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Penne Saved 

The Baricelli splurges on an Italian menu makeover.

After 22 years of trying to convince Clevelanders that the Baricelli Inn isn't Italian, chef-owner Paul Minnillo has decided to give it a rest: As of last month, he has put an Italian spin on the restaurant's New American menu and added a handful of imaginative pasta dishes, priced at $25 or less.

"This is big," says Minnillo. "It's the first time since we opened that we've really changed the concept. But like everyplace else, we want to get away from the 'formal dining' image and go in a more casual, fun direction."

As a result, diners now will find dishes like spaghetti tossed with Maryland crabmeat ($25), ricotta and spinach-stuffed ravioli with pine nuts and Roma-tomato pan sauce ($20), and bucatini, with pancetta, basil, and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese ($22).

And then, there's the snappy pappardelle, tossed with an avalanche of woodsy morel mushrooms, young asparagus, and Planeta extra-virgin olive oil ($25); the deep, earthy flavors almost took our breath away. Also, delightful handmade gnocchi: tender little pasta pillows in a sparkling Roma-tomato sauce, served with Minnillo's own Italian pork sausage ($20). All the pastas are available as half-portions too, perfect as a starter.

The new dishes fit together seamlessly with two of the Inn's more tempting standards: the salumi board for two, with an ample assortment of top-quality cured meats from New York's Salumeria Biellese ($18); and the cheese board, with an array of artisanal and farmhouse cheeses, culled from Minnillo's own affinage cooler ($14 for three cheeses). Factor in some crusty ciabatta bread from local On the Rise bakery, a bottle of Chianti, and a red-umbrella-topped table in the Inn's secluded garden, and you've got our pick for the most deliciously rustic dining in town.

Of course, Minnillo and longtime chef de cuisine Matt Krasnevich continue to feature items like Hudson Valley duck confit, Berkshire pork, wild king salmon, and diver scallops. Also, price points have been trimmed lately, and with the possible exception of the salmon (priced to reflect market conditions), none of the entrées on the current menu breach the $30 barrier.

Located in Little Italy at 2203 Cornell Road, the Baricelli Inn serves dinner from 5 to 11 p.m. Monday through Saturday; call 216-791-6500 for reservations.

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