Dante, a newly open restaurant in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland, OH isn’t actually a new restaurant. A few years back Dante opened for a short time (not sure if it was a year or more) in what had been and would later become again the Lock keepers Tavern in Valley View, OH. I went once to that incarnation of Dante and thought it very good, however like the Lock keepers the location plays against it (at least for me) the space is large and impressive but the exterior and the actual spot somehow don’t quite feel right for what Dante was. Fast forward to 2010 and Dante is reborn in Tremont inside an old bank (those old banks that had stone and columns and look like what you think a bank should look like). Anyway the space is perfect, its got a great ceiling, a wondeful bar, and of course the old vault. You can walk into the kitchen where the candy cart they push around Mon-Thur is docked for the crowded weekends, its in the kitchen as well where the chefs table sits.
In my two visits there have had great service which is useful because the menu is not traditional and I think some folks might not really know how to order based on the layout and the options (a lot of starches available in the middle column where you might not know what your supposed to do with them, polentas, pastas, risottos), and the servers reassure you there is no right way. Also by non traditional (but very nice I think) is that can order various sizes of pasta (tasting, appetizer, main) you can order different sizes of risotto. Both times I’ve been with large groups and have been able to try large chunks of the menu and think the tasting approach is the way to go.
House Cured meats that include some different things like salumi and proscutto is very very good, but the star of this is the liver mousse (the pattee or terine is very good as well). Each time someone in my group wished they could have a whole bowl of the mousse, that apparently changes along w/ the rest of the daily selection but both times had hints of cognac among other tastes, very very nice.
Pasta: The linguine alla carbonara is very rich and heavy featuring house made pancetta and a poach egg, but a 4 dollar tasting size is perfect to get a few bites (enough for a few bites for a few people actually) which is truly enough. The Pappardelle Bolognese was also great. The pastas are all made in house and were fantastic
Polenta: Really simple is the three cheese polenta, with marsacpone, parmeseana nd grueye. Like the pastas very rich and creamy, served both times we had it a some kind of middle course. It comes on a wood plank essentially and is phenomonal. Also enjoyed the tomato stewed sausage and white beans version that pairs a mound of the beans and sausage next to a mound of polenta, also served on a board.
Main courses were all very good, their chicken w/ rosemary potatoes, meyer lemon and olives was very good, especially on a cold day when looking for something more comfort. Duck was great w/ foie gras toasted gnocchi, the duck which is wrapped in pancetta really goes nicely with the cooked apples that accompany it. Skirt steak was very nice as well and so was a special of the day a prepartion of Skate.
The desserts feature among other things some interesting ice creams available in flights. People all seemed to like their desserts or tastes of desserts.
While a bit strange sounding the banana and butternut squash soup actually comes off (banana is just a hint of flavor). So there you have it, highly recommended, while not a cheap place, the place is actually quite reasonable, the space is great and in a great neighborhood (right across the street from Lolita).
Their menu and other info on Dante (including a bio on their interesting owner/chef his blog and a little uproar over a blog review of their soft opening preview night) see here. All in all Cleveland is lucky to have a top flight restaurant opening and considering the economy its nice to see the place packed.