Slice

Pizza in Manila: Cibo

Ladies and gents, my homeslices, every now and then one of you writes in with a review and info about far-flung pizzerias that are way out of the range of typical Slice coverage. Today, we've got such an item for you. Mark Cohen (pictured, below right), who lives part of the year in Manila and whose first Manila dispatch appears here, is back with another report. —Adam

Mark Cohen at CiboCibo is the ten-year-old brainchild of one of Manila's most dynamic and accomplished business people, Margarita Fores. Born in Manila, she moved to New York City when she was 15 and lived there for 11 years. She obviously was exposed to New York pizza and Italian food while growing up, so when she decided to go into the Italian food business in Manila, she knew what constituted "good."

Fores became a serious student of Italian cuisine and eventually studied in Italy. In formulating her restaurant's M.O., she consulted and commiserated with some experienced chefs in Italy, all the time keeping her mind set on the fact she would be operating in Manila. What would work best? What was doable? What would Filipinos like and dislike? What can be mass-prepared consistently? All the things necessary to open the first Italian eatery of its kind in the Philippines.

When she opened Cibo ten years ago, there were virtually no authentic Italian-style restaurants, and one that had been open for years had just closed. It was around that time that a few Italians started to open places, but most were focused on more formal atmospheres and weren't price conscious enough to draw in more of the local crowd. Fores knew that the success of her idea would depend on her ability to please average Filipinos, not just the more sophisticated and affluent group that tends to support the higher end restaurants in town. She wanted to make it affordable to a wider group of people. So she came back from Italy with a wealth of knowledge, which she used to put together a substantial and exciting menu of authentic Italian recipes for panini, salads, antipasti, soups, and pastas.

Fores placed branches of the chain in informal settings, such as malls, using their promenades in some cases to create an al fresco feeling. Fores now runs seven Cibo locations and an upscale Italian restaurant as well. All Cibo sauces and main ingredients are prepared in a master kitchen, then delivered daily to all locations, where final prep is performed. The consistency and quality is almost too good to be true—but it is. Fores has added a handful of wonderful primi piatti (entrées) to the menu the past few years, including osso buco, sausage and peppers, roast chicken, beef braised in red wine, and fish filet, all using authentic Italian recipes, and all dishes taste like it. What more can I say…..

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The great news is that after years of hard work and study she finally released her pizza menu. One of the biggest problems facing Margarita was space; all of her kitchens work in small confines (above), since most of the food prep is in final stages. To add pizza ovens and a work station was a challenge, and for this reason not all locations are yet equipped with them. Lucky for me the location near my place—the one in Rockwell Mall—has the new pizza menu. I first tried it in February, at which time I became addicted.

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First of all, we were floored when the first Margherita pie (above) was delivered to the table. I was with a best friend who knew my pizza well. Not only did it look exactly like my pizza, it tasted like it. We gobbled it up and were still not satisfied. It is about as good a pizza as I have ever had, very thin, very delicate, crisp yet chewy, with a great sauce and fantastic Australian cheese that is about as close to a fresh whole milk taste and texture as you will find. Her sauce is made from imported Italian tomatoes, and her spice-salt-sugar blend is as perfect as perfect gets. She uses only Italian Tipo 00 pizza flour, which imparts a strong and definitive statement—this is an Italian pizza.

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The basic pizzas are laced with olive oil and oregano and finished with leaves of fresh basil when they come out of the oven. Cibo uses imported Italian electric pizza ovens (above), which produce a classy and consistent crust. I would give anything to have one of them in my house. The cost is around $6 for a basic pie, and a little more with exotic toppings. And Cibo offers a lot of possibilities. I am from New York so am happy as a clam with a Margherita. The rest of Cibo's menu offers amazing value after amazing value for great food—spaghetti Bolognese and spaghetti marinaio (tuna and tomato sauce) among them.

Cibo locations are all open until 8 p.m. If you live in the Philippines you have no excuse not to try the place. If you ever visit, please don't leave without being able to say you ate there.

CIBO
Address reviewed: Power Plant Mall, 1st Level, R1 Lifestyle, Rockwell Drive at Estrella Street, Makati City; other locations can be found here

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