Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Buon appetito

   I recently had the pleasure of sharing lunch with Scott Kuhn at Cibrèo Italian Kitchen, his brand new restaurant in PlayhouseSquare.Visibly proud and excited about this new venture, he makes clear this is a project he's personally passionate about, an expression of his love for Tuscany and its food, which he first discovered 10 years ago on a trip there.

   Before we sat down to eat I got a guided tour of the sprawling space. The bar and two dining areas look out onto Euclid Avenue, but the decor puts them worlds away. All the visual tropes of the medieval Italian town, such as stucco and stone arches, wooden wine barrels, a fireplace and rusticated furnishings, are present in abundance. Kuhn chose all the materials himself.  Adjacent to this, on the other side of a set of closed doors at the far end of the bar, is a large, completely separate and utterly unique private event room. The space, still being renovated when I saw it, is the former 14th Street Theatre. The original columns and ornate decorative plasterwork are being refurbished. There's a small stage and a connecting passageway to a full bar with its own street entrance on  East 14th Street. Kuhn tells me that taking on this part of the building wasn't in his original plan, but once he saw it and realized its potential it was a challenge he couldn't resist. It's obvious the almost 37 year old likes a challenge  as he currently oversees a multifaceted organization of seven restaurants (with another fast food joint called Rothschild Farms on the way right around the corner from Cibrèo,) a catering company and a food truck.

   With good smells wafting from the kitchen and the clock approaching noon, I was ready for some table time. I let my host do the ordering. First up was an excellent bean soup, rich and thick with a hint of spice, made with Porcini mushrooms and bits of sausage. Next we had a fine risotto funghi, made with vegetable stock, and served with shaved truffles in a traditional clay cooking pot. Over delicious plates of pasta carbonara, revved up with guanciale and and radicchio, and pappardelle bolognese, Kuhn explained the process of creating the menu.

"I wanted to re-create dishes I've had in Tuscany," Kuhn says. "A year ago I started working with our corporate chef, Chris Johnson, our executive chef here, Eric Martinez, and our consulting chef, Chris Hodgson, to bring those culinary experiences to our customers. We developed our concepts, practice the execution and now we're ready."

  There are a few familiar Italian-American favorites on the menu, because that's what some customers want: lasagna, veal Parmigiano, fried calamari, as well as the requisite steaks, salmon and scallops. But much of what's on offer will be more authentic. pasta in a boar and Porcini ragu; spaghetti with pesto and potatoes called Cinque Terra; and one of Kuhn's favorites, orrechiette Sienna style with rapini, pine nuts, and Parmesan broth; and porchetta with polenta. I'm eager to taste my way through much of the antipasto, insalata, risotto and gnocchi, pastas and secondos sections of the menu. The mostly Italian wine list has much that's appealing too, and I'm intrigued by the six prosecco cocktails.

   Everything tells me this will be a place people want to dine, whether they're coming downtown to see a show in one of PlayhouseSquare's gorgeous theaters or just looking for a very good Italian meal.

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