Ciao Bistro has always been our local favorite for quality Italian food, despite being located in a strip mall off Amelia Island. Owner Luca welcomes you, serves home-style Italian food, and is always willing to meet a guest's request. I special ordered PENNE ALL’ ARRABIATA one night, which was excellent, and to my pleasant surprise found it permanently on the menu the next month. Note to Luca: Please bring back.
Ciao moved to downtown Fernandina Beach last fall and the good news is that the food is as good as ever, even with a revised menu, and the wine list is even better than before with more interesting choices at value prices. My only complaint on wine is that the wine-by-the-glass is rather prosaic and wish a few of the interesting choices on the wine list were also available in single servings.
However, success does have a potential downside. The new Ciao BIstro is roughly twice as large as its predecessor and to no one's surprise based on its deserved reputation, the place is always packed starting at 6pm. This means that the Luca's personal touch is diminished and he's more traffic cop than a host. In addition, there are teething problems with the new restaurant's service as shown by too many different bodies rushing past and/or brushing your table which detracts from the experience. I trust these will be resolved.
Another area for improvement is soundproofing as the hard walls and ceiling make the room quite loud, albeit not difficult to hold a conversation. Coupled with the service issue above, I must say the atmosphere from the previous site has dropped a notch.
My overall rating is only 4 at this point, but the food and wine are definitely rated 5. Enjoy!
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