“I’m not going to lie, I’m out of my comfort zone,” explains Zack Bruell, standing amid construction workers and drywall as a crew works to pull together his latest restaurant at the corner of E 4th and Prospect. Chinato, by default, will be Italian (he already has practically every other region covered and is not interested in competing with himself). Italian is cuisine he’s never cooked before in any of his restaurants, past or present.
Bruell is confident Chinato will be ready to open in a few weeks, though one would never know by peaking through the temporary wooden doors. Through the insisting of others, he’s the latest restaurateur to open on Cleveland’s street du jour (apparently Bruell was presented with an opportunity this graduate of the Wharton School of Business knew he couldn’t refuse). “Life is all about timing,” he explains. “Opportunities don’t come around like this often, so you have to grab it and grow.” He adds that his continued growth is good for his staff because it provides them with tremendous opportunities, and he acknowledges that he has nothing short of an incredible staff.
When they opened L’Albatros earlier this year, they were already planning for Chinato
and staffed top-heavy on purpose, using that kitchen as a training grounds of sorts for the latest endeavor (head chef Andy Dombrowski and GM Rob Rasmussen are leaving L’Albatros for Chinato as well as Al Ives, sous chef from Parallax). “Already spending so much time together and knowing each other will greatly help us when we open,” Bruell adds. Because as he explains it, opening a restaurant is totally insane and these established working relationships and trust will help make it an easier and smoother process overall.
Apparently, Bruell is a sucker for the insanity. Whereas most chefs only open one or two restaurants in a lifetime, he’s on his 11th (and claims this is it for this market). But he gets the process and admits he’s much more patient then he used to be. As a self-proclaimed adrenaline junkie, he knows the madness and high expectations that await him and appears eager to greet it head-on. “I don’t have the luxury of waiting; people will walk in on day one and want excellence right out of the gate. It’s not an easy task to satisfy right away, but people won’t give me a break because they know me.” Bruell adds that it usually takes him a few weeks to settle in and most new restaurants in general around six months.
To help develop the menu, Bruell spent 12 days in Italy, where he tried to eat at least four meals a day. “They don’t like you to eat like that there,” he joked. “If you don’t finish what’s on your plate – they freak out; it’s an insult to them.”
The menu will focus on simple Italian and not concentrate on one region. Chinato, he describes, will be the Italian version of L’Albatros with touches of Parallax. There won’t be parmesan of any kind, he shares, but all scratch cooking. “On the trip, the dishes were very rich and heavy. I don’t want to do that here, so it’s my take on that.”
The menu promises to be big. According to Bruell, you have to offer a lot of choices so people will come back. To develop the menu, he explained to his chefs what he wanted and together they came up with the dishes, dishes that aren’t overly bearing or heavy he shares. And then they cooked and cooked and cooked. “French cooking is very complicated,” he explained. “You’re always moving forward. True Italian is done very simple. Our challenge is to know when to stop – when to stop refining and stay true to the dish. I do simple. But true Italian is really simple. It sorta scares me. You can’t mask mistakes here – it’s simplistic food with great ingredients. It’s almost like modern art. What’s there is just beautiful. We’re not trying to make perfect food here, but food that is really good. And I think it will be.”
As for the prices? The food will be authentic, but that doesn’t mean expensive. Think L’Albatros in terms of range, which is very reasonably priced.
Italian yes. Checkered tablecloths, no. Bruell feels like you should walk into a restaurant and feel like you’re escaping. Where’s he taking you? “Florence, or someplace in Italy – but still a modern space.” He said that his architect, Ron Reed, explains that the finished product will be like walking into a sepia photograph circa 1920s or 30s.
The space itself is old and was never a used as a restaurant, so that provided some unique challenges – but also opportunity, like the giant columns that are present throughout the dining room. Like all Zack Bruell restaurants, the bar is meant for eating and drinking. The dining room will feature banquette seating, open kitchen and beautiful old world Italian drapes over the windows that let in tons of natural light. There will also be a large chandelier that will serve as a focal point. Because as Zack shares, even in the shithole restaurants in Italy, every single one had a large, beautiful chandelier.
The dining room will seat 120 total, plus a prep kitchen and private dining room downstairs (and eventually a club) that will open at a later date. For now, Chinato will be open for dinner Monday through Saturday and eventually lunch service will be offered.
“I need to get that guy wearing an Indians jersey coming down fourth after the game inside and make them comfortable, that guy expecting spaghetti and meatballs. It’s a challenge and won’t be easy. But people know I’m not normal and I like that kinda challenge,” added Bruell as we walked back onto the street leaving his crew to bring the space to life.
Here’s a draft of some of the menu items (subject to change):
Stuffed Potato/porcini mushrooms and fonduta
Spaghetti/mixed shellfish, broth of salt water, tomato and lobster roe
Garganelli/sweetsbreads, giblets, radicchio, butter, parmesan and breadcrumbs
Brick flattened chicken breast/panzenella salad with preserved lemon
Strip Steak ala Florentine/salt, pepper, evo and lemon
Sauteed Langoustine/pepperoncini, garlic oil and roasted vegetables