He’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.
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!