As I mentioned in my last post, my first stop during Downtown Cleveland Alliance’s Restaurant Week was Chinato. Eight of us from work decided on Chinato after a long process of narrowing down the 40 options (which isn’t the easiest task with so many good ones to choose from).
We headed down to E. 4th after work on Tuesday to Zack Bruell’s ‘old-meets-new Italian culinary concept.’ Bruell, who was nominated for a 2011 Beard Foundation award and owns four Cleveland restaurants, designed Chinato to incorporate cuisine from all regions in Italy.
I enjoyed the atmosphere because of how it combined motifs in its design. On the one hand, it was a hip, contemporary, precisely-designed restaurant perfect for after-work gatherings with coworkers. On the other hand, the warm sepia-toned photos of Italy are romantic touches that lend themselves to a cozy setting for dinner with your significant other.
Even though Chinato was packed on Tuesday, I was surprised by how easy it was to have a conversation with my tablemates because of how well the restaurant was acoustically set up. I also enjoyed that the staff mingled more formal clothing with jeans which was another interesting convergence of styles and made diners feel more at home.
Of course, though, the food was the main attraction of the evening. The three-courses-for-$30 menu featured a choice of an appetizer, entree and dessert. For the appetizers, Chinato offered a lentil soup, watercress salad or gnocchi. The gnocchi I ordered was one of the best gnocchi dishes I’ve ever had. It was sweet gnocchi in a mushroom broth with pieces of pecans, slice of cheese and greens. I enjoyed it because the sweetness is a taste I haven’t had before with gnocchi and I loved how the pecans provided a different texture against the smoothness of the paste. Scott ordered the lentil soup which was something different altogether. It was filled with tender meat and vegetables that gave a complex taste. Scott (who’s always had problems eating his vegetables) devoured it, letting me sneak in a couple tastes here and there.
Scott and I both ordered the Pork Piccotta as our entrees. Typically, we like to order different dishes because we can try a variety of offerings. However, we enjoyed the dish so much that there would have been no sharing of food. The pork was lightly fried and very tasty. It was accompanied by fried artichokes and stewed white beans which had a nice almost bean-soup texture and were a light complement to the meat.
I was extremely pleased with the first two courses Chinato had selected for their Restaurant Week menu, so I was at first a little crest-fallen when there was only one Ricotta Cheesecake left. Fortunately, we were given two more options for dessert that weren’t on the menu – a lemon polenta cake and a chocolate/hazelnut mousse. The promise of gelato with the polenta cake made it an easy decision for me.
I have to preface what I’m going to say next with the fact that dessert is probably my least favorite part of a meal and I will often pass it over for an appetizer or soup. However, as much as I loved our first two courses, the dessert was my favorite part of our meal at Chinato.
The lemon polenta cake was topped with limoncello and lemon gelato. This created a contrast of fresh and clean tastes with the comfort food taste and texture of the polenta. The dish is now high up there on my list of all-time favorite desserts and the gelato brought back memories of when I spent time in Italy. Although nothing could beat the lemon polenta cake, Scott’s mousse was also a delicious and different option – smooth and rich. Chinato’s pastry chef deserves high praise for their ability to produce such varying and excellent options.
Topping off the night’s experience was an extremely helpful and friendly staff. Our server Delmy was patient with our larger group and when we had questions about the food and wine offered up thoughtful suggestions. With an open view into the kitchen, the chefs were always present and it was a very visible process. Joe, one of the managers, also introduced himself, asked for feedback on the meal, and offered to help with anything as we waited for our coats at the end of the night.
Tuesday was my first time at Chinato and after such a delicious experience and looking over their standard menu, I definitely will return. Although there are traditional pasta dishes and entrees, there are unusual options that I look forward to trying such as the Garganelli with Sweetbreads, Giblets, Radicchio and the Skate Wing alla Milanese. This was a great way to kick off Restaurant Week.