Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Ciao! Pizza & Pasta in Chelsea: Quality Food In a Small Package

It's a cliche that "big things come in small packages" but sometimes that saying is spot on. Sometimes you dine at a small restaurant which over delivers with its cuisine, an unexpected find which becomes a hidden treasure. I recently had such an experience and want to share my find, to spread the word about the culinary delights of this compelling new restaurant.

During the last couple years, the news has been talking about the evolution of Chelsea, how it is being transformed with new apartment buildings, new hotels, and plenty of renovation. It once had a more infamous reputation, being seen as a heavily crime-ridden area, and still is seen that way by some despite the significant recent changes. It is a city on the upswing, which will see even more positive growth and investment in the coming years. One of those positive changes that will be seen is new and interesting restaurants, like Ciao! Pizza & Pasta.  

Having opened a little over a month ago, on September 14, Ciao! Pizza & Pasta took over the location of a former Chinese restaurant, which had previously been there for about 23 years. Ciao is owned by Edson Coimbra, a former General Manager at L'Andana in Burlington, and Chef Marvin Posada, a former Executive Chef at L'Andana.  Both have worked at other local restaurants as well and eventually decided to open their own place together. I first met Edson about eight years ago while he was working at L'Andana though I hadn't met Chef Posada until I visited Ciao. Edson lives in Chelsea, only a short distance from Ciao, and is a strong supporter of the Chelsea community.

Parked in front of the restaurant is Edson's scooter, which also helps to advertise the new restaurant.

I was excited to check out the new Ciao, especially after hearing more about the concept, a wood-fire pizzeria with homemade pasta. I went once to Ciao as Edson's guest and then returned on my own two more times, to try even more items on their menu. The restaurant is located across the street from the Chelsea District Court and down the street from the Mystic Brewery. There is a tiny parking lot next to the restaurant and plenty of street parking nearby.

The restaurant is small, only about 500 square feet and most of that occupied by the kitchen. There are only five seats at a counter that looks out the large front windows onto Williams Street. Because of the limited seating, about 80% of their business is takeout. The restaurant is open from Monday to Saturday, 11am-10pm, with dinner currently being busier than lunch. Because of its small size, you might dismiss it as a typical pizza joint, the kind which are ubiquitous in most cities and towns, but you would be very wrong. They serve high quality cuisine, made from scratch, which would be fitting for any high-end Italian restaurant except their prices are far more reasonable.

The front of the restaurant has wood paneling, and that wood was taken from a 100+ year old house in Abington, adding some character to the place. With their open kitchen, something I like, you can watch the staff prepare your food, from pasta to pizza. Most of the kitchen staff lives in Chelsea, further showing their support of the local community. In response, the Chelsea community has been very supportive of Ciao, welcoming them to the neighborhood. In addition, many local businesses and organization, have been patronizing them, including local firemen and police officers. Other businesses, such as Mystic Brewery, have been seeking to work on joint endeavors together.  

The wood-fire stove at Ciao, which extends past the side wall of the restaurant.

Edson, pictured on the right side, is the bright smile in the front of the house, warmly greeting all of the customers. His charming personality exudes sincerity and I'm sure it has contributed to the initial success of Ciao. Besides greeting guests and taking orders, Edson also helps to educate the customers on the dishes they offer, translating restaurant lingo that some customers may not understand. During my multiple visits to the restaurant, I watched how he interacted with customers, and he did very well, especially evidenced by the number of repeat customers who stopped by.

Chef Posada, who is also very personable, designed the entire menu and I was able to watch him preparing a number of dishes. He was intense, taking care to ensure that every dish came out and met his high standards. As the former executive chef at a fine dining restaurant, Chef Posada continues to produce high quality cuisine, yet in a far more casual and less expensive restaurant.

One aspect of his cooking which struck me was his understanding of textures in various dishes. That might not be an element of cooking which many of us think about, but it can be important, elevating a dish from good to excellent. And poor textures in a dish can doom it, even if the taste is there.  For example, the various pastas were cooked to an excellent firmness, a nice al dente. If your pasta is too firm, or too soft, it will detract from the dish. The addition of tiny, crunchy pieces of chorizo atop a Bolognese dish as well as the addition of crispy duck skin to a duck confit pizza elevated both dishes, enhancing the taste. Even the texture of the pizzas is designed to please the customer.

The Menu, which sees some change (maybe 2-3 items) about every two weeks, currently has 2 Salads ($7-$9), 2 Paninis ($9), 4 Pastas ($11-$18) and 10 Pizzas ($10-$15). Prices are reasonable, especially considering the quantity and quality of the food.  You can also see the creativity in the dishes, such as the Gamberetto pizza with shrimp & chorizo. Due to their small size, they don't have a liquor license and unfortunately, there is no BYOB either. If you get take-out though, you could open a bottle of wine and enjoy it with any of these dishes.

At the front counter, you can see some of their desserts as well as their housemade pastas. The pasta should persuade you to check out those dishes.

The Beet Salad ($9), with two kinds of beets, goat cheese & aged Balsamic, offers fresh produce with plenty of creamy goat cheese. A nice way to begin your meal.

Paninis are only available from 11am-4pm and I tried the Pollo Arrosto ($9) with fontina cheese, sliced tomato and greens. With your Panini, you get home-made potato chips, though the menu does not mention that fact. These are huge crispy chips, topped with some rosemary and sea salt, and an excellent accompaniment. If they had these available as a Side, I'm sure they would sell very well. In time, they plan on creating additional types of chips, such as sweet potato, and might even start selling them by the bag.

The Panini bread is made from their pizza dough, cooked in the wood-fire oven, and is thin and crunchy, adding a nice textural component to the tasty slices of chicken.  It was a hearty and good sandwich, making for a nice lunch and a better alternative than the basic sub from many other takeout places..

The Bucatini all'Amatriaciana ($11), with San Marzano tomatoes, smoked bacon and pecorino, presents plenty of al dente buucatini with a pleasing red sauce, well balanced with nice acidity to it, and the added element of the smoky bacon, which adds taste and texture. On a chilly fall day, it was a pleasant choice.

Herbed Gnocchetti 

The Herbed Gnocchetti( $18) is atop red wine braised short ribs & root vegetables and topped with some parmesan. The tiny gnocchi were firm and pillowy, just a perfectly prepared pasta, and the short ribs and sauce was hearty and rustic, with a delicious blend of spices and flavors as well as tender meat. A perfect fall/winter dish. I also would love to see those tiny gnocchi in other dishes, and think they are probably even better than normal-sized gnocchi.

Porcini Fettucine

The Porcini Fettucine ($12) are topped with wood-fired roasted button mushrooms, black truffle butter, and parmigiano reggiano. Once again, the pasta was a perfect consistency, and this dish burst with umami flavors. Earthy and buttery, this is another dish which fits perfectly in the fall.


The Campanelle ($14) is topped by a chorizo bolognese & parmigiano reggiano and I was thoroughly impressed with this dish. It was hearty and delicious, with plenty of creaminess in the sauce, lots of spicy meat, and crunchy bits of chorizo, The campanelle pasta was cooked perfectly and was an excellent vehicle for the bolognese. I finished every bit of this large dish and probably could have devoured a second one. Though I enjoyed all four pasta dishes, this was easily my favorite and earns my highest recommendation.

You won't find the usual Cheese or Pepperoni pizzas at Ciao. Instead, there are more traditional and creative choices available and you just need to be a little open to trying something different. At the most basic, you can order the Margherita Pizza ($10), with San Marzano tomato, mozzarella,  basil and extra virgin olive oil. The thin pizza crust was cooked just right, with a slight char, pleasing texture and a nice, chewy exterior crust. The fresh mozzarella has a nice springy to it and the red sauce is pleasant with a hint of sweetness and nice acidity. A simple but delicious pizza, showcasing the delights of wood-fire pizza.,

For something more creative, the Duck Confit Pizza was an off-menu Special one evening,  It was made with duck confit, some crispy duck skin, fresh mozzarella, a sweet potato/butternut squash puree, caramelized onions, and cranberries. As you can see, they don't skimp on their toppings. The pizza was an excellent blend of flavors, with sweetness and tartness, and the duck meat was tender and flavorful. The pizza crust was once again just right, all making for a damn tasty pizza.

For Dessert, you can have a Bindi Tiramisu or Cheesecake, Homemade Cannoli, or a Nutella Pizza. .The Nutella Pizza ($11)is pictured above though that is not its usual full-size but instead a smaller version. The usual version is the same size as the rest of their pizzas. It is topped with sliced strawberries, bananas and mint leaves, as well as some powdered sugar. I'm not a fan of powdered sugar, and would order it again without it, but the rest of the pizza was sweet and delicious. The pizza crust was once again cooked just right, and the nutella, fruit and mint made a nice combo of flavors. A nice way to end your meal and I was told it has been very popular.

Ciao is producing killer house-made pasta and wood-fire pizzas, far better than the average takeout pizza joint. Chef Posada is working big magic in a small restaurant, and this is the type of place that every community should have. If I lived closer, I would be there every week. Chelsea is lucky to have Ciao. Edson & Chef Posada have embraced the idea of community and created a restaurant which helps to enhance their neighborhood. You should make the trek to Chelsea to experience this compelling cuisine. Ciao earns my high recommendation and its future looks very promising.

Good luck to Edson & Chef Posada!


Frederick Wright said...

We've been watching the buildout of this place since early summer and were excited to try it, the chef-owners were so friendly and passionate! Unfortunately since we don't drive or live in Chelsea, and there is really no place to sit, except awkwardly hunched over the counter like some sort of student, it isn't possible. Maybe if they end up having a patio in the summer, we can dine outside there? It really does look terrific otherwise.

Richard Auffrey said...

It is well worth sitting at the counter to try their food. I've done in 3 times & it hasn'tt felt awkward.

Jim Demotses said...

Can't wait to try it!

Ali Clift said...

Ciao! Is even better than your write up !!! And I am within walking distance so order often.Go Edson andMarvin !!!

v said...

Yummy I've tried it and it's fantastic high quality food now I don't have to leave Chelsea to find good take out

Anonymous said...

Moved to Chelsea a few months ago and was sad about the lack of food options in the area but after your post I'll definitely be checking this place out!

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