Dining Out: Believe what Symon says: Flour rules

31 May 2012, Posted by Flour in Articles and Reviews

By Mark Koestner

I’ll admit, it was Michael Symon’s comment on Twitter back in February that had me excited to try Flour in Moreland Hills.

“Far and away the best Italian food I have ever had in C-Town,” the Iron Chef tweeted — more than enough to get me excited to try it. A couple of weeks later, Symon cemented my commitment to get there, tweeting that, once again, he had a fantastic meal at Flour.

After one visit, it’s easy to see what the hype is all about.

On its sign, the year-old Flour is billed as a “rustic Italian kitchen.” But the restaurant owned by Paul Minnillo, who for years operated the well-known Baricelli Inn in Little Italy, is hardly rustic in appearance.

A contemporary, almost industrial, look is highlighted by stained concrete floors, vaulted ceilings and plenty of stainless steel. An open kitchen and lively bar area give it an energetic feel — it’s not your mother’s Italian restaurant. At least not atmosphere-wise.

If your mother grew up in Italy, perhaps, it MIGHT be her type of Italian restaurant. The menu is simple, mostly basic, and features the kind of things you’d expect to be served in a restaurant over there, not the Americanized pound-of-overcooked-noodles-with-a-can-of-sauce-dumped-over-it version of Italian food. At Flour, it’s the food that’s rustic.

There are house-cured meats and hand-crafted cheeses. Pasta, too, is created from scratch, and Minnillo and Executive Chef Matt Mytro use local ingredients whenever possible. Of course, with a name like Flour, dough is a focus, and wood-fired pizzas are a specialty.

My wife and I passed on the charcuterie and artisanal cheese boards to start our meal, only because one of the appetizers sounded so good: pancetta-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates ($12).

Five such dates arrived at our table, in a sizzling-hot skillet and resting in a roasted red pepper sauce. I know that it’s become kind of en vogue to do appetizers with dates in this town, but this was the best one I’ve had to date (pun intended). The combination of flavors — the sweetness of the dates, the fatty pancetta and the spicy chorizo — was amazing. The red pepper sauce, rather than adding to the kick of the sausage, instead gave the whole thing a smoky, deep flavor. These alone might have been worth the drive from Lake County.

We opted to forego any of the six entrees on the menu, instead deciding to try one of the pizzas and to split a pasta dish. Pasta is mostly first-course fare in genuine Italian places, and the position on the menu of Flour’s six pasta dishes reflects that, but there are entrée-sized versions, too.

We went with the cavatelli ($22), which is served with a pork ragu, goat cheese and English peas. It was a nice-sized portion, but not too big; my wife wouldn’t have been able to finish it on her own, but I could have. The cavatelli were cooked to perfection, and the ragu was meaty and really flavorful, rich without being too rich for the dense noodles and goat cheese. The goat cheese was surprisingly on the mild side, which really worked well for me.

We picked the margherita pizza ($12) out of the seven versions of Flour’s 10-inch pies and were treated to an authentic version of the dish you don’t necessarily expect to often find. With the minimalist treatment for sauce, gooey fresh mozzarella and whole basil leaves atop it, the pizza looked almost too good to eat. We, of course, brushed that notion off and enjoyed a perfect crust underneath those fresh, tasty toppings. It was chewy enough yet was still crispy on the underside. You just can’t beat wood-fired grills for pizza.

The wine list at Flour is, as you might expect, dominated by Italian bottles and is quite extensive. A pared-down, by-the-glass version is a little simpler. Draft beers include local favorites from Great Lakes Brewing Co. and Lake County’s Willoughby Brewing Co..

For dessert, we landed on what is called the Nutella & chocolate, a molten cake topped with Nutella ice cream ($8). It came adorned with fresh berries and appeared just as decadent as it tasted.

The dessert for me kind of drove home Flour’s selling point: Even the simpler dishes, that you’ve had elsewhere, stand out because of the freshness. The dough, the cheeses, the pasta — it all just tasted so fresh. It’s by design, and though Flour’s menu does change, it would seem there’s a genuine commitment to that freshness.

It’s striking, too, that you don’t really pay a premium for it. I have spent as much or more on meals at Italian places that fall short of Flour’s quality. And while we could have spent more on this meal, too, we also could have chosen to spend less.

I loved the contrast of Flour’s hip, modern atmosphere and the simple Italian food of its kitchen, and the food was great. If there was any hiccup to complain about, it was that our appetizer took a while to come out, and that kind of threw off the timing of our next course. Otherwise, the service was excellent.

Like a certain Iron Chef, I was impressed by Flour. And like that Iron Chef, I will certainly return.