117 Columbia Street
The Columbia Street Waterfront District
Location, location, location. At 5:15 on a dark and frosty Sunday night, the fireplace at Chió warmed an empty room while a line of bundled-up diners huddled together on the sidewalk, awaiting a table at the destination-worthy Thai spot just a few doors down. Once Pok Pok had filled its seats and added latecomers to a wait list, this Italian spot began to fill up with time-killers and rejects; they flocked to the long bar and snagged the handful of stools along the side window with the waterfront view (only partially obstructed by the traffic on Columbia Street). It’s not a bad place to sip one of the craft ales on tap, like a bitter and citrusy Green Flash Hop Head Red from San Diego or a malty and creamy Sixpoint Sweet Action brewed down the block. But you should at least grab a pre-Pok Pok snack.
At Chió, pronounced “kee-OH,” you won’t find the bracing, exotic spices that are on offer at Pok Pok, but the house-made squid-ink tagliatelle packs a surprising amount of heat. A very generous scoop of lump crabmeat carries the light, saline sweetness of a sea breeze, while a creamy, lemony, garlicky sauce serves as an appealing contrast to the dark-hued ribbons of pasta. Calabrian chili peppers cut through the sauce’s mellow creaminess with their deep, fruity spice, and cured lemon—the sour, salty secret ingredient of many Moroccan dishes—provides another unexpected layer of flavor ($20). It’s the kind of dish that could make your Pok Pok plans melt away. The same might be said for the juicy, smoky charred octopus served with some nutty fingerling potatoes ($13). Mellow, homey and hearty dishes, like the extra-large veal and ricotta meatballs ($12) or the margherita pizza, served on crisp flatbread with a nice ratio of tomatoes and basil to fresh mozzarella cheese, will please the young and fussy, as evidenced by a quiet pair of fork-wielding toddlers perched quietly in high chairs.
In a borough where charming Italian joints are a dime a dozen, Chió will never be a destination restaurant, and a bit of its neighborhoody intimacy is lost in the comings and goings of the would-be Pok Pok patrons biding their time at the bar. Still, a cozy back room, lined in brick and reclaimed wood, offers a break from the crowd and lends itself to quiet conversation. It’s the perfect spot to sip a cappuccino, savor some impossibly moist chocolate-date cake, and schedule your next culinary adventure.
Photo Tora Fälted
Inside Chió: Pok Pok Who?