Restaurant Review: Z Cucina di Spirito Dublin
With a bar, dining room and a closed-off glass area for large parties, Z Cucina di Spirito Dublin can feel designed to accommodate convention traffic from nearby AC Hotel. But while the newly erected Bridge Park complex still feels like a work in progress (rightly so, as it’s still in construction), Z Cucina lends an authentic feel to the development, helping one envision a walkable neighborhood with a beloved corner restaurant that feels like it’s always been there—much the way Z Cucina does at its Grandview flagship.
Z Cucina’s menu is steeped in the traditions of the Italian-born Slow Food movement, with special attention paid to local and seasonal produce, daily menus, scratch-made pasta and simple dishes that allow the ingredients to shine. Z Cucina is a dream for pescatarians, vegetarians and cheese-lovers alike.
The service is personal and professional, a confluence of formal and TGI Fridays. Owner Rick Ziliak, who first opened Z Cucina Grandview in 2005, is chatty and entertaining; he’s frequently available to greet diners at the host stand, share deals (Mondays are for meatballs, Tuesdays are for tapas) and stop by tables. Gifted at gab, he manages to get in marketing messages (those tapas have a “big taste, small price”) while simultaneously making each encounter feel like he’s a longtime golfing buddy. Servers are well-informed and can eloquently describe the day’s dishes, which they deliver at an expert pace.
The price-conscious should be cautious, as the Z Cucina team is expert at the upsell. At the suggestion of a server, a $17 pasta special quickly more than doubled in price after a fellow diner agreed to add three (perfectly cooked) scallops at $7 apiece. Additionally, the cheese and charcuterie boards offered on the daily menu do not disclose prices. (One cheese board landed at $14, with enough for four to nibble on.) I also found myself ordering dessert with every visit—well played, Z Cucina servers.
The sparsely decorated interior is mainly concrete and glass, with views of the Dublin sunset the primary artwork. When the restaurant is full (especially during conventions), voices bounce off the solid surfaces, making for a noisy evening in the dining room. The spacious bar area feels more private and less disruptive.
As one might expect with an Italian restaurant, the wine list is extensive, but the cocktails are worth trying. The Mixed Berry Rosé Sangria ($8) with sorbet, berries, dry rosé, sparkling wine and crème de cassis resembles a berry-flavored Icee and provides formidable competition to Vaso’s frozen cocktails a few hundred feet away. (Bridge Parkers love their boozy slushies, apparently.) A more traditional option is the Ginger Mule ($9), which celebrates a cool, crisp ginger flavor with vodka, ginger syrup and ginger beer served in a copper cup with a lime.
Carb-conscious be warned: This restaurant will tempt you deep into wheat territory, starting with never-ending baskets of thinly sliced and sometimes greasy focaccia, served with a plate of honey-kissed olive oil and a “Z” written in balsamic vinegar.
Those Tuesday tapas may have a big taste, but judging from the fried artichoke with herbed gremolata ($4), their size trends small. Understated yet delightful, this two-bite whole artichoke petal (including heart and stem) features tart meat, crispy edges and a lemon oil to complement.
The Italian salumi board ($14) showcases a rich and salty Parmesan crème brûlée that resembles a creamy Thanksgiving casserole. House-made duck, pork and beef charcuterie accompany it, along with a single cracker on a small wooden board. Of all the bites, a sweet and spicy prosciutto bacon stole the show. All of Z Cucina’s boards (cheese, veggie and salumi) lack vehicles for their elements, but the table focaccia fills that role.
The cheese board ($14) includes pickled veggies, olives (which always come with a warning about pits), small scoops of house-made mozzarella, rosemary-heavy herbed goat cheese and a cup of feta cheese, all artfully displayed and drizzled with pools of citrus-infused olive oil and tangy balsamic.
Among the pasta mains is linguine and clams ($22). Fresh clams join a light, umami-rich tomato sauce, a pile of fresh linguine, roasted cherry tomatoes, a bounty of fresh herbs and large sunflower microgreens. Hidden within the assemblage are salty bits of pancetta, providing a surprise in every other bite. Overall, the dish is simply made, but this exploration of flavors begs to be eaten slowly.
A sign of spring, the sweet pea gnocchi ($19) features sweet, snow and snap peas, plus edamame and a variety of mushrooms piled en masse atop cloudlike green gnocchi. Stracciatella di bufala and a small hint of truffle oil add depth to the ensemble. While gnocchi dishes can be filling, the potato pasta rightfully takes second billing here. The flavors (from bitter to sweet) combine with the textures of the peas and mushrooms to make each bite an adventure.
Z Cucina does not ignore more mainstream Italian-American dishes. A shrimp scampi special ($24) with its dense, garlicky sauce, four shrimp, red pepper flakes and fresh herbs was the exact comfort food I wanted at the end of a long day. And the large portion of lasagna ($17) is baked-to-order and served extremely hot. Even with its tender noodles and visible carrots in the bolognese, the dish does not greatly differ from those found at mainstream chain restaurants.
Found on the protein-heavy “moderne plates” portion of the menu, the pan-roasted duck breast ($34) sets aside the carbs in exchange for large slices of duck breast cooked at the chef’s suggested temperature of medium. (I’d argue duck is best prepared at medium-rare.) Surrounded in a ring of sweet balsamic (again) and served with charred asparagus and microgreens, this simple dish allows the fatty duck to be the star.
Although all the specials are tempting, the striped bass ($34) is unforgettable. A filet of bone-in bass is served steamed with a slaw of earthy mushrooms, salty spinach, tomatoes and capers wrapped inside a burrito of parchment paper. The flaky bass is garnished with lemon zest that makes the entire dish bright and tangy. The only thing missing is some sort of potato or pasta side to round out the ensemble.
The dairy-heavy desserts are hit or miss. A pot de crème ($9) was served before the chocolate had time to set, leaving half the dish alarmingly liquidy. And the butterscotch panna cotta ($9)—a “Z Classic” on the menu—was more pudding than panna cotta. But the tiramisu ($9), with its two tiny ladyfingers, was a nice departure from the thawed-out varieties served at less sophisticated restaurants.
Although it doesn’t draw much attention to itself, Z Cucina’s Dublin location has staying power. The menu and experience exude the confidence of longtime restaurateurs who know what they’re doing. It’s a boon not only for Bridge Park but also for all of Northwest Columbus.
6584 Riverside Dr., Dublin, 614-916-9200, zcucina.com
Hours: 5–10 p.m. Mon–Sat
Price Range: $9–$14 appetizers, $17–$36 entrées
In Short: Rick Ziliak’s second Z Cucina location scores well on most fronts, with amiable service and modern-meets-traditional Italian fare that’s well-executed and harkens back to the Slow Food movement’s origins. The cheese and charcuterie boards are enjoyable, but the restaurant really shines with dishes like striped bass in parchment, sweet pea gnocchi and pan-seared duck breast. Desserts, however, are hit or miss.
Three Stars (Excellent)