The owners of Northfield Center's new upscale Italian dining room, La Tavola Bono (32 West Aurora Road), deserve credit for trying to bring a taste of Little Italy to the land of pepperoni pizza-to-go. Frank and Elizabeth Porcelli (cousins of the owners of Porcelli's on Mayfield Road) and Lisa Giganti hope to woo the locals with their large menu of ambitious fare. The out-of-the-ordinary selections include appetizers like breaded calamari stuffed with Italian sausage and Fontina cheese ($9) and entrées such as lamb stew ($20) and roasted farm-raised pheasant served over polenta ($24). A starter of breaded and fried smelt ($6) was delightful, all crisp and crunchy on the outside and melt-in-your-mouth tender within; broasted Romano-cheese-crusted chicken breasts, topped with marinara and a robust blend of cheeses, and served with angel-hair aglio e olio ($19), was rich and savory. Salads are à la carte, but warm Italian loaves and a fresh-garlic-infused dipping oil accompany each meal. And for dessert, Mama Porcelli bakes puffy dome-shaped sugar cookies that staffers fill with custard, roll in sugar and sweet vermouth, and assemble to resemble plump little peaches, with fresh mint leaves for stems. Although the dining space is small, the decor is serene and sophisticated, with candlelight, a full bar, and strains of opera rising and falling in the background. La Tavola Bono (the name means "spectacular feast") is open for dinner only, 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday; call 330-467-1010 for reservations.
Tired of the same old rubbery eggs, greasy bacon, and stale store-bought muffins at your typical Sunday brunch buffet? Well, brothers and sisters, wrap your tastebuds around juicy, falling-off-the-bone fried chicken, smooth, buttery grits, and the thickest, most aromatic, freshly baked Belgian waffles you've ever tasted, rife with overtones of nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla. These, along with cornmeal-crusted catfish, red beans and rice, and macaroni and cheese, make up caterer Phil the Fire's soulful Sunday brunch buffet, and it's a real eye-opener. With an M.B.A. and a background in business, the handsome, hospitable Mr. Fire likes to call himself "the accidental caterer." But his homey, well-crafted food -- including must-try desserts like sweet potato and pecan pies, dense buttermilk pound cake, and a comforting meringue-topped banana pudding, washed down with orange juice, coffee, or iced tea -- is clearly no mistake. Phil holds forth from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays in the spacious lower level of the Cleveland Heights Civic (3130 Mayfield Road). Cost is $10 for adults and $5 for children under 9. Put on your Sunday best and call 216-556-2996 for reservations.
Oenophiles with a taste for art should check out the June 28 Preview Night at the Boston Mills Artfest (7100 Riverview Road, Peninsula). For your $35 at-the-door ticket, you get first crack at the show's fine arts and crafts collection, as well as samples of imported and domestic wines, plentiful hors d'oeuvres, live entertainment, and the glorious surrounds of the Cuyahoga Valley. The party runs from 6 to 9 p.m.; call 330-467-2242 for details. Incidentally, the ski center's popular series of warm-weather Winemaker Dinners are no more; with a mailing list of more than 4,000, the events were growing too unwieldy for staffers to handle.