It’s been a few years since I have been excited about eating on the corner of 11th and Jackson, one of those charming Old Market destinations that has the potential to draw diners like a moth to a flame.
After two visits to Cibo Vino, the latest restaurant to take over the bay formerly occupied by The Collins, J’s on Jackson and Passport, color me pleased.
Reliable Italian might be the thing to finally find success on this corner, complete with nicely executed pasta, fresh takes on Italian classics and a bar that can execute a craft cocktail.
If you’ve ever dined at this spot, you’ll recognize the space, which still has a more formal dining room to the west and a window-lined bar to the east: Like me, most diners seem to prefer that well-lit, welcoming bar to the darker, more formal dining room.
Cibo Vino — which translates to “food” and “wine” from Italian — is more casual than some of the previous restaurants in this spot, but still nice. To me, it feels on the same level as Gather, another recent Old Market opening that’s found success.
I found myself particularly impressed with the kitchen’s pastas, cooked just to al dente and served nicely seasoned with flavorful sauces, like a simple cacio pepe one night, made with good olive oil, lots of cracked black pepper and both pecorino romano and Parmesan cheese.
Another night, we tried the bucatini amatriciana, a traditional sauce of tomato, crispy guanciale, which is an Italian cured pork cheek, and pecorino, amped up with some kicky calabrian pepper, which brought a pleasant spiciness to the dish.
Pastas come in two sizes: smaller portions for sharing, as a first course, how it’s done in Italy, and larger, entree sized pastas. I appreciate the flexibility of the menu.
We tried a couple of our favorite classic cocktails — a negroni and a Manhattan — and found both nicely executed and served as ordered. Basil pops up several times on the drink list, including in a “basito,” billed as an Italian mojito, and in a lemon basil martini, too.
The burrata caprese, billed as a salad but more of a cheese plate, is lovely, served with some late summer heirloom tomatoes, both fresh basil and a basil pesto and a drizzle of balsamic reduction. It doesn’t come with bread — maybe my one complaint — so we added on the $4 order of house baked rosemary focaccia.
Though I’d prefer if a couple slices came with the cheese, I have to admit: the bread is worth the minimal charge. It’s seared on a grill and served with olive oil and some Parmesan cheese; even without the burrata, it’d be a fine side, as we used the large slices to drag through several other sauces, too.
Cibo Vino is co-owned by Wendy Becker — a Spezia alum — and executive chef Don Doty, who now works at Rotella and opened the former Taste, in Rockbrook Village, and Foodies, off 78th and Cass. The two have been friends for 25 years, Becker said, and decided they each had “one more restaurant in them.”
So far, it’s been busy, Becker said.
“The patio is literally the best people watching spot,” she said. “And the windows in the bar, too. I always liked coming down here. I love the feel of the building. When the lights are dimmed at night, it just kind of glows.”
The patio was abuzz when I visited, too, and I have to agree: it’s pretty inviting during golden hour.
The entree menu includes several seafood selections, like the crisp-skinned fennel citrus salmon we tried the first evening, served with a bright sauce and fennel, tomato and green pepper. We both really enjoyed the menu’s higher-end takes on classic American Italian dishes like veal scaloppini and sausage and peppers.
The veal (admittedly, a cut I don’t see much these days) comes as a thin, sauteed cutlet topped with a marsala wine-based sauce. Capers bring a nice brininess to the dish, which gets finished with mushrooms, rosemary and seasonal vegetables; in our case, asparagus. (I’d rather see a different vegetable during high summer, but nonetheless, the asparagus was nicely cooked.)
I did notice one small detail on both the veal and sausage: someone in the kitchen might consider wiping the sides of the plates. Both our otherwise very pretty entrees and pasta dish had plate edges littered with splashes of sauce and out-of-place herbs and cheese.
I really enjoyed the sausage and peppers, a dish that’s nostalgic for me, as it was regularly on the menu at home when I was a kid. The sausage is very nice here, loosely packed with a snappy casing. Paired with soft-crisp hunks of pepper in a flavorful sauce and a nicely executed side of well-seasoned polenta, I’d be back for this dish alone.
Cibo Vino is a nice, neighborhood Italian restaurant that I think fits well in the Old Market, filling a gap that I didn’t realize I wanted filled until I visited. I hope it can finally break the curse of this spot, and thrive.