Since the Indians didn’t clinch earlier in the week, our anniversary dinner was changed to lunch so we could watch the game with our friends. We chose Dante for the big occasion.
I’d never been to Lockkeepers so I’m not sure where it stopped and Dante started. But overall, we both really liked the décor, especially all the rich wood and arts-and-crafts styling (you can tell a lot of money and time went into this). The space has a traditional foundation, which makes for a cozy atmosphere. They aren’t trying too hard with the design and that’s what makes it a great space.
Where they could have tried a bit harder was with the music. Knowing chef Dante Boccuzzi is quite the music fanatic, I was expecting the selection to be as great as the food. You expect to hear the theme song from “Hill Street Blues” in the doctor’s office, not while sharing prosciutto. Whoever got in first that morning must have turned on the easy listening station and forgot to adjust once service started. At least two favorable songs turned up in the rotation, “Girl from Ipanema” and a John Coltrane tune. I suppose that’s more the type of music I was expecting to hear, with a little blues mixed in.
But if eating at Dante means you fall victim to elevator music that’s played too loud overall, it’s well worth it. This guy has lived up to the hype and now I know how it feels to eat like Robert De Niro (one of chef Boccuzzi’s former clients). We started off with the prosciutto board, which features three different types of the Italian ham, followed by sweet corn and shrimp chowder, four tastes of pasta, dessert and a half bottle of wine served in a miniature decanter.
Aside from the music, the only other item that was disappointing was the prosciutto. It was still good, and I give Boccuzzi credit for curing it himself (apparently you can see this yourself if you head upstairs to the wine room), but only one of the three offerings would count as great. After sharing salumi with Gina Batali (sister of TV chef Mario Batali), the bar is set pretty high. So I almost feel bad for saying we were a bit disappointed because I’m still shocked we were able to experience that.
We both had the soup and it was packed with flavor. The sweet corn and shrimp really work well together and overall make this a very satisfying dish. I think my husband would have ordered another bowl if we didn’t have a lot of pasta heading our way.
The pasta menu is structured so that you can order a taste ($4), starter ($8) or the main attraction ($14). The server shared that the taste gives you a nice feeling for the dish and by ordering several you can really try the best of what Dante has to offer. We tried four tastes: the soft potato and chive gnocchi, spaghetti with ragu Bolognese, tagliatelle carbonara with a five-hour poached egg and cavatelli with 48-hour braised beef short rib.
There is part of me that is hesitant to share just how good the pasta tastings were. I’m nervous that this is too good to be true and the next time we go in, the tastings will be no longer available. For $4, you could easily make a meal out of just one (with an appetizer). I was expecting literally a small taste and was surprised to see that we in fact had too much pasta between the two of us. Our favorites were the spaghetti with ragu, carbonara and definitely the braised short rib — simply outstanding. Next time I just want that dish all to myself. The gnocchi itself didn’t have a lot of flavor but the sauce was enjoyable with corn and pancetta. All the pasta is hand-made — and you can really tell with each bite, especially the tagliatelle. There is nothing like hand-made pastas.
At this point, I had no desire for dessert but still couldn’t resist looking at the menu. If I was going to force myself another bite, the tapioca and sorbets sounded tempting. But my vote is always trumped by my husband’s. He says since I always pick the restaurant, dessert is his choice, which always ends up being chocolate of some sorts. It’s not that I don’t like chocolate, I do, it’s just that I like to try other options, or even just have cheese. But this time, Jamie made the right call. We shared the chocolate peanut butter bar (I’m sure that’s not the exact name, but you get the picture). This was one of the best desserts ever. It really was perfect. The only other time we had dessert that was this good was at Theory before it closed (I was never crazy about their food, except for the desserts). In fact, I wonder if the pastry chef at Dante is the same person that was at Theory because these desserts are almost identical.
When you call to make reservations, the person asks if you are coming in for anything special or just to experience (easy thing to do and nice touch on their part). I shared it was our anniversary. Right before the pastas came out, our server, who was in fact the best server we’ve ever had anywhere, offered us more wine since it was our anniversary. He said they normally offer dessert, but we needed more wine to enjoy the pastas. We were drinking the Chatter Creek from Washington — fantastic blend.
One final thought. If you go to Dante, and you really should, avoid the breadsticks at all costs. Not only do they offer you a choice of four breads, but then you have this simple but tempting display of breadsticks in arm’s reach. If you ever visited Battuto, the breadsticks at Dante are pretty similar, which means they are highly addictive. Do yourself a favor and don’t even try one because as tasty as they are, they are no match for what’s next, and you’ll need to save all the room you can.