Local diners may not yet snap to attention at the sound of Ben Fambrough's name, but they ought to: The personable young chef of Sans Souci, in downtown's Renaissance Cleveland Hotel (24 Public Square), is one of the best in town. With an engineer's precision and a poet's heart, he creates an ever-changing roster of French and Mediterranean dishes for Sans Souci's everyday menu, as well as for the restaurant's popular seasonal promotions, including the current Winter in Provence.
The Provençal-style specials alternate between crowd-pleasers like pan-roasted sea bass and braised lamb shanks, and rare finds such as Moroccan-style chicken pastilla, dartois (thinly sliced potatoes, caramelized onion, and smoked Gouda, baked in puff pastry), and escargot bordelaise (plump, farm-raised snails, nestled in a crisp potato basket) -- all of them showcasing Fambrough's gift for marrying rustic flavors with sophisticated appeal.
Consider his opalescent pan-roasted grouper, for example, subtly seasoned with a blend of herbes de Provence ($13 lunch/$22 dinner). The fish is settled on a pool of fruity tomato coulis, piqued with the sharp, salty flavors of tapenade-like piccholine olive purée, and plated with artichoke, haricots verts, and baby red-and-white carrots from Huron's Farmer Jones; its lively flavors pirouette between the earthy and the sublime. Much the same can be said for the lunch-only entrées of baked sole, stuffed with a lush mix of lobster, bay scallop, and shrimp, and drizzled with basil oil ($12); and that sweet-savory pastilla -- a crisp phyllo turnover, filled with chicken, raisins, almonds, and saffron, with a dusting of powdered sugar ($11).
Fortunately, the forecast calls for Winter in Provence to continue through April 4; call 216-696-5600 for reservations.
It's a jungle in there . . . Last year it was Polynesian tiki torches, this year it's Brazilian churrascaria: The only predictable thing at Willoughby's Lure Bistro (38040 Third Street; 440-951-8862) is that dinners will be fun. Inspired by trips to Miami and Puerto Vallarta, owners Nick and Giovanna Kustala are offering their own version of the famous Brazilian barbecue, in which skewer-roasted meats are brought directly from the grill to the dining room and carved tableside. Through Lent, the meaty three-course meal (including baby greens in a carrot-ginger dressing; Madeira onion soup; and roasted steak, pork loin, and sausage, with saffron rice and sautéed veggies; $24.95 per person) is a Saturday-night special. Come summer, the menu will feature Brazilian barbecue every night.