Dependably delivering traditional Italian fare, Cibo Ristorante changes character with each passing hour.
Thursday, August 30, 2001
Serving dinner only from 5pm each evening, Cibo Ristorante dresses like a normal, well-groomed modern Italian restaurant. It wears lovely pastel colors bolstered by warm wood tones, subtle lighting accents and decorative bric-a-brac. From the main entrance, which sits right on the corner of Alvarado and Del Monte, one glance inside reveals a welcoming, comfortable, elegant looking space...perfect for a quiet meal, some vino and conversation. Even from the side entrance a few yards up Alvarado, one enters into a handsome bar and lounge area. It is easy to sashay up to the bar or into a booth for early evening cocktails. To swing from that into dinner is inevitable.
As the evening progresses, Cibo''s alter egos begin to reveal themselves. Perhaps there''s a convention at the Monterey Conference Center that has drawn a group looking for after-seminar fun and revelry. More than likely they''ll be at Cibo. While sedentary diners calmly crunch calamari, charged-up conventioneers chug cocktails and cold beer while they socialize and network.
Perhaps on another occasion, a group from one of the nearby hotels has arranged for a dinner. Instead of the bar area rocking, the dining room might be packed, with harried waiters scurrying to and fro while relaxed bar patrons lounge over designer martinis and appetizers.
Or maybe there are no conventions and the dining room is filled with regular family folks who are finished frolicking and are looking for a nice Italian meal to end the day. The combinations seem to be endless. Cibo handles them all with aplomb and professionalism. For 11 years, Cibo has held forth in the heart of downtown Monterey, as the world and the neighborhood evolved around it.
Today, Cibo is like a multi-faceted precious stone, pretty to look at from all angles, yet different depending on the particular face your eyes are observing. Perhaps it''s like a utility infielder on a pennant-contending baseball team--it gets the job done regardless of the circumstances. Maybe it''s a talented musician who can play with all types of acts. Speaking of which, did I mention the live music?
In addition to the restaurant, the bar, the lounge area and the open kitchen, Cibo Ristorante Italiano throws live music at you just about every night. So, let''s say you''re just finishing up your plate of lasagna, thinking about maybe a coffee drink and a dessert, when you notice the musicians entering the building and setting up drums, amps and microphones on the small stage area that straddles the lounge, the dining room and the side door. Instead of just grabbing the check and bolting, perhaps an after-dinner something-or-other in the lounge begins to look like the ticket.
I always manipulate my visits to Cibo based on how I''m feeling at the moment. If it''s early and I''m in the mood for a quiet cocktail, I''ll cruise over to the bar and take advantage of the early down time (the crowd usually comes later). If I want a quiet dinner, I''ll get a table far from the bar to avoid the bar music and early enough to miss the live music which usually begins around 9pm. Sometimes I want to feel like I''m part of the action. I''ll have dinner a bit later and sit closer to the band so that I can enjoy the buzz of the bar and the energy of the band.
Whatever way you choose to play it, Cibo will not disappoint. The menu is straightforward and user-friendly, serving, "innovative interpretations of Sicilian recipes deeply rooted in Italian tradition." Appetizers like Cozze e Vongole (mussels and clams, garlic, butter, white wine, parsley and fresh tomato) or Carpaccio (thin slices of raw beef, mixed greens, Parmiggiano, lemon, cracked pepper and olive oil) are good starters.
Have a delicate Insalata Cibo (organic mixed baby greens, roma tomatoes and Balsamic vinaigrette) for a palate freshening intermezzo, then swing into one of the pastas like Pappardelle alla Ciociara (wide pasta ribbons, wild mushrooms, shallots, leeks, cream and peas). Try the Tagliatelle Bolognese (thin pasta ribbons with a rich tomato meat sauce). If you prefer meat or fish, choose from a selection of dishes like Spiedini (grilled, thinly sliced swordfish rolled with bread crumbs, pine nuts, currants, cheeses, prosciutto and herbs), or Griglia Mista (mixed grill of sausage, rib eye and marinated chicken breast, with gratin potatoes, sauteed spinach).
The wine list, like the menu, is straightforward and set up to appeal to the diverse clientele that passes through the doors. Selections from California and Italy dominate. The dessert menu is short and mostly uneventful, but I tend to overlook dessert in favor of a nice port or cognac in the bar. Nothing helps settle a meal like an espresso, a glass of port and some live jazz in a relaxed, friendly atmosphere.
As the night moves on past the dinner hour (service is until about 10), the energy level climbs and the place turns into more of a supper club than a straight restaurant. With Shane behind the bar driving the ship, the band banging out tunes and the customers digging the scene, Cibo after dark and into the night shows its truest personality as one of the most happening spots in Monterey.
--Banter with Ray (email@example.com)