Rich red sauce stars at Ciao Italian Kitchen

01/04/2012 5:00 AM

06/25/2014 7:20 PM

Ciao Italian Kitchen is one of the many new Italian restaurants that appeared on the Wichita dining scene in 2011.

It opened in October in a space that so far hasn’t worked for any other restaurant, including Piztro’s, an eastside location of Sabor and the wine bar Press.

Ciao might work in the space, though. So far, it’s giving Wichita a lot of what it likes, namely big portions of pretty good food served at reasonable prices.

The restaurant is owned by Guillermo Perez-Munoz, a Puerto Rico native who moved to Wichita originally to help manage Jimmy’s Egg restaurants and also worked on developing Mike’s Wine Dive and Gaslamp Grille & Lounge.

ON THE MENU: The menu is huge, featuring more than 75 items. If you’ve heard of it, it’s likely on the menu — lasagna, spaghetti, tortellini, Cacciatore, Pomodoro, Alfredo, Piccata, Marsala and more.

The menu also includes a long list of pizzas, Panini sandwiches and Stromboli, as well as several salads and soups. There’s also a lunch menu with lower prices and smaller portions that’s available until 4 p.m. daily, as well as a kids menu that offers a killer mac-and-cheese not available to grownups.

DON’T MISS DISHES: Our favorite dishes at Ciao were those that included the restaurant’s red sauce, which has a long-simmered depth and richness to it. We loved the lasagna ($9.89), layered with ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan and Romano cheeses plus Italian sausage, ground beef and meatballs. The sauce also kept the spaghetti and meatballs ($8.99) from being too pedestrian. The meatballs were tender and full of flavor, and the pasta was cooked to al dente perfection. The only thing that could have improved the dish would have been more of the delicious sauce.

We also liked the steak Gorgonzola ($9.59), though visitors should be sure to read the menu descriptions carefully. The title of the dish implied more of a meaty entrée, but the majority of this dish was penne pasta, mushrooms, sun-dried tomatoes and roasted red peppers coated in a rich, well-balanced Gorgonzola sauce. The beef tips tossed in were good, but there weren’t many of them.

The Ciao’s Marsala ($10.99) also was good, though the angel hair overwhelmed the topping of chicken, shallots and mushrooms, and the sauce looked (and tasted) like pure butter.

Our salads were all fresh and crisp, and the Caesar had a nice, tangy dressing. (Salads don’t come with most entrees but can be added for $1.99.) We also were impressed by a soup of the day, a chicken gnocchi made with a delicious cream base and floating with tender bites of potato dumplings.

The appetizer sampler we ordered overwhelmed us with its deep friedness. Served in a round dish with compartments, it featured small portions of fried chicken tenders, fried calamari, fried Provolone cheese, fried ravioli and fried zucchini spears. The highlight was a cheesy artichoke and spinach fondue served with toast points in the middle of the platter. It was $8.99.

AMBIENCE: The restaurant has been remodeled but still retains some of the contemporary touches that made its predecessors so appealing, including sculpted ceilings and modern light fixtures. A couple of beautiful patios that wrap around the building will no doubt be popular come spring. Two complaints: The tables with the restaurant’s booths are too low, making it hard to scoot in and out. And the free-standing tables are a bit small. Our party of four had a hard time fitting all the serving dishes on our table.

PRICE RANGE: Reasonable considering portion sizes. Entrees average around $10.

SERVICE: Our service was excellent on two visits, though the staff could stand to say “Ciao” a little less often. We giggled as we left, estimating that we’d been “Ciao’d” at least a dozen times.

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