One of the benefits of living in east Akron and working in Canton was that I often stopped at restaurants along the way and was much more versed in the comings and going of Canton and North Canton eateries. Since then, I have moved to the west side of Akron and now live and work in the same vicinity. As a consequence, getting to dinner in Canton is a bit more of an effort for me than it has been in the past. However, after reading extensively about what can only be described as a "complex" due to its enormous size, I knew I had to check out the Italian Bistro at Gervasi Vineyard.
The entire complex was located at 1700 55th Street NE, Canton, OH 44721 and can be reached at 330-497-1000. Getting there was a bit time consuming from my origin, but surprisingly easy. Exit I-77 south at the Everhard Road exit and head east until you run into Cleveland Avenue. Make a left and then an immediate right onto Easthill Street. This will turn into 55th Street and within about ten minutes, you'll come upon the entrance to the vineyard. Turn into the driveway and take it all the way back to the large building at the back of the complex. Ample parking was available in front of the bistro:
Prior to going for dinner tonight, I had read their online menu with great interest and came prepared for the type of food being served. What I didn't expect was that simply showing up on a Tuesday night at 7:30 PM sans reservation was not as fabulous an idea as I had originally thought. Upon asking the hostess for a table for one person, she got a pained expression on her face and basically stated that unless I had a reservation, there were no tables available. There was, however, a communal table that was about half full of "people like me" (e.g., no reservationists) and several two top bar tables. Fortunately, one of the bar tables just opened up, so I took it.
At this point, even with servers passing by my table every minute or so, it took about ten minutes for someone to notice me and bring me a menu. Fortunately, once my server noticed me, service hiccups disappeared. Here was tonight's menu:
It was nice to see that the Italian Bistro was serving seasonal cuisine. The menu was appropriately sized with several selections in each category -- this made it feel uncluttered and not overwhelming. Seeing as there was only one of me tonight, I decided that instead of ordering a larger entree (at a larger price), that I would sample several of the smaller plates.
After placing my order, my server brought out the Bread Service:
The bread had been sliced, oiled, herbed, seasoned and slightly toasted so that it had a crunch but wasn't completely dried out. Not wanting to spoil my meal, I had a slice or two, but pushed them aside in order to make room for the rest of the meal.
I decided to start my meal out with the Butternut Squash Soup:
When someone other than my server (who I assume was a food runner) approached my table with an extremely shallow bowl with several toasted hazelnuts in the bottom, I was a bit confused. He set the bowl down in front of me and produced a pitcher from which he poured the soup into the bowl, covering the nuts. Sadly, the effect was a bit lost because the soup was so thick that as you can see in the above photograph, it didn't even cover the entire bottom of the bowl.
The flavor of the soup was a bit on the sweet side, but I expected that as the menu listed "truffle honey" as one its ingredient. That being said, only one bite of the many I took did I get the remotest hint of truffle flavor. The hazelnuts added a nice textural contrast to the smooth, thick soup and the fattiness from the heavy cream used to enrich it would have been well served by an acidic component to the dish to help cut through it. Overall, I thought the soup was decent.
As I was originally looking through the menu, I noticed that it had four pasta dishes listed. I asked my server if the pasta was made in-house. After checking with the kitchen, she returned and told me that none of the pastas were homemade save the ravioli on the appetizer section of the menu. A little disappointed that a place billing itself as an Italian Bistro didn't make their own pasta, I decided to order the one dish that featured said product -- Smoked Salmon Ravioli with Capers, Horseradish and Dill Creme:
At $12, this meant I was paying $4 per square of filled pasta. I first tasted the horseradish and dill creme. The horseradish flavor and heat were there, but was incredibly subtle. I then cut into one of the pasta squares. The ravioli had a good amount of filling in them, enough to get a substantial taste, but not bursting at the seams. The filling was actually a combination of mashed potato and smoked salmon. I dragged my forkful in the creme sauce and took a bite.
Two thoughts simultaneously fought for attention as my mouth starting sending warning signals northward. First, the smoked salmon was WAY too strong and pretty much the only thing I could taste was the smoke and the salt from the fish. Second, the filling was COLD! Whomever had cooked the pasta had not cooked them long enough. The pasta casing was fine, but the filling itself was at best, slightly colder than room temperature. Thinking I might have gotten a bad one, I cut into both of the other ravioli to discover that they were cooked exactly the same way. This dish was pretty much a fail -- unbalanced flavors that were not executed properly.
For my final course, I decided to try the Creme Anatra Pizza:
While I was pretty certain that the Italian Bistro was making their dough daily, I was curious to see if I could taste the effects of using a pre-ferment or any kind of aging in the dough. Seeing as the pizza oven was directly in front of me, I actually watched as they prepped and then baked my pizza. The pizza, at a $12 price point, seemed a bit on the small side, but came topped with some delicious looking toppings: pulled duck, garlic cream (Ed. Note: Every other time it was spelled "creme" on the menu except here. I wonder why?), mushrooms, spinach, fig jelly, ricotta, and aged provolone.
The crust was crisped nicely, although I would've have personally preferred a bit more color on the bottom. The crust had a nice balance of chewiness and crispiness, but I didn't notice any sourness to the dough's flavor on its own. This leads me to believe that the dough was made without the use of cold fermentation or a pre-ferment (like a biga or poolish). It wasn't until I got to my third piece of pizza that I finally got a slice that actually had all of the ingredients on it. When I finally bit into that piece, my mouth was quite happy. Prior to that slice, previous bites lacked a balance between all of the flavors of the toppings.
All said and done, my bill with tip and tax came to roughly $36-$37 and I left with a few slices of pizza remaining that I took home with me for a snack later on that night. Honestly, I'm a little torn about the Italian Bistro at Gervasi Vineyard. It aspires for greatness, that is for sure. However, the dishes I had tonight ranged from bad to so-so to good. The restaurant has been open for a while now, so I can't chalk up tonight's experience to breaking in a new restaurant staff. In the end, I would marginally recommend you check them out. At this price point, everything coming out of the kitchen, while maybe not fantastic, should at least be in the very good category. Hopefully they will get there soon.