Monthly Archives: September 2010

restaurant review: DANTE

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Back in May, WMJI Majic 105.7 featured a very trendy Tremont restaurant as a Dining Deal of the Day. Listeners could purchase a $50 gift certificate for $25. I broke several traffic laws that morning to get to the office in time to purchase the Dining Deal for a restaurant I had a feeling I would enjoy: Parma native Dante Boccuzzi’s DANTE.

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From their opentable.com page: Enjoy Michelin-starred chef Dante Boccuzzi”s signature restaurant DANTE. Located in a historic bank building in Tremont, DANTE restaurant has become one of Cleveland’s premier dining spots. The decor features designs and works of art from local artists. Guests may choose from an a la Carte Menu or a Chef’s Tasting Menu. Experience the excitement of dining in the kitchen as Chef Dante prepares and serves you a multiple course tasting menu.

Our reservation for our anniversary dinner was for 6:45PM and we arrived on-time that evening. We were asked to wait in the bar area as our table was being cleared. 7:00PM rolled around and we were still standing in the bar. Making sure the hostess hadn’t forgotten about us, I checked in with her to find they were waiting for tables to clear and that it should “only be a moment”. We were finally sat at 7:10PM – 25 minutes after our original reservation. I have NEVER had this happen in this town so I was a bit annoyed at the beginning of our experience.

My annoyance quickly melted away upon meeting our waiter, Richard.  He warmly greeted us and immediately informed us of the three additions to the menu – each sounding better than the last. I notified him of my gluten intolerance, to which he replied that one of his children had Celiac. We started chatting about gluten and he even informed me of some things that I didn’t know! He noted that several options on the menu could be made with rice flour without any issue. We ordered a half bottle of the pinot grigio to share, placed our orders of starters and mains and Hans started on the bread basket:

Based on what I could tell, there were two types of bread: a multi-grain and an olive focaccia. DAMN GLUTEN – I would have been ALL over those olives! Hans managed to pick around them (UGH!) and enjoyed some of each. It was presented with what we believed to be a hummus spread. I took a chance and took a bite, which was nicely flavored for a bread accompaniment.

As we casually enjoyed our wine, I noticed the time slip away. With a severe back up in the kitchen, our starters were no where to be found. Richard felt horrible and offered to buy both of us another glass of wine. Um, yes please?! As he returned, our starters arrived.

I opted for the Salad of 7 Summer Vegetables with carrots, beets, cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, green beans, and mesclun.

Is it any surprise that I ate every bite of this beautiful array of veggies? I think not. It came pre-dressed in a vinaigrette, which did not weigh down the salad. I loved the use of the beets for the extra sweetness. I’ll be recreating this salad at home next summer when all those glorious veggies come back in season.

As Hans looked at the pasta selections to start, we had quite the discussion on what portion size to order. In the past when we’ve dined at “these types of restaurants” (his words, not mine), he’s gotten burned by not ordering enough.  So I asked Richard about the portion sizes and he said a tasting size was about six to eight bites of food. They also had an appetizer and a main size available. Knowing that Hans could enjoy some pre-meal bread along with an entree, I encouraged him to order the smallest size.

Hans took my advice and ordered the tasting size portion of the Linguine alla Carbonara with a poached egg and house made pancetta.

Hans was very happy with his selection. He was surprised by how much he enjoyed the addition of the poached egg to the pasta. As for the portion size, I think it was perfect for a starter. I can’t imagine how big a “main” portion size would be!

For his main, Hans ordered the Grilled New Zealand Lamb Chops with pickled ramps, watercress, and chickpeas.

I snagged a bite of the lamb and the chickpeas. The chickpeas were surprising al dente – I even question if they were cooked at all based on their room temperature status. They were seasoned well and I was surprised to see Hans eat all of them and the pickled ramps without a blink of the eye. As for the lamb, it was cooked perfectly and had great flavor. Hans definitely did his best to get every single piece of meat off the bone. This was a winner. He also ordered a side of the purple potatoes, which he enjoyed but definitely wasn’t his favorite part of the meal.

For my main, I ordered the appetizer portion size of Black Quinoa Risotto with a confit tomato and rosemary toasted pine nuts.

As the rosemary wafted from the bowl, I knew I would eat the entire thing. I cut up the tomatoes, mixed them into the rest of the dish and took my first bite. I was speechless. There was something magical about the combo of the rosemary, the toasted pine nuts, the confit tomato and the quinoa that had taken over me. To beef up on my veggie intake, I stole the watercress from Hans’ entree and mixed it into my risotto.  This only further heightened my enjoyment. I loved the use of quinoa – my new favorite gluten-free grain and power food, as Richard reminded me! I slowly savored every single bite.  I’m hoping Dante takes to-go orders because I might consider ordering that every single night on the way home from work.

We were perfectly content at the end of the meal. Richard presented the dessert menu, but we decided to pass. As we finished our conversation with him, we mentioned that we were celebrating our anniversary. To that, he lit up and wished us many, many more celebrations for years to come.

LONG STORY SHORT: Considering that the beginning of the night had a bit of a rough start, I forgotten about it by the time we left the restaurant at 9:00PM. The service was on point. I couldn’t help but leave a comment card stating that I believed Richard was the best server in town. His warmth, his knowledge and his personality set the tone for a fantastic dining experience. The excellent service was only followed by excellent cuisine.  I am so happy that we selected Dante for our anniversary celebration. I believe that we’ll have to return next year to celebrate year number five!

Dante on Urbanspoon

Flavors of Northeast Ohio

Earlier this week, I was fortunate to attend one of Cleveland’s finest annual culinary events: Flavors of Northeast Ohio.

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More from their website: Flavors of Northeast Ohio is a unique and creative culinary event. Premier regional chefs will each prepare, tableside, a signature five-course, gourmet dinner, complete with wine pairings and distinctive décor for a table of ten. Nowhere else will you witness firsthand culinary experts creating a menu personally for you!

21 local restaurants participated in the 2010 event, including:

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Lots of my favorites are included on that list! As I received an invitation late last week, I would have been happy to be at any of the tables. I was so happy to hear we were seated at the table of a restaurant I hadn’t dined at yet: Crop Bistro & Bar.

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More about Crop from their website: Crop Bistro & Bar features a menu of modern American cuisine, built upon foundations of flavor, freshness, and invention… Relying heavily on local foodstuffs culled from the region’s small farmers and artisanal producers, the menu is a celebration of contemporary craftsmanship, focused on intense flavors, top-quality ingredients, and a heaping helping of culinary whimsy. Like the harvest, the dishes change frequently, to best utilize all that is fiercest, freshest, and most fabulously delicious.

I was incredibly excited to 1) attend such a unique culinary event, 2) support a great cause and 3) be seated at the table of one of my “must go to” restaurants.

Chef Steven Schimoler and his Chef de Cuisine Mike Sunseri created a beautiful five course menu. Chef Schimoler explained his concept for the evening: playing on combining “flavors” together to create the perfect dishes.

A few notes before we get eating:

  • My apologies for the lack of photos. Sometimes it’s just not the right time to bring out the Nikon.
  • While I was originally nervous about being limited on what I could eat due to my gluten-intolerance, the chef informed me that only one gastrique had soy in it – I was in the clear for the ENTIRE meal! Talk about luck!
  • Wines are not my specialty, so I’m not going to go into great detail on those. Let’s be honest: I know food. Wines, not so much. I’ll leave those reviews to the pros.

Our first course was a Grilled Melon with Yellowfin Tuna, Pickled Ginger & Soy Wasabi Gastrique paired with a 2009 Classic Terlan from Italy.

To make my option gluten free, he replaced the soy wasabi gastrique with a balsamic reduction. The tuna and melon were a lovely combination, especially with the pickled ginger. I always forget how wonderful watermelon is when grilled – too bad I missed my chance to enjoy it this summer! I happily ate this entire starter and knew we were in for quite the treat.

Our second course was a Mushroom & Foie Latte with Truffled Milk paired with a 2009 Dipinti Pinot Grigio from Italy.

Yes, it was as glorious as it sounds. Not a pat of butter was used, but it was so creamy in texture and so decadent in taste. As a pinot grigio fan, I loved the wine pairing and our server took notice as she gave me a nice refill on the glass. To finish off the experience of the soup, Chef Steve told us to save the foie gras for your last bite. I took his advice and it left me with the exact last luxurious impression he meant for us to have. Part of me wished it was the only thing I was eating because I REALLY wanted to eat the entire, ginormous bowl. I knew I had three more course coming so I practically begged our server to take away it away before I made a scene.

Our third course was a Apple and Pear Salad, Maple and Mulled Cider Dressing, Bib & Aderkase Blue Cheese paired with a 2008 Rocche Costamagna Dolcetto from Italy.

Some salad courses get lost in a menu like this. On the other hand, this was a salad to remember. The Chef was not afraid to heighten each of the ingredients to their full potential.  It was not necessarily over-powering, but I did stop myself half way through. It was almost too much for my simple palate.

Our fourth course was a Beef Short Ribs with Scalloped Sweet Potato paired with a 2007 Sonnino Cantinino from Italy.

It’s dishes like this one that keep me from going vegetarian. The beef short ribs were falling apart by just looking at them.   They had a veal stock reduction with an array of seasonings including mustard. I could have eaten a bowl of the sauce as a soup it was so delicious and flavorful. Underneath the beef were the perfection of a potato side. Hans took care of his portion within moments. As I was already quite full, I managed to eat about a fourth of mine before I gave it over to my husband to enjoy. Happy anniversary honey! I would easily pay good money for this entree any day of the week.

Our fifth course was a Flourless Chocolate Cake with Mole Ice Cream & Cinnamon Cream paired with a Fiorini Rosso Assoluto from Italy.

What are the chances that I end up at the table with a FLOURLESS cake?! Its consistency was more brownie than cake, but that was okay with me. Perfectly chocolately, the cake and cinnamon cream were lovely on its own. What stole the show on the plate was the mole ice cream. It was like eating a Red Hot in cold liquid form. My mouth was hot and cold at the same time. I loved the way the chef ended the meal with a hint of playfulness with this selection. 

LONG STORY SHORT: My tablemates and I had an amazing dining experience Monday evening. After seeing the gathering of the city’s best chefs, I can see why so many consider Flavors to be one of the best fundraisers and culinary events in town.  Not only did Clevelanders have the chance to try some amazing food and wine pairings, guests learned just how important the work of the Liver Foundation is to this community. I hope I can return next year and enjoy another wonderful evening full of tasty food from another CLE gem.

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Don’t forget: Voting for the second round of the Foodbuzz Project Food Blog Challenge is on through Thursday the 30th! Visit my contestant page & PLEASE VOTE FOR ME!! Thanks again to ALL OF YOU for all the blog love!

ten things this tuesday: BYODD recipe: Alicia’s Pasta Salad

Don’t forget: Voting for the second round of the Foodbuzz Project Food Blog Challenge is on! Visit my contestant page & PLEASE VOTE FOR ME!!

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It’s hard to believe that our CLE Blogger get-together was over a month ago! Ladies – it’s been too long since I’ve seen your smiling faces! When I originally posted my menu, several of you jumped at the chance to get the recipe for my infamous pasta salad. Well, here’s your chance on this glorious Tuesday to find out…

TEN THINGS THIS TUESDAY: INGREDIENTS THAT HAVE FOUND THEIR WAY INTO MY PASTA SALAD

Before we start, you need some background:

  • My pasta salad recipe changes but always has three constants: pasta, veggies and one secret ingredient. There are a few add-ons which I’ll note, but those three “ingredients” are always included.
  • This recipe was derived from my mom’s original pasta salad. Strangely over the years, my family members preferred when I made it, compared to when my mom did!! I have a theory which has to do with the secret ingredient – which we both used in the same way!
  • The choice of veggies is up to you. Use what’s fresh, what you like, what you have laying around. The more veggies, the better!

Let’s get pasta tossin’, shall we?

1. Pasta (DUH.) I used to swear by those packages of tri-color rotini, but all that did was give the salad some extra color. You can use any cut of pasta that a sauce will hold on to well. I used whole-wheat egg noodles above, but bow-tie and wagon wheels shapes are another fun way to give it visual appeal.

2. Grape tomatoes. I always include a pint of grape tomatoes in my pasta salad. I cut them in half and throw them in. Their sweetness add a great flavor and it’s only better in the high of tomato season.

3. Black olives. This is another Alicia must add.  I don’t really care that the three people that enjoy this salad the most (my husband, my brother and my father) all pick them out.  I LOVE THEM so they are staying in! I buy a can of extra large black olives and cut each olive in half, like the grape tomatoes.

4. Mozzarella cheese. I include this 50% of time – which is about the percentage that I remember to pick it up when I’m rolling through Marc’s. I’ll pick up a ball of mozzarella and cut it to a dice. However, I won’t add it until right before serving as the cheese can melt in the hot pasta if you add it too early.

5. Celery. This is a new addition to the mix as I am venturing into using my mandoline slicer again. (I promise one day I’ll share that sad, sad story.) The celery give the salad a nice extra crunch and is nice to the waistline.

6. Green peppers. This is another MUST add to the pasta salad. Again, I don’t care that my dad picks them out. I like the texture and the flavor the peppers add. Feel free to mix it up and throw in some banana peppers instead if you’d like!

7. Zucchini. Again with the mandoline slicer, zucchini has been finding its way into my pasta salad, especially in the month of August when everyone is trying to find away to get rid of it!

8.  Pine nuts. This is my shout out to the one and only Aunt Kathy. Growing up, I looked to her for the best pasta salad in the world. I realize now that I loved it so much because she always added pine nuts to her bow-tie pasta salad creations. If you got the extra bucks to spend, use it on this splurge.

9. Pepperoni. While this is a staple of my mom’s original recipe, I only add this when taking it to family barbeques. If you know you are serving a crowd of happy meat eaters, the addition of the pepperoni will go over well.

10. THE SECRET INGREDIENT. I still can’t believe I’m divulging this, but here it is:

WISH BONE ITALIAN DRESSING. (photo source)

Yes, I am admitting to the world that I cheat when it comes to the dressing. This isn’t some homemade creation. I buy a huge bottle of the stuff, shake the heck out of it and pour about a third of the bottle on the salad. I mix it well and then let the salad sit overnight in the fridge.

Before serving, I taste the salad to make sure that it has enough dressing on it without over-powering it. This is the big difference between my mom and myself: she tends to go a bit overboard in her dressing usage. We all know I prefer a lightly dressed salad, and I think I’ve made the rest of my family fans of that also. (We still love you Mom!)

So today’s lesson: sometimes you have to make life easier and take it easy on yourself. If that means picking up a bottle of salad dressing and using whatever bag of pasta you have laying around, so be it. Things still can turn out pretty tasty in the end!

What shortcuts/pre-made ingredients help out to make your meal prep easier?

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