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St. Charles goes Sicilian 

  The new downtown restaurant cibugnu (709 St. Charles Ave., 504-558-8990; www.cibugnu.com) is slated to open June 26, but even before this new downtown Italian restaurant serves its first meal to customers, it nabbed some culinary recognition.

  Earlier this spring, chef Octavio Ycaza signed up the soon-to-open restaurant to participate in the New Orleans Food & Wine Experience (NOWFE) and entered a dish in the event's Fleur di Lis Culinary Awards. Ycaza submitted an unusual ravioli dish, filled with corn and mascarpone cream, topped with a garlicky sauce and garnished with blueberries. It landed a silver medal in the culinary competition, as judged by a panel of local food writers and editors.

  The dish is representative of the style Ycaza has in store for cibugnu, which he describes as a more progressive rendition of Sicilian cuisine. Don't look for fettuccine Alfredo or Caesar salads, but rather dishes like sausage-stuffed squid with chickpea polenta, braciola rolled with speck, gorgonzola and roasted garlic cream and wood-fired pizzas with grilled ramps and shrimp. The chef says his focus is on house-made staples (pasta, breads, sausage, etc.) and creative, sometimes playful presentations.

  Even the name is a little different: cibugnu is a homemade contraction of the Italian words for food (cibo) and dream (sogno), which Ycaza says they further customized by running through a Sicilian accent. It's pronounced "ch-boo-noo."

  Leonardo Trattoria, a more conventional Sicilian restaurant that first opened in 2007, recently vacated what is now cibugnu's space. While the general configuration is the same, Ycaza says the interior of cibugnu was designed to engage customers with some aspects of the kitchen. Pasta- and salumi-making stations are visible from the dining room, he says, so cooks can tell curious customers about their preparation.

  Jason Lee, bartender at Domenica (123 Baronne St., 504-648-6020; www.domenicarestaurant.com), designed the drinks list, which includes barrel-aged Campari cocktails and other Italian-inspired libations. The restaurant will serve dinner Wednesday through Sunday initially, with lunch hours to follow.

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