As one of the region's most celebrated culinarians and the de facto successor to Cleveland sweetheart Michael Symon, Jonathon Sawyer is no stranger to media attention. Still, the number of national headlines garnered by Trentina in anticipation of its July 2014 opening surprised us modest Midwesterners. But after indulging in its ever-changing 12-course tasting menu ($115), which offers two variations on each course, we realized this kind of experimentation in dining deserves all that praise and more.
Locally, Trentina was first to execute the tasting menu trend that started years ago with chefs such as Grant Achatz of Alinea in Chicago and Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Napa Valley, California. But true to its own roots, Trentina has a close-to-home bent that binds it, body and soul, to this region.
A forager hunts rare Ohio delicacies such as milkweed and bolete mushrooms, which Sawyer and his team carefully manipulate into dozens of variations. Anything edible fits, from beef fat candles to freeze-dried and powdered vegetable skins.
The philosophy is waste-not, yet the setting is elegant. There's art on the stark walls, high-backed leather chairs, metallic accents and mirrored tables. The super-knowledgeable staff are very happy to explain unfamiliar ingredients or techniques.
"I think a lot of times people associate the words fine dining and luxury in a negative way, either being wasteful or being over the top," says Sawyer. "The idea that Trentina is really presenting is sustainable luxury presented in an atmosphere that's approachable."
It's an exercise in experimentation that might not tickle the taste buds of less adventurous diners, though, so they've added an a la carte menu with larger portions and greater epicurean restraint: grilled market fish ($18-$26), spit-roasted duck ($20) and heirloom tomato and basil bucatini pasta ($15), for instance. And lunch and brunch menus elevate traditional offerings without leaving the stratosphere, such as butternut squash Benedict ($10), bacon dumplings ($15) and pistachio French toast ($11).
"We really appreciate the opportunity to put the region on a pedestal," says Sawyer, who has witnessed a paradigm shift in the way Clevelanders eat and dine out. "Where 10 years ago, when I was traveling people would be like, 'Oh that place is still on fire,' people now are associating us with Nashville and Portland and Charleston. It's pretty elevating to think we used to be the dregs and now we're the bee's knees." 1903 Ford Drive, Cleveland, 216-421-2900, restauranttrentina.com
Try This: A tasting menu staple, the Crudo di Mare, changes frequently from the type of seafood to its accompanying sauces and garnishes. This early course is always refreshing and sure to surprise. You might find razor clams one night or oysters the next, but our favorite is thinly sliced scallops drizzled with oil and topped with fresh Ohio apple, citrus and edible flower petals.