Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Baricelli has a Big Birthday

Over the years, the Baricelli Inn has been the scene of so many celebrations. People have chosen the charming manor house setting to mark anniversaries and graduations, toast brides and grooms, honor achievements and milestones. But last week, the place itself turned twenty five and the event provided the prompt for a party. That kind of longevity in this industry is quite an accomplishment and a testament to chef and owner Paul Minnillo’s talent and determination. He was preparing extraordinary food long before guys in the kitchen had the cachet of rock stars. Many of Cleveland’s most prominent younger chefs, including Michael Symon, acknowledge his influence and the importance of his contributions to the local dining community.

Minnillo’s quarter century adventure began when he purchased the 19th century stone mansion on the corner of Cornell Road and Murray Hill in Little Italy from the Baricelli family estate. It had been empty for years and his son John, who now works with him as front of the house manager, told me it was in utter disrepair without functioning electrical or plumbing systems. The renovations required four years to complete. My twin sons were born the same month Paul opened the restaurant. I was thinking about both those new beginnings, and all that’s happened since then, while enjoying the wonderful birthday dinner he and his staff created for family, friends, and fans.

The menu and pairings were outstanding: lobster bisque/ Robert Foley Pinot Blanc 2007; duck sugo (a stewy sort of slow simmered sauce) on pappardelle/ Jos. Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune 2006; braised lamb shank with celery root puree and wine reduction /Domain La Roquette Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2005: artisanl cheese plate/ Chateau La Vielle Cure 2004; and pear tart tatin/ Warres 10 year Tawny Port.

This was without a doubt a very special occasion. But don’t wait for one of your own to visit. A couple of years ago, responding to changing preferences and economic realities, Minnillo retooled his approach, moving away from a purely fancy fine dining model to one that is includes more casual and moderately priced options. So any night’s the right night to enjoy what this landmark restaurant has to offer, no event or reason, other than a desire for something good to eat and drink- required.

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