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Surprise success leads to growing pains at Medina’s Good Taste Wine & Food Shop 

Cinnamon and brown sugar add a sophisticated crispiness to the brined chicken. - WALTER NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • Cinnamon and brown sugar add a sophisticated crispiness to the brined chicken.

When Chris and Robin Rose opened Good Taste Wine & Food Shop last fall in Medina, their concept was simple: Offer a welcoming gathering place, fill it with an array of fine foods, wines, and gourmet accessories, and then step back and watch the fun.

Happily, the concept scored — so much so that the Roses could hardly get their guests to go home. They lingered on the patio, gathered by the fireplace, and clamored for tables at which they could take down their wine and deli-counter eats. It was a demand the Roses certainly hadn't anticipated, but one they were happy to oblige.

As it turns out, though, adding a dining room — complete with lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch service — was a bigger challenge than they thought.

"We never intended to have a restaurant," says Chris Rose, a longtime chef and educator whose résumé includes stints as top toque at Giovanni's Ristorante and instructor at The Loretta Paganini School of Cooking. "We started out with 24 seats, just to accommodate the deli. Now we're up to almost 70."

Along with menus to design and space issues to work out, the biggest hurdles have involved finding ways to baffle the room's booming acoustics; polishing up the crew of game but inexperienced servers; and redesigning the kitchen's layout, which wasn't designed to support a sit-down restaurant. "We don't even have warming lamps," Rose says.

But while he and his staff remain "deep in problem-solving mode" — and our two recent visits found the flubs to prove it — there's already plenty to commend the place for.

Atop that list, count the market's sleek appearance, including glossy concrete floors, expansive windows, soaring ceilings, and an earth-toned palette that infuses the 8,000-square-foot operation with a whiff of Napa Valley élan. That's perhaps most apparent on the room's north side, where the dining space is now tucked between the flower cooler and the wine racks, which are stocked with an eclectic collection of boutique wines. (All wines are retail priced, incidentally, and can be enjoyed without corking fees.)

Not that you have to be a grape-head to get happy here: Cocktails are also available, along with a rotating collection of craft-brewed beers, handsomely paired with specialty glassware — although not always perfectly. A Chimay, for instance, was poured into the traditional footed goblet; but a dark, malty Twisted Kilt Ale from DuClaw Brewing Company in Maryland arrived in a tall pilsener glass, rather than the proper English pint.

But that was hardly enough to stop us from ogling the tabletops, draped in sheets of brown craft paper and set with tawny bamboo service plates. Black cloth napkins, elegant Schott Zwiesel stemware, and tiny tea lights inside tall glass hurricanes completed the artful design. And that design provided a fitting backdrop to the small but sassy Cal-contemporary dinner menu, which features artisanal cheeses, seasonal greens, ultra-rich bisques, and savory-sounding mains. Would it be Shiraz-braised short ribs or brown-sugar-brined chicken? Pan-seared diver scallops or crab cakes piccata?

Ultimately, we settled on the 40-ounce grilled rib-eye, a signature dish for two featuring a bone-in, spice-rubbed plank of Certified Angus Beef, sliced into broad ribbons and arranged on two plates. Unfortunately, with this dish almost everything that could go wrong did — including the 45-minute wait for a steak that arrived lukewarm. Worse, the meat was overdone to a chewy medium, instead of the medium-rare we requested. We considered sending it back, but not only were we starving; the bustling room was so noisy that we doubted our server could hear our complaints.

Other unpleasantness included undercooked ravioli, still almost crunchy around their crimped edges, and a wedge of pecan-bourbon-sweet-potato pie that proved every bit as cloying as its name suggests.

There were dishes that demonstrated the kitchen's true potential. That included deftly seasoned, precisely prepped pleasers like the lush, sensual portobello bisque, enriched with reduced veal stock; an out-of-the-ordinary field-greens salad, goosed with dried blueberries, spiced cashews, and a perky mustard vinaigrette; and the succulent cinnamon-and-brown-sugar-brined "airline" chicken breast, all melt-in-the-mouth goodness wrapped up in crisp, savory skin. On the side, skinny haricots verts seemed slightly undercooked, but a portion of penne, blanketed in a luxuriant cheddar and Gouda cheese sauce, tasted like heaven.

Also first-rate was a trio of pan-seared diver scallops, shimmering on a bed of sweet-pea risotto and piqued with goat cheese and sun-dried tomato. And for dessert, homemade banana crème brûlée — a sweet, silken indulgence, particularly when paired with a mug of freshly brewed cappuccino.

Our conclusion: If this is what happens in "problem-solving mode," just wait until the kinks are ironed out.

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