I had a culinary epiphany last week. Where? In Ohio, of all places. I know, I can barely believe it either.
Last week, I spent four days in Cleveland, a city that Drew Carey practically put on the map and about which Ian Hunter sang, with genuine gusto, "Cleveland Rocks." Turns out it's also a place on the cusp of a serious foodie explosion, evidenced by the likes of Iron Chef Michael Symon, TV and real life chef and owner of some of Cleveland's most popular restaurants: Lola's Bistro (fine dining), Lolita's (gastropub) and B-Spot (burger joint). He's also responsible for bringing Cleveland's undiscovered and perhaps under-appreciated culinary delights to the attention of millions on shows such as The Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." Pierogis, anyone?
After trying (and falling in love with) Lola*, I was looking for another recommendation. Imagine my surprise when I asked local after local where to eat and nearly every single one of them said, "Dante in Tremont!" There was no hesitation, and every recommendation was accompanied with that face. You know the one. The one where someone is actually reliving the memory of one of the best meals in their recent history, but all they can manage to do is contort their face and say, "OhmiGAWD. It is just SOOO good." Four of those faces later and I was sold.
Dante -- the signature, Michelin-starred restaurant of Chef Dante Boccuzzi -- is on a darling tree-lined street in a historic-turned-hip part of Cleveland called Tremont. And when I say hip, I mean it in the sweetest, smallest town kind of way. The restaurant is literally on the one main street of Tremont, located caddy-corner from Symon's Lolita, across from a surprisingly chic boutique (I bought a chenille-esque sweater made in Bali), and next door to a liquor store that seems to specialize in Wild Irish Rose fortified wines. Did I mention it is Michelin-starred?
Suffice to that the meal was pretty killer -- my shaved artichoke salad came with a goat cheese foam, arugula and aged balsamic, while Boccuzzi's innovative Black Forbidden rice risotto (originally reserved for Emperor's) arrived brimming with candied ginger, shiitake mushrooms and rock shrimp. But what I appreciated most about Boccuzzi's menu was his creativity when it came to portion sizes. If you're anything like me, when you're dining out you like to try bites of several different dishes. Unfortunately, ordering more than one appetizer and entree per person is nearly impossible with today's gigantic portion sizes.
Simple yet Brilliant: "Tasting," "Appetizer" & "Entree" Portions
(aka Small, Medium & Large)
Dante's got it right. The menu is organized into three sections: appetizers, signature starches, and entrees. While entrees are one-large-size-fits-all, appetizers are easily sharable amongst two people and the signature starches, including soups, handmade pastas, polentas and risottos, are offered in tasting-, appetizer- or entree-sized portions. I thought that was absolutely brilliant: the simple idea of offering some of the most popular items on the menu in three easily distinctly manageable sizes. Want only a bite or two? Order the tasting portion. Want a little more, to share with a friend? Opt for the appetizer portion. Heck, do the same with five or six dishes, satiating your palate with menu items like handmade Linguine alla Carbonara with poached egg and house made pancetta (the charcuterie is drying inside what used to be a bank vault, complete with massive steel door), the polenta with grilled prawns and zucchini, or the sweet Ohio corn chowder, packed with smoked bacon and sourdough croutons. Or, if you know exactly what you want, go for the entree size.
The point is, Dante's subtle tasting-appetizer-entree portion options really encourages diners to experiment and make their way through the menu. That means they'll order more dishes, find more options to recommend to friends, and the restaurant will make more dough. If you think about it, it's really a win-win strategy, one that I wish more restaurants would adopt.
2247 Professor Ave.
Tremont, OH 44113
*If you're anywhere near Cleveland, go to Lola. Now. Order the Beef Cheek Pierogis, handmade Cavatelli with Rabbit Bolognese & a glass of Norton Vineyard's 2007 "The Monster" Zinfandel. Life-changing.