or what? I have to say, we were excited about this new little find.

The Valentines menu was a fixed 3-courses with 2 or 3 choices for each course. We started with a mascarpone stuffed mozzarella and rabbit ravioli. The mozzarella was drizzled with olive oil and flavored with vibrant fresh basil, sea salt and fresh black pepper. Perfect seasoning, and the first bite was bliss. Same with the ravioli. Even though my honey and I plate swap regularly, he glared a bit when I honed in on the ravioli, swirling the juicy bits of pasta wrapped rabbit in the light brown sauce.

Both dishes were incredibly fresh. The mozzarella is made in house, and I would be shocked if the the pasta was not also homemade - it had that perfect, chewy a dente texture. The anti-Olive Garden if you will. To be honest, I can't remember what my honey had for my main course, but I was so inspired by the ravioli appetizer, I subsequently ordered the roasted rabbit entree. It came on a bed of pureed potatoes, in a perfect portion.

As spot on as the food was, the service was lacking.

We had reservation, but we still had to wait for about fifteen minutes at the front desk for our table sans bar or waiting area. So there we stood, trying to keep our little glasses of house wine from spilling as we were jostled by the bustling wait staff while everyone stared at us. Awkward.

We were seated, and waited some more. We didn't see a waiter for a while. When he finally came by, he asked for our orders even though we didn't have menus. I began to wonder how you say "annoyed" in Italian. It would have been nice to pair a good bottle of wine with such a wonderful feast. But we were never offered a wine list...or even a second glass of wine. Boo. We plan to give Ciao a second chance, and hope we are able to chalk it up to a wayward waiter. I'll report back.

Until next time, Buen Provecho!

FINAL WORD: Way above par cuisine for Saytown, but we felt neglected!

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