Ciccio in Yountville…
A great location, terrific Italian comfort food,
fun for everyone and very reasonable!
By John & Dorothy Salmon
We walked into Ciccio (pronounced “chee-cho”) on a Friday night to a packed house, full of locals and lots of visitors too. Ciccio is lovely, with great ambiance and a beautiful copper ceiling, marble tables, very cool, orange flatware, small, squat, wine glasses, great Italian art posters on the walls and interesting lighting and fans. The menu is hand-written on brown paper and the place has a sort of a funky, family-style feel, with an updated look. It’s one of the very few places around that still offers personalized matchbooks, and keeps an antique meat slicer near the open kitchen as a reminder of the past.
Enjoying the wonderful feel of the place, our next pleasant surprise was that the prices are very reasonable. The menu is a bit limited, but it’s a great place for folks looking for hearty, Italian comfort food at reasonable prices. As soon as we walked in the door, we stopped at their table to say hi to our friends, Joel and Kathy Tranmer, who were with their pals the Keevers. They immediately raved about Anita’s Meatballs Al Forno and the Wood-fired Artichokes with
Walnut Bagnacauda. That made our first choices easy when we were seated by Kim, the friendly manger.
The service was good and will get better as the restaurant continues to perfect itself. The open kitchen makes it feel a bit like home, and the three female chefs made everything feel hip and under control. Polly Lappetito heads the lovely ladies of the open, gourmet kitchen staff. Guests are treated to Polly’s wood–fired, unique pizzas ($10 – $16) along with a rotating selection of small plates and terrific pasta dishes. Polly comes to Ciccio after having served as the Executive Chef at the Culinary Institute of America’s restaurant at Greystone in St. Helena. Frank and Karen Altamura who, along with their children, own Ciccio, make sure that ingredients for Ciccio’s comfort Italian food, whenever possible, comes from the Altamura family 400 acre ranch in Wooden Valley; a ranch that has been in their family since 1855. And now we know the reason for the name “Ciccio.” It means “Little Frankie” which was Frank’s childhood name.
Ciccio is open on Wednesday through Sunday for self-service coffee and pastries from 7:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. That will bring back some memories for those who fondly remember Gordon’s Café. Going back a bit further, the building was the home of a small, Italian Grocery. In many ways, Ciccio’s is going back to its original roots. The building had been under construction for quite some time, with everyone wondering what its next incarnation would be. Now, we can see that Frank Altamura went all in and gutted the 1916 building in order to turn it into a cozy, 50 seat Italian gem.
A side benefit of stopping to chat with Joel and Kathy Tranmer was that Olga and Bill Keever of Keever Vineyards were so kind as to send over a couple of glasses of their 2009 Cabernet. http://www.keevervineyards.com It was terrific and a perfect complement to the meatballs and artichokes. With our dinner, we ordered a carafe of Ciccio’s House White $28, which we both thought was very good. Midwestern Meat Lover John thought the meatballs were great, with a perfect garlicky blend of tomatoes and large meatballs ($11). The Wood fired Artichokes ($8) were prepared in a light olive oil and served with a walnut filling that was delicious and interesting. Our server, Chelsea, was very friendly and accommodating and made us feel very much at home.
For dinner, John had the Veal Picatta with sautéed escarole ($15) for his main dish. Dorothy enjoyed the Gorgonzola, pancetta and arugula pizza ($16), which was larger that she could finish (so John helped!), but delicious. After dinner, we were tempted to try their Gelato Al Fratti ($4.50) or their Gelato of many flavors served with a cookie plate, but we decided to call it a night and come back again for the desserts. Most important, it was clear that everyone at Ciccio that night was having a good time, whether families, visitors or locals out for the night with friends.
Ciccio has a full bar, staffed with two friendly and talented bartenders, with four seats at the bar. The bartenders feature drinks such as Italian Greyhounds ($10), a Blum’s John Collins ($10), a Ciccio’s Classic Margarita ($12), or an Italian Mojito ($10). Ciccio’s House Red or House White ($6 a glass or $28 a carafe) or try the Altamura, 2008 Sangiovese ($10 a glass or $48 a bottle). The selections are mostly Napa Valley wines. Since this is an Italian family restaurant, you can order Jaco Poli Muscato Grappa or Jaco Poli Gewurztraminer Grappa ($16).
Corkage is $20 for Domestic wines and $25 for Best of the World wines. Ciccio also offers sodas for $2.50, or several after-dinner drinks, along with some interesting beers. John took a short trip down memory lane when he noticed that Ciccio serves Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer. “PBR” was his beer of choice in college and he kept it cold by submerging it in the rivers of Northern Michigan while on canoeing trips!
Ciccio is a great addition to Yountville’s Italian restaurants. Now you don’t have to drive far to enjoy two or three of them. Ciccio is fun, a great place for the family; friendly, and very reasonably priced. Try it for a quick stop for coffee and pastries for breakfast, or dinner with friends or family. We know that you will
enjoy it as much as we did.