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Cibo Wine Bar

522 King St W.
TorontoON
 
(647) 557-8841
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About
Fresh from the bright lights of Miami (where the concept originated and another location is set to open in the fall), Cibo glows as spacious, upscale resto with lots to offer its King West clientele. This includes an extensive wine selection, plate-exceeding pizza pies and a warm nest of house-baked bread to start the adventure. Wine bar it might be, but Cibo is a spectacular choice for lovers of traditional Italian fare. Think polenta fries, a selection of salumeria and a stracciatella soup to set your engines racing. Many of the pastas are made on the premises here, and you can see them in their nascent glory at the pasta bar.
Specials
Tuesday
  • Lobster Tuesday
    Linguine with Fresh Whole Lobster
    $21
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Review: You’ll feel like a somebody

By Alan A. Vernon, reviewed on July 18, 2013
 

Despite its delusions of grandeur, Toronto can be a very small town, or rather, a bunch of vefry small towns, of which Foodieville is a particularly small, incestuous village of intermarrying hipsters and tastemakers. So after eons of writing about restaurants, it’s not surprising to get to know some of the regular players on the local food scene. And though it's important to maintain a professional distance for obvious reasons, from time to time you inevitably become fond of certain restaurateurs.


In the case of the new Cibo on King West, I refer to the hard working Nick Di Donato. This is a man who started his career washing dishes only to end up building a hospitality industry empire like the Liberty Entertainment Group that includes such mainstays as the Liberty Grand, Rosewater, Spice Route, Ciao, C Lounge, Court House, Phoenix and the Velvet Underground, not to mention two properties in Coral Gables, Florida, Cibo and a country club.


Yet with all his worldly success, he is one of the most unpretentious people I have ever come across in this biz - a man who is not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get dirty to get the job done. And if that means being on hand after one of the worst storms since Hurricane Hazel, he's there. But in an overwhelming effort to please, that also means crossing the line from time to time, especially with a not-quite-so inconspicuous food critic at your table. Everyone knows that any reviewer with any integrity can't accept free food/drink without compromising their credibility. This is the only way to ensure fair and unbiased reporting every time.


To make up for an order that wasn't up to snuff, he's the kind of guy who'll send over a free bottle of wine to make it good. And that's exactly what he did. More to the point, a very pricey Amarone. Mired in this ethical dilemma, what is one to do? I certainly couldn't reveal I was reviewing the meal. Yet I didn't want to hurt his feelings since I am a regular paying customer at a few of his establishments. The answer: accept it with a smile and pay for it later. Which is exactly what I did. All $150 (gulp) worth of freebies. Ask God if you don't believe me.


So now, after that too long aside where you found out I can’t be bought, I can get on with this week's review of Cibo, a new branding opportunity for Di Donato bros Nick and Pat. The menu remains pretty much a carbon copy of Yorkville's Ciao, with a few small additions. Their crowd-pleasing polenta fries ($8) are usually expertly executed with a super crispy exterior and a light and fluffy interior. Alas, tonight they're overcooked and sopping with grease. The gorgonzola dip and fresh marinara dippers help, but not enough not to send them back. (Hence, the "free" bottle of wine, me thinks.) But a fungi blend ($13) is certainly a superior salad. A generous mix of meaty grilled portbello, oyster and cremini mushrooms are tossed with a perfectly balanced blend of lemon and extra virgin. This and a glass (hell, a bottle!) of wine make the perfect al fresco meal.


Here the arancini ($9) are cutely cone-shaped instead of the customary breaded sphere stuffed with rice and melted cheese. But this trio, each the size of a Bartlett pear with the perfect crispiness and oozing with mozzarella, sadly disappoints with barely a thimble full of lamb ragu. Thankfully, a grilled whole calamari ($14) corrects the course with a charred smokiness and a tender yet toothsome chew. But fresh, made-in-house pasta (with spelt and gluten-free varieties also available) is the real star of the primos, and after a sampling of a pappardelle ($19) with slow-cooked lamb ragu finished with pecorino shavings, you know this is where the kitchen’s focus lies. The perfect al dente ribbons have just the right bite with a sauce of such depth that can only come from slow cooking with tender loving care. One order is definitely big enough for two.


Big surprise: Pizzas are another specialty. And the San Matteo ($17) doesn't disappoint. Extending well beyond the border of the plate, this is definitely a hungry man portion. But even with its gorgeous charred-edged crust topped with mozzarella, and seemingly bold toppings like spicy Italian sausage, whole stalks of rapini and garlic, the sauceless pie is still a bit timid in the flavour department. A drizzle of olive oil does wonders. Whew.


Up until this point, there is very little to complain about without sounding like a complete douche. Food service moves along at a nice pace and I can't count how many times our water glasses are filled and filled and then filled up again after taking a sip. But flaws with the secondi are more serious. The old-school menu includes such perennial favourites as roast chicken, grilled striploin and short ribs – what’s not to love? But when in Rome do as the Milanese do. A classic veal milanese ($33) with roasted potatoes and rapini should be a mouth-watering, butterflied and breaded veal chop. And for all you size queens out there, think mammoth schnitzel-sized dinner at Country Style in the Annex. But what Country Style gets right and this kitchen doesn't is that the meat must be thin enough to be tender and juicy. Instead, it's as thick, tough and tasteless as a two by four. And though the breading is a perfect golden brown, it falls apart upon impact. Further suffering is endured with the desecration of 10 ounces of incredibly tender chianti-braised short ribs ($34). It's truly a shame that a thick, teriyaki-like, sickly sweet sauce practically suffocates the succulent meat and an otherwise gorgeous gorgonzola polenta. It's all just too messy to bother eating.


In the nick of time arrives a lovely textbook lemon gelato ($7) with an intense pucker that helps cleanse our palate, as well as a baci bombe ($8), a chocolate lovers dream dessert with a mousse housed in a dark chocolate shell, that scores just about average.


Cibo has plenty of Italian food competition with area favourites like Tutti Matti and Buca. But whatever shortcomings and growing pains there are at Cibo, you can always count on bend-over-backwards service that goes out of its way to make it right. And even if you’re a non-scene stranger and you don't get a free bottle of wine to help win you over, you will definitely be back because no matter who you are, the staff will make you feel like part of the famiglia.

Reviews are meant to describe a dining out experience at a given period in time and are the personal opinion of the writer.
All meals are paid for, including all taxes and gratuities. All reservations are made under assumed names. Menu items, prices and individuals mentioned in this review may not be up to date. Dine.TO encourages its users to share their feedback.

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