Q: What does it take to get suburbanites to dine downtown?
A: Bargains at some of the city's best restaurants.
Must be why Cleveland Restaurant Week — February 24 through March 1 — is shaping up to be such a smash. More than a week before kickoff, Josh Taylor, spokesman for Downtown Cleveland Alliance, says some restaurants are nearly sold out.
That includes powerhouses like Michael Symon's Lola (2058 East Fourth Street) and Marlin Kaplan's One Walnut (1801 East Ninth Street), along with almost 40 other downtown dining spots. The hook? Three-course prix-fixe menus set at $20 or $40, and convenient $2 parking at many lots.
The response is prompting the Alliance to ponder additional year-round activities to promote downtown dining. And with the recent outpouring of national lovin' — highlighted by Mike Symon's ascension to Iron Chef-dom — their timing couldn't be better. "You can eat anywhere," Taylor says. "But to dine, you've gotta go downtown."
Look Alive: Among the participating restaurants hoping for a permanent surge, find Vivo (347 Euclid Avenue, 216-621-4678), Chicago restaurateur Dan Krasny's Cleveland outpost in the Old Arcade. Business at the five-year-old "rustic Italian" restaurant has fallen off lately, mainly due to endless Euclid Avenue construction. To help combat the slump, Vivo has returned to its roots, launching a new pasta-focused menu and an all-Italian wine list, while erasing all traces of former exec chef Michael Herschman's Asian-fusion stylings. "I think those dishes just confused people," says GM Jonathan Hirsch. Now sharing the top toque are longtime sous chefs Jarrel Tolbert and Wilfredo Lopez.
Sweet spot: Beloved neighborhood coffeehouse Truffles (11122 Clifton Boulevard) reopened on January 23. New owner Tommy Kiley has given the space a thorough cleaning, new paint, and a restocked pastry case, featuring old faves from baker Michelle Kahwagi (Gateau Royal), vegan sweets from Quantum Cakes, Cookies, and More, and Irish meat pies from Kiley's cousin and West Side Market vendor Karen Reilly.