It was surely one of the least tactful and most transparent statements a restaurant staffer has ever laid on us: "Brecksville is a pretty wealthy area, which fits our price point."
That sentiment, voiced by a recent GM of Seared in Brecksville, speaks directly to the build-it-and-they-will-come attitude of some restaurateurs, who mistakenly believe that even one-percenters want to dine like Henry VIII seven days a week. That is not to say that pricey restaurants don't fly. But as the prices soar, so too does the bar on quality, service, atmosphere, and value.
Michael Morales, Seared's Columbus-based owner, agrees.
"When I saw that we were nowhere near Cleveland, I knew we had to make it a destination place," he explained via phone. "And those need to be better than your average restaurant."
Seared, we're sorry to report, is nowhere near where it needs to be to live up to its self-described "destination" designation.
That's too bad for Brecksville residents, who have been waiting for a consistently good restaurant in this spot since the Spanish Tavern closed more than 15 years ago. Since then, the attractive Mission-style structure with exposed beams, cozy nooks, and stained-glass windows has been a halfway house for every ill-conceived plan to come down the pike.
From top to bottom, our experiences at Seared fell similarly short of expectations. Despite a near-empty dining room, the wait times for dishes were interminable. And the reward for our patience? Tepid, poorly executed offerings, and the sinking feeling that our money would have been better spent elsewhere. At least there was live entertainment — in the form of a grossly inebriated party of six that was not once asked by management to keep it down.
Morales attributes our experience to ill timing: We had the misfortune of dining in the wake of a Groupon distribution. Had we known ahead of time, at least we could have used one ourselves.
The name "Seared" combines the two specialties of the house: sea (seafood) and red (steaks). One might assume that the kitchen staff of a restaurant specializing in seafood would know the top of an oyster from the bottom. But odd as it sounds, nearly half of our oysters Rockefeller were composed on the flat top shell. Since most of the liquid drained right off, the results were predictably dry and chewy.
From the look of things, the kitchen absolutely nailed a scallop starter. The plump seafood had a deep-brown sear, which set them nicely against the pool of mint-green avocado purée. Sadly, the scallops were barely room temperature and the purée was cold.
Granted, one's demands of a $5.50 bowl of lobster bisque should be modest, but they can reasonably include a hint of lobster meat or flavor. There was none.
We'd like to see more interesting catches from a seafood-centric restaurant than the usual Chilean sea bass, sautéed salmon, and lobster ravioli. We steered clear of all of the above in favor of the crab-stuffed shrimp, medium-sized (not "jumbo," as described) butterflied crustaceans topped with a dollop of crab-cake filling. Had they been hot, they would have been the highlight of the meal.
Of the four steaks on the menu, the owner says two — the filet and rib-eye — are USDA Prime. We asked only because the menu doesn't specify. That might explain why my strip steak au poivre was good but not great. It didn't help that the kitchen was extremely stingy with the brandy and veal sauce. By this point in the meal, we should have predicted the tepid garlic mashed potatoes.
The one bright spot of the evening happened to be our server, who suffered through all the glitches like a trouper. Corked wine? No problem. Slow food? Let me bring you more bread. No salt and pepper on the table? Let me get that for you.
In the near future, diners can look forward to a brand-new menu, says Morales, which promises to be a lot more "vibrant and fun."
Let's hope it's good too.