A display of wild mushrooms at Cibus.
I take Italian food personally: it reminds me of feasting on my grandmother’s slow-cooked, seasonal dishes surrounded by my family. For me, the secret of Italian cuisine …
A display of wild mushrooms at Cibus.
Pros: seasonal organic produce, intimate Liberty decor, excellent wine list
Cons: wine can be pricey, daily specials hard to catch on first recital (and the chef will not repeat himself)
I take Italian food personally: it reminds me of feasting on my grandmother’s slow-cooked, seasonal dishes surrounded by my family. For me, the secret of Italian cuisine lies in its simple generosity and the way it lets the ingredients speak for themselves. It’s a demanding art that requires great precision.
When Elio, the Neapolitan chef at Cibus, came over to our table and reeled off the list of daily specials before disappearing into the kitchen, it was clear that he hadn’t chosen the restaurant’s name lightly: at Cibus (“food” in Latin), it’s the food that counts, carefully prepared with a touch of Italian style to bring out the best of the ingredients. Elio later summed up his gastronomic philosophy for us in three points: before, during and after. First comes desire and anticipation as you imagine your next meal. Then there is the feast itself. When it’s over, you feel content with a good meal inside you.
At Cibus, form and content come together. The minimal decor provides the perfect backdrop for the pretty Liberty-style wooden doors on the back wall, while the simple dishes follow the market. On the recommendation of the chef, my friend started with the creamed chickpeas
topped with broccoli and Swiss chard. I had the eggplant, which was grilled to perfection, revealing a unique sweetness that contrasted
with the bright flavor of the olives, backed by a recital of capers, pine nuts and breadcrumbs, and topped with vibrant touches of pesto.
The conductor of this feast is the seemingly gruff front-of-house-man, Salvatore. With his tie, dark-rimmed glasses and curls escaping from slicked-back black hair, he displays the same Sicilian flair in everything he does, whether grinding pepper (unasked) onto your food or delivering the wine (a Valpolicella with notes of cherry and a Maremma with hints of candied fruit). And he is ready and willing to talk about the food as well as architecture and local history. That’s how we learned that the tiny restaurant on the Rue Molière was home to a gentlemen’s dating club in the 1930s and then became a boutique. Since Elio took it over 11 years ago, it has been a meeting place for knowledgeable foodies and for film and fashion stars. The only celebrity name Salvatore would reveal was Danny DeVito, but we happen to know that Mick Jagger has also been spotted there.
For the main course, we shared two pasta dishes:
linguine alle vongole and homemade papardelle with chanterelles and roasted garlic. Two classics of Italian cuisine, perfectly mastered.
After all that, we managed to devour two light desserts in the blink of an eye. I had the panna cotta, the guilty pleasure I always order in Italian restaurants and love even when it is formless and served with a sauce made from unidentifiable red berries. Elio’s panna cotta is
perfect. It stands alone without a hint of gelatinous texture, and the pure-strawberry sauce is dotted with a few unexpected cubes of persimmon. The chef’s major chord, however, was played with the deceptively simple stewed pears, which floated in a sensual infusion of saffron and cloves.
We followed up with the obligatory caffe ristretto, which came with a few cantucci, those hard little almond cookies that go so well with coffee. After checking out the Christmas manger made by Elio himself and listening to Salvatore’s tales, we said arrivederci and left this little oasis located somewhere between Naples and Palermo and hit the busy streets of Paris again.
Cibus: 17, rue Molière, 75001 Paris. Métro: Pyramides. Tel.: 01 42 61 50 19. Fixed-price lunch menu: €38 (three courses).
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