Dining Review: CIAO – Bar Harbor, Maine
I wanted to find some unique places to eat while visiting Acadia National Park. Most places I found for my rough draft were seafood/pub style restaurants, which is great once but tavern fare can only go so far. I kept poking around and found a well rated restaurant, CIAO, which served up tapas styled plates. With COVID still in full swing, it was unfortunately not open when I discovered it. To my delight, they were opening for the first time with outdoor dining right as we arrived! It has been awhile since I was this excited about a menu so I was so happy to have the opportunity to dine here. Visiting on opening night of service after weeks of closure could be risky but this menu was too good to pass up.
We arrived downtown and checked in online, waiting in the car until our table was ready, and then notified via text message we were approved to approach the restaurant. Outdoor dining was the only available tables – they made the space very cozy with lights, umbrellas and ambiance music. All the table settings were brought out fresh (not already set on the table) and menus were all once use/disposable. Everyone was required to wear face masks properly until seated at the table and all the staff wore masks properly as well. So far on the COVID precaution front, I was a happy camper! Thank you to CIAO and the staff for taking all the measures to keep everyone safe. It made me feel very comfortable to dine with you.
As mentioned, this menu is so amazing – we had a difficult time making cuts! The recommendation for two people is to order four plates and we easily had double that we wanted to try. After speaking with the server, we narrowed our selections and readied ourselves for what we hoped to be a delicious meal.
We were impressed by the wine menu as well! Some really fun, unique, great selections for any wine drinker, as well as a generous list of beer and cocktails. Our selection was a Chardonnay from Macon-Villages, France and it was so delightful!
The first dish to arrive was the roasted carrots with arugula, pistachios, goat cheese, and balsamic.
Isn’t it just a beautiful dish? So many colors! And I would have never thought I would order carrots as a dish. These were roasted perfectly, tender and charred, and made for a great vehicle for the dressings of pistachios, goat cheese, and balsamic. A very well crafted dish full of flavor and textures.
Next out was the mushroom confit with a soda noodle salad and sesame vinaigrette.
Now I love mushrooms so I knew this would be a winner but what I did not expect was how much Kevin loved it as well. The mushrooms were marinated so well and had very notable flavors that were oh.so.good. I also loved the variety of mushrooms used. I think we would have ordered another one of these easily to avoid sharing. The noodles and sesame vinaigrette were not overly salty and balanced the mushrooms well. Spoiler, but I think this ended up being our favorite dish!
Then our meat dishes arrived. First was the duck ragout with caramelized onions, pancetta, seared polenta, and pecorino cheese.
Oh boy! Let’s assess this plate – there is so much duck! Paired with the sweetness of the caramelized onions and the polenta, and the saltiness of pancetta and pecorino, this was a well balanced flavor profile. I really loved using non traditional ingredients like polenta, pancetta, and pecorino to work with duck.
And finally, the seared pork belly with korean chile glaced, soba noodle salad, and sesame vinaigrette.
After we ordered, I noted the chile glaze in the description (I was just so excited for pork belly!) and I got worried it would be too spicy but it was not spicy at all! The pork belly was well seasoned and prepared with a delicious fatty bit (nomnomnom). This was accompanied by the same soda noodle salad as the mushrooms which was a good thing for us – delicious!
I was so hopeful that we would have room to try another couple dishes but we also wanted to try some dessert so we waved the white flag with happy bellies.
For dessert I ordered “The LULU”: vanilla pot de creme, caramelized bananas, sweet whipped cream, nilla wafer and Kevin ordered the “Pain Perdu”: dried Maine blueberries & lemon olive oil cake, soaked with sweet cream.
Oh these were delightful! The LULU had this wonderful layer of whipped cream, then a warm layer of bananas foster, then a final layer of cool vanilla cream. It was so interesting to have the combination of hot and cold in one jar. The dessert was not overly sweet and was not heavy. I love banana pudding and this reminded me of an elevated version of that.
The Pain Perdu was equally delicious. The olive oil cake was sooo moist (sorry for those that dislike that word but it really was) since it was soaked in the sweet cream and made for such a fun texture. Despite the soaking, it was not too sweet either. And of course had to have some Maine blueberries. A perfect dessert!
I got to tell you. When I saw this menu online, I had high exceptions and CIAO exceeded them. Portion sizes were great, each dish was super creative, flavors were fantastic, and value was phenomenal. We dined at a more expensive restaurant later in the trip (The Veranda) and I have to say, we were disappointed, paid almost double the price, and wished we dined here again instead. There were so many dishes we want to try that we just did not have the stomach room. I cannot recommend CIAO enough – if you visit Bar Harbor, make sure to eat here! Thank you CIAO for an amazing dining experience.