Review: Cibo

Newly opened Cibo in Regent Square is the place for a satisfying, home-cooked Italian meal in a small, warm environment.

As a city with deep Italian roots, Pittsburgh has many, many Italian restaurants; sadly, some of them fall prey to canned red sauce and bulk Mozzarella. In this context, I am always happy to discover small standout neighborhood eateries like Cibo—places that exist because the chef or owner wants to share their love of the cuisine with you, is willing to put in the time and effort to source better ingredients and make food from scratch and stay true to the cuisine while still making their
creative mark.

Cibo, which means “food” in Italian, is just this kind of place, falling in good company with other Italian neighborhood favorites like Girasole (Shadyside), Piccolo Forno (Lawrenceville), Legends of the North Shore (North Side) and Stagioni (Bloomfield), where high-quality bread, olive oil and Parmesan are always on the menu.

Although not of Italian heritage, executive chef Eric Schwarzmeier says, “Italian food has always been my favorite because I love the ingredients. I want to keep my food humble.” What a nice treat it is to order a side of asparagus ($7), spinach ($6) or Italian vegetables ($6), including zucchini and red pepper, and receive a generous helping of vegetables that are cooked to perfection and simply seasoned.

Cibo is part of Dino and Cindy DeFlavio’s continued investment in Regent Square, where they also own McBroom Beer Distributor and D’s Six Pax & Dogz Shoppe.  Cindy DeFlavio, who owns Cibo, stands smartly dressed at the podium to welcome guests. Schwarzmeier comes from La Cucina Flegrea, the now defunct Squirrel Hill favorite, where he worked for seven years, and at his side is sous chef Jeff McMullen.

The small restaurant seats about 36, and during each of my visits, a server was waiting to tend to my every need. DeFlavio and a manager came to our table to greet us and check on our food.  

Cibo’s space used to house other DeFlavio businesses: DeFlavio’s on the Square Pizzeria and, before that, D's Sweets N Treats Deli. To renovate the space, DeFlavio called upon Mike “Woody” Wood, a master carpenter, who transformed it into a pleasant, low-key eatery with earth tones of dark tan, sienna and mustard and a terrific copper-colored, stamped ceiling. The ambiance is intimate but not formal, with white tablecloths, brown napkins, candles and quiet music, making Cibo a great spot for date night.

The best dishes at Cibo are the simplest ones. For example, the clam starter ($11) is large enough to share, since it features nearly 15 small, flavorful clams that are prepared in a white wine and herb broth and served with delicious bread from Allegro Hearth Bakery in Squirrel Hill.  

Another delightful starter is the arugula salad ($8): a pile of fresh arugula, lightly dressed in a housemade balsamic vinaigrette with accents of shaved Parmesan cheese, Kalamata olives, grape tomatoes and fried prosciutto. The Caesar salad ($7), however, veered off track; rather than a perfect traditional Caesar (which Cibo could clearly achieve), the salad was a mix of lettuces, with the additions of tomatoes, olives and anchovies—all overdressed. An excellent traditional starter is the arancini ($10): breaded, fried balls of roasted risotto, made fresh daily.

Schwarzmeier thinks that his soups are some of his best dishes. The one I tried was fantastic: a bowl of pureed roasted summer-squash soup ($5) that was chock-full of flavor and garnished with fresh herbs—just like mom would make.

An entrée with a dramatic presentation is the Zuppa di Pesce ($24), which is not a soup at all, but rather a rectangular platter brimming with cod, mussels, clams, shrimps and crab, sitting in a pool of light and delicious fish stock, flavored with chunks of garlic, fresh tomatoes and a light lime accent. Another stellar choice is the simple grilled salmon ($22), often served with a (too) thick asparagus risotto.

For the meats, I tried the veal, pork chop and the braciole. The veal scaloppini ($22) is lovely, so old-fashioned and simple, featuring pounded and lightly sautéed veal with chunks of forest mushrooms and cooked with white wine and butter.

The grilled pork chop ($24) is unusually juicy because the chef brines it in a blend of beer and molasses before adding a spicy basil and hot-red-pepper rub prior to grilling.

My least favorite entrée was the braciole ($20), a rather tough piece of beef rolled with prosciutto and Parmesan and served on a bed of fettuccini topped with a traditional red sauce.

Of the pasta options, I tried the special rigatoni with vodka ($20) with tomatoes and chicken-breast chunks; it was tasty yet slightly thick. During my next visit, I'll try pasta with seafood—something I think Schwarzmeier would excel at preparing.

The desserts come from a variety of sources and are a hodgepodge both in selection (for example, one night, all three desserts were chocolate-based) and quality. Disappointingly, the tiramisu ($7) is one of the weakest desserts—cake and cream with little chocolate/coffee flavor or moisture.

To my surprise, the best desserts are the ones from the Strip District-based John Heineman Co.; of the desserts I sampled, my favorites were the various cakes offered, such as the decadent cheesecake.

Each neighborhood has its own little food scene. Cibo’s arrival confirms my feeling that Regent Square’s niche is comfort foods: You can eat spicy green curry at The Green Mango, a sumptuous breakfast at the Square Café, a hot dog with all the toppings at D’s Six Pax & Dogz Shoppe or a “Pittsburgh salad” (complete with fries) at Dunning’s Grill. This past summer also saw the opening of Root 174, an eatery that describes its offerings as "cultivated comfort food," as well as Alma Pan-Latin Kitchen, which offers home-cooked Pan-Latin cuisine.

Now more than ever, Regent Square has a lot of good food to offer you.

» 1103 S. Braddock Ave., Pittsburgh (15218);
» Mon.-Sat., 5-10 p.m.
» First courses: $6-$15; Soups and salads: $6-$10; Entrées: $15-$25; Desserts: $4-$7.
» BYOB ($7 corkage fee); major credit cards accepted; reservations; vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options; wheelchair-accessible; no smoking; parking available in street or in lot behind restaurant on Pliney Way.

Categories: From the Magazine, Hot Reads, Restaurant Reviews