Cibo is Marco Frattaroli’s Shining Second Act

CIBO, THE HIP YOUNG sister of NW 21st’s long-standing Bastas, opened in July of this year along a stretch of SE Division that seems to have investors spraying fire hoses of cash into every broken window and abandoned cobbler shop. It’s a boomtown down there, and with the addition of this and a handful of other newsworthy spots, it’s now a destination.

This handsome new space has made a considerable investment in an imported Italian wood- and gas-fired dome pizza oven, gussied with forno bling and boasting a digital readout of deck and air temperatures. If there had been a Lazy Susan in the Inferno, it would look like this, but instead of crispy little pagans this one turns out salt-baked pompano and bubbling pies. It’s a comforting hearth and anchor to a space that has the dark, solid feel of a nightclub in a sexy library. The tables are large, the seats are comfortable, and the deep raised booths have a feeling of privacy and occasion. A wine bucket and smart cocktails sit on one table, and a family with a child eating a $5 happy hour Margherita is quietly ensconced at another. The noise level is easily conversational even when at capacity.

Unique to Cibo are its cecina, a baked Tuscan flatbread appetizer. Somewhere between a thick, tender pancake and a savory clafouti, chickpea batter is studded with eggplant or meat, and baked until the surface is a golden lunar landscape. Sweet, clove-scented sausage and rich Taleggio keeps the mild bread interesting in one version, while a more traditional one is simply spiced with black pepper. They range from $8-12.

There are just a handful of starters, but they are safe bets done well. The arancini is the size of a baseball, deep-fried to a thick exterior crisp and presented cut in half, so the golden, saffron-scented Arborio rice, salty minced filling, and melted mozzarella present attractively. It’s a fair size for $6, and good to share. The salt cod fritters with olive relish and lemon ($7) are also a solid value. Tightly battered and fried crisp, the intact hunks of fish have the look and texture of the British Tourism Board’s finest stock photo of fish ‘n’ chips.

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