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Fine and Pricey Dining: Dispelling the Celebrity Mythos of The 9's Adega 

To be candid, I've been avoiding dining at Adega at The 9 because of what I expected to find there. Frankly, the accounts of celebrity residents, entourage-led security details, and crazed, slap-happy sports fans all but soured me on the place.

But what we found there during two weeknight dinner visits was quite the opposite: an attractive but sparsely filled dining room where the staff practically outnumbered the guests. The only sign that high-paid personalities even frequent the place is found on the menu, which boasts prices that rise to levels seen only at a select number of Cleveland restaurants. Hand over the car to the valet and the damage climbs ever higher.

There's no arguing that The 9 is an impressive and appealing boon for downtown. In addition to the ultra-chic residences, there's the Metropolitan, a hotel that Condé Nast Traveler magazine just included on its list of best new hotels. Servicing all those apartment residents, hotel guests and hungry visitors is Adega, a modern Mediterranean restaurant in a prominent first-floor space that once was a bank lobby. The soaring two-and-a-half-story interior features a wall of windows, an open kitchen and towering wine cellar situated in the middle of the space.

That open kitchen is led by Eddie Tancredi, who at 30 already has built up an impressive culinary resume. After graduating from the Le Cordon Bleu program at Pennsylvania Culinary Institute, the chef worked at the famed Greenbrier resort, Rosendale's in Columbus, and Table 45 here in town, where he was chef de cuisine. He also worked in kitchens throughout Europe. In 2013, he was selected as Chef of the Year by the American Culinary Federation.

The young chef's experience and skill are evident throughout the menu, a sizable collection of unique and familiar dishes that exit the kitchen on time and on point, if not necessarily on budget. Order the "pita pillow" ($14) and you'll be presented with a crispy baked pita balloon that looks like it's about to burst from the internal pressure. A quick tap with the back of a spoon shatters the bread into shards perfect for dipping into a trio of sauces that includes cucumber chive cream and lemon garlic hummus. Bite into the golden-brown fried polenta cubes ($12) and you'll discover nuggets of warm, fresh mozzarella buried within. The corny cubes are seated into a well seasoned and spiced tomato-based sauce.

Even well-worn chestnuts like a wild mushroom flatbread ($14) excel. The oblong crust is as flaky, blistered and chewy as any Neapolitan pie, and there's no shortage of finely sliced, perfectly roasted mushrooms. Feta, fresh thyme, and whispers of lemon and garlic bring high, low and mid-range notes to the party. The only letdown among the starters that we sampled is the grilled octopus ($14), a dish I expected the Mediterranean-themed Adega to nail. But in place of charred and meaty bits of tender-chewy seafood are small, spongy and fishy baby octopus that quite possibly came from a can.

Entrees, priced $25 to $45, include a perfectly trimmed, seasoned and pan-roasted Certified Angus Beef strip steak ($36), its dark and crusty exterior contrasting the textbook medium-rare interior. The meat is garnished with a fat-cutting sweet-tart onion confit and accompanied by sliced, roasted fingerlings and fried kale. One of the most satisfying dishes on the roster is the chicken Francaise ($30), lightly breaded schnitzel-style cutlets served atop a thick, rich, bacon-studded polenta. Quartered Brussels sprouts are crisp-tender and smoky from the oven. On the lighter side is the snapper ($35), a snow-white and flaky skin-on filet that's pan-seared and served with an assortment of roasted and pickled veggies.

Given the quality of food and the elevated prices, a diner is right to expect a commensurate level of service. That's not what we found. At best, the service is sweet but too casual. At worst, it's indifferent. On neither occasion did our server top off our water glasses from the container that sits on every table. Silverware isn't swapped between courses, and bits of food that happen to land on the table stay put throughout the meal. Cold side plates accompany hot appetizers, and cocktails are served on paper bev naps, which is fine for the bar, but odd in the dining room. An iPad loaded with descriptions and depictions of the entire menu is a helpful tool for those who like to see before they buy. Too bad one landed on our table only once out of two meals.

Many of the best hotel restaurants operate quicker, cheaper and more casual versions of their flagship eateries. If Tancredi's excellent fare was available from an "Adega-light" type place, I'd be a regular customer.

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