Restaurant review: Cibo

From the 11/11/2010 edition

I gotta admit, I got blindsided by Cibo. Because based on its owners' involvement with the former red-sauce palace called DaVinci's and based on Cibo's location - practically on top of the former DaVinci's - I not unreasonably expected Cibo to serve perfectly fine if unthrilling Italian American fare yes, just like DaVinci's. Wrong!

No, Cibo (it means "food" in Italian) is vastly more sophisticated. In fact, though it's been open only about a month, the food I had at Cibo (I'll get to the service later) immediately shoots it to the upper echelons of the Columbus restaurant scene.

A clue I wasn't in for cliche cooking came when I stepped foot into Cibo's charming, cozy, great-for-a-date space. The smart-looking, black-and-brown 100-seater has lovely low lighting, fun chandeliers and a hearth-equipped bar area featuring Cibo spelled out with its "i" dotted by a flame.

As you might've guessed, this place loves grilling. As a result, most entrees on Cibo's cleverly restrained, small menu are done that way. Heck, they'll even grill a salad (a nifty "Parmesan-coned" Caesar).

After selecting a wine from Cibo's fine little vino list, I recommend you start off with one of its appealing appetizers - the handmade tortelloni ($8) certainly qualify. Simple yet elegant, they were a little plateful of bellybutton-shaped, al dente-cooked pasta whorls topped with parmesan shards and filled with a nutmeggy (but not sweet!) butternut squash puree. Their flattering sauce was a classic brown butter flecked with sauteed sage and enriched with pinenuts.

Also outstanding - and displaying Cibo's Sicilian bent - were the Eggplant Involtini ($6.50). Paper-thin strips of roasty, toasty eggplant were rolled into crinkly cylinders around a fragrant mixture of raisins, pinenuts, parsley, cheese, breadcrumbs and anchovy. A sharp and herby tomato sauce and fontina cheese finished off this wonderful starter which might well convert eggplant haters.

While the fairly light housemade Gnocchi ($16) were perfectly nice, they were upstaged by slices of hearty bracciole. The latter were lusty spirals of beef jellyrolled around cheese, prosciutto and garlic.

The "Simple Italian Grilled" Trout ($16) was a remarkable value. Underneath grill-blackened skin was tender and supple meat. The fish came with addictive salt and rosemary-crusted roasted potato slices plus perfectly cooked thin asparagus spears.

Those same fine sides played second fiddle to the bold and luscious Grilled Lamb "Scottaditi" ($28). Beneath thick dried fruit enlivened with a grainy mustard sauce were beautifully dark crusted lamb chops easily sliced through with a butter knife. I'm still thinking about that one.

If chicken's a dish you rarely think about ordering on a night out, think again. See, Cibo's pan-roasted free-range breast ($18) was that good. Medallions of crispy skin and succulent meat were treated to a terrific caramelized garlic sauce that went great with the bird as well as a butternut squash puree and (more) asparagus.

My panna-cotta-like dessert (Bonet alla Piedmontese, $6) wasn't a disappointment either. Its soft and lush texture was expertly calibrated with flavors of coffee, cinnamon, caramel and chocolate. Stiff, crumbled amaretto cookies provided a pleasant contrast.

Alright, the service. Most times it was clearly quite professional, but on one bizarre night my waiter was so amnesic I started to think I was getting punked. I hope that was just an anomaly here, because Cibo's accomplished food deserves better.