Who knows where or how I find out about restaurants? It helps that everyone I know enjoys going out to eat as much as I do and that many of my friends are in the service industry, and those trusty folks tend to have the best recommendations. I found out about this spectacular spot on the shores of Lake Erie in Bratenahl from a Facebook friend who has since become a friend in that sphere of life we call reality. After taking the tip and dropping by four years ago, I immediately recognized the location as a place I had visited in the 80s, back when it was a private dining club. And it immediately became one of my favorite little-known gems, though it has changed dramatically in two decades.
Americano is located on the first floor of One Bratenahl, a condominium complex tucked at the end of Eddy Rd. off the shoreway. This arrangement is not unlike Pier W or the old Swingos in the Carlyle, except Americano is located within a gated community. No worries, however, just give the guard your name and mention that you are there to dine at Americano and you are allowed access to their secure parking lot.
Once inside, you immediately recognize Americano is old school -- not old skool, in Guy Fieri-ese. And yes, there's a difference -- table linens, water and bread service (the bread is baked fresh every day) and two side dishes are included with your main course. The service is old-school good, too. Cole Davis is the host/manager and Vytauras Sasnauskas (no one can pronounce it, that's why everyone calls him Chef V, even he prefers it to the slaughter of pronunciation in its stead) is Executive Chef. On a typical visit, they're both around the dining room throughout the evening, making it a point to talk to regulars and newbies alike.
Although the dining room is elegant, and the tablecloths may indicate more of a fine dining-destination, the restaurant's clientele makes the atmosphere far more casual and welcoming than you might expect from a place seemingly walled off in a "gated community." Food, as always, is the great equalizer, and Americano's has something for everyone.
A happy coincidence on our first night dining there was an indulgent and soothing chicken soup special, a kitchen-pot staple took for a turn by Chef V with an addition of tarragon. I've used the spice often in my chicken dishes but never in my chicken soup. Tarragon can overwhelm a dish but Chef V used it sparingly.
One of our favorite appetizers is their crisp calamari with two sauces. Like most of their dishes, it is a bountiful portion, more than enough for two, plenty for three. Chef V prepares it with citrus-dressed lettuce, crispy preserved lemon, orange-habanero sauce and roasted red pepper coulis.
As luck would have it, our visit happened to coincide with a night Americano was testing out some menu offerings for the New Year's Eve menu. We enjoyed a hearty appetizer portion of the black tie lobster ravioli served in a splendid brown butter sauce that would be an accompaniment to the tea-smoked aged New York strip steak. Sound sumptuous? That was merely one of seven courses on their NYE prix fixed dinner for $65.
Which brings me to the most fascinating fact about Americano, and back around to food you can order no matter what day it is: After a couple of visits, you begin to realize that it is an incredible value. It'll be on my short list when I write my article on, "My Favorite Restaurants You Think You Can't Afford."
Getting back to those marvelous little mounds of ravioli heaven: The "black" in "black tie" is due to squid ink in the ravioli dough. There is something scrumptiously Venetian about this dish and its presentation. And the lobster delivered a magnificently rich pillow of flavor with every bite.
We probably should have taken a walk around the beautiful grounds after these two rich seafood appetizers. In the summer, you can dine outside on the covered patio section that runs the length of the building. This is also where Chef V rolls out his pizza oven and dishes out my favorite version of Margherita pizza on either side of the Atlantic every Tuesday night. Pizza is something Chef V has been perfecting since he was a youngster. The glorious view of Lake Erie sunsets at dusk is also a little slice of heaven that shouldn't be missed after a meal.
Our latest visit was on a frigid cold night in December and we quickly decided that the safest thing to do, rather than the aforementioned ice walk, was to split the special beet salad. Plating and flavor were -- to borrow a word from Jamie Oliver -- "fantastic." The balanced agro-dolce worked and had the added benefit of keeping us on firm, wobble-free ground.
Which is something that couldn't be said about my cocktail, ironically named Fire and Ice, prepared with icy cold Sobieski vodka and a flowery hibiscus liquor from local floral infusions masters Elixir. Just like the name implies, you begin with a startlingly cold sensation that ends with a warm, soothing finish.
For the main course, I decided on a dish I had never had before from Chef V: the pan-seared Long Island duck breast. Once this dish was presented to me, I realized it is very likely I have never been served the entire side of duck breast before. Most restaurants give you a plating of several pieces; here you are presented with a lavish portion of duck breast embellished with sweet potato-spinach hash, candied orange zest crepe and brandied cherries.
My partner-in-crime went with the seafood special that evening: the charred Chilean sea bass. Another princely portion, served with lentils in a light broth with mussels, calamari and shrimp. Like I said, they don't skimp on the sides, it's always two per entrée.
We absolutely couldn't find the room for dessert after this lineup, though I can tell you their sweets have delighted us on many previous occasions.
Americano is one of those places that has allowed us to meet new people and make new friends. They feature an extensive pub menu, and their main dining room's menu is able to accommodate a variety of appetites. You can go for light plates, sandwiches, burgers or a feast. It is a hidden gem where all are welcome.
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