Attractive, but somewhat flawed

February 25, 1999|By Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan | Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan,SUN STAFF

Dining at Ciao on West Street is sort of like meeting an intelligent, handsome and unbelievably wealthy man, then finding out that he steps on ants, lies compulsively or has some other horrendous flaw.

The ambience is wonderful. With its windows in the style of an old English apothecary, warm, pastel walls and sturdy wood tables draped with table cloths so freshly pressed you can almost smell the steam, the 2-year-old restaurant feels like a secret hideaway from the hubbub of West Street.

There is, however, a big negative to the place -- its food was merely above average and spotty in quality.

My boyfriend and I got to the restaurant just after 8 p.m. on a Saturday and were surprised to find only three of the 13 tables occupied. The cozy window tables were taken so we settled for a quiet nook in the back.

The restaurant, a Mediterranean bistro, has an eclectic hodgepodge of a menu with a wide range of entrees, including Tuscan beef stew, Spanish chicken with almonds and Moroccan lamb.

We began by splitting the cheese-stuffed Portobelo mushrooms ($7.95). The plump mushrooms stuffed with herbed goat cheese on a bed of lightly tossed field greens were a good start.

My partner had the paella Valencia ($22.95), a rice, chicken, sausage and seafood dish that came in a huge bowl.

The rice was a little bland, but he liked that the dish was so stuffed with meat that every mouthful came with at least one chunk of chicken or sausage.

I picked the black angus beef tenderloin ($23.95), which was a little disappointing. The meat was done medium-well, as I requested, but was tasteless and dry and served a little bit cooler than lukewarm.

The dish's only saving grace was the sweet corn and potato hash in a three-onion cream sauce that came with the beef. It was absolutely delicious, and I used that to fill my stomach and left half my meat untouched.

Still a little hungry, I ordered dessert. The waitress suggested the chocolate and chocolate mousse cake ($5.50).

"How can that go wrong?" my partner said. "It's chocolate and chocolate."

Well, it did. The cake -- though tasty -- was a little hard and could have been defrosted a little more. We couldn't even rely on our coffee to help end our meal on a good note -- it was served lukewarm. We had to ask our waitress for fresh cups.

I hate to have to ask for refills of water at a restaurant, and we had to here as our lone waitress seemed to have too much on her hands tending to all the tables herself. Ciao on West Street has such a delightful ambience that I hesitate to tell people not to go there. But at these prices, stop by for drinks or dessert. With food quality this spotty, it isn't worth spending more than that.

Ciao on West St.

Where: 51 West St., Annapolis 410-267-7912

Hours: Dinner, 5: 30 p.m. to 9: 30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays; 5: 30 p.m. to 10: 30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; and 5: 30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Lunch, 11: 30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays through Fridays. Closed on Mondays.

Prices: Appetizers, $4.95-$9.60; entrees, $12.50-$24.95

Credit cards: MasterCard, Visa, American Express, Diners, Discover

Rating: ** 1/2

Ratings: * culinary wasteland **** culinary heaven

Pub Date: 2/25/99

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