ITALIAN CUISINE IN THE DESERT - The Explorer: Import

ITALIAN CUISINE IN THE DESERT

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Posted: Wednesday, November 7, 2001 12:00 am | Updated: 7:46 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

Casting my eyes at the diners of Italian food at Cibaria Cucina Italiana (almost filled to capacity), I realized how many people joined me in adoration of one of the oldest cuisines in the world.

Chef/Owner Michael Veres of Cibaria ruled for five plus years as Executive Chef at Daniels, one of Tucson's upscale Italian restaurants, where he created enticing menu items which he is gradually incorporating into to the menu of his own restaurant at Oracle Road and Rancho Vistoso Boulevard.

Reminiscent of a Northern Italian restaurant (no red checkered tablecloths here), the dining room boasts an unexpected mountain view. Although it feels warm and intimate, 100 guests can be accommodated inside and 40 on the patio.

Karyn Veres, co-owner with her husband Mike, describes the restaurant as "a place to get wholesome Italian food. Add to that the unique combination of ingredients which sets our food apart."

Joey, our efficient waiter, stated that Friday night (the night we were there) brings many regulars who return not only for the food but because the employees work together to build a personal relationship with their guests.

We were scanning the easy to read wine list, Italian whites, Italian reds, American whites, American reds as well as sparkling wines and champagnes, when the made-on-the site bread appeared.

It was exceptional bread, warm, crusty exterior, soft interior. After our waiter served bread and butter plates, he artistically poured a circle of balsamic vinegar directly in the center of a pool of olive oil. We restrained ourselves from overfeasting on this bread.

The wine list has been broadened since my last visit. My partner was delighted with his Aziano Chianti Classico ($6), lighter and more pleasing than most Chiantis, and I was content with the Orvieto Refino white wine ($4.75). We resolved to incorporate these wines for home use.

All entrees arrive with soup or dinner salad of your choice. I selected the Pasta Fagiola, nourishing Tucson soup swimming with white beans, ground sausage, diced celery, carrots, onions, roma tomatoes and pasta.

My friend's minestrone oozed with the flavors of southern Italy. We accompanied this first course with an order of bruschetta ($6) -- four generous slices of grilled focaccia topped with pesto, roma tomatoes, olive oil, garlic and shaved parmigiana. Worthy of imitation.

From the dinner specials, soon to be items on the regular menu, I decided on spinach gnocchi (for non-Italians, small dumplings) with tender, succulent seared sea scallops ($16.95) smothered with a smoked salmon lemon cream sauce. Need I say more?

My partner of Italian descent recalled his mother's cucina as he feasted on Eggplant Parmigiana ($16.95) also from the special menu. "Except for mama's, this is the best," he said.

Several pastas (example: Farfalle nelle Nuvole, bowtie pasta, eggplant, broccoli, sundried tomatoes, corn, spinach, and bay shrimp sauted in spicy garlic butter, sprinkled with gorgonzola) are offered in a half portion ($9.95 half, $14.95 full). There are six seafood, one steak, three veal and four chicken entrees.

"Pizze" appeared to be popular with retirees as well as families. I can assure you that you will find your favorite toppings on Cibaria's list.

The Bambi list tells the under 12 crowd that there is "no green stuff." Pasta Marina or Bolognese ($4.50) with meatballs or sausage ($5.50), macaroni and cheese ($4.95) or baked Penne al Forno ($5).

Even the desserts prove that it's Daniels style at Cibaria prices. The Peanut Butter Mousse and the Crme Caramella -- impeccable in flavor and presentation -- are two from the dessert menu priced at $4.50 - $5.50.

Drop by Cibaria for lunch Monday through Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. for a tasty Italian sandwich ($6-$7), insalate ($6.25 -$7.50), soup ($2.50 cup, bowl $3) and an assortment of tempting antipasto. Chef Veres' creative skills are presented in specials at lunch as well as dinner. Carryout is available by calling 825-2900.

Want a change for Sunday brunch? Cibaria's brunch buffet ($15.95 adults, $10.95 children) includes eggs benedict, create your own omelet station, bacon, sausage, pasta, chicken, fruits, salads and more from 10 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner, Monday through Saturday, 4:30 to 9 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday nights.

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