As far as they are concerned at Cibo Wine Bar, the old adage that you can’t be all things to all people is nonsense. This place has it all.
Date-night spot for a shared pizza and a bottle of affordable wine? Check.
Raucous happy-hour venue to wind down from Friday with a few beers and a calzone? Check.
Banquet-hall venue for your next wedding or graduation party seating 20? Got it.
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Sports bar where you can catch a Dolphins game, a Marlins game and a UM Hurricanes game all at once (yes, look at the calendar)? It’s here.
Party venue where the attractive servers get your attention riding the pulley system up to the top of the floor-to-ceiling, glass enclosed wine cellar to grab your bottle? Yep.
Old-school Italian dining spot with fresh homemade pastas and classic recipes? Check.
And haven for oenophiles where they offer a selection of ’97 Barolos at $300 a pop? Sure.
That Cibo (pronounced CHEE-bo) can pull all these things off in a professional way is impressive. It is a chain (three in Toronto, plus Gables, Fort Lauderdale and South Beach) that feels like an indie, with a personable and attentive staff. Rustic wood tables, Old Chicago brick, pizza oven, soothing lighting and a generally unobtrusive noise level make for a satisfying sensorial experience.
The menu is as wide as the range of experiences, with nearly 30 pasta dishes and more than 15 pizzas along with multiple starters and meat and fish entrees.
Most fried starters are worth the indulgence. A woodpile of fat polenta fries, salty and hot, goes nicely with a lush Gorgonzola dip and marinara as options. On the platter of fried zucchini and artichokes, the star is the gigantic, juicy whole chokes as opposed to the spindlier zucchini, but both benefit from savory roasted red pepper and lemon-lime aiolis. Fried jumbo shrimp with lime and spicy dipping sauce are outstanding, although you’ll leave most of the thatch of zucchini strings in the basket.
Tender pieces of grilled octopus distinguish a creative starter salad, tossed with green beans and purple potato atop radicchio and mixed greens; lemon juice and fried capers add tartness.
Baked eggplant, warm and homey and perfectly done, has plenty of Parmigiano-Reggiano and melted bocconcini, the rustic flavor array benefiting from an aggressively peppery tomato sauce.
Entree-size salads are a light option, even to share. Our radicchio and endive salad toyed with the palate, with sweet gorgonzola, pine nuts, balsamic and honey battling black olives, roasted red peppers and extra-virgin olive oil to a pleasing draw. The classic Niçoise gets an upgrade with arugula as the greens and perfectly seared fresh tuna, plus all the favorites like hard-cooked egg, cherry tomatoes, potatoes, green beans, black olives and plenty of salty anchovies mixed in.
Favorite Italian soups here are served in steaming, big bowls. Pasta + Fagioli was a hit, the spicy tomato broth thick with white beans and ditalini, studded with salty pancetta. The egg drop soup, Stracciatella, was pretty to look at but a bore, the chicken broth virtually unsalted and the Parmigiano-Reggiano unable to overcome the soup’s general wateriness.
Out of the pizza oven came our Puzzi, a thin crust laden with tomato, mozzarella, spicy Italian sausage and onions, with Gorgonzola flecked on top to add a twist. Pizzas get ambitious here, with seafood-rich frutti di mare and Gorgonzola, honey, walnuts and pear among the options. It’s oozy pizza rather than crisp, but if that bothers you, tell them to cook it longer. Flavors are spot on.
Pastas are the true signatures here. Lobster ravioli is utterly lush, the tender pillows stuffed with ample meat and afloat in a bechamel lobster cream sauce enlivened with lemon. The linguini with clams, mussels, calamari and shrimp is plenty for two, the light tomato sauce nicely bathing the perfectly cooked seafood and al dente pasta. Rigatoni has just the right sturdiness to support rich Italian sausage and ricotta, tossed in tomato sauce with plenty of mushrooms.
Pollo parmigiana, the classic comfort food dish with breaded boneless chicken breast, mozzarella and Parmesan and tomato sauce, was just OK, the chicken slightly on the dry side. Roasted potatoes were nice, and Tuscan kale, also on this plate, was outstanding, verdant, tender and pleasantly salty. Grilled local trout with lemon caper sauce also didn’t turn any heads, a perfectly serviceable filet served with a ragu of fava bean and baby squash.
Two desserts finished things off nicely. Cannoli with mixed berries and a swirl of berry syrup or chocolate as a garnish is outstanding, light, crisp, creamy, not too sweet, with a terrific array of fruits. The dark chocolate Baci Bombe is pure joy, a beautiful bomb of lush chocolate atop a hazelnut crust with caramel sauce.
The lesson here: Indulge on salad, starters and pasta over entrees. Order wine, even if it’s not $300. And save room for dessert.
If You Go
Place: Cibo Wine Bar
Rating: ☆ ☆ ☆ (Very Good)
Address: 45 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 200 s. Pointe Dr., South Beach; 4100 N. Federal Hwy., Fort Lauderdale.
Contact: cibowinebar.com; 305-442-4925; 305-987-6060.
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-midnight Sunday-Wednesday; till 2 a.m. Thursday-Saturday (Gables). No lunch at South Beach except Saturday Sunday or Fort Lauderdale except Sunday.
Prices: Salads and starters $7-$18; pizzas $12-$19; pastas $15-$20; entrees $25-$32.
FYI: Excellent and varied wine list with plenty of price points; happy hour; banquet-ready; reservations suggested. All major credit cards. Full bar.