Friday, September 11, 2009

Beavis and Butthead at The Baricelli Inn

For our second and final dinner of my weekend trip to Cleveland with several of my old college friends, I suggested we try out The Baricelli Inn on the corners of Cornell and Murray Hill Roads. All three of us had eaten here in the past; however, many changes had taken place to the menu and the feel of the restaurant and none of us had been back since. An additional benefit was that it was only a twenty minute walk from the Glidden House, where we were staying.

To be totally fair, the choice of The Baricelli Inn was made at the very last minute. I had made plans for a different restaurant, but none of us were really feeling like making the trek downtown. So, at 5:23 PM on a Friday evening I cold-called and was told that they had tables available at 6:00 PM and at 7:30 PM. My two dining companions quickly agreed that 6:00 PM would be just fine. Since we were already dressed for dinner, we promptly left the hotel room at 5:30 PM and strolled up around ten minutes until six. Here is a shot of the front of the property:

The entrance and parking lot are actually in the back of the building on Murray Hill Road. Here is a shot of the actual entrance:

Once inside, we were escorted to the lovely area at the back of the building that is completely enclosed in glass. While I didn't request this area, I was happy to have it as it would provide me with plenty of light to take pictures with my phone's built-in camera (which, incidentally, if you didn't already know, gentle reader, 95% of the photographs that appear on this site are taken with my Google G1 phone). One new addition that has been made to the property since the last time any of us were here was the addition of a patio. Tonight would have been an excellent night to dine out temperature-wise, but the ominous look in the clouds made me glad we were inside.

Our server handed us the menu:

It was at that particular moment that my dinner companions, both of whom are well-respected and well-educated men of science, regressed into Beavis and Butthead. Our server was describing several highlights of the dinner menu and proceeded to talk about some of the wonderful homemade pastas, including the gnudi. Pronounced "new-dee" (emphasis on the first syllable), this sent my friends into fits of uncontrollable laughter so much so that one of them started to tear up and the waiter actually stopped his description of the menu because he thought something might be wrong. After I realized what they were actually laughing at, I turned to our server and quickly apologized because apparently in 1.3 seconds they had regressed to the age of fourteen. While initially annoyed, we did joke about it for the rest of the dinner and well into the next day. The two then did compose themselves for the remainder of the meal, although there was a bit of tittering when our waiter told us that one of the sorbet flavors for the day was kumquat. Thank goodness they weren't serving gnudi with a kumquat sauce; I might have never gotten them to stop laughing.

After telling us of the daily special and the aforementioned "pasta", the service staff proceeded to start the bread service:

This was an excellent bread and olive oil paring. The olive oil they used was extremely fruity and was delicious even on it's own. The bread was fresh and toasted, but it was a tad too crunchy. I wasn't the only one at my table to notice this as well. We all agreed that we like bread that has some texture and tooth to it, but we had to spend quite a bit more effort to chew through this bread than we should.

Also on the table was a nifty idea, reusing a classic butter dish as a salt cellar:

My dinner companions and I discussed what we were going to order for dinner and they asked if I would pick out a suitable wine. I figured I would attempt to find a nice light red wine, something without a lot of bold tannins and body, and something that would pair well with either meat or fish. After looking at the extensive wine list, I settled upon a $55 bottle of Jauffers Syrah from Santa Barbara:

At 15.5% alcohol content, this wine definitely needed about ten minutes or so to breath, but the high alcohol content also served to help cut through the fattiness of the courses we were about to be served. Once the wine had been given a chance to breath properly, it because much less harsh and the fruit moved forward onto the palate. It was just as I'd hoped, a quick finishing wine that didn't overwhelm the palate.

We decided to split an appetizer and a cheese board for our starters. First up, a photograph of a board of five cheeses along with crackers, fruits, and nuts:

Starting at the 2 o'clock position is a French goat's milk cheese called Jacquin St. Maure Ash. It is a fresh goat's milk cheese that has been coated with a vegetable ash. At the 6 o'clock position was a local selection, the Blomma cheese from Lake Erie Creamery located on Fulton Road right here in Cleveland. This was another lovely goat's milk cheese, although this one was aged and had a very similar taste and texture to the more well known Boucheron cheese from France. At the 9 o'clock position was a French cow's milk cheese called Pont l'Eveque. Although we weren't sure at the time, there was something wrong with this cheese. It had no off smell, but after chewing it for about fifteen seconds, an obnoxious ammonia flavor began to fill your nasal cavities. We tried pairing this cheese with the crackers, the fruit, and the nuts and none of them would alleviate this very powerful odor. It wasn't until I returned home and found the link to Pont l'Eveque on the web that I confirmed that what we tasted probably wasn't what an unspoiled version would actually taste like.

At the 10 o'clock position was a cow's milk cheese from Normandy, France. This was a double creme camembert called Le Chatelaine. This was a nice cheese, kind of nutty and earthy. Honestly, having eaten this cheese right after the Pont l'Eveque, I still had a bit of ammonia odor in my nose and I think that definitely colored the taste I had of Le Chatelaine. The final cheese on our plate, at the noon position, was a triple creme French style cheese called Mount Tam. This cheese is produced by the Cow Girl Creamery in Modesto, CA and had a wonderful soft, creamy interior and a nice pungent nose to it. This paired nicely with the apricots and grapes that accompanied the cheese plate.

The other starter we ordered was the crispy calamari:

This dish was served with roasted garlic, capers, pine nuts, and two different kinds of aoili. It was also topped with a bit of basil that had been cut into a chiffonade. This dish was incredibly good. The calamari were perfectly coated and fried and were amazingly tender. All of the flavors and textures worked so well together to really create a harmonious dish. The seasoning was spot on and the two sauces that were on the plate worked to elevate the dish instead of dominating it.

After our starters were finished, our entrees came out next. I ordered the spiced-rubbed flat iron steak with spinach, goat cheese, and olives:

This dish also came dressed with a cucumber vinaigrette, which was nice because the sweetness from the vinaigrette balanced the salty components in the rest of the dish. I ordered this medium rare and it came out perfectly. The meat was completely tender and seasoned perfectly. The spice rub on the outside of the meat had just a little bit of heat, but not too much. The combination of the olives, goat cheese and meat was just like a little bite of heaven on my fork. The spinach didn't really add anything flavor-wise to this dish, but it was prepared well and served as a good excuse to get my daily dose of dark leafy greens.

Both my dining companions decided to order the daily special, a completely sustainable Hawaiin fish that I can no longer remember (it was similar to a whitefish, however) served over a sweet corn and pea succotash with both a onion jam and unsweetened strawberry coulis. When the entrees arrived, we all tasted the various sauces separately and initially thought that there was no way that the flavors would work together. The onion jam alone had a very powerful smoke element to it. However, once you got a bit of the fish, a swipe of the jam, and just a bit of the coulis on your fork, the flavors worked together in your mouth almost magically. Clearly the chef knows what he (or she, we didn't actually get to talk to the chef running the pass tonight) is doing because both the fish dish and my flat iron steak dish really soared with well-balanced flavors.

After finishing our entrees, the table was cleared and the dessert menus were brought out. Here is a shot of some of the cheeses you could order for dessert (some of which we already had for our starter):

And a shot of the actual desserts being offered tonight:

Several varieties of homemade sorbet and ice cream were being offered, but only one truly intrigued me, the Feta ice cream. Seeing as this ice cream was used to top off the peach cobbler, I though it was a perfect opportunity for me to get to try both the ice cream and some pastry. We placed our dessert orders and after about ten more minutes, I received this:

First off, this was quite hot. As in, they cooked the dessert in the actual serving dish. As such, I had to snap my photo quickly as the Feta ice cream was melting at an alarmingly fast rate. Fortunately, I got it in just one shot. While the menu advertised that this was a peach cobbler, there were also apricots and raisins in there as well. This meant that depending on what fruit I picked up on my fork, it could be sweet, sour, or when paired with a little bit of the pastry, savory. The pastry itself was also tender and felt more like rolled out biscuit dough than a drop biscuit used to top a regular cobbler. The ice cream definitely lent an interesting twist to the dish. The Feta flavor was there, but almost unrecognizable behind the sweetness from the sugar and the vanilla. If I hadn't been told that this was a Feta ice cream, I probably would've noticed that it wasn't straight up vanilla, but wouldn't have been able to identify the flavor as being Feta cheese.

Once finished with our final course, the server cleared the dishes, brought us our check and we settled the bill. On our way back up to the entrance, we stopped by to check out the cheese cooler located right inside the entrance:

As you can see, they've got quite the selection of cheeses with which to play. Even though the Pont l'Eveque we tried wasn't really to our liking, I definitely wouldn't hesitate to order another cheese course the next time I go back. Our stomachs full and appetites sated, we strolled out into the cool Friday night air and started our walk back to the hotel. On the way, one of my friends spotted what would've made an interesting lunch the next day:

Fortunately for this little fellow, we were all too full to chase after him and he did look rather cute munching on the clover.

The food and service at The Baricelli Inn was spot on. With the exception of the one unfortunate cheese on our cheese plate, the flavors were amazingly complex and all worked well with each other. As with many of the fine restaurants I've eaten at, you can tailor your experience to whatever price point suits your budget. The dinner menu contains many pasta dishes for $10-$14 for a half order. If you paired that with an appetizer or salad and went with a soft drink or water, you could easily eat there for around $20 per person. Our check was a bit higher, if for no other reason than we ordered a nice bottle of wine (although not extravagant).

I encourage you to check out The Baricelli Inn in Cleveland, Ohio the next time you are looking for a wonderful dining experience where the chef is truly focused on using local, fresh, and sustainable products and produce. When I first went to The Baricelli Inn thirteen years ago, it felt very stuffy and inaccessible. With their revamped menu and focus on a less formal dining experience, it can now be equally enjoyed by one and all.

Baricelli Inn on Urbanspoon  Baricelli Inn on Restaurantica


shep said...

It really was funny when he said gnudi.


(Tom - I just want you to know that I am almost falling out of my seat as I type this...I can't explain why, but it was THAT funny.)

To all of your other readers - the Baricelli served an excellent meal that evening and the wait staff showed exceptional patience with :)

Tino said...

The person I felt the worst for was our poor waiter. He looked a little on the young side (sigh, don't they all at this age?) and I don't know that he had ever had anyone break out into spontaneous laughter after highlighting pasta dishes off the menu. Let's just say he looked *confused*.

BONNIE K said...

I have sent this post to my friends who I tend to laugh with a lot, cause I could just see all of us doing the same thing.

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