Food & Drink Where'd the roe go?

At C!BAL, you can't always get what you ordered, but you may like what you get

In its name, Cibal references Sybaris, an ancient Greek town in southern Italy that was famous for its sensualism and voluptuousness, the root of excess in food and wine. Cibal's interior design - custom-made blown-glass chandelier, laser-cut steel screens and light fixtures, and bold brush-stroke paintings - creates a luxurious ambience, and several ceiling panels composed of wine bottles in steel frames are visually stimulating and symbolic of a lot of wine under the bridge.

C!BAL's outside skirt steak served with guacamole and a fully dressed baked potato; and Farfale al Salmone - bowtie pasta with smoked salmon, cream, vodka, white wine, and green peas. (Photos by Mark Greenberg)

The wine-bottle ceiling motif comes directly from Manduca, the short-lived River Walk restaurant formerly operated by the same family, the Cosios, with roots not in ancient Greece but rather in Mexico City. But where metropolitan Manduca was a fish out of water on the river, Cibal seems perfectly at home on Broadway. For all its excess, the seemingly star-crossed space, which has housed myriad restaurants over the years, has never looked better, and the vibe at a recent dinner was promising.

Cibal's simple tagline "steak pasta vino" disguises a truly eclectic menu: Cold appetizers run the gamut from beef and salmon carpaccios to tuna and steak tartares, ceviches, and a Mexican seafood cocktail. Hot appetizers include Peking duck tacos, empanadas, fried calamari, and sautéed mussels. We ordered the tuna tartare "lightly marinated with ginger, soy sauce and miso vinaigrette" and served with salmon roe. It was lightly marinated, but little of the ingredients came through in the flavor, and there was no salmon roe. That said, the single-serving portion (Cibal offers "Festino," two portions of almost everything on the menu) was enormous, the mild flavors fresh and appealing, and there were cilantro pesto and chili oil sauces to flavor the tuna, which was well-complimented by the crisp, nutty, house lavosh. The two flaky-hot empanadas - one with spinach and Gorgonzola, the other ground tenderloin with olives, capers, and onion - are worth a try as well.

The danger with comprehensive menu descriptions is that a missed ingredient such as salmon roe is red-flagged, and an unexpected element can be more unsettling. For example, chile flakes in the classic mussels with parsley, garlic, and white wine. Don't get me wrong: We liked the tender mussels and the spicy touch, and found the resulting liquid great for sybaritic sopping with the otherwise undistinguished white bread, but consider yourself warned.

C!BAL's interior design is lavish and luxurious.

The elaborate wine room at Cibal's entry vestibule is currently an empty gesture. The bound wine list is short and not particularly distinguished, and the special cellar list consists of nine big-name labels. The good news is that all wines, even the Silver Oak types, are advantageously priced and several wines are available by the glass. In one of Cibal's special touches, wines by the glass are served from small carafes, giving at least the illusion of more wine and allowing for easier sharing. On this basis, choose the Chilean sauvignon blanc over the California muscat and the Argentinian malbec over the Spanish cabernet blend.

The entrées are as eclectic as the appetizers. There are several steaks, a selection of poultry and seafood ranging from duck to salmon steak, numerous pastas, and salads, such as the miso crab cake, which are worthy of entrée status.

Determined to test the kitchen's pasta prowess, we selected the al Salmone, which was listed without a designated noodle because the menu allows you to pick between short and long pasta options (al Salmone is listed on the lunch menu with the classic farfalle or bowtie pasta). The dish contains salmon, smoked and cooked, cream, vodka, white wine, and green peas. It was sprinkled with lumpfish caviar for visual appeal and a pleasant, salty accent, and suffused with just the right amount of nutmeg. The pasta itself needed more salt and a touch less cooking, but otherwise the al Salmone was a worthy attempt, and its portions were generous enough to share, even as a single serving.

4003 Broadway
11am-4pm Mon-Sat,
4-10pm Mon-Wed,
4-11pm Thu-Sat
Price Range: $9-25
Major credit cards
Wheelchair accessible
The evening's surprise was the Outside Skirt Steak, basically a fancy-dress fajita, which could become an insider favorite. Its flavor was fantastic - so much so that the accompanying chipotle sauce, selected from a list of "signature" options, was superfluous. Though medium-well or more had been suggested, no more than medium seems appropriate for optimum flavor and tenderness.

Contrary to the menu, Cibal's tres leches cake is not served frozen, but chilled. However, it is spectacularly good in its vanilla cream sauce. The tartuffo ai cioccolato is served straight from the oven, so you'll have to wait for it. The bombe-shaped chocolate cake - less sweet than one might imagine - conceals a molten truffle center, but the plate's exuberant decoration of sauce and berries leaves nothing to the imagination. It was probably for just this kind of dessert that Sybaris was sacked in 510 B.C. Given our current climate, get to Cibal before this happens.

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