Best Restaurants 2008

The Tastemakers

Jonathon Sawyer
Bar Cento

At the Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, Jonathon Sawyer watched his fellow students throw ingredients together, just to show they could do it. Not his style. “I like flavor in the simplest way possible, let the flavors of the food showcase themselves,” he says. “I’m not the type of cook who will make 45 things just to show you I can. In fact, most of the items on the menu have six items or less.”

He’s following in the footsteps of mentors such as Michael Symon and Charlie Palmer, both minimalists at heart. The Bar Cento kitchen plows through about 25 pounds of fresh herbs a week, plus plenty of citrus and olive oil. Sawyer also admits he’s guilty of using a lot of pancetta and olives.

“We sneak [the anchovy] in,” he says. “It’s purely there for flavor.”

Check back May 1 to hear more from Sawyer, plus spotlights on Flying Fig’s Karen Small, One Walnut’s Marlin Kaplan, Momocho’s Eric Williams, Lola’s Michael Symon and 11 other Cleveland chefs.

The Tastes

Chilled Oysters

In their poetic ode to oysters in “Alice in Wonderland,” the Walrus and the Carpenter suggest eating the toothsome mollusks with pepper and vinegar. The recommendation is no work of fiction. The traditional combination of acid and spice brightens and intensifies the natural essence of the sea that characterizes the briny bites. When he serves the oysters at his restaurant, chef Dante Boccuzzi amplifies that combo with hot pepper puree, sour yuzu granita made from the juice of a lemonlike fruit that grows in Japan, and cilantro leaves.

Crop Bistro & Bar
Hot popcorn with Balsamic Glaze & Asiago

Imagine a salad with strips of red onions and red and green peppers, plus spinach, drizzled and tossed with a snappy balsamic vinaigrette and garnished with asiago cheese. Now, screech that train of thought to a halt, throw the lettuce out the window and shake up the rest with popcorn. In chef Steve Schimoler’s playful hands, popcorn is a canvas for the union of balsamic glaze and veggies.

Check back May 1 to learn more about these delicious finds and get a taste of the 50 other dishes we feature, plus the results of this year’s Silver Spoon Award reader voting.

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