All day long, our distributor had been talking about taking us out to eat that night at a place called Chow Baby. I thought that was an interesting name for a restaurant and wondered what kind of cuisine it served. It wasn't until later when we pulled up to the restaurant that I realized what an error I had made when I saw the restaurant Ciao Baby went of course immediately told me that I was in store for some Italian food. Ciao Baby in Commack on Long Island is located in what I would call a strip mall and has a very unassuming storefront. Inside, it has a bar up front and a small seating area in the back all in red and a staff all dressed in dark suits. It was very Godfather or more recently Soprano like place.
Our group of eight squeezed around a table and was soon looking at the menus, which were quite short. They listed about a half dozen appetizers to choose from and another half dozen entrees and suddenly I was glad that I wasn't picking up the tab on this one. The waiter soon stopped by to explain to us Ciao Baby newbie’s that the menu was only a guide and that they would make whatever we wanted if they had the ingredients. Our host ordered several appetizers and we placed our orders for food. Since the host, his wife and two adult kids ordered off the menu directly, I did too ordering something with chicken, pasta and prosciutto.
The appetizers came on three huge platters and immediately I could see why they had such a high price tab. The baked clams were piled into a huge crock and absolutely melted in your mouth. Since quite a few people at the table didn't eat them, me a few others ate the lion's share. We also had fresh mozzarella spinach and tomato salad. It was topped with half-inch slabs of mozzarella and was absolutely breath taking even to a non-cheese eater like me. I like cheese melted and baked but very rarely eat it raw without sausage and a cracker. The third appetizer was a giant head sized fried ball called a rice bowl. Inside the crust was a meaty marinara sauce with a melted ricotta cheese center. It too was outstanding. Along with those three appetizers and the basket of fresh warm bread, I knew I was in trouble even before the meal arrived. But almost everyone except for the clam abstainers had eaten the same amounts as me.
The main course arrived and I almost went into shock. Served to me on a sixteen inch plate that looked more like a hubcap, was I'm guessing a pound or so of mashed potatoes with a ton of penne pasta on top, topped with four half chicken breasts topped with tons of marinara sauce and melted cheese served along side a mound of Prosciutto. In the center, the mount of food was a good three or four inches deep and the entire plate probably weighed around five pounds. Just looking at that much food, enough that would last my wife and I around four normal meals back home, made my stomach go ice cold. My only thought at that point was how much was I going to have to eat just to be polite to the host next to me who was picking up the tab.
Fortunately, the hosts two sons and his wife, ate probably a couple dozen bites between them before declaring they were done five minutes after the food arrived. I picked away eating slowly and ate about a fourth of my food and called it good knowing if I ate another bite, I might have to make a food deposit on the pavement somewhere between here and our hotel. We talked for a while enjoying the good wine and then our food was whisked away and returned in the form of standard size pie plates topped with plastic lids, all of which were loaded to the point of bursting. I was starting to feel like I was going to survive this ordeal after all when our host started insisting that we try some of the deserts.
The desert cart was brought out and again I thought I was going to die. The chocolate lava cake was a chocolate bowl the size of a football with a full quart of ice cream in the center and everything else seemed equally proportioned. Two of our group decided to split a desert, another begged off so I was quick to beg off too. Nonetheless, the host ordered some 'extra' for us to try. I ended up with a third of a desert called the 'icehouse' which was a brick sized layer cake comprised of about a dozen graham crackers sandwiched in layers between a thick chocolate pudding. It was outstanding and not very dense which I credit for the reason I was able to fit it inside my gut somehow.
Finally after a round of coffee drinks which I could just sip, our host seemed inclined to think he had fed us enough and paid the bill. I didn't see it but figuring in my head, I am guessing it came up to $500 or $600 for the eight of us. We staggered out into the parking lot, bid our host goodnight and rolled ourselves into the rental car. Even though we had a Mercury Grand Marquis, I think we still bottomed it out a few times on the drive back to the hotel. More on the car later.