The newly renovated dining room at Il Cielo, which reopened in December on Sanibel. / Special to The News-Press
IL CIELO RISTORANTE
1244 Periwinkle Way, Sanibel
• Price: $$-$$$$$
• Hours: 5-10 p.m. daily
• Call: 472-5555
• Noise level: Perfectly conversational, even at busier times
• Etc.: More casual Cloud 9 menu available throughout the restaurant in addition to regular dinner menu, full bar, outdoor seating, reservations encouraged, recommended desserts include: espresso chocolate bombe, Florida lemon pie
• Web: ilcielosanibel.com
SAMPLE OF THE MENU
• Gulf pink shrimp saute, $14
• Roasted wild-mushroom crostini, $12
• Beef carpaccio, $16
• Local artisan green salad, $11
• Soup of the day, $6
• Blue-crab crusted black grouper, $28
• Filet of beef, $30
• Zinfandel braised short ribs, $28
• Aged prime NY sirloin (a la carte), $28
• Grilled breast of free-range chicken, $21
Eleven months ago I wrote about Il Cielo.
I told you it’s pronounced ill chee-ell-o, and the name means “the sky” in Italian. I waxed poetic over milky spheres of burrata that melted into a pool of risotto tinged beet red. And over an otherworldly wine list impressive in its depth and scope.
That Il Cielo no longer exists.
That Il Cielo closed just months after it opened in the former Dolce Vita building on Sanibel. The chef left, as did the general manager. The owners remodeled the dining room to make it feel less like a banquet hall. They tweaked the dress code and the menu to make both more island friendly.
The result is an all-new Il Cielo similar to its predecessor in name alone.
This new Il Cielo debuted Dec. 13. It feels more comfortable now, which isn’t to say it’s any less serious. Tables are still draped in white linens, and servers are still on high alert, stationed ninja-like in the new, cozy nooks of the dining room, on guard against empty plates and dropped forks.
Cocktails get a fair shake at the bar, where herbal vodkas and good tequilas commingle with orange-marmalade syrups or local strawberries muddled with cilantro.
A kitchen that once turned out cloud-like gnocchi under shavings of black truffle now makes sliders with house-made pickles, and Baja fish tacos slicked in a tangy sauce of cilantro and lime. These are part of the new Cloud 9 menu, a less-expensive alternative meant to attract the twice-a-month clientele the old Il Cielo never courted.
The formal dinner menu features pistachio-crusted rack of lamb in a vanilla-vinegar gastrique, and steaks soused in porcini butter.
Start with pink Gulf shrimp served in plump curls over a creamy base of polenta, or steamed local clams tumbled with peppered ham and chilies, and you’ll get a sense of new executive chef Neil Griffin’s style – fresh, local ingredients prepared with respect and restraint.
Short ribs are braised in zinfandel and served in wobbly hunks over whipped potatoes scented with truffle. A soft sheet of veal drapes handmade lobster ravioli. A filet of beef is perfectly medium-rare, the steak set off by a jammy onion compote, crumbles of gorgonzola and a Marsala demi-glace. Pork tenderloin from the a la carte menu meets a spicy chimichurri that hits you with a delicious smack of garlic, then a long kiss of heat. Haricot vert are crisp under a warm vinaigrette made with shingles of smoky-chewy bacon.
But where all the above feels so right, crumbly home-style meatballs feel a little wrong, or at least incongruous. And where technique is perfect in so many of Griffin’s dishes, it goes awry in a plate of crab-crusted grouper served dry – tough almost – atop a sweet-potato puree.
Thankfully Il Cielo is too good of a restaurant for such minor missteps to matter. Eleven months from now I suspect this second iteration of Il Cielo will still be flying high.
Jean Le Boeuf is the nom de plume of a local food lover who dines at The News-Press’ expense. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org; facebook.com/JeanLeBoeufSWFL or @jeanleboeuf (Twitter).