Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Food as beauty at Ciano

Shea Gallant's newest creation, Ciano, is located in the space that used to be Beppe, a restaurant I enjoyed quite a bit. When Beppe closed, I shed a proverbial tear, but that didn't stop me from giving Ciano a fair shake. And I'm very, very glad I did.

Ciano has changed up the dining room a bit, pushing it a bit more toward the fine-dining end of the spectrum with white tablecloths, dim lighting, and waiters in jackets. It's a warm and comfortable place to be, if a bit loud due to the close proximity of neighboring tables. And if your neighbors at said tables turn out to be incredibly obnoxious, well, that tends to be a bit of a problem. Take my advice and focus on the food instead.

Start with a glass of wine. The by-the-glass selection is rather small and a bit on the pricey side; I chose a glass of ischia bianco, which turned out to be quite thin, almost watery, and served on the rather warm side. Not something I'd order again.

Not a winner

But put your glass aside and dive into the bread. There's a good selection of small slices, a roll or two, and some small pieces of focaccia. Grab some focaccia (natch), pass right by the little dish of olive oil and balsamic, and take a large knife-ful of the accompanying truffle-ricotta-butter. Resist the temptation to spoon said truffle-ricotta-butter directly into your mouth.

Truffles? Ricotta? Butter? Yes please!

With a base of bread in your stomach, forge ahead, forge ahead. Mom started with the baby romaine salad, with white anchovy, pear, croutons, and tonnato sauce. She loved it, especially the little pops of julienned pear.

Whitish, but tasty

On to the entrees. I chose the baby beets with whipped robiola, wild watercress, and 12-year-aged balsamic. This was an incredibly delicate and ornate concoction, with tender beets in all kinds of shapes and sizes; a sprinkling of what seemed to be pistachio dust; some sort of crispy (cheesy?) tuile; and a log of the mild, whipped robiola. As a composed plate, it managed to be both satisfying and light, tasty but not too assertive. Yum.

Love the plate, too

Mom's choice was the lobster pot with rosemary butter, gnocchetti, romanesco and porcini mushrooms. She couldn't stop raving about this dish, which (it's worth noting) was crowned with substantial hunks of lobster. The little gnocchetti were some of the cuter bits of food I've ever seen-- tiny little dumplings that almost resembled spaetzle.

Lobster obscura

Don't stop there, though, or you'll miss one of the best parts (dessert, of course!). Almost before the opened dessert menu could land on the table, I had my choice: the honeycrisp apple napoleon with caramel custard, apple cider, and winter spiced vanilla gelato. This was unbelievably tasty: tiny whisper-thin wafers cradling a disk of stewed apple and a disk of sweet, smooth, ethereal caramel. The gelato tasted like the holidays-- nutmeg, cinnamon, and sugar, oh my.

Small but memorable

Mom's dark chocolate fondente was a molten chocolate cake done perfectly. It had a light gianduja flavor and a perfectly liquid center; a tiny pile of kumquats confit was a bright and acidic counterpoint. And the stracciatella gelato was entirely on point.


Thanks to the relatively small portions, we left full but not stuffed; thanks to the uniformly solicitous, kind, and welcoming service, we left with smiles on our faces. Prices are high, and as I mentioned portions are small, but so much flavor and care is packed into every bite, you'll still leave satisfied. Ciano is absolutely a four Offset Spatula asset to the restaurant landscape, and I hope to return soon for some more delicious, thoughtful, and (dare I say?) beautiful food.

45 E. 22nd Street, between Broadway and Park

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