If You Build It, Patrons Will Come — Ciao Bello (Houston, TX)
There are no points for second best when your last name is Vallone. So when the Vallones say they are opening the doors to a rustic Italian pizzeria, locals expect a home run on the first at bat.
Strike one comes in the atmosphere and aesthetic. I wouldn’t expect them to renovate the space once occupied by Jimmy Wilson’s, but they did not prepare for the extra patrons and the noise they would bring. The high ceilings amplify conversations to the point where no one can’t hear the waiter yelling the specials. You might not notice people are speaking so loudly if the lights were a bit lower. Jeff maintained the Tony’s tradition of keeping the lights up, but at Ciao Bello the lack of décor demands you lower the lights.
As for the food, it fell just short of greatness. We ordered an array of dishes — the famous artichoke, a classic margarita pizza, a new seared tuna dish, chicken, and a few others to get a full sampling. None of it was up to snuff. The flavor of the pizza was divine, but the crust that looked thin and crunchy we found to be greasy and limp. We asked the waiter to recommend wine, but he was so unfamiliar with list, he didn’t even recognize the one we chose.
Oh yes, bread and water would be lovely after we finish the meal.
(Ok, now I’m picking a fight.)
Despite all of these errors, I’m not counting Ciao Bello out yet. Due to the Vallone’s standard of service and familiar faces I recognized from Tony’s (that’s you Scott!) working the crowd and guiding the service, I believe Jeff will have the place running like clockwork soon and make his father proud.