Chow down

Sous chef Josh Autry tosses pizzas before putting them in a wood-burning oven, which uses wood from walnut and peach trees for added flavor.

Sous chef Josh Autry tosses pizzas before putting them in a wood-burning oven, which uses wood from walnut and peach trees for added flavor.

Photo By David Robert

Ciao Pizzeria and Wine Bar

7111 S. Virginia St.
Reno, NV 89511

(775) 851-9463

“Oh,” I said, in sudden epiphany. “Ciao. Like in Italian. Right.” I’d been looking for “Chow.” I’d been told by half a dozen people that I really needed to check out this great new restaurant, “Chow.” Apparently, I don’t listen very well or ask very intelligent questions because had I known that it was a “pizzeria and wine bar,” I probably would’ve discerned the cruel homophonic joke my mind was playing.

I imagined that “Chow,” just based on the name, would deep fry an entire farm and serve it with fries, cole slaw and a bucket of piss-clear beer.

When I discovered that my fantasy dive joint was in fact a posh, trendy gourmet place, I was not deterred. Like any true epicurean, I was quick to change gears from hog to hoity. My friend Paul, however, had a brief moment of hesitation: “Are we dressed for a place like this?”

I took a look at our clothes. Paul was wearing overalls and a straw hat. I was wearing my “Roadkill Grill” baseball cap and my “Texas Tacos” T-shirt. We were both very dirty, and one of us (I won’t say which one) smelled awful.

“Sure, we’re dressed for this place,” I said. “Why wouldn’t we be? Probably won’t need these bibs, though.”

Ciao has the sleek, ultra-modern design that’s caught on in Reno over the past five years or so. Everything from the walls to the bar to the seating arrangements curves with gracious arcs. There’s ample, spacious seating, a swank bar and patio dining.

We opted to sit on the patio, which was probably a bad idea. Obeying the various axioms of Nevada weather, it suddenly turned quite windy. Paul pointed out that we were soaking up less of the ambiance outside. “Part of what you pay for at a place like this is atmosphere,” he observed. “Nobody wants to eat filet mignon outside.”

We had a great experience with the sommelier, John. He was informative without being at all pompous. With rather novice input from us, he steered us toward a wine within our price range that had the spicy, earthy flavors we were craving: the Poggio Bertaio Stucchio 2002 ($34.50). He also told us that the patio doubles as a music venue after hours on weekends.

The food’s great. We started out with an appetizer: salt-roasted beets, caramelized pine nuts, fig and a soft goat cheese ($11). It was delectable and prettily presented (though so minute as to seem comical). However, the food, like the ambience, seems more akin to contemporary California fusion than to traditional Northern Italian. That’s not a complaint, just an observation.

We had a couple of pizzas: the pancetta with grilled treviso and fontina ($16) and the house sausage with fennel ($16). They’re unlike any other pizzas in town. They’re wood fired and have a smoky taste and crispy crust to prove it. The combination of pizza and wine might seem strange, but with the distinctive cheeses and the smoky, woody taste, it has the effect of a good fondue.

Apart from some minor kinks in service (the hostess made us wait five minutes for no discernible reason, and there was no busboy so our waiter was busy doing double duty), we were completely happy with everything. Paul described the feeling he had after the meal as “euphoric.” And though it was a completely different restaurant than I’d expected, I still felt as though I’d gotten my “chow” fix. And I didn’t even have to gorge myself. Quality really is better than quantity.