Cibo Bistro
11244 104 Ave. (Oliver Square)
780-757-2426
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 Sun. and Mon.

Dinner for two, excluding tip and beverages: basic, $80; loaded, $170

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

By GRAHAM HICKS

Question of the day: After six years under executive chef and partner Rosario Caputo, should Cibo Bistro (in Oliver Square, just off the downtown) be considered one of the Top 10 restaurants in Edmonton?

I hate to say ‘on the one hand’, or ‘yes but’, or ‘it depends’.

But … it depends!

If the criteria is primarily top quality, visual presentation and consistently excellent food, yes.

But if inventiveness and innovation are high on your list, no.

Chef Caputo is not in the business of being daring. He sticks to his knitting, being high-end Italian dining. The most exciting he gets is ox or pork cheeks.

But that which emerges from Cibo’s kitchen is uniformly and consistently excellent. And at some of the highest prices in town – $28 to $30 for ‘primi piatti’ pasta dishes, $39 to $49 for the three entrees, so it should be!

Since the Weekly Dish last visited Cibo two years ago, little has changed, which is reflective of both Caputo’s own attitude and that of his loyal clientele.

In fact, I was drawn to familiar Cibo favourites, i.e. at lunchtime, the superb French fries made from pressed polenta. At dinner on a subsequent visit, Cibo’s famous arancini – crispy rice balls stuffed with hot, runny cheese and chopped mushroom – were shared. We were equally nostalgic with the pasta course, splitting Bolognese (tomato and ground beef) ragu on tagliatelle pasta.

Cibo’s braised pork cheeks are beautifully topped with carrot peel. Graham Hicks, photos

Only in our selection of entrees were we less traditional, opting for the braised pork cheeks and lamb shank dishes, but still knowing these are dishes on which Caputo has built Cibo’s reputation.

Cibo, however, can never be accused of being staid, dull or boring. Cibo’s arancini balls look like everybody else’s, and are made from the same ingredients – batter, rice, cheese and mushrooms. Why are they so much tastier than almost all the competition? Pasta with tomato/meat sauce is as basic as Italian cooking gets. So why is Cibo’s tagliatelle with Bolognese sauce such a treat? Visually, it’s just another bowl of pasta and sauce!

Because chef Caputo does marvellous things within the traditional: Starting, of course, with a willingness to pay for top-quality, fresh ingredients.

The arancini is subtly flavoured with browned butter and sage. You know something’s there. The wild mushrooms are earthy with a hint of dampness, a flavour absorbed into the rich, hot, gooey fontina cheese that oozes out when each arancini ball is broken.

The tagliatelle/ground beef/tomato is even more intriguing. It’s so basic, why is it so good? Why does it leave a lingering richness in the mouth? Partly a long simmering, one would think; integrating herbs deep into the base sauce. Partly it’s the pasta quality, timed to be at its al dente best on arrival at the customers’ table.

You’d be hard-pressed to find lamb shank this good at other restaurants. The strands of slow-cooked rosemary-infused meat fall off the bone into a delicious pureed polenta/soft cheese sauce below.

Braised lamb shanks nestled on a polenta/cheese whey sauce.

The zeppola – limoncello/mascarpone doughnuts (like French beignets) – were taking some time. Not to worry, our server said. Every serving is individually cooked after being ordered. On arrival, the zeppola interiors were as light as air, beautifully flavoured.

The freshly-made zeppola doughnuts are heavenly.

This matter of price: Cibo now one of the city’s most expensive restaurants – charging $28 to $30 for pre-entrée pasta dishes is remarkable. Two of us shared three of five dishes, yet the pre-tax, pre-tip, no-alcohol bill for two still came to $144.

But the restaurant business is extremely competitive. Obviously Cibo’s customers are willing to pay for quality. For value, try Cibo’s lunch-time menu. It’s half the price.