They say first impressions are everything, but with Ciro’s Pomodoro, I can also provide second and third impressions. Ciro’s is a global chain of Italian restaurants that held the “soft opening” of its Beijing outlet in Sanlitun earlier this month – a hard launch is set for Sunday – and goes by the slogan, “Expect the Unexpected.”
After lunch Monday with MH at Revelations (write-up coming tomorrow), I suggested we brave the cold, walk to Ciro’s and check the place out. We arrived around 2 o’clock and found it empty. We wandered around, looked at the walls festooned with photos of Ciro hobnobbing with famous (mostly Hollywood) people, and shouted “hello!” Finally, out of the kitchen, there appeared a sleepy foreign guy with whom I had the following conversation.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hi, we just want to get a couple of coffees.”
“Sorry, we’re closed. We don’t open until six.” [The menu lists the hours as 11:30 AM to 3 AM - I guess the soft opening schedule is lighter.]
“But the door is open.”
“That’s for some delivery people.”
“Hang on a minute – we’re a new place, you’re new customers, why don’t you look around while I make some fresh coffee?”
Actually, that last line went unsaid. Instead, twenty seconds later found me and MH on the street and walking to Nearby the Tree, where we relaxed on a sofa, chatted, and enjoyed a couple of drinks each.
With four hours at Nearby the Tree under out belts, my stomach grumbled, and we headed back to Ciro’s. The outer door and the inner door at Ciro’s are separated by a hallway of a few meters. We peered into the former and saw two employees look at us blankly from behind the latter. I thought perhaps we were slightly early, shrugged at MH, and peered in again. A woman approached, opened the door, and said with a smile, “Happy New Year and welcome to Ciro’s – please come in.”
Actually, that last part didn’t happen, either. Instead, the staff turned away, created a semi-circle, put their hands together the way a basketball team does before a game, and did a cheer.
Hmmm… I felt like something a bit more predictable on this night, so MH and I went to Le Petit Gourmand, ordered the kebab plate and the mozzarella and tomato salad, and relaxed near the wood-burning stove.
After spending yesterday afternoon doing heavy-duty editing*, I stopped at The Rickshaw where Chad, the manager, said, “Hey, you want to check out Pomodoro?”
Another chance to discover the appeal of a chain that diners in Athens, Los Angeles, Bucharest, and other cities frequent.
Ciro’s is sizable, high-ceilinged and airy, has a warm woody décor with touches of glass and those photos mentioned earlier, and includes bar, booth, table and lounge seating (the tables in the lounge area seem a bit high).
The food gets mixed reviews. The complimentary bread is homemade and accompanied by diced tomatoes, butter, and pesto sauce. “Ciro’s bread” (RMB20), a thin-crust pizza-sized dish with tangy tomato sauce, is good value, while the garlic mushrooms (RMB65) and smoked salmon with rocket lettuce, tomato and cucumber topping (RMB90) are OK but over-priced, especially when the service charge is added (see below).
Chad had to go, but I stuck around and tried the thin-crust Pomodoro pizza (RMB 75), which is topped with mozzarella, tomatoes, mushrooms, green peppers, ham, and garlic. Again, this is pricey given that The Tree offers comparable, if not better taste, for less. The best came last: the lasagna with beef and tomatoes (RMB 50) – this is a good brick of pasta loaded with sauce.
In terms of drinks, cocktails start at RMB 45, domestic / imported beer at RMB 25 / RMB 30, and wine at RMB 40 per glass, with dozens of bottle choices at RMB200 and up – those with money to burn can drop RMB14,000+ on Lafite. A Coke is RMB 25. (The menu needs some proofreading, given the numerous typos, misplaced punctuation, and inconsistent capitalization.)
As for the service, the wait staff was attentive – in some ways, too much so.
Example 1: The staff changed our ashtray five times in the first 15 minutes. In one case, Chad lit a cigarette, took a few puffs, and put it into a clean ashtray – a waitress then picked up the cigarette and placed it in another clean ashtray.
Example 2: The waiter delivered my lasagna and asked if I wanted ground pepper on it. I like to first try food as the cook intended, so I asked him to leave the grinder on the table. Later, I added some pepper, put the grinder down, and the waiter walked over, picked it up, and asked, “Pepper?” Um, no. He took the grinder away.
Example 3: Staff approached the table every few minutes to ask if they could take this or that dish away – two of them in succession tried to grab our few remaining mushrooms.
The manager, to her credit, tried to keep things running smoothly – “The glasses are empty at that table”, “That dish goes to this table” – but had her hands full, even with a dozen or so patrons in attendance. The staff is too keen – which is a good problem, in a way – so it’s just a matter of toning things down a bit.
By the way, just before I left, a staff member emerged from the kitchen and walked through the restaurant on his way to the toilet – while carrying a dry plunger. Three minutes later, he returned carrying a wet plunger. Multi-tasking is alive and well at Ciro’s.
As the saying goes, “Expect the Unexpected.”
Here’s some more unexpected. The menu announces a 10 percent service charge. My bill listed the food and drink at RMB 355 and the service charge at RMB 71. It doesn’t take a Ph. D in mathematic to see that works out to 20 percent.
Overall, the place is cozy enough, but the food is pricey and the service needs work, which makes that hefty service charge that much to swallow.
* By heavy duty, I mean applying my scientific terminology-loathing brain to material such as this: “The downstream 17 bp of Nla III restriction site CATG from ORFs with 3’-UTR were extracted as virtual LongSAGE tags.”