For those who scoffed at the assertion that Cleveland’s dining scene is as daring and rewarding as any high-gloss metropolis, Trentina stood as a gold-flecked middle finger.
Singled out for excellence by Esquire, Bon Appetit and Wine Enthusiast, the tiny University Circle eatery is what Jonathon Sawyer said earned him his James Beard Award for Best Chef Great Lakes in 2015. In the former coach house of the Glidden House, guests could savor absurdly rare foraged finds such as red clover and spicebush leaves, while they picked apart a 12-course tasting menu assembled with tweezer-fine precision. And now, almost five years after it opened, Trentina is gone.
Sawyer has given varied comment on the reason behind its closing — listing the explosion of University Circle eateries, politics or economics as possible factors. But in its absence, Cleveland’s dining scene is inarguably less capital F Fine.
Not just because Trentina had the requisite white tablecloths and attentive service, but because Sawyer and Co. cultivated a distinctly Cleveland innovation on that concept.
He conceptualized the restaurant after realizing the Cuyahoga Valley’s wildlife, game and climate were strikingly similar to Northern Italy, a region long deified for its cuisine. Trentina was built on the idea that our resources combined with our culinary imagination could be fertile ground for an entirely original, worthy form of cooking. One that was Cleveland, through and through.
But as diners waned, Trentina strayed from its original tasting-menu concept, introducing a la carte options and then breakfast to accommodate diners looking for more of the same.
The closing of Trentina doesn’t mean Clevelanders are unwilling to pay a hefty bill, or wary to try a strange, new dish.
But it may signal a continued blindness to the potential within our region’s borders, a persistent belief that nothing original was born here, just because we couldn’t be bothered to look.