say hello to ciao

Italian restaurant at The Promenade is far from traditional

By Michelle F. Solomon

Ciao Cucina & Bar at The Promenade at Coconut Creek will have you at hello with its welcoming marquee lights on the side wall spelling out Ciao! and the cute Vespa just begging diners to be included in their selfies. Beyond the entrance, the food will win you over. Johnathon Smith, a protégé of local celebrity chef Paula DaSilva, heads up the kitchen at the new Italian gastropub in the former La Via Ristorante space.

You may recognize Ciao’s general manager, Antonio Leone, from The Promenade’s Ethos Greek Bistro; both restaurants are owned by George Pappas. Leone, a Florida transplant from southern Italy, says that Ciao’s cuisine has a Mediterranean flair, which means it’s heavy on seafood. If you want a big bowl of pasta heaping with marinara, Ciao isn’t the place. Smith’s menu is more refined and would fit in well with any top-tier culinary destination on Las Olas Boulevard or South Beach.

The bar has a craft mixologist assigned to create farm-to-table (or farm-to-bar) cocktails, where every juice is fresh-squeezed. At the bartender’s suggestion, I tried the Fig Fling, which is made with Wild Turkey bourbon; it was surprisingly smooth and light. The drink gets its sweetness from the all-natural FROG jam (fig, raspberry, orange and ginger), locally imported from Fort Lauderdale’s Living Green Fresh Market.

Homemade pasta; sustainably sourced, locally caught seafood; high-quality meats; and seasonal vegetables from local farms are the staples on the generous menu. For appetizers, I selected fried Brussels sprouts, Parmesan polenta fries and grilled polpo (octopus). Since the restaurant opened, word of mouth has made the polenta fries, which are made from cornmeal dough, a must-try item. The fries are served with homemade truffle mayonnaise.

The polpo is marinated then seared, which creates an outdoor grill flavor. A nice touch on the plate is a schmear of parsley sauce for savory dipping and another made from Peppadew peppers to add a spicy kick.

Leone is the pizza-maker; each pie is made to order, “hand-formed” and baked in the wood-burning oven at 600 degrees. The most interesting is the Morning Sunshine, which features soft egg, guanciale (an Italian cured meat much like pancetta), leeks, arugula and sour cream. My main dish was a 20-ounce dry-aged pork porterhouse served with velvety grilled oyster mushrooms, arugula and an olive and caper salsa that brought out a hint of the pork’s saltiness

Desserts are made in-house by the chef himself. Although Smith says the Nutella Dolce di Pane is the top seller, I chose the Espresso Panna Cotta; it’s served in a vintage-style glass crock to show off the beauty of the custard layers and topped with whipped cream.

Restaurants have come and gone in this Promenade space, but Ciao hopes to keep customers coming back for seconds. The Sunday brunch draws quite a crowd for the house specialty, the mandarin peach Bellini made with organic prosecco. Ciao bella! 

Ciao Cucina & Bar

4443 Lyons Road, Coconut Creek; 954.601.1234; ciaocucinabar.com

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