dante

After waiting much longer than anticipated for a variety of reasons, chef Dante Boccuzzi has finally reopened his restaurant, Dante, in Tremont. And while the move no doubt took its toll on those involved, it was a smart move and one that’s sure to pay off for years to come.

We went last Saturday for dinner for Metromix. And let me jump ahead and say our meal was great and we will definitely be back. But let me first explain why I just may wait a bit before I do.

I’ve never run a restaurant. I’ve worked as a server and made a poor attempt at bartending for years and obviously love dining out. But I’m not going to pretend I have a clue as to the inner workings of a restaurant. I know it’s a challenge and takes the right group of people to run a successful restaurant, like any good business. But what I do know is customer service. I have clients that I deal with on a regular basis and work in an industry where nonstop communication is a main driver in all that we do. And I think we’re pretty good at it. So while the business aspect of the restaurant world is nothing I can relate to, dealing with patrons and simple communication is.

Without going into all the details, we waited a long time for our meal on Saturday night. We sat at 7 and didn’t leave until 10:30 – and not by choice. In fact, we had to ask for our dessert to go because we couldn’t wait any longer. And while Jamie had the tasting, and the rest of us had 3 courses, it was still a good two hours after we sat before we had our first bite of anything (we’re talking soups, salads, charcuterie…). Now I know the rule of thumb is 3 months for restaurants to work out all the kinks when opening, and being the first Saturday of opening week I did expect some wait, even for a group with as much talent and years of experience as Boccuzzi’s. But opening week or not, that kind of wait was simply too long, especially when we saw others eating and leaving all around (that came after). But all of this could have been excused if there was just communication. When I called to make the reservation, the woman should have reminded me (all callers)  it’s their first Saturday (just to set expectation). And when we sat down to order, the server should have again reiterated something similar. And when he saw we were close to eating our Cheap Trick bread basket, he could have offered up an apology or explanation. Same with the GM (we did ask and were basically just given a smile).  Tell us something, anything. I’m not saying they had to do anything special for us, but just a little communication can go a long way. And what was most surprising about this night was that our server was really great – knew the menu, was friendly and followed the chef form the original location. We’ve had him several times and I’ve always thought he was one of the better servers around. Because let’s face it, food is one part of the equation, but good service most definitely makes up another.

At any rate, I have no doubt things like this will be worked out in time because Boccuzzi is a professional. And in a follow-up e-mail to me he apologized and has already spoken to the staff about it that evening and how to learn from it (apparently he saw my tweets from that night).

So read the review knowing it was opening week. I assume when you go, and you really should go, that you won’t encounter a similar experience. But I wouldn’t be doing a very good job if I didn’t include this and write an honest review of our experience.

As for the food, we were quite happy. Every dish on the menu is begging to be tried – we really had a hard time deciding just what to get. Here’s a snippet of what I wrote for Metromix, or you can read the full review here. One thing I forgot to include is the noise level. We had a group of six and I had a very hard time hearing those across from me. I’m not sure if it was where we were seated or if noise in general will be an issue with this space.

Food: The modern American menu is sectioned into three tiers, with several options in tier two available as a taste, appetizer or main meal (much like his menu at the original Dante). Our server explained that several of the dishes took shape at Boccuzzi’s home during the past year. Apparently, a few of the dishes came together by mistake but worked so well they made the menu (like the barley and braised root vegetables).

This is one menu that will have you coming back again and again. That’s because nearly every dish is begging to be tried. And if you can’t make a decision, a tasting of five dishes (pre-selected) is available for $50; or $85 if you’d like it paired with wines.

On our visit, we tried the tasting menu sans wine, along with the braised fennel gratin over arugula with hazelnuts and orange slices ($7), chilled oysters served atop seaweed with a hot pepper purée ($12), the Hawaiian tuna tartare with poached egg and olive caper remoulade ($12), and a tasting of the Arborio with porcini ($4). We should note that we actually ordered a tasting of the barley with root vegetables, but this risotto came out instead.

The fennel was a perfect start to the meal and an instant favorite. All vegetables should taste this good. The incredibly fresh and nicely presented oysters were another winner. They had just the right amount of heat that was not overpowering and finished nicely with a single cilantro leaf. The beautifully-constructed plates continued with the tuna tartare surrounded by a delicate nest of tiny fried potato strings. Another must-try dish.

The only somewhat disappointing course was the risotto. Perhaps that’s because it’s not what was originally ordered as aforementioned. None the less, we happily dove into the generously-sized tasting portion. While the porcini was nicely represented, there wasn’t necessarily anything memorable about this dish that would make us eager to try again.

Décor:  If you missed the earlier mention, the new Dante was formerly a bank. A lot of the architectural elements from the space’s former life remain intact. The ornate, decorative ceiling details, the vault room complete with safety deposit boxes and even the original bank decals on the front door remain in place. However, Boccuzzi did invest a lot in the transformation of the space from bank to fine dining establishment. The combination of old and new create an eclectic space that fits right in with the neighborhood.

Insider tip: If you’re planning a special night out, or just want to be seen, the bank’s vault has been transformed into a special four top with a nice view of the former safe deposit cage which now houses all the house-made cured meats.

Come May, look for Boccuzzi to open a sushi restaurant in the basement. He featured a popular Sushi Blues night at the former location and was once the head chef at Nobu Milan. Spring plans are also underway for a courtyard.

6 Comments

  1. rockandroller
    Posted January 20, 2010 at 1:07 pm | Permalink

    Thx for posting about it. I know it’s hard to resist visiting a new place when you’re excited about it, but I think your report is the kind of thing that is really typical while a restaurant is working out their kinks and is the reason that “3 month” rule of thumb exists. While I’ve never run a restaurant, I’ve been a team member at both new restaurants and new retail shops and no matter how much prep and training you do, these kinds of things happen when you first open, it’s inevitable. Each small problem “seems” easy from the single customer’s perspective, but when there are several little problems like this all happening at once due to newness or unexpected problems, it can steamroll and everyone is overwhelemed. I’m sure everyone is doing the best they can there and they’ll plug the service holes quickly.

  2. Posted January 20, 2010 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    And also with doing reviews for people, you don’t always have the luxury of waiting – especially 3 months. But I will say this. I went to Chinato last night (they opened officially today), Greenhouse Tavern pre opening and opening week, Bar Symon plus others and you would never have known they were so new. It all depends. Like I said, I expect hiccups and to wait – all normal and gets a free pass in my opinion when you’re so new. But basic things like communication (I’m sorry, here’s why, it’s coming, we’re trying to figure some things out – anything), can make all the difference. I did hear from others that were there that same weekend and had zero problems. So we were just the lucky ones :) Like I said, the food was good, liked the space and I have a very high opinion of Dante, so I have no doubt it will work out if it hasn’t already. But I have to post about my experience, otherwise I’d lose credibility.

  3. A
    Posted January 21, 2010 at 9:24 am | Permalink

    Maybe it’s just a matter of luck, but I had a very similar experience of terrible service and wait issues for food at the Greenhouse Tavern my last visit so it may be something to be expected even if a restaurant isn’t so new or green in their case.

  4. steve
    Posted January 21, 2010 at 10:33 am | Permalink

    Michelle, My only comment is that you were way more patient than I would have been. If we sat for 1/2 an hour and it looked like nothing was going to come out I would ask for my check for what I had received and if it wasn’t forthcoming I would leave. That being said I usually give a new place a couple of weeks at least before I try it out. But something else you mentioned is a big rule for us, if you see people who were seated after you eating and you are waiting we find the waitperson and ask what is up, usually it means that the ticket got lost in the kitchen.

  5. MrKeith
    Posted January 21, 2010 at 12:08 pm | Permalink

    Michelle, Sorry you had a tough time at Dante. I was there with a party of 4 on that same night and everything was wonderful. Of course our reservation was not until 8:30 so we may have avoided the most crowded part of the evening and we all ordered the tasting which makes it easier for them to pace it out. I have always found the service at Dante’s restuarants to be the best in town and (for us anyway) that night was no exception.

  6. Posted January 24, 2010 at 2:19 pm | Permalink

    As I mentioned previously on Twitter, we were at Dante the night before (6:30 reservation). Restaurant/tables were full (didn’t appear to be anyone waiting). Our meal was timed perfectly, with each course better than the last. I was more-than-impressed that there were NO kinks in either service or food during an opening week (and on a weekend, nonetheless).

    I’m sorry to hear your experience was the exact opposite of ours! What a difference just a day makes. Our meal that night moved Dante into our Top 5 restaurants in Cleveland.

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