Cibo in Regent Square brings Italian classics and modern touches to the table
Cibo chef Eric Schwarzmeier, who trained at La Cucina Flegrea: his best dishes mix "Southern Italian flavors with an American sense of abundance."
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Regent Square is a lively spot for enjoying these last days of summer. The sidewalks seem to be constantly bustling, as people enjoy dinner al fresco or stroll, browsing menus at various new and old restaurants. One of these new spots is Cibo (pronounced chee-bo), a restaurant that mixes upscale touches such as white tablecloths with casual warmth and an Italian-American menu that leans more heavily on the Italian side than many.
Eric Schwarzmeier, who trained at La Cucina Flegrea in Squirrel Hill (now closed), is in charge of the kitchen. Cindy DeFlavio, co-owner of the restaurant with her husband, Dino, is there most nights to warmly welcome diners. This is a traditional sort of restaurant, where most diners order individual appetizers and entrees, and meals come with slices of warm, crusty bread accompanied by a small jug of olive oil.
1 1/2 stars = Good+
2 stars = Very good
2 1/2 stars = Very good+
2 stars = Very good
1103 S. Braddock Ave.
- Hours: Monday-Saturday 5-10 p.m.
- Basics: This Italian-American spot will please traditionalists who like a white tablecloth and a nice plate of pasta, but it also has something to offer those looking for a more contemporary expression of Italian cuisine.
- Prices: Appetizers $8-$14, soups and salads, $6-$10; entrees, $16-$23; desserts, $4-$7; a la carte sides, $6-$8.
- Summary: Wheelchair-accessible; credit cards accepted; reservations recommended; BYOB, corkage, $7.
- Noise level: Loud.
But Cibo also has contemporary touches. The menu changes frequently and incorporates seasonal dishes. One of the best, and most seasonal, starters was a new take on that summertime classic, the caprese salad. A small white eggplant was cut into wedges, held together by the stem, then fried until the edges are crispy, the eggplant flesh softly melting. A slice of fresh mozzarella, roma tomato and a sprig of basil were slipped between each wedge of eggplant, a lovely contrast of hot and cold, mellow and fresh ($10). Roma tomatoes were a slightly odd choice here; a really juicy heirloom would have put this dish over the top.
A brothy mushroom soup was another good option, the simple broth enriched with grated pecorino and crunchy toasted croutons served on the side ($6).
Many dishes embraced the simplicity of classic Italian cooking: Thick wedges of cantaloupe were wrapped in prosciutto ($9). Greens and beans were finished with crispy pancetta ($8). A whole branzino, head and tail on, was poached in white wine, and served with a sash of chopped tomato ($24).
These types of dishes have very little margin for error, and unfortunately, small errors were common. The cantaloupe slices had been insufficiently trimmed of their rind, resulting in green edges and several centimeters of flavorless fruit. Underseasoned greens and beans were bland. The whole branzino was beautiful on the plate, but clotted blood clung to the spine, which should have been thoroughly rinsed, and more than a few scales migrated from the skin into each bite.
More complex dishes made a more positive impact. Arancini, that wonderful Italian invention for dealing with leftover risotto, were delectably crispy, having been coated in bread crumbs before being fried ($10). Linguine vongole was a proper Italian version, strands of pasta tossed with about two dozen steamed littleneck clams, the brothy sauce a flavorful combination of white wine, leeks and the liquid released from the clam shells ($19).
A gorgeous wedge of lasagne inspired more orders each time it was carried through the dining room ($21). Ground lamb was a tasty addition to the usual beef and veal filling, adding some extra flavor. The moist, rich meat was sandwiched between soft sheets of pasta and a vibrant tomato sauce. This was a slice of comfort any time of year, helped along by a good air-conditioning system.
Grilled farm-raised salmon was served over a well-constructed asparagus risotto, the creamy rice a nice contrast to the firm flesh of the salmon ($22). More salmon and asparagus, along with cod, shrimp, yellow squash and mushrooms, were cooked in parchment, resulting in moist, sweet fish and slightly soggy, but tasty, vegetables ($24). Wild salmon would have immensely improved both of these dishes but would certainly have required a higher price point.
The most memorable entree combined Southern Italian flavors with an American sense of abundance. A generous pile of spaghetti was studded with plump golden raisins, toasted pine nuts, chopped brown olives and a handful of fresh arugula, then garnished with four grilled lamb rib chops, their bones beautifully frenched ($24). The sweet and sour flavors of the pasta melded beautifully with the complex flavors of the lamb, which was impressively tender, despite the thin cut.
Desserts, mostly brought in, were palatable but unimpressive. Mr. Schwarzmeier plans to make more of them in house eventually. Lemon ice was more sweet than tart but still refreshing ($4). Hazelnut royale proved to be a candy bar transformed into a cake, a crisp hazelnut biscuit topped with a smooth, creamy Nutella-like mousse ($7). Tiramisu was uninspiring, but creme brulee was textbook perfect, the well-caramelized crust cracking open to expose a thick, creamy custard ($7).
Servers were careful and polite, although strangely inattentive to water glasses. They might want to consider carafes. As at many BYOB restaurants, they do not typically pour wine. All diners were treated nicely, but return customers were greeted with a particular warmth that may well pay off -- everyone likes to feel a little special.
Cibo is an appealing, if imperfect, restaurant. Despite ample competition, it has managed to carve out a niche for itself. For now, it's a pleasant neighborhood spot, but with time and attention to detail, it has the potential to become more.