Chef Michael Herschman doesn't do comfort food. "If that's the kind of thing you want," says the owner of Mojo (2221 Professor Street, 216-595-6656), "go home to your mother for Sunday dinner." On the other hand, what he does do is create beautiful pieces of culinary art -- smart, innovative dishes most of us would never dream of cooking up at home.
When the chef first opened his Tremont restaurant in 1999, he was thinking "small" -- as in a menu of tapas-sized servings that could be mixed and matched to create meals as grand or modest as one desired. It's a way of eating that not only allows diners to try a variety of intriguing foods in one sitting, but also caters to the growing preference for sensibly sized portions. Still, Clevelanders are known to fret over whether they are getting enough to eat, so Herschman eventually supplemented the small-plate concept with a number of entrée-sized dishes. Now, however, after closing briefly last month for cleaning and minor remodeling, the restaurant is back at square one, with a new name, Mojo Bar and Musicafé, and a menu of small plates only. (But never fear, ravenous ones: The kitchen will still whip up entrée-sized portions on request.)
On a recent visit, we forced ourselves to bypass favorites like warm arugula salad with smoked mozzarella, roasted onions, and croutons ($7), and baked penne with four cheeses, roasted shallots, and basil ($7.50). Instead, we let ourselves be enticed by meltingly tender slow-roasted short ribs with a kicky mango barbecue sauce and sesame-scented Asian greens (a bargain at $7.50), and a pair of mega-delicious lamb chops with a luscious seasonal accompaniment of pear and root-vegetable hash, braised cabbage, and a caraway demi-glace ($15) -- dishes that made us wish we had taste buds all the way down to our toes.
Herschman has always stocked a fine wine cellar, with plenty of the soft, round whites (think Rieslings and Viogniers) that best complement his food. But now he's added a big martini list, featuring drinks like the easy-sipping Domino, with Tanqueray, Cointreau, grapefruit juice, and lime; and the chef's personal favorite, the Mojo Tomatini, with Stoli, Akvavit, fresh dill, tomato, and lime juices.
Finally, as the ultimate accompaniment to the intensely flavorful food and drink, Mojo is hosting local and national jazz performers nightly; the music goes down smooth and mellow inside the sleek, moody dining room.
Mojo is open Tuesday through Saturday, beginning at 6 p.m.; for reservations or a performance schedule, call 216-592-6656.