Friday, July 25, 2014

Review: Dante, Grace Under Pressure

Dante: Grace Under Pressure

For a chef with five restaurants, Dante Boccuzzi doesn’t get rattled. Whether he’s observing plates at the pass or instructing his staff on a last-minute seating at the Chef’s Table. He’s got it covered. The logistics of running Ristorante Dante, DBA, DC Pasta, Ginko and Next Door are just not enough of a challenge for Boccuzzi. This may explain why he is putting the finishing touches on his final restaurant/concert hall, Coda—a word that means “tail” in Italian but is also used to signify the end in music.

Though I’d love to talk about the special dinners I’ve enjoyed at the Chef’s Table or at one of his special benefit dinners: “Pranzo alla Romana” for the Cleveland Italian Film Festival, or his “Feast of the Seven Fishes” that benefitted (wife and business partner) Monica Ferrari’s initiative Centro Culturale Leonardo, an Italian cultural group dedicated to the preservation of Italian culture through the study of regional cuisine, Italian language classes, and the promotion and preservation of art and culture. Instead, I’m going to focus on his seasonal menu, which is available to all diners in both dining rooms and on the patio at his flagship restaurant, Ristorante Dante.

Ferrari is from Milan. She adds a distinct flare and rigor to the restaurants, and can best be described in her native tongue as “in gamba” (on the ball/in the know) or “simpaticissima e luminosa” (likeable and bright). For his part, Boccuzzi is beyond being immersed in a culture he embodies what it means to live in one culture while manifesting distinct traits of another. His Italian heritage is easily discerned, but his cuisine is a fusion of French, Italian and Asian influences that are perfectly married and accomplished. He is also a Michelin-starred chef who has been nominated—twice—for a James Beard award in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category, and was invited to cook for the Awards this past May. He has enjoyed many more national and international accolades throughout his career.

Ristorante Dante
The space at Ristorante Dante is mostly determined by the neo-classic structure; a building that that was originally designed as a bank. They have preserved many of these striking elements on their walls, while adding some modern features like a massive chandelier from the Glass Bubble Project. The most distinctive aspect is the vault, which accommodates up to four diners. Another striking hallmark is the Art Deco clock above the bar … frequently, while I enjoy my favorite apertivo, I contemplate whether the clock is Art Deco or Arts and Crafts. All I know for certain is there is something warm and comforting about it, and the scale and placement are perfect. I have dined in each of the dining rooms over the years (and at many of the tables) but when weather permits, nothing beats al fresco dining on the patio. I would include Dante at the top of any patio listing for this city. It is a small, private oasis that feels far off the beaten track.

Aperol Spritz 
Dante’s menu is designed in a unique manner. For one thing, the orientation is horizontal rather than vertical. It is divided into three distinct sections; appetizers, first courses that include pasta, rice and polenta, and second courses such as meat, fish and vegan entrée. Each of the three groupings are broken into four more categories with two or three options in each. The menu is made even more flexible with the first course (pasta/rice/polenta) available in three sizes, which allows diners to choose them as a main course, side dish or just a taste. Or, you can combine three tastings as your entrée.

Hawaiian Tuna Tartare
One of my favorite appetizers is Hawaiian Tuna Tartare, served with a poached egg, olive caper remoulade and a crisp potato nest. The key to this dish is the quality and freshness of the tuna, and it has never been anything less then impeccable. We always include it among our selections. On our most recent visit, we noticed that another of our go-to apps—the Hamachi Sashimi (chilled soba, cucumbers, sesame ponzu)—was no longer on the summer menu. We opted for a Chilled Snow Crab Salad and we weren’t disappointed: crisp-noodles, watercress and mango sorbet complemented the huge chunks of lump crabmeat.

Chilled Snow Crab Salad

As I previously mentioned, one of the best features of the menu is the flexibility of Dante’s courses, especially when it comes to the house-made pasta, polenta and risotto options. Often we find ourselves incapable of limiting our choice to one or two and opt for a trio of tasting portions. It is difficult not to order the Linguine alla Carbonara with a poached egg and house-made pancetta or the Pappardelle Bolognese with a ragu of beef, veal and pork. On this particular occasion, we selected Spaghetti “Aimo E Nadia” with spring onions, chili and crumbled croutons. We also tried a couple of risotto selections: the Carnaroli Rice with saffron squid, rosemary and celery, and the Black Quinoa with tomato chutney and tarragon. Both excellent.

Carbonara, Pappardelle Bolognese and Carnoroli Rice

Soaghetti "Aimo E Nadia," BlackQuinoa and Papardelle Bolognese
Dante’s second courses have never disappointed either. I’ve enjoyed many fish, seafood and duck entrees over the years. However, if rabbit is on the menu there is no choice to be made. Rabbit it is. As luck would have it, there it was. This dish was so decadent and hearty it would be my idea for a harvest dinner in the fall or a comforting winter repast. Three of us feasted on the perfectly roasted rabbit with au jus served with buttery, house-made gnocchi that were as light and delicate as feathers. Fabulous! Rabbit is not as prevalent in these parts as I would like, but with dishes like this it won’t be long before Boccuzzi cultivates a following. His version is a ringing endorsement for rabbit if ever there was one.

Coniglio Arrostito
We simply did not save room for dessert. Although, desserts are such a major feature at his Chef’sTable and special dinners that I can say with confidence, if you enjoy desserts, dolce lovers won’t be disappointed, whether it’s gelato, a decadent torte or a combination of both. Dante puts as much thought and artistry into his desserts as any other course.

On this particular evening, Phil Hockey, Dante’s affable, capable Front of the House Manager, sent over some Barolo Chinato – a fortified wine that originates from Italy’s northwestern Piedmont region. Originally, Barolo Chinato was used for medicinal purposes, to combat fever and upset stomachs. It has long been enjoyed as an after-dinner digestivo. Dante offers an extensive wine list. My go tos have become their Docetto D’Alba or the house Zephyr but it is hard to avoid their list of expertly mixed cocktails.

Barolo Chinato

Ristorante Dante is a fantastic choice regardless of the occasion. They offer a fantastic Happy Hour Monday through Friday from 4:30 pm to 6:30 pm. We were there recently and enjoyed Edamame, Togarashi French Fries, a Sushi Pop and Miso Mussels. We also feasted on three of Dante’s four Happy Hour Toban Yakis— steaming hot meat and veggie dishes roasted on ceramic plates—which include Vegetarian / Mushrooms, Canadian Salmon, Pork Belly and Hanger Steak. 

Toban Yaki - Vegetarian/Mushrooms

Toban Yaki - Hanger Steak

Toban Yaki - Canadian Salmon
As if this weren’t enough, Boccuzzi also offers Late Night Noodles. Recently, Dante’s ramen noodle bowl was named one of the best in the country. Landing on Thrillist’s ”21 Best Ramen in the Country” list. All Late Night Noodles come with nori, poached egg, pork belly, mustard greens, shiitake and cabbage. Your options are size: half-bowl ($5) or full-bowl ($9); noodle: Ramen, Soba, Somen or Udon; and broth: Beef, Miso, Pork or Shoyu. These late night noodle bowls are sure to please anyone looking for a cost-efficient, warm bowl of comfort.

Late Night Noodles - Half Bowl Udon - Beef 

Ristorante Dante
2247 Professor Avenue
Cleveland, OH  44113
(216) 274-1200


Prices: $$$

Reservations recommended

No comments:

Post a Comment