In an effort to reinvent itself, Rose’s Landing has embraced the essence of Italy in its upstairs space, now a separate restaurant named Ciao Bella Trattoria.
The restaurant on the Morro Bay Embarcadero recently opened with a menu boasting classic Italian dishes. Although the Ciao Bella still belongs to longtime Rose’s Landing owner Doug Redican, head chef Randy Torres created most of the new restaurant’s food and wine lists. (The downstairs restaurant remains Rose’s Landing, a fish-and-chips-style eatery.)
Torres, formerly chef at now-closed Grappolo in San Luis Obispo, has begun cooking both classic and eclectic dishes including a tomato and basil bruschetta with grilled sirloin steak and a sumptuous seafood cioppino.
Redican and Torres are hoping for success similar to that experienced by Redican’s other restaurant, The Embarcadero Grill, after he introduced old-fashioned barbecue to the waterfront. By bringing Italian cuisine to the seafood-drenched Embarcadero, Torres said, they’re hoping attract a new set of diners.
On a recent chilly evening, I arrived at the restaurant at 7:30 p.m. to find it a bit slow. In most places, an empty restaurant would seem odd, but in notoriously sleepy Morro Bay, this can be common on a weeknight. The bayfront town is sustained by business on weekends and in warmer months.
An attentive server quickly brought a basket of warm bread to our table. Although sweet-natured, she could have used a little coaching on the menu and the restaurant’s other wines and beers. When my husband asked if they carried Moretti (a classic Italian beer), she didn’t know what it was. (Yes, they have it, by the way.)
She also didn’t mention that some wines came from the chef’s family vineyard, which
would have caught my interest. Even so, the restaurant is new and I’ll give the service a temporary pass while employees familiarize themselves with its offerings.
The menu at Ciao Bella is enticing, extensive at nearly three pages and ranges from reasonable to pricey. We were pleasantly surprised by the quality of the dishes we chose.
The top sirloin bruschetta ($9) could have been a meal in itself with grilled, crusty bread topped with olive oil-soaked tomatoes and ample chunks of medium-rare sirloin. The meat was nicely tender, making this rustic dish a hearty and successful twist on traditional bruschetta.
The Caesar salad was a crisp stack of lettuce with a mild vinaigrette dressing. The price seemed a bit steep at $7, but it could easily be shared by two before a meal.
The zuppa di pesce (seafood soup) was a brothy stew of tomatoes, clams, scallops, shrimp and halibut. It’s available as an entree for $22 or in a smaller bowl for $12. We opted for the latter and were pleasantly surprised at the ample serving. The seafood was tender, and the chef had a generous hand with the amount of shellfish, making this an immediate favorite for me.
The housemade butternut squash tortellini in a light cream sauce was also pleasing. With fewer and fewer Italian restaurants making their own pasta, this is a welcome gesture. The pasta was light and delicate, and the butternut squash puree was smooth and sweet.
Too full for dessert, I passed, clearly a mistake after the chef told me that desserts are his specialty. Now I have a good excuse to return for some Italian comfort food, a perfect way to warm up a Morro Bay winter night.