Updated on September 23, 2016
Special pizza oven lends warmth to offshoot of Basta
Reverently brought to the table is a serving platter of salt, the kind of gentle mound that resembles Lot’s wife on a bad day.
Slowly, carefully, the white hill is brushed away, a layer of cheesecloth is peeled back and the fish’s skeleton is surgically removed. Placed in the center of a serving plate are four glistening salt-baked pompano fillets, drizzled with olive oil, as white as the salt but considerably moister and more subtle in flavor.
It’s an artful and delicate presentation, revealing a fish that needs no saucing to stay admirably afloat.
Cibo, the newest entry on Southeast Division’s explosive restaurant row, has some dramatic moments like this, as well as a multicolored, egg-shaped wood-burning pizza oven, imported from Italy, that looks like it could cook a much larger animal than a pompano. (It has flames painted on the sideoreg, making it the hot rod of pizza ovens.)
If some other dishes run flat, Cibo, an offshoot of Northwest Portland’s Basta, still qualifies as an inviting local asset. No matter how many restaurants you have on your street, one with a crisp hand-thrown pizza covered with prosciutto and arugula always improves the neighborhood.
The oven bakes another Cibo specialty, cecina, a kind of chickpea pancake offered with a choice of toppings, but not quite carrying enough interest on its own to stand up to them.
A couple of deep-fried appetizers, on the other hand, carry considerable interest. Salt cod fritters have a pleasant, lightly nautical and not intensely saline flavor. Arancini, the traditional risotto balls with a mozzarella core, here deftly juggle three different textures — the rice, the cheese and the outside crunch — without dropping any.