Ciao Vito logoHere’s what our friend Frank, discerning restaurant goer, has to say about Ciao Vito:

Greetings to all in the dining group.

My name is Frank. Jackie graciously asked me to write the summary of our experience at Ciao Vito.

Ciao Vito, to those who are unaware, is located on NE Alberta Street. It is in the same area as Alberta Street Oyster Bar & Grill, Siam Society, Bernie’s Southern Bistro, etc. By the time I arrived, everyone else had been seated. A total of eight members of the group were there.

The décor of the restaurant is muted. There is some music that is playing in the background; however it did not seem overly loud.

I must admit, dining with the group is a different experience than when I dine with my family or friends. The main difference is that usually we order family-style or that there is significant sharing between members of my party. Rarely is there any duplication of any entrees or items being ordered. That being said, I cannot really describe some of the items that were ordered by other members of the dining group (I think Michael’s idea of calling the group “Dining Roulette” or similar was an excellent idea). It was a fun experience, meeting people with similar interests in dining out and food. Now onto the food:

What I ordered:

Beet salad with blue cheese and walnuts
Sugo of pork with mushrooms over polenta
Panna Cotta with huckleberries

What I was able to sample:

Breaded pan-fried razor clams
Crispy polenta with spinach, garlic, and pine nuts.

What else was ordered:

Duck confit (smoked Duck Legs)
Fried calamari with lemon aioli
Field/green salad
Dark chocolate and raspberry torte
Flatbread with three cheeses

The duck confit, according to people who had ordered it was good. Same as the fried calamari, which came in a service size that could qualify it as an entrée. The field salad was similarly humongous. I was also informed that the dark chocolate and raspberry torte and the flatbread were also enjoyable.

From what I could taste, the pan-friend razor clams were quite good. Although one member of the party claimed that they were tougher than she expected. The polenta was also quite good. Some people may object to the strong garlic taste to it, but personally, I enjoy garlic.

The beet salad was also quite large with quite a quantity of beet slices. Beets were sweet, well complemented by the blue cheese.

The main issue I had was with the Sugo of pork. The other person who ordered it, Leonardo, had the same complaints that I had. The spiciness of the dish completely overwhelmed everything else. I do not shy away from spicy food, i.e., I enjoy Thai, Indian, Szechuan cuisines. This just tasted overly heavy-handed and nothing of the pork came through. I was trying to mitigate the taste with the polenta.

The panna cotta was excellent. Sweet, smooth, with the slight tartness of the huckleberries complementing the dessert.

The bill for the eight of us came to approximately $310, including an 18% gratuity. The service was professional and unobtrusive. There were a couple of waitresses I noticed with large nose rings piercing their nasal septum. Of course, this is NE Alberta.

Would I come back? Maybe. I’d like to try the other items that were ordered that I did not get a chance to sample. Would I order the sugo of pork again? No. If Leonardo and I had different opinions of the dish, I might decided in the future to give it a second try.

My own weird comments on our evening out at Ciao Vito:

As I have stated in the past, Ciao Vito is one of my favorite places in town. There are things I enjoy there beyond the food preparation which increase my dining experience when I go to Ciao Vito, both the decor (I enjoy the layout of the restaurant and its simple yet elegant decor, it seems cozy and welcoming,) and the scope of the menu (it’s always easy for me to find two or three things I really want to order. In this case it was the razor clams (what I ordered,) the skirt steak with mashed potatoes, and the thick cut pork chop (I’ve had it before, excellent, cooked perfectly, and huge.)

I do notice the prices at Ciao Vito are getting up there, like many of the finer restaurants in Portland. It’s getting hard to order an entree these days and not be in the $20 range. The other thing about Ciao Vito I observed this time out is that while the service is very professional and crisp, it’s relatively aloof. Although our server seemed genuine and friendly, I’ve noticed that other staff members seem to look at you like “are you sure you should be eating here?” In the case of Ciao Vito, I’m pretty sure it’s one of those “we’re cool, we work on Alberta vibes,” but nonetheless, a little warmth from the staff here wouldn’t hurt things, the space itself always seems friendly, and the food in always comfort food.

As Frank mentioned, the smoked ducks legs were a big hit, as well as the polenta, the flatbread, and the beet salad. The razor clams had probably the best flavor I’ve ever experienced from that particular seafood, and the fact that they were slightly chewy was something I didn’t hold against them, they are so hard to prepare correctly and still generate the kind of crispy, lightly browned coating these had. I enjoyed my red pepper slaw, very unusual, and the tartar sauce was first rate. Obviously, the Sugo of Pork was not a hit, Frank kindly gave me a sample, and it reminded me of the stewed meat dishes at Cuban restaurants, not what you would expect at an Italian Restaurant. The desserts seemed extremely well prepared, the taste I had of the panna cotta was ringing with sweet huckleberry flavor.

Thank you everyone for coming, and thanks again Frank for your thoughtful review. I’m just sorry you had to spend so much of your mealtime scribbling notes on what people were eating (I’m such a task master.) Hope we see many of you in two weeks!