Since arriving in Cleveland five years ago, chef Dante Boccuzzi has been knocking the socks off modern American cuisine at his namesake Dante, which relocated from Valley View to Tremont in 2010. Last year, he introduced a new venture in the downstairs space below the restaurant with Ginko, his Japanese sushi place.
But 2012 has seen Boccuzzi spread his considerable talents around the region, most recently with his newly opened DBA (Dante Boccuzzi Akron). In March, he also moved into the suburbs with a casual Italian eatery called The D.C. Pasta Co.
Partnering with Carmela del Busso of Oggi in Broadview Heights, the two have created what we in the suburbs (who are smothered by chain restaurants) long for — a casual establishment with excellent food that you can come back to any night of the week without breaking the bank.
Boccuzzi says he wanted to draw on his culinary heritage and his experiences in Italy — where he worked alongside three-star Michelin chef Gualtiero Marchesi — to create a family place with great Italian cuisine.
The spot he chose on Pearl Road in Strongsville will be familiar to West Side restaurant goers. It most recently was home to Jeff Jarrett's Palate and previously housed LeVolte and Portofino. Since then, the space has been warmed up a bit. The walls are a deep gold, wine barrels in corners serve as wait stations and a granite-topped bar anchors the back.
The menu organizion allows you to create your own portion size (taste, appetizer or main) and affords you the opportunity to sample many of Boccuzzi's delectable creations from the list of starters.
In fact, we almost passed over the polenta ($6), figuring it was just ordinary polenta — you know, corn meal.
Oh, how we were wrong. What came out was a lush, creamy, fluffy bowlful of flavor. Made with mascarpone and tallegio to give it depth and richness, the polenta was almost like a savory pudding.
Which brings us to an important lesson about the menu: Even if the item sounds ordinary, it is anything but.
The appetizer funghi al forno ($8), described simply as oven-roasted mushrooms, was actually a dish of wild chanterelles and others lightly dusted with bread crumbs and cheese and served with a feather of arugula on top. The crunch of the greens and the juice of the mushrooms mixed with the delicately seasoned crumbs turned the dish into a warm, luscious salad.
As for the grilled main dishes, there are four selections: salmon, hanger steak, chicken and scallops. With all the terrific pasta dishes offered, we tried only one, the chicken ($17), and are so glad we did.
The plump breast was a curious concoction in its simplicity. It seemed as though there was only salt and pepper seasoning the skin, but it was done so perfectly — almost cracklin'-good skin and juicy meat.
Eight superb selections of house-made pasta are offered in three sizes: $5 for a taste; $10 for an appetizer portion and $15 as a main dish. A variety of meatballs can be ordered one at a time for $1.50 each.
You won't find your typical spaghetti with marinara sauce or other dishes that constitute the menus at so-called Italian restaurants. Instead, you'll find interesting and classic preparations, each one a winner.
Be sure to try the linguine alla carbonara con tartufo, with its pancetta, truffled cream and poached egg that, when its yolk breaks free, creates a heavenly, silky sauce.
A ragu of beef, veal, pork and tomatoes was served on tender pappardelle, while puffy pillows of ravioli came stuffed with mashed potatoes and were topped with a zippy walnut basil pesto.
Among our favorites were spicy tomato-braised crabmeat and the classic strozzapreti alla norma, a vegetarian delight with eggplant, tomato, basil and creamy ricotta served on pig tail-shaped pasta.
With all that, it's hard to save room for dessert ($6 each). But if you're looking to top it all off with something light, try either the lemon sorbet or mandarin orange sorbet served in frozen, hollowed out lemons and oranges.
The tartufo di cioccolato — a mound of creamy chocolate, hazelnut and caramel flavors — is made in-house, like most of the desserts, and was a nice and not-too-sweet end to an excellent meal.