31661 Camino Capistrano
San Juan Capistrano, CA 92675
The city of San Juan Capistrano is not usually a city you would think of when you want Italian food, but a quick Yelp search yields the same amount of Italian restaurants, as Mexican joints. Not something I would have expected.
We have been craving Italian for awhile now, so we checked out Ciao Pasta, which is across the street from the Mission on Camino Capistrano. We walked in on a recent Saturday night, and were seated right away. Their website suggests having a reservation on weekend nights, but our experience would seem to indicate that it's not needed. Most patrons opt to eat on the much more lively patio in the front of the restaurant. We chose to sit inside, and were placed with a good view of the kitchen, which I always kind of enjoy.
The dining room at Ciao Pasta is very comfortable and spacious. Tables are not right on top of each other, and the lack of other customers really lead to a private dining encounter. Tiled floor, soft rock, and muted lighting really added to the relaxed atmosphere here too. The menu is Southern Italian focused, and reads like almost every Italian menu across the county. Starters, salads, meat and seafood dishes, a few pizzas, and pasta dishes are all well represented here. We made our selections, settled back, and enjoyed each others company while I watched the inner workings of the kitchen area. Let's see what came out of there for us.
As is the usual routine in Italian restaurants, we were started off with a bread basket. The bread here is pretty standard focaccia. It was soft, and freshly baked. It was served alongside an olive dip, which really would appeal to olive lovers. Unfortunately, I'm not a big fan of olives, so I only had a little bit of this. Katie enjoyed it though.
One of my favorite things about dining in Italian restaurants is that for the most part, salads are included with the meal. That was the case here at Ciao Pasta as well. This Dinner Salad was made up of romaine lettuce, red cabbage, shredded carrots, a generous dusting of parmesan cheese, and an Italian vinaigrette. A very basic salad, which had plenty of dressing on it, which I like. The grated parm was a nice touch here too.
Let's start with Katie's meal first, the Halibut Mediterraneo ($29.95). This oven baked halibut came crusted with olives, capers, and parmesan, and was then topped with olive oil, garlic, cherry tomatoes, and served over spinach. Katie really enjoyed this plate. The breading was not overly heavy, the halibut was fresh and flaky, and the sauce really added some subtle flavor here. She'd definitely get this again.
I had mixed feelings about my selection, the Paccherri Porro E Salsiccia ($17.95). The first few bites of this wide tuned pasta, with leeks, spicy ground sausage, and a cream sauce were pretty good, but then it became kind of boring. I'm not really a big fan of the wide tube pasta, as it does not allow the sauce to cling to it. The sausage here was not spicy at all. This plate was only saved when I ordered a Side of Meatballs ($3.95), and used the red sauce to doctor up my own kind of pink sauce. The added meat helped make my dinner way more enjoyable. Good, tender meatballs here.
Dessert was still an option for me, since I was not quite at capacity food-wise. I gave their Chocolate Souffle ($8.50) a try. They topped their souffle with vanilla ice cream, which can never be a bad thing. I liked this, but was not in love with it. I really think the ice cream was there to distract from the below average souffle. Not that it was awful, but we've had much better.
From reading above, I think you know the way I am leaning towards Ciao Pasta. Nothing we had was totally awful, but this is a very average Italian restaurant in my opinion. Yes, it could have just been our choices that we made on this night, but the prices were also a little out of whack here. The serving size of Katie's fish did not warrant a thirty dollar price tag, and mine should have been a few dollars less than the $24 I had to pay for the meal and the meatballs to make it a more interesting dish. I'm sure the prices are a result of this high traffic area right across from the mission, but I'm not going to help pay their rent by eating average cuisine. Service was good though, and since this restaurant has such a nice patio out front, this might be more of a spot to grab a drink and some appetizers, rather than getting a full meal.
Out of five peppers, (because the largest California pepper tree in the US, once resided at the mission across the street until 2005), five being best to zero being worst, Ciao Pasta gets 2.5 peppers. Maybe they can use these peppers to bring some life to some of their dishes.
For more information about Ciao Pasta, go to their website here: http://www.ciaopasta.net/