Fans of the former Mojo will scarcely recognize the place when they step into Theory (2221 Professor Street, 216-621-2301), restaurateur Doug Petkovic's new, thoroughly remodeled dining room in Tremont. Gone is Mojo's cool, contemporary vibe, replaced with a warm, earthy Arts & Crafts-influenced decor, complete with quarter-sawn oak paneling, mica-shaded wall sconces, and Craftsman-style ceramic-tile detailing.
Petkovic describes the 62-seat Theory as a chef-driven "boutique" restaurant, with a menu that highlights the talents of Executive Chef Steve Fillis, a New Yorker who worked for legendary chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten for nearly seven years -- most recently at The Mercer Kitchen in SoHo. The 9 apps and 11 entrées on the concise "new American" menu range from an American Kobe beef burger with Maytag blue cheese ($15) to Jordan-almond-crusted duck breast with olive compote ($26). Dishes such as grilled salmon with Asian vermicelli and cardamom broth ($18), or pan-roasted strip steak with red-wine reduction and carrot foam ($24), point up the chef's propensity for tight, streamlined compositions, in which the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts. Of course, Petkovic puts it more succinctly. "It's intense. After 20 years in this business, all I can tell you is that this kid can really cook."
In addition to the intimate main dining room, there's a small private dining area in the space that once housed Mojo's short-lived carryout operation. The next phase of the ongoing renovation calls for transforming a small outdoor patio into an English Garden, for cocktail service. Then, Petkovic and company will turn their attention to the former "portico," which will be reworked into a 40-seat private dining room, with French doors overlooking the garden.
Sharp-eyed guests may spot a familiar face behind Theory's bar: Former chef Tim Bando, whose most recent culinary gig found him opening the kitchen at Mentor's Noosa, is now manning the martini shakers. Besides his culinary chops, turns out Bando is a skilled carpenter and, along with Tim Haas, owner of Decorative Artworks, is responsible for Theory's handsome cabinetry. "When we were finishing up the interior, I asked Doug if he needed a bartender --and now here I am, at least for a while," Bando says while stuffing anchovies into oversized olives. However, the main recipient of this Tim-of-all-trades' attention is his 14-acre garden in Geauga County, where he's raising produce for area chefs and farmers' markets.
Theory is open for dinner only, beginning at 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays, and at 4 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. We're betting reservations will prove essential.