Ciao! opened on Triphammer Road in Lansing in November 2010 on the site where two previous restaurants, Watercress and Billy Bob Jack’s BBQ, had welcomed diners for several years. The management of Ciao! is very aware of the concerns of diners from the surrounding neighborhoods, and menu choices, food quality, service, and pricing all reflect this understanding. As a result, it’s not unusual to find all 138 seats occupied during peak lunch and dinner hours.
The lunch menu has several combinations, like soup and salad and pizza and salad, and the menu consists exclusively of dishes that can be delivered to the table quickly to fulfill the needs of diners with limited time for a lunch break. To that end, three express lunches: grilled salmon, Tuscan sachetti, and grilled chicken balsamico are offered. Entrées that take a bit longer to prepare, such as chicken piccata, chicken masala, shrimp savona and giardino pizza become available with the dinner menu. Where the same item appears on both menus, the lunch version is smaller and less expensive.
Speaking of prices, they’re extremely reasonable. The most expensive entrée on the dinner menu is a Tuscan steak and shrimp entrée at $15.95. The prices seem even more reasonable when you gauge the portion size. I have almost never finished a meal here, so I tend to think of the price as representing that day’s meal and the next day’s lunch. At Ciao!, serving sizes are more than generous and I don’t remember ever leaving with my sealable, plastic dishes unused.
If you’re not in the mood for a full dinner, there are more than a dozen pizzas to offer, and they are all cooked in an ultra-hot brick pizza oven that uses wood from hickory, cherry, or ash trees from nearby New York State forests. I like the pizzas that are “Tuscan-style,” meaning thin crust. There are also a half-dozen salads and a minestrone soup. And, if you simply want a sandwich, there are a half-dozen of them, including a burger with mozzarella cheese.
Two of my favorite dishes are salmon carbonara and lasagna. The carbonara is served with small bits of crisp bacon, hunks of salmon, and peas in a light cream sauce. If you enjoy salmon but not in small chunks mixed with pasta, there’s another entrée that’s grilled with a lemon-basil vinaigrette.
At Ciao!, efficient service is not an accident. All employees are asked to participate in a six-day training program, which includes written tests and videos. Management also offers a training manual to the employees. In many restaurants, if you try to find a manager, you might get lucky and find one working in the kitchen. At Ciao!, at various times, six different managers work to ensure efficiency of customer service and it is a requirement that a manager be outside the kitchen assuring quality customer service, or as employees call it: “seamless service.”
I did have a few minor concerns with the wine menu, and they have just been addressed. For example, the menu for white wines offered basics like chardonnays, rieslings, and pinot grigios (a total of 10 white wines); however, there was no sauvignon blanc. A new wine menu, just out, corrects that deficiency. The menu for red wines had no pinot noir, but the new menu corrects that, too. Two-dozen wines are now offered in seven- and nine-ounce options. Most 7-ounce glasses are at the reasonable price of $6-$8 with the 9-ounce version costing about $2 more. If you prefer beer to wine, you should be very happy, as you’ll have almost two-dozen to choose from, four on draught and four from New York State, and most are in the reasonable price range of $5-6.
If you ask your server, separate menus for vegan/vegetarian or gluten-free items, and children are available.
If you request them, the four special dinner items mentioned above can be prepared for you at lunch.
You don’t have to accept the pasta form that’s listed on the menu. If you prefer a different pasta, just ask your server. There’s total flexibility. I always substitute linguine or spaghetti for penne, for example.