Cibo Bistro

11244-104 Ave. (Oliver Square),

780-757-2426

www.cibobistro.com

Tues. to Fri. 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Sat. 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.

Closed Sundays and Mondays

Food:  4.5 of 5 Suns
Ambience: 4 of 5 Suns
Service: 4.5 of 5 Suns

Dinner for two: Excluding drinks and tip, loaded, $120, basic, $50

Returning to a restaurant previously reviewed starts with worry. You mightily enjoyed that dinner four years ago, gave the establishment top marks. But, with so many other eateries out there worthy of attention, you have not been back.

What if the eatery has gone into decline? Been sold? Changed chefs? Started to cheap out? What if the restaurant had been guilty of inconsistency, one night to the next?

To report that Rosario Caputo’s Cibo Bistro in Oliver Square remains on top of its game is both satisfying and a relief.

In fact, with its service much improved, I would move Cibo up a notch. With one or two more improvements in the kitchen, Cibo would be a worthy candidate for inclusion on any Edmonton Top 10 restaurant list.

The restaurant hasn’t dramatically changed its high-ceiling Euro-California décor, or its contemporary Italian cuisine, but the menu has been tweaked and improved. The service was much better this time around, thanks to a well-trained career server, as opposed to a college kid working a weekend job.

Cibo has moved fully into the realm of small plates, dividing its menu into 10 antipasti selections, four primi piatti (pasta) and but three secondi piatti (duck breast, leg of rabbit, rib-eye).

Unfortunately, the Cibo nickel-and-dimes in the vegetable department, adding another $11 to $13 for veggie sides – sides that should be part of a $32 to $35 “secondi piatti” without extra charge.

The small plate option allows for more variety and a leisurely tempo. Cibo works well as an evening-long affair, where each dish can be savoured and wines can fully enjoyed in the context of food pairings. The professional server knows just when and where to intervene, when to clear dishes, when to present the next course.

Our party of four opted for multiple splitting — three antipasto, two primi piatti, two secondi piatti and a cheese plate for dessert. Enough volume to fill but not overwhelm the stomach, enough variation to fully satiate the taste buds.

The antipasto dishes were excellent. The arancini (rice balls) were slightly plain in presentation but the hot and gooey basil/asiago cheese interiors hit the spot.

Offering nine unusual bruschetta (toast with toppings) – three each of pancetta, mozzarella/(leafy) radicchio, plus an onion, truffled cheese and quail egg mix – was inspired.

The octopus tentacle on a warm kale salad was an evening highlight, the octopus beautifully cooked and presented, with a touch of orange citrus and toasted almond.

In the middle of the meal, the primi piatti (pasta) dishes sagged. The made-with-buckwheat flat-noodle pappardelle and mushroom ragu was dull, buckwheat not being a particularly tasty grain. The dish was thin on the ragu. In the fedelini pasta dish (a thin tubular pasta) the teensy tiny clams were quite lost. The dish’s alleged peperoncini (hot peppers) could not be discerned.

The sag was momentary, the wine deliciously carrying us over to two fine secondi piatti dishes – Cibo’s excellent sliced duck breast with a lovely, mysterious Italian wine-based vin cotto condiment, and the fish special, a sweet, moist, pan-seared halibut filet on top of cooked greens.

There must be something in the water Edmonton’s chefs are drinking. Duck breast is being beautifully cooked in several establishments and becoming all the more popular as a result. The Cibo fish – well, let’s give chef/owner Caputo the highest compliment and say it compares with Lino Oliviera’s fish specials at Sabor.

Other than the momentary pasta lapses, Cibo provided a splendid evening of fine food, great wine and friendship: Who could ask for more?

Just one more quibble: This business of putting menus in Italian with English/Italian descriptions I find pretentious in the extreme. Do menus in Italy start with English food titles? Should Thai restaurants print their offerings in Thai script first? Just tell us the dish’s name and what it’s all about, in plain English please. Corso 32 dropped the Italian pretense some time ago and its menu is now actually understandable.

graham.hicks@hicksbiz.com

www.hicksbiz.com

@hicksonsix