Imitation is the highest form of flattery.
A standing Edmonton restaurant joke has to do with the weeks, if not months, one must wait for a reservation at Corso 32, Jasper Avenue’s tiny, contemporary Italian restaurant that earned a five out of five rating from this column.
Three months ago, Cibo opened in the off-downtown Oliver Square (close to Hudson’s Pub).
Obviously cousins Mike Giampa and Rosario Caputo were inspired by what Daniel Costa was doing at Corso.
They’re young, like Daniel, but hospitality veterans – Rosario as a NAIT-trained chef, Mike as a long-time server and maître d’.
They grew up, like Daniel, in Edmonton’s thriving Italian culture, where good food is a way of life.
Cibo (meaning food or nourishment in Italian) is not only good. It’s excellent.
It’s almost – almost – as good as Corso.
Given how foodies genuflect at the mere mention of Corso, this is high praise.
Cibo is most pleasing atmospherically. The contemporary Euro-California look by young designer Niki Flis is clean and crisp with an ultra-high ceiling, discreet ivory colours with sandstone brick and burnt orange tiles. It’s more spacious than Corso (50 seats to Corso’s 34). Even the cutlery is sleek and chic.
The menu is strikingly similar to Corso's, using Italian categories, Italian names and variations on common dishes.
The dishes are superb. The only reason Cibo is getting a 4.5 instead of a five of five stars is due to minor details.
Our pan-fried ricotta cakes opener ($11) was a masterpiece – the baked and browned cheese was shaped like small biscuits, moist with a near bread-like texture and extremely soft and gentle on the palate. Then along came the secondary tang of a tomato-basil jam.
Maria decided on an “ivory” salmon entrée ($26), arriving on a drizzle of garlic aioli, a bed of balsamic-drenched baby potatoes and fennel greens on top. The salmon, truly an ivory colour, was of a perfect delicacy and well enhanced by the aioli and fennel. But Cibo missed the mark with the balsamic. Even a quarter baby potato added to the mix was fatal, as the balsamic ravaged the other flavours. But if you added a crumb of the balsamic potato to the mix, you realized what the chef was after.
I can be nothing but positive about the “Guance Di Manzo” slow-braised beef cheek ($24). Beef cheeks – the muscles in a cow’s facial cheeks – in their raw state are full of yucky connective tissue. But when long braised, the tissue dissolves into a spectacular light fat that permeates and literally lightens a substantial piece of beef. Beef cheeks Cibo-style is among the very best meat I’ve ever tasted.
Cibo lost a few more points, not for the taste but the presentation of the eggplant caponata ($7), or eggplant and tomato. The taste was gorgeous and bold, going to the edge but not over. With copious chopped green olives and rosemary it might be too strong for many, but we loved it.
The look, however, was painful. The other dishes were visual treats, but this side dish was a heap of stewed eggplant/tomato plopped onto a platter.
The panna cotta dessert ($9) was a perfect ending – light and carefully creamy, infused with honey, delicious stewed berries to be mixed in, and a delectable hint of port wine.
A few more points are deducted not for the service – which was very good – but for the waiters’ attire. Jeans, nose rings, and macho t-shirts designed to flaunt chest hair are far too casual for a room of this quality.
Give Caputo and sous-chef Matt Helstein few more months to work on the small details.
As good as Corso? “If not better,” declared former city councillor and bon vivant Michael Phair, at Cibo that same evening.
High praise indeed!
Cibo Bistro, 11244 104 Ave.
780-757--CIBO (2426), Cibobistro.com
Food: 4.5 of 5
Ambience: 4 of 5
Service: 3 of 5
Dinner for two, basic, $60; loaded $100