Chef Johnathan Steenerson and his team at Ciao Bella invited me over for dinner the other night to get to know them, to serve as a ‘guinea pig’ for a couple of new dishes, and to try out some of the stalwarts on the menu. I was happy to accept after embarrassingly letting them know that I had recently eaten at the restaurant, and that because it was a last minute decision, I only ended up with a terrible cell phone photo. I couldn’t use that in the blog as evidence of how good it had been.
So, the Professor and I met up over in Erin Way and settled in for an intense night of deliciousness. They led us back to a nice, well-lit (good for photos!) booth in the back and our great server Cole got us started with a round of drinks. I’ll go ahead and get this out there, but when I was talking to Jonathan during the meal, I was hyping up how good the service was, and he let us know that it was only Cole’s second day at Ciao Bella. Props to him, as he was excellent, as in knowledgeable, nice, and attentive.
New Bar Menu
Chef gave us the scoop that the restaurant is unveiling their new bar menu tonight (Wednesday), so he wanted me and my buddy to serve as guinea pigs to test a couple dishes out. Sounds good to me!
First up is the must-get lamb and pancetta slider. This beauty had ground lamb, pancetta, and cheese on a Bluff City Coffee-made bun. In fact all of the breads and some of the desserts come from the great team at Bluff City. This was incredible. It was a playful take on the sloppy joe, and it was really awesome. It came with some house-made pickles fried up in a panko crust. Delish!
This is the Ciao Bella take on the old, faithful spinach and artichoke dip. This one is made with feta and quesa fresca, great greek linake (I think that is right) sausage, fresh spinach from Woodson Ridge Farms in Oxford (side note – Woodson Ridge provides about 60-70% of the vegetables at Ciao Bella depending on the season), and some artichokes.
It was really great. Did I dip my lamb slider into this? YES WE CAN!
If these two dishes are indications of the quality of the upcoming bar menu, then you should definitely hit it up after work soon. The bar’s a nice little spot to watch a game, drink a cold one, and now eat some great special food.
Calm Before the Storm
The chopped salad is a mix of greens and a lot of awesome flavors. I especially appreciated the delicious champagne vinagrette.
P is for Pasta
Jonathan brought the next dish out with a story. Ciao Bella has a lot of long-time customers and families that love to eat there. In talking to them, especially the older crowd, he made this next dish to be like the pasta that our Italian grandparents (if we had them) would have eaten. Here is the Old World Carbonara.
Chicken, cream sauce, peas, and a soft-fried egg. Light, simple flavors and totally delicious. As he said, “the egg is the sauce.”
The Knockout Punch
Next up he hit us with the triple threat. Three dishes, all delicious.
Chicken on a Stick
The chicken santorini is awesome. Let’s get that out of the way early. They take a piece of chicken and marinate it in greek yogurt (awesome) and spices for three days. Then they panko crust it and flash fry it before finishing it in the oven. Some people say it is the best fried chicken in the neighborhood. I say it is damn good. The orzo was great and the homemade spanikopita was awesome. Great dish.
Meat and Potatoes
The Kobe beef brisket gnocchi is one of my favorite dishes around. Such a great Italian take on meat and potatoes. The gnocchi is so tender and soft and the meat is perfect. This is flavorful and awesome. You can get a small portion of this, which is still pretty substantial. Go try it out.
Whats a trip to an Italian restaurant without at least one meatball? Well, I can’t describe it, because we got a plate of meatballs and peppers.
Loved them. Honestly, I loved them more the next day, because I had to take most of them home. The yellow and red peppers were sweet and delicious and were great companions to the meatballs.
Death by Dessert
At this point, I was trying to hold out just a little bit of room, so that I could at try some dessert. Chef came out and gave us the run down, and we ended up going with two. A classic and an Italian classic.
This death by chocolate is aptly named. This cake came from the great team at Bluff City Coffee, and they made it extreme. Went well with the coffee. Every bite took me one sweeter step towards death.
The homemade tirimisu was delicate and sweet. It was really good, and it was a perfect end to this grand feast. I’d get this again for sure. Easy to eat even after eating so much!
Meet the Chef
Jonathan Steenerson is doing some really awesome stuff over at Ciao Bella. He really, really cares about his product, and he is dedicated to using as many good, local ingredients as possible. He is excited about the way our food set-up is going, but he hopes that we all really continue to support our farmers, just to give them that next big push. The business is one that is very supportive of the community and of many causes. It is really a perfect example of the many ways in which a local business can add value to our city.
Jonathan was highly complimentary of his team in the kitchen, as those guys all work extremely hard and are very talented. With my 8 or so plates as a sample size, I can confidently back him up on that. Here he is with his crew.
Thanks so much to all of those guys for making my dinner such an outstanding experience (and loading me up with enough leftovers to eat a couple of lunches)! It was really kind of Jonathan to treat me to dinner and to take some time to share his stories. I can’t wait to go back. When you do, make sure to give them a shout-out, as they are really great. See you there!
PS. I was on the way out, and I saw how great their patio is. Would be a nice place on a warm fall night to get out and have a drink and some dinner.
You want to go to there:
565 Erin Dr
Memphis, TN 38117