This Old House

The Borriellos are having friends over tonightyou're invited.

Not too far from the polished gleam of University Village, there's a housewell, a restaurant in a housethat manages high-quality Italian food without pretension. It's like Mama's back there in the kitchen somewhere, humming and cooking her mama's recipes for people she loves. It's just that guests happen to be sitting in groups of two or four in the living room instead of around one big table in the kitchen. These days, the living room's freshly painted, but Ciao Bella's no new kid on the block. Last fall, in its 11th year in that location, the restaurant suffered a fire. With some hard work, owner Gino Borriello and a team of family, staff, and friends rebuilt the place and reopened for business last month. Now the interior whispers of the Olive Garden or some other type of nouveau Italian, but rest assuredCiao Bella's authenticity is in the details, from the young waiter who'd easily blend into a lineup of mobsters to the romantic arias flooding the room from unseen speakers. The lighting's soft, golden, and amorous. The food is lovely; an antipasto of gorgeous, lightly grilled asparagus and velvety, thinly sliced prosciutto ($7.95); a traditional salad of spring greens tossed with artichokes, roasted peppers, olives, creamy goat cheese, and full-flavored sherry vinaigrette ($6.95). There's a house minestrone ($4.95), a selection of classic pizzas ($9.95-$11.50), and then there's the heart of it all: the pasta. Pastas with cream sauce, pastas with meat, pastas with seafood. A sweet, mildly spiced meat sauce does a big plate of fettuccine ($11.95) quite nicely. And Mama outdoes herself with a chicken breast entr饠($16.95), robed in a creamy, smoky mushroom-and-prosciutto sauce. The wine list is short (hope you like chianti), as is the soundtrack that plays over the light din of conversation and kitchen clatter (hope you like that ariayou'll hear it again and again and . . . ), but Ciao Bella is long on comfort. Seven days a week, the Borriellos have an open invitation for dinner; a person would be wise to accept.

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