Bay Cities Deli is as iconic to Santa Monica as the Third Street Promenade, Santa Monica Pier, or our famously high taxes.
For someone else to open up another Italian-style sandwich spot just a few blocks away is by all means a gutsy move. For the owners of Piccolo Venice and Hostaria del Piccolo Santa Monica, there’s probably a little bit of hubris and certainly a whole lotta convenience factored in with the opening of Ciboteca. After all, it is literally next door to Hostaria del Piccolo on Broadway and Sixth Street. And with a few successful restaurants already under their belt, what is to stop them from opening another cafe/deli in Santa Monica? Even if it is three blocks away from Bay Cities?
To be fair, Ciboteca is a departure from your standard deli. Yes, you can order prosciutto by the pound. There are dried pastas, olive oils, and other imported items for sale. They cater events and parties as well. But if anything, Ciboteca is more of a sandwich and sweet boutique.
Quality over quantity seems to be the underlying theme. Ciboteca’s focus is on the panini, and they press one well. High praise to the Bread Lounge Bakery that provides fresh ciabatta rolls daily. Bread options include traditional flour dusted, multi-grain encrusted, and (my new addiction) the olive oil infused ciabatta. The panini menu includes a full spectrum of Italian deli meats and other premium ingredients such as porcini-truffle cream, pistachio pesto and bufala mozzarella. Toppings like mizuna, saba, and montasio should be categorized as “extra-fancy” based on their obscurity alone.
Portions are European sized. Which means they are relatively small by American standards but adequate to the rest of the world. You won’t find any $5 footlongs. However, a $7 bufala (bufala mozzarella, tomatoes, salt flakes, oregano, black pepper) with a $2 smoked salmon crostini seems like a perfect portion. More so than the $10 cotoletta (super thin veal milanese, dijon mustard, shaved parmesan). Better yet, go with a friend and hedge your bet by sharing a couple of sandwiches and sides.
Offerings on the ready under the deli case include cut rotisserie jidori chicken, purple and orange roasted heirloom carrots and lasagna. There are more adventurous items like jars of baccala (venetian style black cod spread) and baby octopus salad which looks a bit fishy but is actually quite mild in flavor.
The opposing display showcases a series of decorative cakes and chocolates. It’s a dazzling display, chocolate lover or not. I usually skip dessert but walked away with a single $7 gold leaf accented opera cake just on looks alone. As advertised, it was not overly sweet but had a more robust cocoa flavor with hints of almond, light cream and coffee. It made it hard to complain about its seemingly high price tag.
To no surprise the wine selection is fantastic. That is if you like Italian wine. Metal seating, and painted concrete columns with busy people grabbing food to go does not beckon a lackadaisical lunchtime atmosphere. But with sidewalk seating and an open afternoon schedule, I would not be hard pressed to share some salad, sandwiches and a bottle of verdicchio amongst friends.
Bay Cities Deli and their legendary sandwich, the godmother looms in the distance. But for the bread alone, the Ciboteca panini is worth checking out. All that capocolla and mortadella is just proverbial icing on the cake.
Mmmmm … cured meat cake.
Michael can be seen riding around town on his bike burning calories so he can eat more food. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/greaseweek.