Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fun Playing With Dinner at Restaurant Dante

As I reported here, Chef Dante Boccuzzi's long-awaited re-opening of Restaurant Dante, in Tremont, has given some brightness to the dark, cold and snowy Cleveland winter. I was fortunate to dine there Thursday night with 6 friends (plus my husband), which allowed me to taste a nice selection of dishes on the menu.

Chef Dante Rolls Sushi for the Grand Opening Cocktail Party January 9, 2010

As regards food photography at Dante, I have reached this conclusion - I either need to reserve the Chef's Table in the well-lighted kitchen, or get a better camera. So, please apologize for the duskiness of these photos - this is why I haven't quit my day job!

Private Dining For Four in the Vault

I didn't get to photograph this the first time I was here due to the crowds - but this is indeed the bank vault (my camera could not do justice to the massive door, which still hangs on its original hinges).

Beyond the Door - Pork Fat Zoo!


This chandelier is worth the price of admission all by itself.

As we walked to the end of the bar to meet our friends, we thought they were standing at a high top - but no, this amazing, glass topped "table" is actually built in to the end of the bar:

Go see it in person; it's pretty cool.  Did I really type the word "cool?"

This amazing bar deserved an amazing cocktail. While I generally favor rum and not martinis, the Finocchio  Martini looked too interesting to resist:

Grey Goose paired with finocchio (fennel), Pernod, and a few other flavors, including fennel-stuffed olives!

A lovely start to a lovely evening! As our party arrived for our 6:30pm reservation, we took our seats in the dining room (I love the comfy chairs) and perused the menu. Our wonderful server Michael, who had served us so valiantly at the Cocktail Party, deftly guided our party through a delightful meal that lasted almost 4 hours from the time we sat. It took that long because we deliberately paced it slowly, ordering each course as we went.

Bread service at the new Dante comes in a molded record album (as it did at the old Dante) - and the bread is steaming hot and simply marvelous. We were offered three varieties - olive, white and multigrain.

Bread is served with this incredibly smooth bean puree.

Olive Bread and White Bean Puree


Chef Dante was kind enough to send this assortment of tastes to our table.
My tasting plate

Beginning with the top left - mustard, pate, Pistachio Mortadella, Beef Sausage, headcheese (and I have never liked any headcheese I ever tasted before - until now). Bottom left - pickled vegetables, pork rillettes, capicola, black pepper salami, prosciutto. And I'm not a big proscuitto fan - but this taste was simply amazing. All of it is made in-house (or in-vault, as it were). Here is another plate shot taken with flash - now it's too bright! I can't win!

Anyway, the dinner menu is divided into three sections, top to bottom, and, as noted, we decided to order one course at a time. Bob and I had already decided to split the Foie Gras.

Seared Foie Gras, citrus scented waffle, roasted pears 

This dish hit every note. The foie was exquisite and perfectly cooked. The roasted pear was sweet and a lovely counterpoint, offering chew as well as taste. I didn't really get a lot of citrus from the waffle, which to me seemed more like a pâte à choux than a waffle, but I loved the crunchy taste and texture against the foie and the pear. The combination of all of the components tasted together was over-the-top. One of our dining companions ordered this for her main!

Duo of Crudo Beef Tenderloin Carpaccio, pickled cauliflower, spicy pepper sauce, garlic chips and Hawaiian Tuna Tartare, poached egg, olive caper remoulade, crisp potato nest 

I did not taste this, but my dining companions who did pronounced it exellent.

Chilled Market Select Oysters - hot pepper puree, cilantro, yuzu ice

Again, my photos do not do justice to the presentation. I did not sample the oysters, which Chef Dante told us were East Coast, but again, all of those who did pronounced them, and the accompaniments, perfect.

Crispy Calamari and Rock Shrimp, fine scallions, chili spice mayonaise 

I did taste this dish (which is why I'm including this pitiful photograph) - and the calamari was fresh and tender, with a very gentle breading and cooking process that allowed the taste of the squid to really shine. The spicy mayo that came on the side added zest and zip.

The next course was a "pasta" course - with a choice of house-made pastas, risottos, polentas and soups. Bob and I decided to split a "tasting" portion of the special - a house-rolled ravioli stuffed with the most amazing combination of shredded and minced meats, and bathed with a tomato sauce that offered a sweet perfume of tomato, delicate chunks of more meat, cheese and herbs. The pastas and risottos are offered in three sizes: taste, appetizer or main, and priced, respectively, at $4, $8 and $15. 

The pasta was so fresh and perfectly cooked so that it remained toothy while not too chewy. The combination of flavors and textures made me regret, for a moment, that I hadn't considered this dish for my main.

But my regret did not last long - the mains, which range in price from $18-23 for a very generous portion - were even more amazing.

Pancetta Wrapped Duck Breast, foie gras toasted gnocchi, and apple variations 

Bob and another dining companion ordered this - my taste was lovely - perfectly cooked duck breast wrapped in bacon, beautiful gnocchi with foie gras and apple flavors all together - harmony.

Roasted Dayboat Scallops, tofu, daikon, shiitake tempura, and sesame vinaigrettes

Another tablemate had this beautiful plate, and offered me a taste. The scallops were lovely, as were the vinaigrettes (and yes, there were two). Even though he kept protesting that he was full - our friend managed to reach clean plate, with a little help from his table mates.

I tasted, but did not  photgraph the Branzino (Italian Sea Bass), Gnocchi Carbonara, and Seared Pork Medallions. My tastes of all were terrific - I'd eat any of those dishes in a heartbeat! But I still think that I (and John) chose the best dish of the evening (and I so wish that I had a better photo for you):

Confitted Salmon,  new potato risotto, sweet garlic, and smoked salmon ribbons 

Chef Dante confits the salmon in duck fat. OMG OMG OMG! The taste and texture were simply amazing - the confit treatment gave the fish a mouthfeel (and taste) like the most premium salmon I've ever tasted. And it was perfectly cooked to a gentle medium. I loved everything on the plate, but the salmon was the rightful star. And the plate included not one, but two varieties of salmon - the smoked salmon ribbons - morsels of the same lovely salmon we'd sampled at the cocktail party - tasted perfect. Though I am normally a devotee of belly lox - I'd put this fish on my bagel any day of the week and twice on Sunday!! The sweet garlic was so tasty, I wonder if that also got a duck fat bath. At $19 a plate - I'll be eating this again, I'm sure.

After this course, we all pronounced ourselves sated. The Cleveland Cavaliers were about to seal their win over the Lakers, and so we took advantage of the crowd at the bar and the building excitement in the room to stretch and move around. When I returned to the table, it turned out that two table mates decided to share the Tahitian Vanilla Creme Brûlée with passion fruit shot and fine phyllo strands. I got a taste of this, but not a photo - it was so lovely. The creamy pudding was warm, and the candied top crunchy - I liked it a lot.

Our end of the table decided that we were too intrigued by the notion of black pepper flavored ice cream, and so we got the Tasting of Ice Creams and Sorbets plate:

These lovely tastes cleared our palates and gave us a sweet taste to end the evening. I'd order it again - if I had friends to share it with - its a generous portion. The pepper in the ice cream did not overwhelm the sweet at all, and was nice when combined with a bit of the dark chocolate disk. I also really liked the chocolate ice cream with the cakey topping.

Service was handled with a brisk and attentive team approach - though the restaurant was close to capacity for part of the time we were dining, service never missed a beat. Looking around the restaurant, I saw equally attentive service at other tables, and smiling faces among the diners.

Food, service and decor at Dante were all deemed first class fun by our table of eight - and we'll be back soon for the dinner Dante is doing to benefit Slow Food Northern Ohio - read about it here and hope to see you there!

Dante on Urbanspoon

1 comment:

  1. Yes to the rock shrimp dish! Oh, and I'll take several of those others.

    I'm so glad a variation of it is back. My boyfriend INSISTS on ordering calamari wherever we are. I've tried so many so-so versions, but that one was one of our favorites.