Cibo means “food” and beve means “drinks” — as in “he drinks.” These two words together, a noun and a verb bridged by a conjunctive, don’t make for a perfectly grammatical Italian phrase. But they do form a mellifluous mouthful that gets the point across.
In much the same way, Sandy Springs’ new Cibo e Beve isn’t exactly an Italian restaurant (at least not in my book), but it nonetheless serves as a decent neighborhood spot for assorted comestibles that reference Italy with good cheer, if sometimes too much razzamatazz.
Managing partner and chef Linda Harrell has devised a menu that makes room for everything from fried calamari to scallops in a white chocolate/fennel sauce to red velvet doughnut holes. Creative small plates appeal to a drinky set, yet red sauce flows through the menu with just enough force to wash in a three-generation family intent on meatballs and veal parmigiana. Now factor in a variety of Neapolitan-style pizzas from an exhibition wood/gas hybrid oven as well as an ambitious cocktail bar with one of those menus where each drink gets its own flowery paragraph of description. Harrell puts together all these disparate pieces with energy and flashes of real talent, but you will need to find precisely what at this eager-to-please restaurant actually pleases you.
In the same strip shopping center as its sister establishment, Food 101, Cibo e Beve looks like a modern tavern — long and narrow — and bristles with rock ’n’ roll-fueled energy. The cocktail bar hugs one side of the room, a compact dining room beyond a divider offers table and booth seating while, deep in the restaurant’s recesses, a communal table and eating bar front the open kitchen.
The latter seating is all that’s available when we walk in one weekday night. Pizzaiolo Stefano Rea keeps us entertained between orders for the occasional pie. Speaking of which …
A sausage and broccoli rabe pie ($14) does this kitchen proud — its crust pliant and charred in all the right ways, the vegetable’s bitterness tamed to a keen balance with the sausage’s sweetness and spice. This pizza reminds me why this combination can work so well.
Also spot on: the house meatballs ($9 for three), made the traditional way with veal, pork and beef and anointed with a bright tomato sauce. Add in a basket of the house bread — soft, crusty, cut into fat slices — and you’ve got a swell, little eat-at-the-bar meal when you don’t feel like cooking or spending a lot of money.
I do have the impression this restaurant (much like the now-defunct Mangia 101, this group’s previous spin at Italian) gets its bearings when the menu references an Italian-American dinner house. The Caesar salad ($9) comes tricked out with white anchovies and one of those now-trendy deep-fried poached eggs. But the sharp, tangy dressing applied with the right spirit of excess makes it. The tartufo dessert ($7) unites nougat ice cream (made for the restaurant by local star High Road Creamery) with amarena cherries in syrup — one of those old-school immigrant flavors guaranteed to make you smile.
But the menu goes in so many directions. A paper-thin veal Milanese ($21) doesn’t cotton to its drippy platemates of arugula/tomato salad and sweet dribbles of saba (a syrup made from concentrated grape must). This kind of dish needs a lighter touch.
Rigatoni in a soft, rich, indistinct Gorgonzola dolce cream sauce with a whole lot of salted pistachios tossed here and there is a mouthful of “Hmmmm … what exactly is this?” Pappardelle with wild boar bolognese ($16) has many chunks of pork and diced veggies in a winy sauce, but the ingredients combine into a thin surface note of flavor. We snoozed out after a couple bites of each pasta.
I wouldn’t hesitate, however, to steer you toward a bowl of spaghetti outfitted with many juicy chunks of lobster ($18), diced leeks and bits of fresh heirloom tomato. The unannounced butter in the sauce does catch up with you (your lips start to slide with the lubrication), but there’s a lot of pleasure to be had.
Nor would I have you miss the exuberant creations of mixologist Justin Hadaway, who gives the neighborhood the kind of intimate cocktail bar it needed. His grand opus menu features all kinds of “classic cocktails” and “inspired elixirs” and even makes room for a seasonal menu. His Georgia julep, goosed with peach and pineapple, has been getting good buzz. I opted for something called Le François ($10), a vodka martini with rosemary tincture, yellow chartreuse liqueur and cherry syrup. Truthfully, it did start tasting a bit like an Aveda hair product after a few sips, but it remained interesting.
In fact, starting with a plate of those tasty meatballs and a cocktail may just be the way to get a handle on this appealing, busy place named “food and he drinks.”CIBO E BEVE 4969 Roswell Road, Sandy Springs; 404-250-8988 Food: Italian-ish, with good pizza and cocktails Service: Very friendly and a bit harried when the place gets busy. Best dishes: Pizza with broccoli rabe and sausage; spaghetti with lobster; meatballs; nougat ice cream Vegetarian selections: quite a few small plates, salads, pastas and pizzas Credit cards: all major Hours: lunch 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Tuesdays-Thursdays, 5:30-11 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays; open noon-9:30 p.m. Sundays-Mondays. Children: I’d go early; the crowd here gets loud and drinky, and they’re not bringing kids. Parking: self-parking in attached lot and valet Reservations: yes Wheelchair access: yes Smoking: on the patio Noise level: very high Patio: small Takeout: yes