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Our Little Secret 

You Didn't Hear This From Us, But Low-profile Americano Is Worth A Visit

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Most restaurants go out of their way to make noise. Others quietly chug along in hopes of getting noticed. Americano clearly falls in the second category, yet if given the opportunity, I'm fairly certain they'd prefer to be in the first.

Almost imperceptibly, the Euro-American bistro slipped into One Bratenahl Place, the posh twin-condo compound near the Lake Erie shore. Apart from my mention of the news on this page a few months back, there has been nary a peep about the place. And that's too bad, because it is well worth checking out.

So, why the gag order? Bratenahl Place is an exclusive address, you see, and up until fairly recently, restaurants there were strictly semi-private affairs. To dine at Seasons, for example, guests first had to purchase a nonresident membership for $100 just to bypass the guardhouse. This approach makes it nearly impossible for restaurants to attract outsidersÊ- hence a track record littered with failed endeavors.

These days, restaurant operators are free to run a public dining room, so long as they do so without calling too much attention to themselves. Advertising is discouraged, signage is prohibited and guests still have to brave the folks at the gatehouse. But what diners get for their efforts is an upmarket establishment sans the membership fee.

The real reward, though, is the food. Chef Vytauras Sasnauskas (Chef V to his pals) may be one of the most ambitious culinary practitioners around - and he has the chops to back it up. The classically trained Lithuanian-born chef cures his own pancetta, ages his own beef and nurses his own sourdough starter. Pickles, ketchups, mustards, sausages, dry-cured salmon and even mozzarella are crafted onsite from fresh, seasonal ingredients. Best of all: Entrée prices hover in the $16 to $20 range.

Despite the out-of-the-way locale, Americano could not be easier to reach. A quick drive east on I-90 to the Eddy Road exit is as challenging as it gets. Turn left onto Eddy and you drive right into Bratenahl Place. Parking is free, close and secure.

A dated but stylish lobby gives way to a rather sumptuous dining room. Ornate smoky mirrors, Asian accents, floor-length drapery and crisp white linens lend an old-world grandeur to the space. Jazz, casual service and museum-quality contemporary art keep it from seeming too stuffy.

Meals can start as simply as house-cured and imported charcuterie ($10), served with Chef V's pickles, mustards and chutneys. Garlicky mussels ($10) are served in a deep earthenware crock with plenty of crusty grilled crostini for dipping. Also presented in a crock is a twist on shrimp and grits ($10), with a half-dozen large, sweet shrimp nestled into a buttery porridge-like polenta. Again, there's no shortage of crispy bread for scooping up every last bit of corny goodness.

Americano deftly straddles the line between French brasserie and American bistro. The all-American blue crab cakes ($10) are nearly 100 percent seafood, bound with only enough breading to keep their shape. Adding the crunch, acid and zing is the accompanying red cabbage slaw, lemon tarragon aioli and red pepper puree.

A flawless fall salad ($8) of roasted candy-striped beets, pears, gorgonzola and greens is studded with toasted spiced pecans and dressed with maple-mustard vinaigrette. There is also a special salad ($8) with spinach, goat cheese, lardons of house-cured pancetta and a batter-fried apple ring. What ties it all together is a "one-hour egg," an impossibly slow-poached egg with a runny, custardy consistency.

Fall likely was also on the chef's mind when he assembled his beef Bourguignon ($16). In other restaurnts, this French classic is often cooked to oblivion, its components indistinguishable from one another. Not so here, where tender chunks of beef, still-firm root vegetables, woodsy mushrooms and autumn spice come together in a soul-satisfying symphony. Prefer your meat seared? Stick a fork into the steak frites ($20), a NY strip served with seasoned fries, seasonal veggies and homemade ketchup and steak sauce.

Fish fans will be equally impressed with a dish of seared salmon ($18) served with a fluffy potato cake and garnished with house-cured gravlax. Deeply caramelized scallops ($23) are gilded with fruity vinaigrette and sided by an airy, vanilla-scented parsnip mousseline.

Wine lovers are in good hands at Americano: Chef V's partner is Cole Davis, a wine rep with years of grape peddling under his belt. His list is loaded with appealing, moderately priced gems from France, Italy and California. Americano has a sharp little lounge area that is perfect for a pre-dinner cocktail. From it you can enjoy views of the grassy 18-acre grounds and savor high-society fare at hoi polloi prices.

dining@clevescene.com

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