A few weeks ago I saw tweet offering a link to a recent study. I never bothered to click on the link because I was having a good day and didn’t feel like being aggravated by said reporter’s clear lack of research or obvious preconceived and incorrect perceptions of my city. The study in question was something along the lines of Cleveland being recognized as one of the more boring cities to live in.
Seriously? While I recognize I never actually read the article so I don’t know all its contents or writer’s point of view, but just the thought makes me scratch my head. There is so much to do, discover and experience in this town – well beyond the Rock Hall (amazes me how many people think this is all we have going for us). And what’s even more surprising to me is how many people call Cleveland home and are still unaware of what’s right in their backyard. Take a day and be a tourist in your own city. You’ll be positively overwhelmed and impressed. But bored? No.
Case in point this past Wednesday night. We headed down to the Botanical Gardens for their wildly popular Gourmet in the Garden series (truly – these sell out fast and early). If you’re not familiar, from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m., for $5 a group of 50 or so watch one of our local chefs demo a dish, then sample. On this night it was chef Paul Minnillo from Baricelli and his executive chef Chris, who was demoing a chilled peach soup with basil and strawberries (peaches from a Chardon farm by way of Fresh Fork Market – apparently all the snow in Chardon is good for snow days and making great peaches).
Minnillo, who reminds me of my Italian uncles with his mannerisms and storytelling, first chatted with the crowd about Cleveland, his future thoughts for the restaurant and Inn (perhaps a spa someday?), a brief education on cheese and his retail offering and his fellow local chefs. Chris then shared how to make this super simple soup at home and finally, we got to sample for ourselves – delicious. Did I mention this was just $5?
From there we walked around Wade Oval to enjoy Wade Oval Wednesdays, the free weekly concert series in the summer (Roberto Ocasio’s Latin Jazz Project was performing). How great that we have something like this. One any given Wednesday in the summer, expect to find families, couples and people of all ages hanging out on the oval, enjoying a picnic, some cocktails and the atmosphere.
After listening to the band for awhile, and knowing a small sample of soup wasn’t enough to call dinner, we decided to head to Baricelli for more.
During Minnillo’s introduction earlier, he shared that he’s been working hard for the past 10 years to get the restaurant out of that dining destination/special occasion category, but doesn’t feel he’s having much success. I admit that for years that was my perception of the restaurant, until I went there. And part of it is the mansion itself which houses the restaurant and Inn (it does scream special occasion) and the long history of high ticket items. But in recent years, he has lowered prices and even offers half orders of pasta (my 1/2 bucatini amatriciana was just $12 and is plenty of pasta for one person) as well as great/affordable dinners during Lent. To be honest, I’ve never sat in the dining room so I’m not sure what vibe that gives off, we much prefer the patio. And that does not feel pretentious or fine dining to me – more like casual, quaint and a must for al fresco dining.
Beyond my pasta and a half order of basil fazzoletti for Jamie, I had the beet salad with walnut-crusted camembert, watercress, a hard boiled egg and vincotta (absolutely wonderful salad) and the chilled peach soup for Jamie. We also each had a glass of wine.
I will say this, while we thoroughly enjoyed our meal and sitting on the patio in the heart of Little Italy and ourselves don’t view Baricelli as destination dining, if Minnillo truly wants to change people’s perceptions, he needs to make a few more revisions to the menu beyond the pastas. One big area that did bother us was the wine list. If one were just to peruse the list, they’d assume this is a high-priced, high-occasion type of place. There is only one bottle under $60, a couple glass options in the $10/$12 range and the rest is priced in the hundreds. Personally, I would love to see a more approachable wine list with several bottle options under $5o – even $40, as well as more glass choices, too.
And that was our Wednesday. A demo, music and fab dinner in one of Cleveland’s great neighborhoods. If that’s boring, I give up.