Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Fun Playing with Sophisticated Yet Whimsical Food at Trentina, Cleveland OH

Jonathon Sawyer's new restaurant Trentina is an homage to the food styles of Trentino Italy, but also celebrates locally procured products with exquisite preparations. Executive Chef Matt Danko matches Sawyer smash for smash as they execute and deliver intricate dishes that appeal to all of the senses and reinvent familiar foods (eggs, pasta, fish, meat) through ingredient choices, cooking methods and presentations rather than chemical or gadget-based razzle-dazzle. Forager Jeremy Umansky sources the local mushrooms and herbage.

We were invited for a "Friends and Family" preview of the 12-14  course tasting Menu Bianco. My opinions, as always, are my own, and in this case, they are: if you love beautiful food that you can't possibly prepare at home, food that is both simple and complex in the same bite, and if you can step away from your food taboos (or identify them to the restaurant so you aren't served any), you must try Trentina!

Though Trentina will accommodate food allergies and honor preferences (including requests for vegetarian and vegan menus), the best experience will come from letting the kitchen do it's magic without restriction. 

The "by the glass" wine menu paired three glasses to the 12 course tasting menu for $40. Bob enjoyed two Fevertree soft drinks, and we both appreciated the sparkling water that also accompanied the meal.

Located in University Circle, Trentina is set in a former carriage house adjacent to the Glidden House (where Trentina will eventually take on catering responsibilities). The entrance is a little abrupt - it is a small space and a sharp turn. But the staff instantly makes you feel welcome and comfortable. Service is at a high level but the experience is leisurely.

Primi Assaggio
Smoked black cod, Crusto di Polenta (crusted polenta), celery root puree, pickled green beans, romaine root, carne asada  with heirloom beans

This plate was a share for the two diners, a series of single bites to awaken and challenge the palate.

Caviar + Ciccoli
Pasta stuffed with house-cultivated cream cheese, topped with caviar.

Each diner received one of these creamy-dreamy bites. 

Crustaceo Crudo
Vintage Ohio Apple & Citrus on the left, spicy Asian flavors on the right
Delivering this course, Chef Sawyer explained that each diner in the couple might receive a slightly different variation on the given dish, and that couples were encouraged to share. I joked that it would take a pretty gymnastic slurp and bite to share the Asian-flavored oyster, and he immediately sent another plate of two oysters to the table so Bob could also taste the Asian flavors. This is now policy (the extra plate, not the gymnastic slurp): Trentina calls it a "re-visit," where you may return to a course you would like to try again or perhaps one you didn't get to have yet and another party at your table had. A terrific solution for the dish that isn't so easily shared. 

Crustaceo Crudo
Vintage Ohio Apple & Citrus - Scallop
How rare is it to get the whole scallop, coral, shell and all? No packaged scallop can match one taken directly from the shell and this one was no exception; the delicately cured porky bits added another dimension of deliciousness without overwhelming the pristine shellfish.

Sable Fish Al Cartoccio
Each diner had a different preparation, though I believe both featured pea puree.
Bob's had Chicken O The Woods Mushrooms, lentils and shredded egg, Mine was greener - might even have had cucumber - but the flavors all melted into the silky fish with none predominating. 

Bread Service with Crunchy Salt and spice
Bread 'n butter is bread 'n butter, right?

Edible Candle
24K Gold Honey, Aged Beef Suet, Crunchy Salt
The combination of salt, spice, crunch, creamy-beefiness and bitter citrus took this "bread service" to a whole different taste and textural place than bread and butter (or olive oil) ever could.

Pasta Alla Chitarra with Ohio Farm Egg
Carbonara style with yellow lentils and pork skin, and yes, mushrooms.
This freshly made pasta is cut on a chitarra (a "guitar" stringed pasta cutter) then combined with porky richness and the luxurious egg-lentil-mushroom sauce that transformed the rustic into a complex flavor and texture combination.  And it wasn't even the best pasta dish of the evening. 

Pasta Alla Chitarra with Ohio Farm Egg - Bob's

The egg is cooked on a wooden spoon in embers, and a bit of the ember is placed on the diner's plate. The chitarra pasta was cross-cut into perfect little squares and paired with Chicken-O-The-Woods mushrooms and pork. This wasn't the pasta winner either, fabulous as it was.

Pasta Cuscino - Stuffed Pasta Course - Bob's
This one had much mushroom, crown tipped coral fungus was mentioned, so I was glad it was served to Bob. The only dish I didn't love, and was a tad oversalted. But my Pasta Cuscino plate, OMG . . . 

Pasta Cuscino - Stuffed Pasta Course - mine
Trangolapreti (pasta dumpling) stuffed with Formaggio Che Cola and served with cabbages, onion & Spicebush.
This may have been one of the best bites of pasta I've ever experienced, and the cheesy center took it even higher. Yes, the type and quality of the cheese matters. Here, it complimented a perfectly textured pasta dumpling and a cabbage-onion reduction seasoned with a foraged berry called spicebush.

Game Birds - mine
 Breast & Leg of Guinea Fowl, fowl liver, sauce of Oxidized Wine, Morels, candied grape and garlic scape and, I think, barley.
The silky taste and texture of the Guinea Fowl foie gras belied it's game bird origin. The breast and leg meats were tender and perfectly flavored, with just a hint of gaminess, but not enough to detract. Chef Sawyer explained that the wine was deliberately exposed to air to give it a Madeira-like quality that complimented and tamed that touch of gaminess in the meats. 

Game Birds - Bob's
Confit leg & thigh, and rare breast of Squab, Squab Liver-Pork-Rice Blood Sausage, cake of Acorns, Hickory Nuts & Orzo
Chef Sawyer is a little too young to remember Euell Gibbons, but all I could think of when he described this dish was Richard Dawson on the Match Game intoning, "Hickory Nuts Can Be Fun." Sawyer described this dish as served with the primary components of the Squab's diet or, you are what you eat! We especially enjoyed the blood sausage, which sounds intimidating, but is really just another type of sausage. 

Beasts Roasted Over Embers - Bob's
Venison two ways, Braised Shoulder & Medium Rare Loin. Dehydrated olive, roasted eggplant.

Red meat, eggplant, olives - seems on the surface to be ordinary. But this version played with each element to magnify the flavors then put them back together in a seamless fashion.  

Beef over Painted Plate (jus) with Cauliflower Pudding
Chef Sawyer explained that by dragging the meat and a dab of the liquid through the "paint" on the plaint, more sauce would render from it. The steak was beautifully tender and richly flavored, and a chewy counterpoint to the creamy pudding. 

Primi Dolce
Strawberry Sorbet, Yogurt, Pistachio

Dolce- mine
Apricot Strudel alla Trentina w/gelati

Dolce- Bob's
Pear Strudel alla Trentina w/Gelati
Diners even got a slightly different take on dessert. Both were solid.

Gold Chocolate
The perfect ending to a delicious meal: simple chunks of house-made chocolate.  

Part of what makes Trentina so amazing is that by the time you read this post and perhaps try Trentina, your menu may be mostly or entirely different from what we enjoyed. Chefs Sawyer and Danko are committed to using the most exquisite products they can source, focusing on the local, which necessarily is always in flux. 

According to information provided by Trentina, in addition to Menu Bianco ($100 per diner, purchased non-refundably in advance or $115 if at time of dining), a Pasta Degustazione (pasta tasting) menu ($60) is now available at the restaurant, though not through the website. Tax and gratuity is added to either menu choice. Pizza and other items will be available al la carte on the patio shortly, but they haven't given an ETA just yet. 

Trentina is fun playing with food at it's best, pampering the diner with small tastes of creatively imagined, painstakingly prepared and carefully sourced culinary delights. 

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