Based on my recent visit to the 2010 Taste of Akron event, I had already formally visited and reviewed Bistro on Main in Kent, Ohio. The second restaurant on my "to eat" list was unconventional because it was located inside the Cuyahoga Falls-based Sheraton Suites Akron perched atop a magnificent vista overlooking the meandering Cuyahoga River. I speak, of course, of Piatto Novo run by Chef Roger Thomas.
Having eaten here many years ago at their Sunday brunch, I knew that my visit wouldn't be inexpensive, but looking at their menu on-line before I went, I noticed that I could economize certain dishes, such as ordering one of their half-orders of pasta if I wished to try it out. Exactly one week after eating at Bistro on Main, I again decided to show up with no reservation at 5:45 PM on a normally slow night of the week.
The Sheraton Suits Akron was located at 1989 Front Street, Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44221 and can be reached at 330-929-3000. I'm assuming that the phone number was for the main desk, but I'm sure if you ask for the restaurant, they can forward your call. Parking was either in the lot directly outside the Sheraton or on the curb on Front Street.
As I walked into the main entrance, I was greeted with this glass panel at the top of the stairs:
The entrance to the restaurant was behind this plaque and down a flight of stairs. After requesting a table for one, my hostess sat me by the window overlooking the river. The gentle sound of water running downstream could still be heard in the dining room. If you can get a seat by the window, I highly recommend it.
She left me to look at the printed menu:
The only real complaint I had about the appetizer portion of the menu was that it seemed that all of the appetizers were around $10 and above. Only the Piatto Salad at $4 seemed to buck this trend. While I don't mind spending $10 for an appetizer, tonight I was also interested in trying a half-order of pasta and a full entrée, so a full appetizer would definitely have made it too much.
While I pondered my choices, my server brought me out a basket of bread:
And a dish of softened butter:
The bread was fresh, but a tad uninspired. There was three slices of focaccia and three slices of a seedless Italian loaf, both of which had a decent crust and crumb, but didn't offer very much in the flavor department. At least the butter was soft and easily spreadable.
Deciding to start with something simple to whet my appetite, I ordered the Piatto Salad with orange basil vinaigrette:
This was essentially a plate of greens that had been dressed with the vinaigrette. Nothing more, nothing less. The salad came dressed and while it was enough to coat the leaves, it didn't leave a puddle of dressing at the bottom of the plate. The citrusy bite from the orange was notable in the dressing, but I missed the herbaceousness that the basil should have brought. Perhaps this was because the vinaigrette had been made with dried basil instead of fresh. Either way it just wasn't there. If you are the type that likes light vinaigrettes, then this dressing would be up your alley, gentle reader. I realize that this particular salad is 1/2 to 1/3 the price of the other salads and appetizers, but it just felt like there should be something else on the plate to dress up the dish.
For my half-portion "appetizer," I decided to go with the homemade linguine alla bolognese:
Presented in this smallish bowl, the linguine had clearly been tossed in the condimento, the bolognese sauce. Comprised of beef, veal, and pork that had been slow simmered in a tomato sauce, the menu indicated that a "touch of cream" had been added. Based on what I saw and tasted, if there was cream in this sauce, it was definitely the minutest of amounts. The sauce didn't feel rich from the addition of cream, but I could definitely tell that the sauce had cooked for some time. It was quite tasty and as a traditional Italian-American meat sauce, it worked quite well. The pasta was cooked properly and had been seasoned by tossing in the sauce before plating.
Unfortunately, there was quite a bit of sauce left over after finishing my pasta:
My guess would be that the kitchen either added too much sauce or was trying to satisfy both traditional Italian and modern American saucing techniques. That being to toss the pasta in the condiment (the sauce) to finish cooking the pasta and have it be absorbed into the pasta as well as adding extra sauce onto the finished plate because Americans love their sauce.
My pasta course finished, I waited for the arrival of my entrée. Having looked over the menu several times, I finally decided on getting the Pork Tenderloin Pepato:
The pork loin was pepper crusted and seared to the correct temperature before being sliced and fanned out over a tomato agrodolce sauce and served with a polenta crespelle filled with spinach and onions. The first item I checked was the doneness of the pork. I had ordered it medium and sure enough,
it definitely came from the kitchen cooked to medium. The next step was to take a taste of the agrodolce sauce. Agrodolce is literally translated from Italian as "Sour-Sweet." It is supposed to hit both taste sensations on the tongue at the same time. While there were aspects of both qualities in the sauce, it seemed to lack much in terms of boldness. Figuring that the seasoning on the pork might tie the two flavors together, I paired a forkful of meat with some of the sauce. Again, the flavor was good and the pork was tender and juicy, but it didn't really grab hold of my taste buds and call out with the flavor explosion I was expecting. Lest you think the culprit was lack of salt, the seasoning was perfect on both the pork and the sauce.
Next, I turned my attention to the polenta crespelle:
Essentially polenta that had been spread into a very thin layer in a heavily buttered pan, it had been allowed to "crisp up" on the bottom side before being filling with sautéed spinach and onions, folded over like an omelet, and the slid onto the plate for service. Interestingly, even with such a thin layer of polenta, the corn flavor really came through on my palate. The spinach and onions were a nice addition, but almost secondary to the primary flavor of the corn.
The only real criticism I have here was the amount of extra melted butter than ended up on my plate. I'm not naive enough to think that moderate to fine dining doesn't involve an inordinate amount of butter to finish off sauces and sear proteins, but the pool of butter that the crespelle rested seemed a little too gratuitous and only served to make the crespelle a bit greasy.
Finally, wanting to try one of the sides as well, I ordered the Brussels sprouts with crispy pancetta:
These were actually quite delicious. The crispy pancetta lardons added capricious bits of saltiness and fat to the Brussels sprouts, which had been deeply caramelized in a pan. While I was never a fan of this cruciferous vegetable growing up, had my mother cooked them this way, I would've been an avid fan long before now.
When asked about dessert, I quickly turned down my server's offer; I was literally stuffed. When the check came, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that my feast had only come to $45 with tax included. While this was just slightly less expensive than my meal at Bistro on Main, I felt that the dishes I had tonight at Piatto Novo, while good, just weren't quite as good as what I had eaten the week prior at Bistro on Main. While I will still certainly recommend Piatto Novo for both the food and view, I was a little surprised that I wasn't more taken by my dining experience. I may have to go back again and check them out for a second time, just to rule out any inconsistencies by the kitchen.