chinato review (and a chance to be VIP)

Chinato 001He’s done it again. Zack Bruell has opened his fourth Cleveland restaurant with the opening of Chinato on East 4th.  We’re already big Parallax and L’Albatros fans (good food at Table 45, but not really my kinda scene), so I had high expectations for his take on Italian. He did not disappoint.

We went a few weeks ago on behalf of Metromix and I’m still thinking about my meal (you need to try the fennel salad). Here’s part of the review, or get the full skinny here.

Food: The menu focuses on simple Italian and does not concentrate on one region. And there are choices—a lot of choices. Bruell describes Chinato as the Italian version of L’Albatros with touches of Parallax. There isn’t parmesan of any kind, but all scratch cooking. To develop the menu, Bruell spent 12 days in Italy eating at least four meals a day. “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,” he explains.

The menu is sectioned into crudo, or cold starters (think Italian sushi), antipasti, salads, pastas (all available as a half or full order), entrées, pizza and contorni, or sides.

On our visit, we started with the yellowtail over pesto with tomatoes ($9), tomato and bread soup ($6), fennel, orange, olive and tomato salad with ricotta ($8), a half order of the ravioli stuffed with pork, veal, zucchini and porcini with butter and parmesan ($10) and the zuppa de pesce ($21).

First, we should state just what a difficult decision this was. Everything on the menu was quite tempting. Nonetheless, we made the right decision because all our dishes delighted us. The star of the meal was surprisingly not a main dish, but the fennel salad. This dish exceeded expectations and has been on our mind since. You need to start your meal with this spectacular salad..

The soup was also a nice start to the dinner. Completely blended, it wasn’t as filling as we were anticipating. If you’re looking for an even lighter start to the meal, the beautifully-presented yellowtail is a good choice. It’s fresh, flavorful and incredibly light (though we would have liked a few more tomatoes).

Speaking of light, we were expecting the ravioli to be on the richer and slightly heavier side as compared to our other courses. But this dish was anything but. It was fresh and almost delicate. And size-wise, the half portion is plenty, especially when pairing it with other courses.

Our main entrée, the zuppa de pesce, featured a wonderful sampling of fresh seafood, like plump scallops, calamari, mussels (though the clams were almost non-existent) in a slightly spicy tomato sauce that was begging to be soaked up by the crostini (our favorite part).

For dessert, we tried the razor-thin pineapple slices in simple syrup with vanilla bean gelato. A bit on the small side, it was refreshing nonetheless, and coupled with cappuccino, made for a good ending to dinner.

Libations: Nineteen of the country’s 20 regions are represented on the 200 bottle wine list that’s 70 percent Italian and offers a handful of hard-to-get wines (a couple are actually exclusive to Chinato only). General Manager Rob Rasmussen spent an extensive amount of time planning the wine list and training the staff on each offering. His approach to the wine list was to course out the wine, much like you would the food while dining in Italy.

For example, he explained that you may start off the meal with a prosecco then work into a red. They want patrons to sample and enjoy several of the wines, which is why the menu is reasonably priced (numerous bottle options in the $20-$30 range with several pours $10 or less). It’s also worth noting that Rasmussen based much of the list on the Gambero Rosso wine list, which publishes a book on each of Italy’s regions and producers and rates them between 1-3 (with 3 being the best). Many of this magazine’s picks for best wines can be found on the list, including Les Cretes, a 2006 chardonnay for $150 a bottle that received a 3 and was named the best wine in all of Italy. For a little less (at $9 a glass), his pour of choice for guests is the Italian white Orvieto Barbi from Umbria. It’s one wine he feels all guests should sample.

There are also several specialty Italian-inspired cocktails, like the Tuscan per or Chinato Stiletto, as well as beer available in bottles and on tap. According to assistant GM Shannon Bizga, a happy hour is in the works to highlight some of the specialty drinks.

Décor: Italian yes. Checkered tablecloths, no. Bruell feels like you should walk into a restaurant and feel like you’re escaping. With Chinato, he’s taking you to Florence, or someplace in Italy, but keeping it modern. He feels his architect summed it up best when he described the finished space like walking into sepia photograph circa 1920s or ’30s (which is evident from the giant panoramic mural of Florence that stretches across one wall of the main dining room).

Like Parallax and L’Albatros, the space is smart and perfectly designed. The long bar encourages patrons to eat and drink. There are large white columns in the dining room, an open kitchen and a large, eclectic chandelier that serves as the focal point.

Service: Our visit took place on the eve of opening night, yet one would never know. The restaurant ran like it’s been open for years. The staff walked around with silverware caddies eager to replace utensils, glasses were promptly refilled, staff was quick to recite the menu and offer suggestions and meals were appropriately spaced.


Speaking of Bruell, he’s catering the VIP portion of this year’s Jump Back Ball, which benefits Playhouse  Square on February 27. Do you want to go? A VIP ticket gets you early entrance to the black-tie  pre-party, open bar, live entertainment, and of course Bruell’s cooking (plus demos) from each of his four restaurants. The theme for this year’s event, now in its 19th year, is Carnaval. I’ve never attended, but have always heard nothing but high praise and good things about it. It must be fun, considering close to 1,000 people attend each year and they almost always sell out. Want to go? Grab your party dress (or tux) and let me know your favorite thing about Playhouse Square (or on the flip side, something you’d like to see improved upon, a play you hope makes its way here, etc.). Just leave a comment with your thoughts by Thursday, February 4 (by 5 p.m.) and I will randomly pick a winner for the pair of tickets courtesy of PlayhouseSquare Partners. Good luck!


  1. Joseph Del Re
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    The best part about having Playhouse Square is the prestige of having access to national touring theater productions and the concentration historic buildings and dynamic theaters that attract visitors to our central city.

  2. Joe Gramc
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:09 am | Permalink

    I absolutely love Chinato, Parallax was previously my favorite Cleveland restaurant and Chinato makes that decisions much tougher. I plan to try Table 45 and L’Albatros very soon, hearing amazing things about the latter. Zack has brought a great variety of food to Cleveland, something that this melting pot of a city we all love can appreciate.

  3. Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I don’t know if I can sum up one favorite thing about PlayhouseSquare, so I’d have to say that it’s the overall experience. It’s just another jewel in Cleveland’s crown, specifically downtown.

    In a time of urban sprawl where malls pop up out of cornfields and entertainment is going to see a 3D movie or playing a video game, PlayhouseSquare offers LIVE theatre and events in historic buildings in the heart of a city. People who have grown up in Cleveland don’t realize the treasure that we have – more theater seats in one area than any other city in the US, after New York City.

    It gives people a reason to come downtown and gives them a great experience once they’re here.

  4. Erik
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:16 am | Permalink

    I love Parallax; can’t wait to try Chinato.

  5. Krystal
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:33 am | Permalink

    I think Playhouse Square has an excellent variety of shows and events that cater to just about any taste. Personally, I love musicals and would love to see more! I’m looking forward to Grease in May!

  6. alana
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:38 am | Permalink

    I love the lights at Playhouse Square. A super-mini-Broadway in Ctown.

  7. Stefanie
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    I am a resident of East 4th Street and was wondering if I should try Chinato out. Because of your review, I will not hesitate to go soon! Not only that, but I would have never ordered a fennel salad and now an eager to try it.

    As for Jumpback Ball. I attended last year and it does live up to the hype. The cost of the tickets turns many people away (as it did me, for many years) but it proves to be worth it in the end.

  8. Stefanie
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 11:49 am | Permalink

    Oops…I realized as I hit SEND that my email was typed wrong in the above comment. This is my right email address (in case I am the winner!)

  9. Emily Lauren
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:00 pm | Permalink

    My favorite thing is getting discount tickets (so affordable!) and sitting up and watching such wonderful shows on a dime.
    My favorite so far? “Spring Awakening.” The lighting was amazing.

    Would love to go to the party!

  10. Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:16 pm | Permalink

    Michelle, I can’t wait to try Chinato! I know I work RIGHT THERE, but I haven’t had a chance to get there for dinner yet. Thanks so much for the lovely preview and menu recommendations, as always.

  11. clg6000
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Playhouse Square is one of the cornerstone cultural institutions in the city, a landmark I always point out-of-town visitors towards. The only problem is the same problem the rest of downtown has–rare and (when it can be found) shamefully priced parking. I really wish the city had the money to buy a few parking lots and only charge $5 max (including special events), which would keep the private garage owners a little more honest.

    But, annoying though it is, parking is no reason not to go downtown and soak up everything it has to offer–including all the delicious food!

  12. Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:36 pm | Permalink

    This restaurant and event is on my list of places to go!

    I don’t think I could get my boyfriend to eat any kind of sushi, even though it is Italian and he is Italian.

    I love, love love that we have our own little Broadway 20 minutes east of me. In the past two years, I’ve seen 4 musicals – who would have known!

  13. M.E.
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:39 pm | Permalink

    We were at Chinato this weekend and agree that the food was awesome.

    We, however, did have a Dante-esque experience in terms of service. Dinner took a looooonnnnngggg time to come out of the kitchen. And water/wine were not refilled promptly.

    Like you, I chalk that up to the initial week of being open. We can’t wait to go back to try that fennel salad. I knew we should have ordered it!

  14. Kristen
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:44 pm | Permalink

    I absolutely loved seeing “Wicked” at PlayhouseSquare. Can’t wait to try Chianto!

  15. steve
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 12:58 pm | Permalink

    Hi Michelle, My favorite thing about Playhouse Square is the theater devoted to doing Shakespeare plays some of the year.

  16. Christy
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Playhouse Square has everything going for it–great shows, a beautiful and historic atmosphere, fantastic membership packages, and a central location (less than 5 minutes from my favorite restaurants!).

    We saw “Chicago” this past weekend, and it was excellent. I agree with Emily about the lighting in “Spring Awakening”- it was amazing.

  17. Kate
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    I love the aesthetic of the theaters and I love the selection of shows that we do get. The best people work at Playhouse too – they’ve always been extraordinarily helpful and nice.

  18. Posted January 28, 2010 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    The best news for Chinato enthusiasts is that they will be open for lunch starting Monday Feb 1. Playhouse Square? Best future thought. . .multiple, coordinated concerts tied in with the next time we host the R&R HOF induction ceremony. Best present thought. . .Gina Vernaci, the woman that brings it all here for us!

  19. bill
    Posted January 28, 2010 at 4:45 pm | Permalink

    hey michelle,

    twice now in preview/review of chinato you’ve made mention of there being “no parmesan of any kind”. what is this supposed to mean? is mr. bruell anti-parmesan?

    and then right on the chinato website homepage there are a few dishes listed, and one of them includes parmesan.

    could you clarify that statement? i’m just curious.

  20. Posted January 28, 2010 at 7:27 pm | Permalink

    Hi Bill,

    By that, he means no eggplant/chicken/veal parm. Or in other words, he’s not focusing on traditional Italian dishes. The menu is Italian, but it doesn’t offer the heavy, traditional, comfort food items layered with cheese that many are used to. Not that there’s anything wrong with those dishes (I’m Italian and grew up on all things parm), it’s just that’s not what his focus is with Chinato.

  21. Posted January 28, 2010 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    I can’t wait to go to chinato, l’albatross is probably my favorite restaurant in cleveland and getting to try another of Bruell’s great restaurants.

  22. Jen P.
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 8:52 am | Permalink

    Best thing about Playhouse Square – It’s just one more nationally recognized gem that puts Cleveland on the map of awesomeness! Also, I can’t WAIT to go to Chinato!

  23. ginafitz
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 10:38 am | Permalink

    $10 Smart Seats!
    An excellent move by Playhouse Square to make culture accessible and to encourage people to try things outside their comfort zones.

  24. Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:11 am | Permalink

    It’s no surprise that Bruell’s newest creation lives up to his reputation. Looking forward to trying it, and the salad, soon!

  25. rockandroller
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    I would love to see PHS employ more local actors. It’s a shame that the bulk of the money that Clevelanders spend on theater goes to actors in touring companies who really couldn’t care less about the local economy here, as opposed to the dozens of other great theaters in town that employ NE Ohio based actors.

  26. Mary
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 1:06 pm | Permalink

    I went to see RENT the first year it was at the Playhouse and I have been hooked on going to shows ever since. It is such a fun night to get together with family and/or friends, go to dinner at one of our amazing restaurants downtown ( or in the surrounding areas) and then go to a show. The Playhouse has provided me countless memories with my family and friends and I just love the fact that it pretty much is in my back yard. We have a jewel in the Playhouse. It truly is wonderful!

  27. Jyll
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 1:11 pm | Permalink

    My favorite thing about Playhouse Square is the history and beauty of the buildings and all the wonderful shows we have available to us.

  28. Kelly
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Permalink

    Cannot wait to try! I have reservations for my b-day in February.

  29. Emily
    Posted January 29, 2010 at 10:26 pm | Permalink

    My favorite aspect of Playhouse Square is the incredible mix of shows that it offers. Everything from Spring Awakening to Xanadu, from Mamma Mia to In The Heights (which I can’t wait to see next month). We are incredibly lucky to have it here in Cleveland!

  30. Posted January 30, 2010 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    Favorite things about Playhouse Square: It is in our own backyard. So nice to have a beautiful facility so close.
    Downside (for me) I wish I had more time, because I’d love to be a redcoat!

  31. Posted January 30, 2010 at 10:05 pm | Permalink

    My favorite thing about Playhouse Square has to be the effort they put forth to offer inexpensive seats to first run productions. My wife and I saw Spring Awakening for $10!

  32. Posted January 31, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    Keeping with opposite experiences (like your Dante vs. my Dante were wholly different)… We were also at Chinato on opening night, but I feel as though we were at a COMPLETELY separate restaurant!

    It goes without saying that the food is FANTASTIC! Although, from being seated, it seemed our waitress was also acting as a bartender (and a little slow at taking/typing in orders). , It took far too long for each course (and drinks) — we were at the restaurant almost 3.5 hours!!! We stuck to sampling a few starters, salads and pastas. We ordered the cold tuna risotto – and received something hot that tasted like ham or something (which we couldn’t even eat at first because we had no table settings and had to grab a random food server for forks!). When we asked what it was, she didn’t know, and didn’t offer the correct replacement.

    I learned my lesson when the wrong salad came out for me — I didn’t touch it and waited until the correct one was brought. Boyfriend’s pasta dish was missing an ingredient, but both his dish and my sweetbreads pasta dish were INCREDIBLE. As was dessert.

    Again, being that it was opening night, this will NOT prevent us from going back to try everything else on his extensive menu, but it was a strange (at times, awkward) experience. We were invited as part of friends & family and sat in the bar… we definitely felt misplaced upon regular diners.

    That being said, I love downtown Cleveland — the old and the new. Playhouse Square is a fantastic mainstay in an already awesome city.

  33. Chad
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I’ve been traveling a lot recently, and the two Cleveland mainstays with which I am consistently able to impress others are the food scene and theatre district.

    This is the third year that I have been subscribing to the Keybank Broadway Series, and I doubt that any other theatre subscription service could compare to my experience with Playhouse Square. I have been able to change the date and time of my shows, even as late as one day before the scheduled performance.

    In addition, the playhouse square amenities are unparalleled. I am able to reserve inexpensive parking in a deck adjacent to the theatres, enter the theatre complex through a heated connector walkway, and then watch a traveling Broadway show in an excellently restored 1920s era theatre.

    I also enjoy the variety of shows that are brought to the area because of Playhouse Square. And, because it is a non-profit, the shows are disarmingly inexpensive.

    All told, Playhouse Square gets everything right, and I will continue to boast about it to those I meet while traveling, even at the expense of their believing that I must be given to speaking in hyperbole.

  34. sam mangano
    Posted January 31, 2010 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    I love the variety at Playhouse Square. From musicals (Jersey Boys), to musicians (can’t wait for Joe Bonamassa in April), to comedians (Ron White, Robin Williams, Chris Rock), there is something for everyone’s cultural leanings!

  35. sushi
    Posted February 1, 2010 at 7:02 pm | Permalink

    i loved wicked at playhouse square. will definitely check out chinato next time i’m in the area!

  36. Posted February 2, 2010 at 8:17 am | Permalink

    We are very lucky to have PlayhouseSquare and everything that it brings to this city. I love that I can see Shakespeare in the afternoon, a Broadway musical that evening, and a rock concert the next day. I grew up going to see student matinees, have worked for one of the resident companies of the district, and will continue to support our local arts community.

  37. dawgpndgirl
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 8:46 am | Permalink

    I love the variation playhouse square offers! and all the great dining that surrounds the area…excited to try chinato!

  38. Elena
    Posted February 2, 2010 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    wish they would bring ballet back to the playhouse

  39. Posted February 2, 2010 at 1:41 pm | Permalink

    Love the history and elegance of The Playhouse Square – from the crystal chandeliers hanging from the ultra high ceilings to the mural-painted walls. . .

    We have a lot of wonderful memories, watching anything from theatrical to live radio to indie rock performances. Not to mention experiencing a fun wine event last year. . .

    Here’s to many, many more memories being made at this incredible Cleveland landmark*

  40. Elizabeth
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 12:51 pm | Permalink

    Of course the Cheap Seats are the best part. You can splurge a little to see your favorites, or get the cheap seats so you don’t miss the fun!

  41. Jonathan
    Posted February 3, 2010 at 1:24 pm | Permalink

    My favorite thing about Playhouse is the architecture. It’s an absolute beauty and sometimes I spend more time looking at the design and decor than whatever is going on onstage.

  42. Ro
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 9:36 am | Permalink

    It’s great to see E4th expanding with new choices in restaurants. It’s a good compliment to the Playhouse Square complex, specially with the free Trolley service.

  43. Stefanie
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 10:12 am | Permalink

    Because of this review, I have made reservations for next week! Thanks for the heads up and good info!

    Jumpback Ball is very important to me and it would mean the world to me to be able to win a pair of tickets. So, with that being said, this is my third post (to try and increase my odds). Thanks!!!!!

  44. JulesE
    Posted February 4, 2010 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    My favorite thing about Playhouse Square is my memories of discovering theater: When I was a little girl, it was such a treat to go downtown with Mom and Dad, all dressed up, and see the city, walk through the amazing lobby of the State Theatre, then be escorted to a plush seat and witness the telling of a great story. Other favorite thing is rediscovering Playhouse Square as an adult, when I can really appreciate how special a place it is. (Enjoying the beautiful details of the State Theatre lobby is still at the top of the list.)
    Thanks to you for being such a great ambassador for Cleveland and getting these thoughts out there!

  45. Posted February 4, 2010 at 9:24 pm | Permalink

    Great feedback everyone! And thanks for entering. Today’s lucky number courtesy of is #3. Congratulation and enjoy the ball!

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