Given his pedigree, when I heard that chef Will Packwood and new partners were opening an Italian restaurant Downtown, my expectations were high

Photo By John Anderson


918 Congress, 478-3663

Monday-Friday, 7am-10:30pm; Saturday, 5-10:30pm

Given his pedigree, when I heard that chef Will Packwood and new partners were opening an Italian restaurant Downtown, my expectations were high. I am happy to report that Cibo, Packwood's latest endeavor, does not disappoint. His innovative Italian fare uses fresh local and seasonal ingredients as much as possible. The rustic dishes demonstrate an elegant simplicity and are expertly prepared. As you might expect, the wine list is heavily loaded toward Italian wines to pair with this food, but there are plenty of other offerings that make it interesting and representative.

I was so eager to try Cibo that our first visit was shortly after the restaurant opened. The interior is modern and stark with lots of concrete and metal and sparse abstract paintings on the walls. It was quiet there that night, so we sat at the bar and ordered appetizers. We enjoyed the Grilled Baby Octopus With Olive Oil and Garlic ($11) and the marinated fresh artichoke hearts ($9). The bartender was very professional and extremely knowledgeable on the wines and offered many suggestions, letting us sample small portions before we settled on a bottle of Super Tuscan.

For our second plate, we chose the refreshing green salad ($3) dressed with lemon and olive oil and the spinach risotto ($10.50). Though the risotto flavor was delicate and savory, unfortunately the rice was a little too al dente, and we were not particularly impressed. For our entrée, we chose the Branzino, an Italian sea bass served whole, stuffed with lemons and aromatic herbs, and grilled. The menu offers alongside it grilled polenta and roasted squash, but I already had my heart set on the lemon-buttered brussels sprouts and the sautéed rapini with garlic and cracked pepper, so we were allowed to make the substitution for a small fee. The bartender filleted the whole fish at the bar for us, serving us a portion each, and we ate the veggies family-style. While I found the flavor of the fish appealing, the consistency was a bit mushy. For dessert, we shared a dish of homemade vanilla gelato topped with yellow raisins macerated in grappa. It was deliciously boozy and light.

By the time we returned a few months later, Cibo had been discovered and was quite busy. We sat at a table and enjoyed a glass of Prosecco while we perused the menu, which changes every day according to availability of ingredients and popularity of the dishes. This time, we had the outstanding Pizzaiola-Style Meatballs ($7.50) served in a tangy tomato sauce topped with grated Grana Padano cheese. The fried calamari ($11) was the poster child for fried calamari: lightly breaded, sweet, and moist served with only a wedge of lemon. The Fegatini ($7.50), a rustic chicken-liver pâté served with crostini and the aforementioned grappa macerated raisins, was a huge hit. The best part? Appetizers are two-for-one Monday through Friday from 4 to 7pm when ordered at the bar or at the bar tables.

My guests and I shared a few second plates with a bottle of Nero d'Avola, a red wine from Sicily, and a bottle of Soave, a fruity, light white Italian wine. This time, the Roasted Beet Risotto ($10.50) with goat's milk ricotta and grated ricotta salata was cooked to perfection, a melange of sweet, savory, and creamy. The Butternut Squash Gnocchi ($12.50) with brown butter, fresh sage, and Parmigiano Reggiano were as light as air, and all the flavors were distinctly perceptible. The homemade Tagliatelle ($13.50), with sausage ragu and grated Parmesan, was savory and satisfying.

We also shared a couple of entrées, both outstandingly prepared. The Rabbit Braised in Red Wine ($35) served with sautéed rapini and grilled white polenta was fall-off-the-bone tender, rich with wine flavor without overwhelming the delicate rabbit meat. It reminded me of the wine-braised rabbit with mushrooms that my mom makes. The Tagliata ($22.50), a perfectly seasoned, medium-rare rib-eye steak, was served sliced (hence the name, which is Italian for sliced) with roasted potatoes, fresh arugula, and Gorgonzola dolce.

We were almost full to the point of explosion, but we had to try a dessert. The Chocolate Amaretti Torte, a sliver of dense chocolate cake flavored with almond, was luxurious, a perfect ending to a wonderful meal with excellent service.

Cibo offers community-style dining with a set menu on their Big Table upstairs, which we intend to try on our next visit. My only professional complaint about Cibo is the noise level. Once the restaurant gets crowded, the concrete and metal surfaces resonate with a million deafening conversations. And on a personal note, I'd like to propose a city ordinance restricting the indiscriminate use of heavy perfumes and colognes in fine restaurants. The warring aromas overwhelm the taste buds of innocent diners, and some of us are actually allergic.

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