Not only are rich people different from the rest of us, they actually eat at different restaurants. Take ML Tavern in Moreland Hills. You and I might assume it's just another link in the Hyde Park Restaurant Group's ever-expanding chain of eateries (and that's probably what the regular clientele wants us to believe), but I'm here to tell you that it is a very different animal indeed.
Even before crossing the threshold, clues start adding up that ML has little in common with its predecessor, Fountain, which lasted less than a year in this spot. For starters, the parking lot looks like a Palm Beach car dealership, with wide berths reserved for Ferraris, Land Rovers, Porsches and Bentleys. And that sweet but shabby patio with the namesake fountain? Gone, replaced by a fabric covered four-season space complete with fireplace, wood-paneled walls and original artwork.
Step inside and you'll be coddled until the moment you leave, with the kind of doting service you'd expect from a private club. In fact, that's precisely what ML Tavern feels like: a private club for the upper crust that just so happens to be open to regular Joes like you and me. Granted, rather than annual dues, we're obliged to pay our tabs as we go, and here, that's roughly $150 for two not counting tip.
After years of watering down its signature steakhouse brand, punctuated by whatever the heck Jekyll's is in Chagrin Falls, Hyde Park appears to be striving once again for quality. From the selection of ingredients and execution in the (expanded) kitchen to the setting and service in the dining room, ML Tavern feels like a special kind of place.
When your neighborhood is Moreland Hills, the term "neighborhood tavern" takes on whole new meaning. Short of a girl in jodhpurs and a black velvet riding helmet clopping in on horseback, ML could not look any more like a posh polo club. Gilded framed paintings of hunt scenes adorn the thick stone walls. Oversized gas lamps illuminate the dining room. And thick red velvet drapes block just the right amount of age-revealing daylight from entering the space.
After taking our seats on cushy leather chairs and sliding up to the white-linen table, our tuxedo-vested server (one of the two assigned to our table) offered a choice of white or black cloth napkins. Moscow Mules ($9) are made with Ohio vodka and served in a foggy copper mug. The Rose Petal ($11), made with rose petal syrup, smells like a well-tended garden.
Soft-as-clouds dinner rolls are served warm in a cast-iron pan alongside a slab of butter ingeniously dipped on either end into salt (Himalayan pink, if I'm not mistaken) and cracked black pepper. A half-dozen veal sausage-stuffed hot peppers ($11) are blanketed in charred, bubbly cheese and laid to rest in a cushion of finely textured tomato sauce. There's nothing rustic about them and they taste every bit as good as they look.
Order something called "lobster crab cake" at any other restaurant and you'd be fortunate to spot a single identifiable piece of lobster meat. The version served here ($12) is crowned with a good quarter-pound of choice, fat chunks, which sit atop a surprisingly crabby crab cake. Below, a pool of subtly sweet corn puree ties it all together in a blissful end-of-summer sort of way.
ML is not a "steakhouse," but the steaks somehow manage to taste better here than at the official Hyde Parks. My perfectly trimmed USDA Prime ribeye ($44)—weighing in at an ounce over a pound—arrives with a fierce and glistening crust. An equally weighty flank of Florida black grouper ($34), seared in a hot pan and finished with bright citrus compote, is one of the few fin fish entrees that doesn't feel like diet food. Large, shellfish-sweet flakes peel off the filet like snowy white dominoes.
Had we stopped there we might have spared the budget, but steak needs béarnaise, and a glass of Napa cabernet. And what's a meal without creamed spinach or roasted Brussels sprouts? Everything is a la carte at ML, which means that gluttony don't come cheap. But that creamed spinach ($8.50), served in a cast iron skillet bearing a golden-brown crumb topping, is worth the expense. Same with the Brussels sprouts ($8.90), mahogany colored outside and crisp-tender in. Oh, and bacon!
On my way out of the restaurant one night, an acquaintance relayed a story about a regular customer who complained about the prices at ML. "She's got no problem wearing a $24,000 bag," she scoffed, "but god forbid she pays $45 for a steak."
Maybe rich people are just like us after all—well, except for the $24,000 purse, of course.