Photography by Kevin A. Roberts
Canestri alla Funghi: Forest mushrooms, garlic, marsala, chili bread crumbs, and pecorino
Cavernous. The hall at River City Casino is Ozian. Instead of the Wizard waiting at the end, though, there is Cibare, a convivial Italian eatery. The impulse to dismiss it as a snack bar for between video poker bouts is a mistake: Cibare is seriously good dining.
A tastefully arranged plate of spaghetti alle vongole, with its perfect flavors and textures, will dispel any doubts. The whirl of house-made pasta, which defines al dente, shimmers with olive oil and white wine and clams tossed with red pepper flakes, garlic, and a splash of lemon.
Swirled strozzapreti tubes are slathered with braised beef shreds and pancetta. Plump snail shell canestri are matched with foraged mushrooms, marsala sauce, and toasted breadcrumbs. Lasagna noodles are layered with salsiccia and ground beef, as well as a combo of béchamel and marinara.
Offerings come from all over Italy. Golden golf ball–size arancini taste like they originated in a Palermo street stall. Straws of bucatini are twirled in a bright tomato sauce with salty guanciale slivers. Italian–American fare is represented, too, with such dishes as shrimp Fra Diavolo and Nonna’s spaghetti and meatballs.
Secondi plates tend toward the sumptuous, just short of extravagant. A palm-size roasted snapper sits on a foundation of spinach, potatoes, and fennel, surrounded by olives and sweet tomatoes. Chicken is arguably a better choice for a classic scaloppini than veal, and Cibare’s version demonstrates why: Even pounded thin, the breast meat’s pleasantly chewy and substantial enough to hold a buttery sauce of capers, lemon, and oregano. The braised beef doesn’t equal the oxtail that’s normally used, but it does well enough in a Roman-style beef alla vaccinara, the meat braised to flaky tenderness and ladled over clouds of mascarpone-whipped polenta.
More than a half-dozen pizza offerings come from a copper-wrapped wood-burning oven. A Margherita, with the bottom magnificently charred, is topped with sweet tomatoes and pungent basil.
Antipasti range from a fried tumble of squid with pomodoro and lemon dips to a hearty platter of salami, soppressata, and prosciutto that nearly constitutes a main event in its own right.
Wines are few but excellent. Cocktails are masterfully prepared. Desserts are the expected cannoli and gelato. Do yourself a favor: Visit the well-stocked pastry cases.
Cibare is a top-level restaurant, far beyond typical casino fare and one of the best Italian eateries around. But mamma mia, that casino hall is big.
The Bottom Line: You can bet on upscale Italian specialties, charming presentations, and incredible pastries.