Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Great Meal at a Great Lakes Bistro

It had been far too long since I’d been to Americano, that place on the ground floor of a Bratenahl apartment building. I blame the out of the way location, though in truth its 12 minutes from Cleveland Heights, and easy to access from the east or west sides via the Shoreway. The fact that it’s outside the boundaries of Cleveland’s trendy dining districts is really no excuse for not eating here. Because this is a terrific restaurant that deserves attention, a truth confirmed by my recent Saturday night dinner there with husband and friends. It was the other couple’s first visit and by the end of the meal there was no doubt they’d be back, often.

Much of what we ate were the daily specials. And I wasn’t taking notes. So I contacted chef and co-owner Vytauras Sasnauskas and asked him to give me some details about each dish. His description of the ingredients as well as the thought, effort, sensibility behind the food not only explains why everything was so delicious but also makes clear that he’s a true culinary artist.

To start there were dates, stuffed with smoked gouda, wrapped in local bacon, glossy with a pomegranate molasses maple glaze. Then a big bowl of amazing Moroccan style harissa spiced mussels and a tomato- ras al hanout aioli to share. He’s very picky about the scallops he serves, getting only the best, when available, from a small supplier in Massachusetts. I ordered them and the superior quality was evident in the texture and the taste, highlighted with a simple searing and just touch of soy and lime reduction. Carrot chipotle caramel paint (fresh carrot juice and chipotle reduced and caramelized and then emulsified with little grapeseed oil) was brushed on the plate. There was also cabbage and cucumber slaw in a gingery lime and fish sauce dressing; black squid ink pearl couscous cooked with garlic and anchovies; and spinach and peas for some seasonal color. The husband devoured to the last bite a huge long bone pork chop sided with mustard dulce-de-leche, a sweet potato waffle with pecan-maple butter, and apple-poppy seed slaw. The friends both chose the "Lake Erie Monster," walleye and a fried soft shell crab with sauce gribiche (a French tartar sauce made with mustard, pickle, and hard cooked chopped egg) and crisped Yukon Gold potatoes cooked in vinegar water, coated with potato starch and fried, and grilled asparagus.

Of the three desserts, ( the others were chocolate lava cake and chocolate peanut butter caramel tart), I was most taken by the panacotta, made with Greek yogurt and cream, honey, and lemon plus a topping of .fresh strawberries tossed in sugar and bourbon.

Cole Davis, co-owner, host, and wine guru confirmed that the Mauro Veglio Barolo we selected was an excellent choice and a great buy for the price, and he decanted it while we sipped cocktails so it was ready when we were. The setting looks formal the service is what you'd get in a swanky restaurant but the atmosphere is actually relaxed. Our server Merle was both efficient and entertaining and took excellent care of us for 2 1/2 hours.

Americano, which has been open since 2008 (I gave it a rave review in Cleveland Magazine in January, 2009), is still not everyone’s radar, but it should be. I have no doubt that one you’ve had Chef V’s food, you’ll be a fan, just like me.

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