Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Must Make Reservations

Deciding where to go out to eat just got harder- much much harder. Cleveland got two new restaurants in the past two weeks. I was invited to pre-opening meals and I can report that the food at both places is nothing less than wonderful- thoughtfully conceived, well executed, and representative of each chef/owner's particular style.

Restaurant Dante, the long awaited re-debut of Dante Boccuzzi in Tremont, officially unlocked the doors last week. The former bank has been beautifully renovated and reinvented with a bar, intimate dining area, and sleek tiled kitchen that features a special chef’s table where guests can watch the cooks in action. There’s a special private table in the vault with a “window” in the back wall offering a view of the housemade proscuitto and salamis hung up to age in another room. There’s also a glassed in garden room with fireplace but it wasn’t quite ready for company when I visited. Happily the oysters on this menu- spiced up with hot pepper puree and yuzu- reprise the ones Boccuzzi served out in Valley View My table of four shared everything and among the many other things I tasted of special note were a braised fennel gratin with arugula, oranges and hazelnuts; spaghetti alla chitarra with garlic, broccoli and house cured anchovies; polenta with garlic braised rabbit and parsnips; and pancetta wrapped duck breast. I love that many items on the menu are available in tasting, appetizer, and entrĂ©e size portions and others can be ordered singly or in pairs. The only glitch in the launch was the pacing- the kitchen could not keep up with the demand. It took an incredibly long time- three hours from seating to entree- for each course to arrive the night I was there, and a friend said same thing happened to him on Saturday. I am sure that as the staff settles in, learns the menu and has a chance to iron out the wrinkles of cooking, assembling and plating all the dishes- many of which are layered and intricate- this problem will disappear. In the meantime, cut these folks some slack, be patient, and give this fine chef and his people more than one chance to wow you.

Zack Bruell’s Ristorante Chinato on East 4th Street welcomes the public tonight. This corner spot has been empty and decaying for ages- and the transformation is amazing. The design of the space and the furnishings are Euro-chic and contemporary. The food, Bruell told me, is not the nostalgic, Americanized version of Italian cooking we know, but what you find at sophisticated restaurants in cities like Milan, Florence and Rome. The meal got the right start with chunks of good bread, a plate of olive oil with the green tinge and slightly grassy taste that is a sign of quality, and a little bowl of pink sea salt to sprinkle on top. Throw in a bottle of good red wine, which the husband and I did, some interesting conversation, and this is my idea of a good time. We have only compliments for everything we ate but I especially liked the Tuscan onion soup; a light, bright lemony mushroom salad; an unusual pappardelle pasta with creamed cauliflower, pecorino and pepperoncini; the zesty zuppa de pesce filled with clams, mussels, octopus, squid, shrimp, and scallops each cooked just to tenderness; and a round of polenta cake. This first encounter gives every indication that Zack has got it right yet again.

We’re lucky to have Boccuzzi and Bruell in Cleveland and their latest efforts only add to what is already a hot happening and highly impressive local dining scene.
Photos by Barney Taxel

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