We weren’t really sure what to expect as we walked up to the hostess stand at Cibus (pronounced CHEE-bus), an Italian restaurant in NorthPark Center owned by seasoned Dallas restaurateur Alberto Lombardi. After all, this is a restaurant in a mall. Yes, it’s a luxurious, art-filled mall, but a mall just the same. Don’t people like to shop for clothes and get out, like we do? Do they really want to linger over antipasti and wine? Turns out, they do.
The dining room was about three-quarters full—and not with people toting shopping bags. Over here: a table of five girls talked loudly and toasted each other. Over there: an older, well-dressed man and woman shared a bottle of wine and plenty of long gazes (a second or third date, we guessed). In short, these were diners, not harried shoppers.
We settled into a booth and admired the orange Murano chandeliers that dangled overhead. “Welcome to Cibus. Is it your first time?” our server asked. We nodded. “The food is amazing,” he said. “I love it here.” As usual, such enthusiasm prompted us to drink, and we ordered a Bellini and a glass of Chianti. Cibus is based on the cuisine of Emilia-Romagna, the region where Lombardi was born. The Bellini, one of two signature drinks—a beverage that originated in Venice, which is near, but not in, Emilia-Romagna—was thick and room temperature, but fizzy and peachy nonetheless.
We were very hungry, so we ordered the scampi piccata and the tagliere misto to start while we discussed entrees. Soon, the tagliere misto was set before us: a huge, white plate filled with thin curls of prosciutto, discs of salame, slices of mortadella and cultatello (imported from New York, Italy, and San Francisco), and gnocco fritto (puffed fritters). The gnocco fritto were tasty on their own but too salty as an accompaniment to the meat. Scampi piccata arrived in an oval bowl, pink tails in the air. We grabbed hold of a tail and bit into the shrimp, which were flavorful with hints of butter, garlic, and lemon.
For a main course, we ordered the tagliata di manzo, a traditional Italian specialty. In Italy, the steak is often served with arugula and parmesan, but at Cibus, it’s served with beautiful baby carrots, a handful of Broccolini, and rosemary roasted potatoes, which could have used more time in the oven and less rosemary. The filet, which was on the rare side of medium rare, needed more salt; the watery balsamic reduction was also disappointing. Overall, the dish failed to wow us. We had great luck, however, with spaghetti alle vongole, a big bowl of spaghetti surrounded by plump clams in their shells. Chile flakes added just the right heat to each bite.
Because the portions are big, we could have stopped there, but we had already decided gelato was a must. The temptation is too great, because when entering Cibus from within the mall, diners must pass the glorious, colorful case of homemade gelato and sorbet on their way to the dining room. On the server’s recommendation, we selected pistachio, as well as stracciatella (chocolate chip), our favorite from days abroad. The stracciatella was creamy and lick-the-bowl good, but our server can keep the pistachio, which was flavorless in comparison.
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