- Walter Novak
- Ahi tuna-lovers will rejoice over Bruell's tuna carpaccio.
Ever wonder what kind of restaurant you could launch if money was no object? Look no further than Table 45, veteran chef Zack Bruell's new sexpot of a salon inside the InterContinental Hotel on the Cleveland Clinic campus.
Better yet, pull up a chair -- one of those plump Corbusier models, done up in chocolate-brown leather and tubular steel -- and contemplate the fabulousness that surrounds you: the vast but flowing space, the minimalist decor, and the impeccable appointments that range from bar-side purse hooks to dishware bearing Bruell's signature.
Low ceilings with soft, recessed lighting and a white-on-white color scheme combine to create a svelte, almost otherworldly scene: Like dining in a pearl is how one companion described it. A forest's worth of solid maple flows the length of the sleek bar, exotic flowers bob in test-tube vases, and a cool stream of jazz and house music burbles in the background. Yet for all its chilly 'tude, the reality is warm and intimate, thanks to a series of nooks and crannies that cradle private tables and shadowy booths.
Bruell, who launched the regional groundbreaker Z Contemporary Cuisine in Shaker Heights in the 1980s, and who now owns trendy Parallax in Tremont, promised "a world-class restaurant," and if appearances count for anything, Table 45 delivers on looks alone.
But the surroundings are hardly the main attraction. That honor goes to Bruell and his well-thought-out menu of world cuisine. Smartly conceived, painstakingly prepared, and handsomely plated, the food offers a blend of sophistication and unpretentious appeal.
For starters, consider the global concept. While Bruell borrows freely from Indian, Asian, Mediterranean, and South American pantries, this is not fusion fare, with its forced, sometimes jarring cross-cultural combos. Instead, the chef tends to stay philosophically true to each cuisine, sailing smoothly between such disparate dishes as Vietnamese pho, its bright herbal broth supporting a flotilla of bite-size veal meatballs, and the Franco-style classic of grilled chicken breast, served with rosemary pommes frites.
Both lunch and dinner service begin with baskets of crusty breads, sided with grassy Australian olive oil. However, smart diners will save carbo capacity for freshly made naan. Baked inside a fiery tandoor oven, the flatbread is simultaneously tender and crisp, its pale landscape interrupted with little brown hillocks of char. Sliced into neat rectangles and presented with a trio of sassy international dips (Indian-spiced mayo, goat-cheese hummus, and sun-dried tomato tapenade), it makes a rustic, imaginative nosh.
Then, if you wish, move on to something more composed -- perhaps the caramelized sea-scallops salad, settled on a tropical bed of juicy pineapple "carpaccio," piqued with cilantro and curried mayo -- and feel those taste buds start to tango!
While the menu avoids any mention of the small-plates notion, Bruell's concept is so deliciously unified that all sorts of starters and salads can be happily combined -- either at the bar, to share around the table, or to savor in place of a traditional main course. We also recommend the tuna carpaccio -- velvety lozenges of sweet ahi tuna, marching down the narrow, oblong platter like rosy buttons on a snow-white shirt; caper berries, sea salt, and flecks of Parmigiano-Reggiano deliver contrapuntal salinity.
Entrées deliver equal zing. One of our picks, the lush Kurobuta pork chop, offered a sly homage to the old Southwest, with classic sides of cornbread (here, reinterpreted as a dainty cornmeal-and-jalapeño madeleine), ketchup (now a zesty chipotle jam), barbecue sauce (a touch of demiglace, enhanced with lime, cumin, and cilantro), and spuds (fluffy and whipped).
Another pick, mild grilled salmon, took an Asian twist, with tender-crisp batons of Chinese broccoli, a tangle of panfried noodles, and an umami-packed passel of fermented black beans. And for anyone who has forgotten that meat is mostly a garnish for much of the world, an assortment of satisfying vegetarian dishes serves as an artful reminder, ranging from a vegetable fritto misto to a Moroccan-style tagine, featuring roasted tomatoes, white asparagus, and baby squashes, topped with triangles of firm tofu.
At lunch, most prices drop by a dollar or so, and a handful of sandwiches replace some of the main-course options. Our pick, the southwestern-style grilled chicken sandwich, endowed with goat cheese, avocado, chipotle jam, and cilantro cream, was perfectly nice; still, it was just a sandwich. In retrospect, an entrée like garganelli with homemade roasted veal sausage, fennel, and peppers probably would have been more memorable.
Another small caveat: Valet parking -- free at the former Classics -- is now $6 with restaurant validation. That seems a stiff tariff for parking in the hotel's own lot.
And a final note: Service standards don't yet measure up to the "world-class" designation. At both lunch and dinner, for instance, tabletops too often went uncrumbed, water glasses ran dry, and empty plates lingered too long between courses.
Predictably, though, none of this made us want to leave without dessert. The substantial list of after-dinner offerings begins with sweet cocktails, spirited coffees, and a collection of ports and sherries. Frothy-headed cappuccinos are lovely too, particularly when paired with one of pastry chef Eugenia Jimenez Constantin's elaborate confections.
If there's a better way to travel the world, we certainly haven't found it.