Last night, four of us were trying to come up with an Italian restaurant that we hadn’t tried yet, and after some deliberation and discussion we finalized on Cibo Trattoria, on Seymour Street in the Moda Hotel. We managed to get a reservation for dinner at 8 pm, and started looking at the menu online. My brother was actually a bit put off by the food choices, saying there wasn’t really anything that drew his interest, but after calling around more and some convincing since a couple of us had heard good reviews,we decided to stick with our initial choice.
We wandered over to the hotel, and noticed more tourists walking by in Yaletown than usual – the buzz for the Olympics is really started to turn up. We walked into the door, unsure what to expect, as there aren’t a whole lot of friends that have actually given Cibo a try yet. The reason that I was so keen on it (besides being close by the neighbourhood), was that on my last flight to the Dominican in November on Air Canada, I had read in the Enroute magazine that it was ranked as the top new restaurant of 2009 across Canada. I’m not sure who put together those rankings, but it still sounded enticing, and I had just happened to start my blog around then.
Anyway, back to the restaurant.
When we walked through the heavy steel door and looked inside, I thought right away that it had a great atmosphere, and loved how the small 36-seat restaurant looked much bigger than it actually is with such tall ceilings and the use of what were likely strategically-placed mirrors on the walls. There were towering pieces of artwork, and it was also really unique in that there were modern design elements, which contrasted with the hundred year old building – the floor tiles and pipes throughout the ceiling were still the original (the floor also caused the tables to be a little unstable and in need of adjustment once we sat down).
We then selected some cocktails, and I tried the Bittercup – it had campari, frenet blanca, cranberry juice, grapefruit juice, and prosecco. The best part of this drink was the bitter strawberry aftertaste. As per the drink menu, this drink was apparently ‘designed to stimulate the appetite,‘ and oh, did it ever! The guys disagreed with this though, and thought it tasted like ‘laundry soap or flowers’ – maybe this one is better for the girls. 😉 My brother ordered the Bellini (not a frozen version that you would get elsewhere). This was made up of prosecco and white peach puree. The peach actually reminded me of apricot quite a bit for whatever reason, but I really enjoyed this as well. It was quite a bit sweeter than what I had ordered – one would probably be enough for my palette.
From what I understood as well, there is an interesting menu of beers from around the world. Mike had a Rogers Beer, but I haven’t been a fan of beer since I used to drink cans of MGD or other similar Canadian beverages at our small town bush parties (don’t ask – if you grew up in a small town, you’ll know exactly what I mean). After that point, we ordered some Pinot Grigio to go with our dinner.
Now one thing to keep in mind if you’re going to Cibo – forget about any diet you might be on, and be prepared for a lot of very, very rich food. Since I hadn’t had a meal out for three days prior to this, my stomach was fully prepared for the onslaught of oil and butter that was about to begin. At least the Foccacia bread that we started off with was a bit lighter (not all that much though).
The first Antipasti dish that came was the Puntarella ‘Alla Romana’ – with anchovy, chili, E.V.O oil, and aged red wine vinegar. This salad was quite refreshing, and I really enjoyed the bits of fish and the crispness of the greens (if you’re not into anchovy, it’s probably best to stay far away from this). This was the only part of the meal where I actually felt like I wasn’t sinning since the dish felt like it was somewhat healthy (that’s what I was telling myself, anyway).
I had picked the Thinly Sliced Ox Tongue, that was served with warm fingerling potatoes, horseradish, and a watercress salad. This was phenomenal. Even my girlfriend, who does NOT like the texture of tongue and has eaten it a few times before, really enjoyed this dish, as the slices were so fine and tasted amazing with the salad and horseradish. Even those that were hesitant when I had first ordered it appeared to really enjoy it in the end!
The Agnolli stuffed with Chicken and Pork, with crispy sage, butter and parmesan was also divine. This was extremely rich, but I still enjoyed every bite I had. The flavour of the meat stuffing was not overly strong and I love the texture of sage when it’s prepared that way. Note that all of the pastas at Cibo are handmade daily, and they use organic and locally grown food as much as possible.
Although my favourite gnocchi still goes to Lupo (for their Ricotta Gnocchi), I decided to also try the Potato Gnocchi. This version was served with dandelion, walnut pesto, gorgonzola and pesto. Until this point, I didn’t realize how much I loved dandelion, and the nut pieces throughout the dish gave it a great texture to complement the softness of the gnocchi curds.
The Squash Ravioli with ricotta, marjoram, chili and lemon butter was also very rich but good. The sweetness of the squash and the tart of the lemon played really well together, and it was a perfect sized serving – any larger and it would have been overdoing it.
One of the Secondi daily specials was the Suckling Pork. Well, as soon as I heard that, you know I had to have it! It came on a bed of lentils (mmmm, I’ve really been enjoying those a lot lately, especially the ones I had last week at Pourhouse), with a rub of Rosemary and other spices. The crispy skin was done really well, and the meat inside was also very tender and delicious. The one thing that I didn’t like was the overbearing amount of spice on the inside of the pork, and I just stayed clear of it (I’d already had enough to eat as it was anyway)!
Finally, the last of the mains was the Grilled Skirt Steak, with rainbow chard, roast bone marrow and bread crumb salsa. Again, the meat was nice and tender, cooked medium rare to our request, and I loved the flavour of the marrow over top. I’m not a big fan of chard to begin with though, as I find it to be a bit dense for a green leafy vegetable.
And now on to dessert. At this point we were already groaning a bit, but I still had to have some. So…we picked three different ones to share.
My absolute favourite was the Almond Praline Semifreddo. It was quite sweet, but I loved the nut pieces in the creamy frozen dessert, and I couldn’t get enough. I think I had more of this one than anyone else, and managed to come close to licking off the plate at the very end, even after I could barely get down another sip of water with my stomach so full at that point.
My next preference of dessert was the Meyer Lemon and Tangerine Tart, with creme fraiche. It was tangy, sweet, soft and smooth, and a nice semi-light (yeah, right) way to finish off the evening. The crust was also great, and I kept going in for extra helpings of this.
Finally, on to the Vanilla Panacotta with pink grapefruit and campari – it was fluffy and rich, and was a bit boring unless you made sure to get some of the fruit on a spoonful of it. The vanilla flavour was very light and the fruit was really tangy.
Overall, I really loved the room at Cibo, and the dishes were delicious and rich (bring some Rolaids for afterward). However, this is more of a place that I would go back to if looking for more unique Italian food, rather than a traditional comfort food. There are definitely some interesting food combinations that were great to try out for the first time. I’ve also heard that there’s a small room available for private events, although I’m not sure where it’s located since there isn’t a lot of room in the place. In addition to all of that, our server was most excellent, and she really knew the menu – we came away really noticing those extra little touches that will keep you coming back.
Price: $$$ (note, our bill came to about $330, as some of the dishes aren’t all that large)