There's Dover sole, Arctic char, and red snapper, but one thing you'll not find on Ben Fambrough's summer seafood menu is Chilean sea bass. The chef du cuisine at downtown's Sans Souci (24 Public Square in the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel, 216-696-5600) says he stopped serving the endangered fish years ago while working in a French bistro in Ithaca, New York. That was before eschewing it was fashionable. "No doubt, it's a popular fish," he says. "But even discounting the environmental issues, the supply can be erratic, the quality can vary, and most of the Chilean sea bass sold here is frozen anyway. Then, when you consider the fact that it's been seriously overfished, why would any chef want to serve it?"
Diners are unlikely to give a fig for sea bass, though, once they try some of Fambrough's other spectacular dishes. The Johnson & Wales grad has a gift for arranging pure, straightforward ingredients -- like fresh mint, cilantro, mango, and shredded crabmeat -- into breathtaking layers of fragrance and flavor, as he demonstrates in his almost effervescent crab salad appetizer ($13). He rarely uses more than a touch of cream in his creations, relying instead on technique and "good kitchen equipment" to turn soft-shell crab bisque, for example, into an ultra-smooth summery treat. And he's not afraid of salt and pepper: "If I'm doing my job right," he says, "no one will have to touch the salt shaker at the table."
Other summer menu knockouts include prosciutto-wrapped, pan-seared wild striped bass (a well-regulated Atlantic fish), served on delicate risotto piqued with saffron, cloves, and cumin ($23); lobster warmed in honey and rosemary, accompanied by heirloom tomato risotto, sautéed butter lettuce, and a purée of lettuce and chives ($25); and a dreamy dish of imported cavatelli tossed with shrimp, preserved lemon, lavender, chanterelle mushrooms, garlic confit, and skinny haricots verts ($19). The summer seafood menu will be available at lunch and dinner through August 24.
While the ambiance inside Sans Souci is elegant and refined, the atmosphere promises to be more lively downstairs, when renovations are completed to the former Schukers, a small, mostly unused dining space in the Renaissance hotel's lower level. Restaurant manager Ali Alidoosti says plans call for transforming the area into a 120-seat sports bar, complete with televisions, pool tables, and plenty of beers on draft. Tentative opening will be in September, just in time for football season.