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Whine and Roses 

Saluting the best and the rest in Cleveland dining in 2000.

This is the time of year when pundits and prognosticators natter on about the happenings of the old year and make superfluous predictions for the new. From our little perch on the caboose-end of the gravy train, we're happy to let more serious minds chew over weightier matters. As for us, we'll spend the final hours of 2000 contemplating tasteful subjects, like the state of the Cleveland dining scene, trends we hope to see more of, and of course, things we hope to never see again.

Out with the old . . . We don't know if anyone's keeping score, but this may have been one of the area's busiest years for restaurant comings and goings. Among the higher-profile spots that took a beating were Piccolo Mondo, Lu Cuisine, and Tuscany 55 (downtown); J Café and Tutto a Posto (East Side); House of Brews, Fagan's, Sammy's, and Max and Erma's (the Flats); Lake Effect, Posto Vecchio, and Miracles (West Side); and Grappa's (Akron). However, the 2000 Culinary Revolving Door award certainly goes to the Gateway District, which managed to sink five spots -- two of them twice! There was Harry Corvairs, of course, in space that remains vacant. Then you've got the Diamondback Brewery, which was replaced by Barons, which subsequently failed. And let's not forget Pete and Dewey's Planet, which was replaced by the Thirsty Parrot, which also flopped.

In with the new . . . Century, Metropolitan Café, and Sushi Rock rolled into downtown; Severance Restaurant, Lure Bistro, Blake's Seafood Grill, Timberfire, P.F. Chang's China Bistro, John Palmer's, and Hunan Solon arose in the east; OZ, Mise, Weia Teia, Touch Supper Club, and the Old Brooklyn Soup Company settled out west; the Leopard roared into Aurora; and Akron got Piatto and a Hyde Park Grille.

And then there was Heck's . . . the Ohio City landmark that closed briefly last summer, after the owner found himself unable to muster a kitchen team. The restaurant reopened a few weeks later, due to popular demand and the emergence of willing workers. But its difficulties are emblematic of one of the nation's more troubling trends: scarcity of reliable employees. Other dastardly developments? Restroom attendants (one trend we hope gets flushed). Bread as an à la carte side dish (how cheap can you get?). Diners who make reservations at area hot spots, then don't show up. Word to the fiscally responsive: Big-city restaurateurs have taken to requiring deposits and/or billing the credit cards of no-shows. Is this what you want to see happen in Cleveburg?

Good news . . . Bans on smoking and cell-phone use in mid- and upper-tier dining rooms . . . amusers bouches . . . French-press coffee . . . mashed potatoes laced with truffle oil . . . the return of the top-shelf gin martini . . . sushi's swim into the mainstream . . . artisanal cheeses as appetizers or dessert choices . . . Viogniers and modern Rieslings elbowing ho-hum Chardonnays from area wine lists.

More to enjoy . . . Finally, we resolve to honor 2001 by eating more Valrhona chocolate, buying more cookies at Corbo's Dolceria, enjoying more warm-weather dining on the patios at Mise and the Baricelli Inn, ordering more sea bass, and keeping our taste buds on alert for authentic Cuban and Nuevo Latino cuisine. The tabletops of Cleveland are laden with good things to eat. Let's raise our forks to a happy new year.

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