|Death to Rachael Ray! OK, maybe that’s a little extreme, but I don’t want her TV mantra of quick, easy and convenient edging any further into restaurant kitchens. Give me a place that doesn’t serve anything that has seen the inside of a box, bag, jar or a can. Several local chefs deserve a hand for preparing things in-house and, yeah, by hand. Jonathan Bennett, of Moxie the Restaurant (3355 Richmond Road, Beachwood, 216-831-5599), makes even basic ingredients like puff pastry, ricotta cheese and creme fraîche on his own. Ruth Levine puts salmon through a salt cure to produce the gravlax on the menu at Bistro 185 (991 E. 185th St., Cleveland, 216-481-9635). Michael Symon and his Lolita crew transform raw meat into sausages, hams and salamis (900 Literary Road, Cleveland, 216-771-5652). At Lago (2221 Professor Ave., Cleveland, 216-344-0547), Jeff Fisher spends hours a day mixing dough and rolling it out for ravioli, tortelloni and gnocchi. At his new Ohio City eatery Light Bistro (2801 Bridge Ave., Cleveland, 216-771-7130), Matthew Mathlage brines olives himself and bakes the breads that go in the basket. It takes extra time, effort and money to go this route. But the food and drink tastes better this way — amazingly, incredibly, mouthwateringly- wow better. Oh, and there’s another explanation too. These folks tend to be compulsively preoccupied with the plate-by-plate, glass-by-glass pursuit of perfection. Symon once explained his own motivation to me in two words, “I’m nuts.” Then he laughs that madman laugh, and I think he’s telling the truth.
You can get that at lunch, too. If I had to choose just one pasta dish to eat for the rest of my life — a terrifying thought — it would be bucatini all’Amatriciana. The hollow tubular strands of spaghetti are like straws that suck up the rich spicy sauce made with peperoncino and pancetta or guanciale. And nobody does it better in this town than Battuto. And now they’re open and serving it for lunch, too. 12405 Mayfield Road, Cleveland, 216-707-1055