A recent visit to Bravo! Cucina Italiana (a free-standing building at the west end of Woodmere's Eton Collection; 28889 Chagrin Boulevard, 216-360-0099) confirms our suspicions: Residents of Beachwood, Woodmere, and other tony East Side suburbs never cook.
How else explain the fact that every one of the joint's 260-plus seats was full at 8 p.m. on a stormy Tuesday evening -- a time when staffers at many other Greater Cleveland restaurants were probably passing their lonely hours filling salt shakers and wiping down the ketchup bottles?
Not that this newest upscale chain eatery isn't worth a visit. But where the heck were all these people before the enormous 7,400-square-foot restaurant opened on August 12? ("P.F. Chang's?" a companion guessed, referring to another of the area's well-appointed, heavily trafficked, and corporately owned entities.)
No matter. The 60- to 70-minute wait we were warned of turned out to last only half an hour. And while Bravo, as with most of its kin, doesn't take reservations, it does offer complimentary valet parking, a small $4.95 "bambino" menu, and a pleasant wrap-around patio, sprouting a crop of white market umbrellas. (There's a boccie ball court, too, but no one was playing.)
The big dinner menu includes the predictable lasagna, veal marsala, and calamari, served in huge portions, as well as a collection of wood-grilled chops, steaks, and seafood. The most expensive meal -- a plump gorgonzola-topped filet mignon, plated with fresh green beans and dreamy mashed potatoes -- checks in at a mere $19.95, and that includes warm focaccia, herbed dipping oil, and a choice of ample house salads.
Although a starter of soggy, bland bruschetta was a bummer, most of the other dishes were well prepared and reasonably flavorful -- especially considering that the kitchen must have churned out more than 500 covers that night. And for dessert, the cheesecake was divine -- dense, sleek, and partially caramelized, à la crème brûlée, and then set adrift in a pool of crème anglaise.
A cadre of youthful staffers provided conscientious service, although backups in the kitchen and at the service bar resulted in some long waits. Unfortunately, passing the time in intimate conversation was impossible: Archly decorated to resemble a Disneyesque vision of Roman ruins, the open space was also tremendously noisy, with recorded Italian pop music -- and, weirdly enough, the frequent sound of breaking dishware -- adding to the din.
And just think: Cameron Mitchell's Fish Market will debut inside the Eton Collection on Sept. 19. You East Siders can start shipping the All-Clads over to Goodwill any time now.