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Square Dance

Despite delays, Sergio's Samba is still a go.

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OPA! might put love in your tummy -- or a ring on your finger. - WALTER  NOVAK
  • Walter Novak
  • OPA! might put love in your tummy -- or a ring on your finger.

The "Opening This Spring!" banners had been gathering dust in the windows for months. It was cause for wondering whether Chef Sergio Abramof was having second thoughts about his proposed restaurant at Shaker Square.

But no. "The delay was purely because I was -- how shall I put this? -- very thorough in putting together my business plan," says Abramof, owner of Sergio's in University Circle (1903 Ford Drive, 216-231-1234). "I just wanted to get it right."

As of last week, that planning started to pay off: Demolition was completed and construction finally began on Sergio's Samba Kitchen, the new 185-seat restaurant scheduled to open in November at 13225 Shaker Square.

A bustling bar will be the focal point, along with a fireplace, patio, and a big menu of Brazilian-influenced small plates, appetizers, and entrées. "That's one of the things we haven't been able to do at the University Circle location because of its small size," Abramof says, "and that is to take advantage of the most fun part of Brazilian cuisine -- the drinks, the tapas, and the energetic 'street life' sensibility."

But help is near. The new bar's specialties will include caipirinhas, Brazil's so-called "national drink"; batidas, a blend of freshly squeezed tropical juices and rum, vodka, or cachaça; and a menu filled with noshes, small plates, or starters just right for sharing. "You have a drink, you have an appetizer, and then maybe you have another drink," the chef suggests -- and who are we to argue? Kitchen hours will be 4 to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 4 to midnight on Friday and Saturday.

Meantime, the 10-year-old Sergio's in University Circle will end lunch service as of September 9. The soon-to-debut dinner-only menu will keep some of the popular South American dishes while adding a few Asian twists, in dishes like sesame-sea-scallop lollipops and lobster spring rolls.

Don't drink the water . . . Unless you're guzzling it with someone you really dig, better stick to the orange-blossom lemonade at Ohio City's OPA! on 25th (1834 West 25th Street). Later this month, longtime chef Victor Furuki and part-time catering employee Cathy Woodward will become the third pair of OPA! lovebirds to tie the knot in less than a year. They were preceded in their stroll down the aisle by head chef Mike Smith and manager Tess Martin, who got hitched in June; and by server Judy Fitch and former employee David Crighton, who did the deed in January. (Furuki and Woodward are moving to Texas, but the other two couples remain here.)

The Smiths honeymooned in New Orleans and San Francisco, and brought home a heap of new recipes, including grilled pork loin with quince glaze, served with grilled nectarine salsa and plantain fritters; and brown-sugar cheesecake with bourbon-caramel sauce. But you have only until the end of September to give them a try. That's when the restaurant's owner, Executive Chef Dimitris Ragousis, returns from a research junket to the Mediterranean, eager to fill the new fall menu with his discoveries. OPA! is open for lunch Tuesdays through Fridays, dinner Tuesdays through Sundays, and brunch on Saturdays and Sundays. Snag a reservation at 216-344-0575.

Feast or famine? . . . Food writer Laura Taxel and her buds at Cleveland Magazine/Great Lakes Publishing are about to find out just how deep the culinary waters really run on the North Coast. They're launching Feast! Food & Fine Living in Northeast Ohio, a sort of local version of Gourmet. The twice-yearly mag will focus on Cleveland-area chefs, restaurants, and food trends, including recipes and cooking advice. What it won't have is restaurant reviews. "We didn't want to go there," Editorial Director Taxel says, noting that that's one topic that already gets plenty of coverage in local rags. Feast's premiere edition was mailed to 19,000 Cleveland Magazine readers in August; future issues will hit newsstands in November and May.

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