Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Fun Playing With Dante Boccuzzi and Sushi, and a Pitch for a Great Cause


Saturday night, we joined the rest of Cleveland Ohio at a cocktail party celebrating the impending opening of the new Dante Restaurant in Tremont Ohio. Some folks didn't get it, but it is a very authentic Italian "thing" to invite the whole community in for a cocktail when starting a new venture - and Chef Dante Boccuzzi did it with style. And fun, fun, fun.

This Chef is an amazing young man. After battling cancer and chemo - he (together with his charming wife, who was checking coats and greeting guests this hideously cold and snowy, and busy, Saturday night) has rebounded to turn an historic bank building into a beautiful dining space. A sushi bar will open downstairs in the spring. But Saturday night it was all about the main Dante space in the main floor of the former bank. The architectural details were meticulously preserved (including the bank's decals on the front door, and the "vault" room, with a cozy 4-top and a carnivore's-eye view of the salumi locker), with lots of new touches added. Unfortunately for me, the crowds did nothing to enhance the somewhat dim lights, so most of my photos are lacking - but I offer you the best that I could do.

Meat Slicer

Not quite as colorful as the one at Michael Symon's Lolita - but fully serviceable nevertheless.

Cheese and Salumi

Though I don't know this for sure, I expect that the salumi was house-made, and sliced on the above slicer. And I most enjoyed my tastes of both.

Sushi Being Constructed in the Kitchen

The entire restaurant was laid open to us - the kitchen is brand new and shiny, and features a 6-seat maximum "chef's table" that lays the process open to all who are willing to give up the beautiful dining room to  view stainless steel and sweat instead.

Fresh Crab Sushi

Yuppers - no crab stick for Chef Dante - this is the real deal, with a lovely green roe atop. Sorry - I failed to get a photo of the Hamachi sushi, which was most tasty.

Butternut Squash Soup

Nutty, cinnamon-y, and most delicious - these soup shots delighted all who tasted them!

Not Exactly Arancini

Traditionally, Arancini or arancine are fried (or, less commonly, baked) rice balls coated with breadcrumbs, said to have originated in Sicily in the 10th century. Chef Dante's version were filled with creamy cheese and smooth polenta - simply lovely!


Smoked Salmon, Aoli over House-Made Gauffrette

This bite was also wonderful.

Cake with Espresso Taste

I actually liked this, even though Bob got most of my espresso-filled tasting tube. I expect nothing but good things on the dessert side of the new Dante.

Six of us had tucked ourselves, fairly early, into one of the "first-come, first-sit" tables - but Dante (the restaurant, not the Chef!) got so frenetic, crowded and noisy that we decided to repair to Parallax for some "dinner" food and a gentler scene. Though we were sad to leave, we were comforted by the knowledge that we'd be back soon, for a full meal!

Unfortunately for me, the light at Parallax wasn't much better than the light at Dante had been, so most of my photos were 86'd. Here are a couple of views of my sushi plate - Dante had whetted my appetite with his lovely sushi, and Chef Zach Bruell finished me off with fresh and tasty salmon and tuna:

Bob opted for Grilled Hanger Steak with truffled cauliflower, parmesan fingerlings and cabernet sauce, but you don't want to see those photos - though I tasted, and can assure you, it was perfectly cooked and a very tasty, if not photogenic in low light, dish. My taste of Fred's tempura was likewise delicious.

And now, a "commercial," from Cleveland Foodie Michelle V:

Do good. Eat Good.

After writing this blog for nearly four years, I think I can safely make some assumptions about you, my readers. Assumption one: you like food.  Two: you like food prepared by one of our many talented chefs. Three: You’re pro Cleveland and will always support local when able. Four: You care about this community and supporting others when in need. Five: You have $5.
(and I’m willing to bet you’d happily exchange that $5 for free dinner out the rest of the year.)
After meeting Farming Lee Jones, I learned about the Veggie U initiative, a national program that promotes the well-being of children through a healthy lifestyle with a focus on making wise food choices, combating adolescent and juvenile disease, and attaining an understanding of sustainable agriculture. The program is embraced and loved by teachers and students alike. Locally, 150 schools in the Cleveland Metro School District have been using the 4th grade Veggie U science program. Unfortunately, they don’t have any funding to continue as $200 per classroom is needed to fund the kits.
On the way home from that initial meeting and fabulous dinner, we had an idea to try to help these students and teachers. Would you be willing to donate a minimum of $5 to help this cause? That’s your morning Starbucks. If we all help and spread the word, we have an opportunity to make a difference here. And if you’ve watched the news lately, you know Cleveland students can use a little bit of good news.
If you donate $5 to Veggie U, you will automatically be entered to win more than $1,200 worth of gift cards to all your favorite eateries and shops. Want to increase your odds? Donate $10, $25, $50 or more (I promise you won’t miss $25). For every $5 you donate, you will earn another entry into the drawing. The more you donate, the greater your chance of winning. You have until February 13 to donate and be entered. It’s easy – just call 419.499.7500 ext 119; you must reference Cleveland Foodie (a winner will be picked using random.org).
As soon as we worked out all the details with Veggie U, I reached out to the chefs and owners to share the idea and ask for support. Almost immediately I started to hear back. The backing of our food community and willingness to work together to help all sorts of causes beyond this is inspiring, admirable and personally greatly appreciated by myself. Thank you to everyone for your generosity and willingness to pitch in.
One incredibly lucky diner will spend the year eating and drinking their way throughout Cleveland:
Western Reserve Wine / $50 gift card
Tartine / $50 gift card
Momocho / $50 gift card (Eric Williams also generously donated an additional $200 to fund one classroom)
Lola / $50 gift card
The Greenhouse Tavern / $50 gift card
Heinen’s / $100 gift card
Blue Canyon / $50 gift card
The Flying Fig / $50 gift card
Fire / $50 gift card
Erie Island Coffee / $50 gift card
Fahrenheit / $50 gift card
Miles Farmers Market / $50 gift card
Jekyll’s Kitchen / $50 gift card
Moxie / $200 gift card!!
Touch Supper Club / $50 gift card
Parallax / $50 gift card
L’Albatros / $50 gift card
Chinato / $50 gift card (opening very soon!)
Crop Bistro / $50 gift card
And to top it all off, the winner will receive one ticket to their choice of upcoming dinners at The Culinary Vegetable Institute (you’re in for a real treat here) and The Chefs Garden will send you one of their e-commerce family boxes.
To kick it off, Jamie and I will donate $100 (we will not be counted for the drawing). Would you also consider making a pledge? I know times are tough for many, and if you can’t, it’s completely understandable. But if you’re able to give something back and if you’re a follower of this blog I can only assume it’s a greater cause that matters to you, please call. Let’s follow the lead of our chefs and local owners and show what the Cleveland food community can accomplish when we work together.
Thank You.
Update: Just learned that The Culinary Vegetable Institute will give a copy of the 2009 official cookbook of the Food & Wine Celebration to the first 20 people that donate $50 or more!

Plays With Food says - I do not need to add that winning this prize will enable a lucky donor to have serious fun with a lotta great Cleveland food! But I will add it, because I can. Please support Michelle's worthy cause, if you can!


  1. Thank you, Nancy - much appreciated! We made it to Dante for about 5 mins - at 7 p.m. you caouldn't move! So we headed to Lolita instead. But I'm going on Saturday and can't wait.

  2. Hi Nancy,
    That sushi looks great - and nice pictures!
    Do you know, was Dante only doing sushi at the opening party, or does he have it available now, even though the sushi bar is not open yet?
    Thanks, Beth.

  3. @ Beth - The on-line menu doesn't have sushi; the website doesn't say whether they are going to do a "Sushi Blues" Night, but I will try to find out and let you know.