Ciccio is a quaint little Italian place on the north end of Yountville. You won’t find it on Open Table and you can’t call up and make a reservation. Getting a table is half the battle.
Located in the old Italian grocery store built in 1916, Ciccio is an intimate dining experience with high energy and a lively staff. Ciccio has been open around 4 years, and still has the original staff, but it’s modest signage and no reservations policy keeps it off the map.
With that said, Ciccio is far from empty. I had heard that it is extremely hard to get into the restaurant without a considerable wait (open Wed-Sun 5pm-9pm). We planned to get to the restaurant on a Wednesday at 5:00 pm, when they opened. Of course traffic was bad, due to harvest and time of day so we ended up getting there at 5:15. Since the restaurant only holds 48 occupants, many of the seats had already been filled.
The space was comfortable, casual and the kitchen was open with a straight view into cooking activities. It had a beautiful wood burning oven and a 7 person bar. There were many tables and one community table in the center. I can say that space was definitely a commodity.
The staff was buzzing around and as we sat down at the table, Hector came to greet us. He handed me a menu which was a hand written copy on what looked like brown packing paper so I assumed the menu changes often. Hector then went in to explaining the drinks and Ciccio’s unique ‘Negroni bar’.
Ciccio is known for their Negronis. Since I have never had one, I asked Hector about them. He explained that a negroni is an Italian aperitif drink, made of Campari, sweet vermouth and usually gin, made to be a palate cleanser and digestive aid.
Ciccio’s negroni bar also had variations made with bourbon, rye and spumanté.
My husband ordered the Frank’s Negroni, recommended by our server. It is comprised of Hendrick’s Gin, Cocchi Torino, Campari and Nonino Quintessentia. Since I am not a Gin fan, I reluctantly agreed to take a sip.
I could see how the Negroni would be a palate cleanser, both bitter and sweet with a hint of citrus and licorice, it definitely was a shock to the palate, especially after drinking wine all day. I stuck to a more neutral cocktail called ‘Il Milano’. Comprised of Tito’s vodka, cranberry and lime juice, it usually comes in a standard glass, but I asked for it in a martini glass instead. It was very light, both sweet and tart, with a lovely pink color and a juicy orange slice.
While we were enjoying our cocktails, Hector explained the specials, the first one was a whole roasted Branzino or Mediterranean seabass. It’s served with both the head and tail to preserve the juiciness of the fish, but can be deboned if requested. It is pan seared and finished off with chili flakes.
The second special was a pork chop, pounded and breaded and served with a lemon, caper and butter sauce and arugula. Also available on special was an ala carte ‘Cacio e Pepe’, a traditional pasta from Rome consisting of pepper, olive oil and parmesan cheese, which would complement the pork chop.
While mulling over the entrees, we chose the Crispy Calamari for our appetizer. The calamari is dusted in rice flour and lightly fried to give it a nice, crispy breading. It is finished with peppercinis, olive oil vinaigrette, garlic and a house made marinara dipping sauce.
I have to say it was probably one of the best calamaris I have had ever. It was so light and crispy, the peppercinis added a tartness that contrasted with the sweet, chunky marinara. The peppercicis and olive oil vinaigrette added some acidity to the dish. Clearly I had made the right choice in selecting the appetizer and as I looked around, I noticed virtually every table was enjoying it as well.
For our entrees, we chose the special, pork chop with Cacio e Pepe and the linguine with fresh tomato and basil. We also chose a bottle of the 2014 Elizabeth Rose Pinot Noir Yountville. It’s hard to find a pinot noir this far up the Napa Valley, usually it’s too hot to grow this thin skinned grape. The Burgundian style pinot had nice balance of earthiness and fruit, yet delicate on the palate.
Our entrees arrived in a timely manner, and at first glance I thought mine seemed small, however, looks were deceiving. Perfectly cooked linguine was sautéed with tomatoes, basil, sliced garlic and a hint of red sauce. Immediately I experienced the aroma of fresh garlic, and visually lovely garden fresh red and yellow tomatoes with basil made the dish pop. It seemed like there was an underlying heat to the pasta, which I couldn’t pinpoint but complemented well with the pinot noir.
The pork chop special was enormous. It was perfectly tender, with a golden brown crispy exterior. The sauce was rich, garlic added extra flavor and the capers and lemon added acidity. The arugula had that nice pepper quality. On the side was the ‘Cacio e Pepe’ pasta dish, which packed a punch. Served al dente, the black pepper in this dish gave it a long, lingering, spicy finish that paired perfectly with the rich flavors of the pork dish.
I think the pork chop could have used a heavier wine, however the pinot went really well with the Cacio e Pepe and was an excellent choice. Ironically, we had asked the table next to us if they were enjoying the bottle of Elizabeth Rose pinot. Of course they were, it was one of the winemakers, who graciously offered up a taste!
On a side note, the corkage fee is 35$ for a domestic bottle and 40$ for all others. With that said, the wines on the list were reasonably priced.
We definitely enjoyed all aspects of our dining experience, from the quaintness, the local scene, the friendly and knowledgeable staff and the energy at the restaurant. If you don’t mind waiting or can make it early mid-week, check out Cicco!
Enjoy… Wine Ho