When I heard about Zio Cecio it had yet to open and I put it on my list to do this fall. Kim Pierce (Dallas News) reported in February that it was going to be “simple, home-style Italian- affordable, casual and family friendly”. Fall is here and Zio Cecio is now open (if only for 4 days), so it is time for a visit.

We almost missed it since the sign is up high and there is no sign on the building. Sign is small and cheap looking.

Valet parking and this is not really a bad thing since it is free and the parking is cramped, but make sure you have some cash for a tip. The parking is complimentary and the service by the valets is friendly and quick.

Zio Cecio is located in the former Café Italia location. Paint is fresh and patio looks nice, but sitting on Lovers Lane doesn’t seem like a pleasant place to dine. We are greeted at the door and asked if we saw them driving by. NO, we heard about it through the grapevine. We are seated in front of the Wine cellar and cannot see the open kitchen which is located to the side and back of the cellar. Walls are Venetian Plaster and accented with yellow/white glass tile.

The family photos on the wall are a nice touch. Tables are a fake plastic wood and placed very closely together. Too close for me, as wait staff could not wait on the tables next to you without bumping into you; guests were even worse. Like the parking, the dining room felt cramped.

Maybe it was me, but the location and facilities didn’t live up to the casual and family friendly description. Cramped and conflicted is my impression. Upscale and modern in some ways made the poorly executed fake wood tables seem all the cheaper. The dinnerware was HUGE, making the servings look small and out of proportion. The setting didn’t give me a warm fuzzy feeling. Maybe the food would make up for it. The menu is varied with many tempting entrees and other offerings. Prices start at 13.50 and go up to 33.50.

I have to admit that so many things sounded good tonight I had problems deciding what to order. Osso Buco (33.50) is one of my all-time favorite things and was really tempting but then the grilled pork chop sounded good, too (31.50). Maybe we need a minute to decide … so let’s order an appetizer.

For starters we had the Fritto Di Paranza, which is fried calamari with seasonal fresh seafood (12.50). The breading is very light and combined with the seafood, it is a very refreshing start to our meal. It came with Marinara and fresh lemon, but was so good you didn’t need either one. I loved the little chunks of fish.

Tonight, I think I will have the Mezzelua Alla Fonduta Di Pistachio (19.50). It is ravioli filled with seafood and ricotta in a pistachio cream sauce. This ravioli is a delight. With your first bite, you get the tang of freshly grated parmesan and then a tender bit of goodness with the seafood filling. I am a cream sauce gal and the pistachio cream sauce is amazing. It is creamy with just a hint of pistachio.

As interesting as the menu looked, my husband just wasn’t convinced this was a $30 entrée kind of restaurant. My husband decided on the ragu, La Bolognese Con Fettuccine (14.95), which is beef and pork ragu in a San Marzano Sauce. La Bolognese is more standard fare and more reasonably priced. After giving it a try, he admitted the quality was good despite the noodles or the sauce being a little sticky.

Indecisive whether he wanted a glass of wine before starting the entrée, the ragu didn’t stand out on its own and needed a good Santa Martina Toscana Rosso ($8) to make the meal complete. The wine list, while not expansive, seems to be higher end selections (well, the Chateau Petrus 1999 at $3250 was a clue) but wine was available by the glass for $7 – $12 and by the bottle from about $35 up with most being in the $50 – $100 range.

Our waiter seemed a little irritated that I did not order our entrée until after we had our starter delivered to our table, and generally seemed a little pushy. Amazingly, a dining room that couldn’t seat much more than 50 people was staffed with at least 20 employees. The glasses were kept full, our bread replaced and dishes promptly removed. Overall, service was good, but at times intrusive. During our meal, three different managers came to the table to thank us for coming, but none introduced themselves. One of them was Francesco Farris, the chef and owner.

It won’t surprise me if Zio Cecio develops a solid core following based on the reputation of the chef and the Highland Park location. Based upon the other guests they are well along their way.

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Location: Zio Cecio