Sunday, September 7, 2014

Cibo Matto is Crazy Good

Rapidly approaching its five-year anniversary, Cibo Matto is stronger than ever. Located in the space once occupied by a Bertucci’s on Route 106 in Mansfield, the restaurant has continually remained busy serving customers from nearby businesses, hotels, and a large industrial park.

The eatery’s ambience is warm and inviting, punctuated by walls painted in creamy brown hues. A sleek, bustling bar greets customers upon entry. On a lovely summer evening, we gravitate to the outdoor patio.

Owner Peter Kuplast is a Mansfield native and the enthusiasm and passion he brought to his restaurant when I first met him back in late 2009 have clearly been passed down to his entire staff. While the restaurant was buzzing with customers, servers did not miss a beat. Our waiter was highly knowledgeable of the menu, eager to share her recommendations, patient, genuinely engaging, prompt, yet unobtrusive. I was pleasantly surprised how seamless the evening went, a couple of broken wine glasses (quickly swept up) be damned.

Reasonably priced cocktails varied from seasonal (the berry mojito is a refreshing option) to oddly appealing (a jalapeno margarita is a sweet-tart, heaty treat jalapeno and dash-infused simple syrup, Tierras organic tequila, and a slice of jalapeno pepper for show). An extensive selection of Italian-Amercian wines included a nicely priced house red ($5) while a ripe, robust Meritage for $10 also presented a fine value.

Appetizers were highly appealing, including a large plate of meaty Duxbury mussels (although the roasted garlic broth in which they were served as underseasoned) and a highly impressive trio of baseball-sized arancini, whose crunchy exterior was perfectly breaded, while its spicy pork and cheese interior reveled in gooey goodness. The risotto balls were accompanied by a small saucer of warm, fresh tomato sauce as well as scallions, a whimsical presentation and fun take on grilled cheese and tomato soup.

Entrees also rated highly. While traditional veal marsala was slightly underwhelming in flavor, a special of tequila and lime marinated skirt steak ($32) with jasmine rice was lovely and complex in terms of contrasts in flavor. The tender beef was cooked perfectly medium rare and topped with sautéed roasted peppers as well as a dreamy slab of chipotle-lime butter. The dish came highly recommended, and was one of the better cuts of steak I’ve devoured in recent memory, one which would rival any prepared at more renowned, pricier establishments in Boston. Also noteworthy was the brick oven-roasted shrimp and scallop dish, abundant in juicy and nicely charred seafood. Accompanying crispy prosciutto added salty contrast and additional crunchy texture, while three-cheese tortellini laced with truffle-cream sauce was not overpoweringly heavy and perfectly prepared al dente.

The evening concluded on a sugary high note, including a rich, yet pillowy light key lime pie, while cannolis (2 per serving) featured wonderfully crunchy shells, were generously filled with sweet ricotta, with one end topped with chocolate chips, the other with freshly ground pistachio. These Italian-American babies are legit, and I’d gladly eat these versions in lieu of making the annual pilgrimage to Mike’s or Modern Pastry in Boston’s North End.

Owner Kuplast should be proud. Five years ago, he shared with me the origins of his new establishment’s name – crazy food served in a small, unpretentious setting. Cibo Matto more than lives up to its name, serving crazy-good Italian cuisine in an exceptionally friendly manner. I won’t lie: I went into the evening with the old Bertucci’s ingrained in my brain, but the restaurant surprised and even excited me on several levels, from its vast, but consistently executed menu to its polished service. Bertucci’s, be damned.