Plate Italiano Moderno: A Brookside restaurant rises from the ashes better than ever

Plate serves Burrata cheese on beet green pesto with crostini, seared hazelnuts and grappa figs.
Plate serves Burrata cheese on beet green pesto with crostini, seared hazelnuts and grappa figs.

Modern cuisine is a moving target. As any chef that’s been in the business for more than a year will tell you, tastes change and trends come and go.

So when you call a restaurant “modern,” you’re committing to constant evolution. In the case of Plate Italiano Moderno, that evolution was hastened by a disastrous fire at the restaurant’s first location. But just like prairies or forests, this restaurant came back stronger and better after the fire.

Plate, owned by Christian and Andrea Joseph, originally opened in 2015 at the corner of 62nd and Oak in Brookside. In April 2017, fire ravaged the building.

The restaurant has since reopened a few blocks away at 701 E. 63rd St., in the former Cleveland Chiropractic building. The new space is sleek and — you guessed it — modern. Engaging art is scattered around the room, from the wood sculpture just inside the front door to the video installation above the bar.

While Plate’s space may be brand new, the restaurant’s owners kept the same team from before the fire — executive chef Brian Mehl is still at the helm, along with his sous chef Matt Ryan and pastry chef Nicole Vavra. Mehl, who led the kitchen at The Classic Cup for 18 years, took a turn at The Pressed Penny Tavern while the Josephs rebuilt their restaurant.

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Brian Mehl is executive chef at Plate Italiano Moderno. Judy Revenaugh

Mehl says he’s happy with how his culinary team has stepped up. He should be: the menu at Plate has grown and matured. Gone are the dishes featuring “chopped pasta” from the original menu. In their place are carefully composed plates with sophisticated flavors that sing. Ironically, the flavor of smoke is prominent in many standout dishes.

Plate is now open for dinner seven nights a week, with happy hour offered every day. The weekend lunch menu features dishes that aren’t served at dinner.

My first experience was a happy hour that slid easily into dinner. The happy hour menu features five small plates, including one of the restaurant’s most popular appetizers, Little Oranges. The saffron-scented arancini had tiny morsels of beef short rib nestled inside. The stuffed rice balls were perfectly crisp outside and soft and savory inside, although the presence of the beef was nearly overlooked. The best part was the bright and rich sundried tomato sofrito (sauce) that they rested on.

I wish that one of the happy hour-only dishes, the polenta fritte, were on the regular menu. Picture thick slabs of minty polenta fried golden and topped with Cointreau-soaked currants. The firm and not-too-dry polenta rested on a hearty smear of creamy goat cheese with charred leeks and pistachios.

Salad is often an afterthought —and many a chef has mailed in a standard Caesar to pad the menu — but Plate’s Caesar Cardini is worth ordering. Three quartered romaine hearts are charred and served with a smoked anchovy buttermilk dressing, drops of emulsified egg yolk, football-shaped crescentina croutons, and thick slivers of good Parmesan.

The smoky dressing and charred greens delivered the kind of salad that even confirmed Kansas City barbecue fans could respect. My only complaint is about the croutons. They were hard to spear and didn’t add much to an otherwise knockout dish.

For dinner, do as the Italians do and order a pasta and main. The Bone & The Hare dish featured a filled pasta shape I hadn’t encountered before — the cappellaci. The ravioli-like pasta, spiced with dried Turkish isot peppers, is filled with braised rabbit, oyster mushrooms, Parmesan and carrot top pesto. It’s served with olive wood-smoked olive oil and rich bone marrow brodo, or broth, spiked with star anise, cinnamon, sherry and tamari. The broth was so rich and delicious that I could have sipped it straight — but I didn’t want to get lipstick on the bowl.

Plate serves a good variety of entrees, including a vegetarian option called Farro Verdura Festo with farro, sumac-spiced cauliflower and radicchio. But I was drawn to the main course called “Mallard? Duck? Anatra?” The entree features slices of espresso-rubbed duck breast atop al dente butter beans and wilted turnip greens that get bright flavor from citrus zest, spiced honey and blood orange oil.

While pairing citrus with duck isn’t anything new, this iteration was perfect: the duck was expertly seared without being underdone. The citrus and greens melded well. The overall effect was balanced and satisfying.

To finish the meal, I had to try the Cioccolato, a Luxardo cherry liqueur-glazed chocolate orb filled with milk chocolate raspberry mousse, dark chocolate mousse and raspberry ganache. After cracking the orb open, it was hard to stop until the last smooth bite was swallowed.

When I returned for a solo lunch, I tried what will stand out as one of the best starters I’ve had in ages –– the Burrata per Il Capo. The appetizer was served on a plate painted with beet-green pesto. An unassuming ball of burrata cheese took center stage, but it was the supporting characters — grappa-soaked figs, spiced honey and seared hazelnuts — that stole the show. Layer all the components on the housemade crostini for the perfect balance of creamy, sweet, tangy and salty.

The lunch menu also features panini. The Where’s the Beef? sandwich stars thinly shaved peppercorn beef tenderloin topped with smoked onions and balsamic oyster mushrooms. It’s served on ciabatta bread with lightly sweet gorgonzola cheese. The bread was piled high with the beef, so it was challenging to take a bite. But when I did, I tasted the sweet and smoky flavor of the onions.

Plate’s panini are served with whisper-thin parsnip chips. Yes, parsnips — the albino cousins to carrots normally relegated to winter roasts or British soups. In chip form, their sweetness shines through and is a welcome change from potatoes.

Plate offers a short cocktail list developed by Christian Joseph and General Manager Chris Mercier, but wine is the Italian restaurant’s specialty. The list is well-curated, with plenty of by-the-glass options.

When I visited, the service was impeccable –– fast and personable without being suffocating. Workers were constructing a patio along 63rd Street that should be open in the fall.

As Plate continues to evolve, I can’t wait to see what comes next.