Cibo e Beve is your Italian-American home away from home
STORY: Rebecca Cha
PHOTOS: Sara Hanna
Having spent a quarter of my life traveling Italy with the sole purpose of consuming cibo e beve (“food and drink”), I perhaps had unrealistically high expectations for Cibo e Beve, a Sandy Springs trattoria that’s much more cozy and authentic than its strip mall locale may suggest.
Helmed by chef and co-owner Linda Harrell, along with partners Gianni Betti and Gonzalo de Aristegui, it’s a solidly run operation with an ever-crowded dining room. That’s not to say that there aren’t areas where they could tighten up their game a bit.
For starters (and not the edible kind), on our first visit, the dining room carried an odor of fried food that was so heavy, it seemed to permeate the walls, upholstery and eventually our mood. When queried about the ingredients in and origins of various menu items, our server drew a blank and had to run back to the kitchen, but cheerfully returned with the requested info.
These unpropitious first impressions aside, there was much to love about the space, decorated with intimate nooks and attractive tables, all brought together with warm earth tones, butterscotch leather, splashes of greenery and token reminders of Italy. It’s all quite comely, and reminiscent of my favorite family-run spots in Emilia-Romagna, Rome and Umbria.
When it came to the actual cibo e beve, we resisted the urge to order one of the piping-hot wood-fired pizzas that flew by with impressive regularity and instead opted for the Cibo meatballs, two melt-in-your mouth behemoths made with ricotta, herby breadcrumbs and seasoned ground meat served with a spectacular San Marzano tomato sauce. Next up was a selection of Italian olives, a portion that could’ve easily fed four. Taggiasche, Castelvetrano and Gaeta were served with toasted semolina crostini and were suitably briny, pungent and earthy, and proved the quintessential complement to a glass of crisp, white 2017 Santa Margherita Vermentino.
The execution of the main dishes proved to be a tad, well, quirky. Take, for example, the huge plate of braised short rib ragu with spinach ravioli. The ragu was impeccable (meaty, tender and oozing with long cooked flavors), but the ravioli would be, by any account, considered spinach overkill and were totally obscured by the ragu— nary a smidge of al dente pasta goodness could be seen. More conscientious plating would’ve significantly improved this dish.
The silver lining was the dessert. Classics such as torta della nonna (“grandmother’s cake”), semifreddo and gelato round out the menu, but the table favorite was the housemade tiramisu. On par with any of the best in town, its layers of espresso-drenched, Kahlua dipped ladyfingers and mascarpone mousse were rich, decadent and worth every calorie.
The following visit, we arrived on a Saturday evening at the height of the dinner rush, but the mood was mellow and relaxed. And the fried food odor had mercifully disappeared. We nabbed the only remaining seats at the bar and joined the lively crowd of locals, singles, new dates and old marrieds all side by side, sipping Peronis, Campari cocktails, limoncello and Italian wines. The bartender served me a generous pour of 2015 Morgante Nero d’Avola, a Sicilian red blend full of juicy fruit and a hint of smokiness, and far better than what one usually expects from Italy’s fourth largest wine-producing region.
We moved on to the Tuscan kale and bean soup. It was kale at its best, with smoky pancetta, bits of tender carrot and large chunks of potato simmered low and slow in chicken broth. It alone could prompt weekly return visits.
There are moments when it feels like Cibo e Beve doesn’t know if it’s an Italian-American restaurant (à la New York’s Mulberry Street) or an authentic Italian trattoria. For example, in Italy, you’ll see spaghetti repurposed in various dishes— in a torta or frittata, for example—but not as a bed for chicken parmigiana as it’s served here. Plating aside, the food itself was well-executed and the flavors authentic. The spaghetti was lightly coated in a tomato sauce that was just the right balance of mellow, herbal and sweet; the Springer Mountain chicken breast was breaded and fried crisp and golden brown; and it was all topped with more yummy tomato sauce and melted mozzarella.
My gut tells me there’s more to Cibo e Beve than can be summarized in just a few meals. There’s an earnestness here, an ambition to please that goes a
long way in this town. So we recommend giving Cibo e Beve a try. Whether you’re in the mood for a quiet family dinner of authentic Tuscan fare or an old-fashioned Little Italy meal with your sweetheart, Cibo e Beve will deliver.
CIBO E BEVE
4969 Roswell Rd., Sandy Springs 30342
Prices: Appetizers: $8-$16. Soups and salads: $5-$12. Pasta, pizza and sandwiches: $13-$32. Mains: $23-$36. Desserts: $4-$8.
Recommended dishes: Cibo meatballs, selection of olives, Tuscan kale and bean soup, wood-fired oven pizzas, braised short rib ragu with spinach ravioli, chicken parmigiana, tiramisu.
Bottom line: A Sandy Springs favorite offering both classic Italian and Italian-American cuisine, an impressive Italian wine selection and a charming, romantic vibe.