Chances are, whether or not you’ve visited, you’ve eaten the namesake dish of Capri.
Situated along Italy’s Amalfi Coast, the island is known for growing plump tomatoes and fragrant basil while producing some of the finest olive oil in Italy, making the creation of caprese salad more of an inevitability than a stroke of genius.
Closer to home, Ciao Capri sits not beside a brilliant blue sea, but in a West End strip mall. Inside, the brothers Mastromano — Alberto, who cheerfully runs the front of the house, and Peppino, the bustling chef — are on a mission to transport guests to their homeland. Colorful photographs of the island adorn walls, European music in a variety of genres plays overhead and, for those requiring moving visual stimulation, a screen displays an endless slide show of Capri’s colorful assets.
I’ve never tasted fresher seafood than what I ate during a week on the Amalfi Coast — and Ciao Capri acknowledges that with a menu focused on seafood and fresh ingredients while eschewing butter and cream.
Quench your thirst with a wine list ($8-$16 a glass/$29-$74 a bottle) that appropriately skews Italian, a beer list including Peroni and the usual local suspects ($3-$6) or a full bar — although it’s difficult to avoid feeling as if it’s partying like it’s 1999 with a martini menu unexpectedly tucked between the white and red offerings on the wine list.
Peppino’s caprese salad ($11) is as much a visual treat as a quartet of soul mates, dazzling with tiny orbs of red and yellow heirloom tomatoes, creamy mozzarella di bufala, basil and extra virgin olive oil. Savor it now — tomato season is a distant memory.
Likewise, ravioli alla caprese ($17) signals that simple is the path to satisfaction. Think pillows of pasta encasing bufalata ricotta, pecorino and marjoram swimming in a chunky chiummenzana sauce, a Capri staple that adds white wine to the holy trinity of tomatoes, basil and olive oil. Ready to open wide? That same sauce covers polpette ($9), fat beef and veal meatballs lashed with scamorza, an aged mozzarella, a surefire way to satisfy carnivores Capri-style.
Even filetto del contadino ($24), a 6-ounce filet mignon with a red wine sauce boasting caramelized onion, wild mushroom and rosemary arrives under a superfluous blanket of chunky tomato sauce. Some Capri staples wear out their welcome.
Decidedly heavy on calamari, spaghetti alla gradola ($19) also features shrimp, mussels and littleneck clams swimming in a garlic-and-roasted tomato sea over a reef of perfectly al dente spaghetti. Tasty, yes, but is it too much to expect a bowl for empty shells?
Disappointments? You could encounter a few. Risotto e capesante al limone ($20) promises a marriage of marinated, pan-seared scallops and creamy lemon risotto. But based on the wan flavor profiles of both, our table foresees divorce court. Adding salt helps, but doesn’t solve the problem. A tray of freshly baked rolls is always a welcome arrival at dinner, but the accompanying green olive oil mixed with garlic, serrano peppers, Italian parsley and mustard could, despite its ingredients, use a jolt of brightness, too.
As with too many restaurants, Ciao Capri makes a case for pastry chefs becoming an endangered species. Dessert choices ($8.50) tend to number only three, but they’re made in-house. Tiramisu crackles with an unexpected brulee crust, but to further establish your Amalfi bona fides, set your sights on torta caprese, a traditional, rich yet airy chocolate-almond cake native to Capri. While choices may be few, execution is solid.
Service through my three visits varies wildly from the overly extended Alberto to a food runner with zero knowledge about what he is delivering to a capable and engaging server who never seems to stop moving. But I should note that my visits occur soon after another publication reviewed Ciao Capri. While not terribly shocking to find a far West End restaurant booked solid on a Friday and Saturday, I was amazed nonetheless to find the same scenario on a Monday evening. And not just every single table, but every stool at the sinuous, underlighted bar as well.
If airfare is out of your budget’s range and you feel Capri calling, plan accordingly. In other words, make a reservation. S
Mondays-Thursdays 5-9:30 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays 5-10 p.m.
10478 Ridgefield Parkway