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The Next Big Thing 

Counting the days with Cleveland's hottest young chef.

We don't mean to wish away summer, but we can hardly wait for Labor Day. That's when sizzling young chef Dante Boccuzzi's name will go up on the soon-to-be-former Lockkeepers (8001 Rockside Road in Valley View, 216-524-9404), and Clevelanders finally can taste his modern American cuisine.

Dante, the 35-year-old Boccuzzi's new restaurant, is scheduled to debut on Wednesday, September 5. The opening will be not only a big deal for Cleveland foodies, but also a huge boost to our cred on the national dining scene. Behold Boccuzzi's résumé: Culinary Institute of America grad, two-time James Beard Foundation Rising Star nominee, and former executive chef at New York's award-winning Aureole, to mention a few high points. And while the chef is charmingly coy about his new menu, diners can expect to find housemade charcuterie, artisanal American cheeses, and a variety of meats, seafood, and produce selections seldom tasted here in the heartland. Considering the chef's tenure at Nobu/Milan, sushi will undoubtedly show up as well.

Boccuzzi, a Parma native and rock 'n' roller with two CDs under his belt, bought Lockkeeper's from Frank Sinito in March. He's since put a modern spin on the menu, while remaining true to its "upscale steakhouse" persona. That means dinner options like coriander-crusted Hawaiian tuna with toasted basmati rice ($32), bone-in strip steak with twice-baked heirloom potatoes ($38), and Australian lamb chops and shoulder, served with roasted spring onions and rhubarb confiture ($32).

Then there's the five-course tasting menu, a $65 extravaganza of finely wrought delights. Among the memorable courses: a flawless frisée and asparagus salad, topped with a single seared sea scallop and ribbons of housemade duck prosciutto, and pan-roasted skate a la meunière, featuring a dazzling interplay of bright, unctuous flavors. While these exact dishes probably won't be on Dante's menu, they showcase the chef's mastery of classical technique and his passion for impeccable ingredients.

Lockkeepers will take its final bow in mid-August, to allow time to purge the space of its somber Arts & Crafts-style décor. "I'm counting the days!" drools the chef. That goes for us, double.

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