WHERE: 1702 Chrisler Ave., Schenectady, 378-7213, www.eks-cibo.com
WHEN: 4-10 p.m. Mon.-Sat.
HOW MUCH: $71.40 with tax and tip
MORE INFO: Ample parking, all major credit cards accepted, accessible
A restaurant review is generally based on a recommendation, followed by the observations of one person on the sole basis of one visit. It is subjective and unscientific.
So to claim a visit was perfect is a dubious observation. Yet, I’ll declare it: Our dinner recently at E.K.’s Cibo was as near perfect as any meal could be.
Friend Lois was my dinner date.
The restaurant is in the middle of a small, green-roofed strip mall at the junction of Chrisler and Altamont avenues in Schenectady. Inside, there’s a small bar on the left with two high-top tables opposite it. On the right is a doorway leading to the dining room with about a dozen cloth-covered tables, each decorated with a carnation-filled bud vase.
Server Alli met us at the door and suggested the table at the window in the empty room. We were offered menus and our drink order was taken.
The single-sided menu, though brief, required serious study. It was divided into three parts: Primi (appetizers) ranging from $8 to $12; Paste, $14 to $20; Secondi from $16 to $26. For $22 more, you can add a broiled eight-ounce lobster tail to any entree. Gluten-free pastas are available by request.
A basket of warm bread arrived almost immediately. Rustic bread, crisp on the outside, chewy on the inside, and brought in from Tribeca Bakery in New Jersey.
Lois and I shared an order of Artichoke Francese ($8) to begin our meal. Ten hot, slightly crispy half-artichoke hearts dusted with parsley and grated Parmesan arrived quickly, accompanied by a slightly creamy garlic butter. Each tender piece had been lightly coated with flour and sautéed in olive oil. For a more substantial opener, I might choose Braised Mussels ($10) or Scott’s Homemade Meatballs ($8) next time.
Picking entrees was difficult. Lois chose Chicken Francese ($17) while I ordered Pappardelle with a Classic Bologneses ($18). Next time, I’m aiming for the Chianti Braised Short Ribs ($24), Balsamic Pork Tenderloin with vinegar peppers ($17) or Lobster Risotto with mushrooms and sweet peas ($23).
Offered a choice of salad or soup (turkey bacon or seafood chowder) we both chose the chowder. A balanced blend of potatoes, carrots, shrimp, clams and salmon, the creamy soup arrived in small, handled bowls and was seasoned with thyme and a liberal turning of coarsely ground black pepper provided tableside. Steaming hot, the chowder was as good as I’ve had in a long time.
Our entrees lived up to the pattern of excellence already established. Lois’s chicken — three large medallions — was lightly battered and topped with a lemon and garlic sauce, tangy but not sour, Lois said.
I generally find boneless breast of chicken boring, but this fork-tender preparation caused me to sit up and take notice. Lois judged the marinara on her side of rigatoni “fabulous!”
My Bolognese was carefully seasoned so no one ingredient predominated. What did predominate was abundance. Half went home for lunch the following day.
I try to avoid desserts. Except when Crème Brulee ($6) is on the list. Cibo’s was simple and perfect, flavored with a splash of amaretto and enhanced by a glassy shell of caramelized sugar.
Lois’s house-made, warm Flourless Chocolate Cake ($6) was rich and slightly layered — a perfect ending to a perfect meal.
Waiting for our check, we studied the large mostly black-and-white photographs decorating the walls. Notable was a portrait of an older gentleman. “Oh, that’s Elio Ferraro, the E in E.K.’s Cibo,” explained Alli. “He passed away in February, just a few months before the restaurant opened.”
When examined closely, the photograph was a composite of tiny puzzle-like pieces, themselves photographs. “It’s done with a computer. I’m a photographer,” Alli told us.
The wall also states that “Cibo” means “grub” or “food” in Italian.
Lois and I left vowing to return to this gem in a strip mall.
A special four-course menu is served Monday through Thursday in July and August. For $20.14, a diner can choose from three appetizers (including Artichoke Francese), soup or salad, and four entrees (including Chipotle BBQ Pork Tenderloin and a 10-ounce prime rib) served with potato and fresh vegetable or a side of homemade pasta, along with a choice of three house-made desserts.
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