CIBO IS one of the few restaurants which I feel I know like the palm of my hand. Politely, I’d always fight the urge to shoo away with a subtle hand gesture and a slight tilt of the head their menu that could be, to the uninitiated, unimpressive with its thinness, but in a split second overwhelming with its voluminous contents. And lest I forget, the pictures are quite pretty.
My Cibo usuals are their Zuppe Crema di Zucca (butternut squash soup), Spaghettini Alla Romana, Farfalle Alla Genovese, Succo di Pomodoro (tomato juice), and Panna Cotta Cioccolato (cooked cream with chocolate sauce).
On this dinner with Partner and The Boy Wonder, I had the sudden inspiration to veer away from my usuals. Though not one to be at a loss when assaulted by visuals – text and photos – I suddenly found myself stumped as to which to choose from the extensive menu.
As it is with really great restaurants, the wait staff could be trusted to be more than just cordial, uniformed personnel who dish out entrées. I turned around to look our server in the eye and asked him point-blank, “Which is your favorite? On the menu… which is it?” I half-expected my change of gears to throw him off, unable to organize a well-thought-out response.
Jose smiled and, quite quick on his feet, turned a leaf over, pointed with an open palm, and with conviction in his voice said, “Sir, Penne Al Telefono!” “stewed tomato. mozzarella. white cheese. basil. cream.” What’s not to love? (Though I do remember quipping still, “Is it really good?”) So, I took Jose up on his recommendation, but not without first tweaking it to my liking. “Can you replace the penne with angel hair, please?” “Sir, spaghettini is our thinnest pasta.” “Then, spaghettini it is!”
It felt so good to be able to carry on a sensible conversation with an obviously knowledgeable service crew that I found myself expressing this delight by mouthing a line from one of the songs of Forbes Magazine’s most powerful celebrity this year. “K-k-kinda busy…” I remember Partner and I snapping our fingers.
Before I even laid eyes on my spaghettini al telefono, I was made aware of its proximity by the whiff of fragrant basil that perfumed the air around me. “Your spaghettini al telefono,” Jose politely declared as if announcing the advent of pasta that would change my life. The generous single-serve portion was ensconced on a pristine white bowl, the spaghettini’s creamy paleness beautifully setting off the confetti of julienned basil on top.
I stuck my fork through the mound of al dente pasta, twirled until just enough spaghettini, cheese, and shards of stewed tomatoes had clung to the tines. I lifted my fork and noticed the string of cheese that dropped down from the pasta as if reclaiming its rightful place back on the plate and away from my mouth. “Oh, just like telephone lines.” I guess I’d figured out the dish’s name’s provenance before even feeling the need to ask around.
Cibo’s “al telefono” is creamy without being so rich – the creaminess of the sauce resembling the thin consistency of heavy cream against the solidified horror that is the commercially available “all-purpose cream.” The stewed tomatoes, already on its own infused with the goodness of Italian herbs and aromatics, provide the perfect foil to the stringy mozzarella and white cheese. I couldn’t help but compliment Jose on his recommendation. It is now my new favorite on their menu!
I’m surprised that I’ve never come across pasta prepared “al telefono” all my freakin’ years. Perhaps, I was just so… what’s the term for it? Oh, “k-k-kinda busy.”
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