Hold my calls. From now until the spring thaw you can find me marinating in the dining rooms of Bull and Bird, a cocoon-like environment with honest-to-goodness restorative qualities. That the restaurant is located in Chagrin Falls, a snow globe of a village purpose-built to smooth out life's rough edges, only enhances the appeal.
I come from a long line of gatherers, as opposed to hunters, but I could make an exception if this is what it's all about. More opulent hunting lodge than rough and ready backwoods cabin, the scene is so ruggedly handsome that you half expect to see Robert Redford holding court in the bar. A fire crackles away in the hearth, tastefully muted rugs cushion each step and plaid-jacketed booths swaddle diners in stylish comfort. All of this takes place in the clubby confines of a knotty pine-paneled den plastered with art, history and storytelling in the form of so many framed pieces.
Supporting all that style is a level of service that is disappearing nearly as fast as our wide open spaces. Operated by the Hyde Park Restaurant Group, Bull and Bird nails the basics, exceeds expectations, and anticipates needs and desires. Our server greets the table as the host is still walking away. Wines are described, discussed, fetched, uncorked and poured with a level of professional confidence also in short supply. The pedigree of oysters is communicated without the need of a cheat sheet, bread baskets multiply like Tribbles, and shared salads are split in the kitchen, all of which is taking place during a maelstrom of weekend dining activity.
Magical service and settings like this go a long way toward elevating the food portion of the proceedings. We wondered aloud where in the hierarchy Bull and Bird sat with respect to sister establishments Jekyll's Kitchen and ML Tavern, the first of which sits within spitting distance, the latter just up the hill. Of the three, ML and Bull and Bird share the most DNA, clear down to the salads, chops and sides. Does it matter?
According to the boss, Bull and Bird aims to differentiate itself by reinventing the classics. Most would agree that the shrimp cocktail needed no updating, especially when the process results in the version served here. Claiming the upper right-hand corner of the menu — the so-called "sweet spot" used to push high-profit items — the House Specialty ($14) consists of a handful of tailless shrimp pre-tossed in cocktail sauce, a sort of cold shrimp stir fry that is more than a little unsettling.
Stick to the briny, lively oysters on the half shell ($13/4), served casually with tart mignonette, bottles of Tabasco and packets of saltines, or head straight for the salad course. I'm partial to the Wedge ($7), which is respectfully un-reinvented with its bacon, blue cheese and velvety buttermilk dressing. Also playing to type are the salty Caesar ($7) and savory warm spinach salad ($7).
Including lamb chops and prime rib (Mondays only), the menu features about 10 different steaks, chops and roasts, some, but not all, USDA Prime. At 20 ounces, a bone-in ribeye ($46) seemed ideal for sharing, but rather than slice and present the steak on a platter, the kitchen simply divided it into two very unequal portions. We finished the job, and the excellent steak, with little difficulty.
Non-steak options are not extensive, especially when one discounts the burger and French dip sandwich, but entrees like chicken, salmon and pasta are capably prepared if not exactly electrifying. A bistro-style spatchcocked and pan-roasted chicken ($25) is well-prepared, but it's a white meat-only proposition. The twin airline breasts are paired with silky whipped potatoes and pan drippings. Sporting a crisp crust and delicate core, the pan-seared salmon ($25) might not convert a steak lover but will satisfy the pescatarian at the table. The fish is garnished with an uncharacteristically bland version of piperade, the fiery Basque blend of peppers, onions and tomatoes. In a pasta dish that incorporates elements of both carbonara and cacio e pepe, the bucatini ($19) is at once cheesy, smoky and peppery.
Sides and supplements did not steal the show, with uber-crisp and salty fries ($5) outshining a milky creamed kale ($6), adequate roasted broccoli ($6) and tepid sauce Bearnaise ($2). Within cushy surroundings like these, however, the sting is less severe than it would be under the harsh glare of florescent lights in some sad other dining room.
As we bandied anecdotal impressions about prices, portion sizes and menu diversification — some odd attempt to rank, sort and segregate the three kindred eateries that reside within one petite patch of the globe — we quickly saw it for the fool's errand that it was. Opinions are like Hyde Park restaurants: There are more than enough to go around.