The term "special-occasion restaurant" is both a blessing and a curse. While it's nice to know that diners value your establishment enough to entrust it with their most momentous milestones, it would also be nice if they popped by a little more often. Some places, like those listed here, have certainly earned their reputations as special-occasion restaurants. But wise diners know to not wait around until the next birthday, anniversary or Mother's Day to make a reservation.
623 Euclid Ave., 216-523-7000, marbleroomcle.com
Every other dining room in town looks up to Marble Room. The breathtaking interior, formerly a turn-of-the-century bank lobby designed by Walker and Weeks, the mavens behind Severance Hall, is just dripping with Beaux Arts beauty. Columns soar 40 feet in the air, marble staircases bend like ballerinas, chandeliers are gilded in gold, and ornate ironwork is straight from the golden age of design.
"With a space like this you can only go one way and that's high-end," owner Malisse Sinito rightly explained.
Indeed, the menu is loaded with suitably luxe foods like chilled lobster tails, oysters Rockefeller, King crab and thick-cut USDA Prime steaks and chops. You won't walk out the door for less than $300 per couple if done right, but you'll be dining in a room filled with the ghosts of Cleveland's industrial tycoons.
3164 Fulton Rd., 216-281-0055, johnnysonfulton.com
For close to 100 years, an unassuming neon sign has welcomed hungry neighbors into Johnny's Bar. It wasn't until the 1980s, under the guidance of the Santosuosso family, that the corner bar began edging away from fish fries and red-sauce pastas to more upscale Italian fare. These days, the "corner bar" designation is a relic of yesteryear, replaced by the more accurate designation as special-occasion restaurant.
"You don't just end up here, you make a point of coming," states owner Bo Santosuosso. "This place is a destination restaurant."
The cuisine is far from cutting edge, but that's not why you come to Johnny's. You come to wine and dine in a timeless dining room with mahogany paneling, leopard-print carpet and that dreamy Art Deco bar. The air is redolent of garlic, seafood, red wine and new money. If you're smart — and you are, because you're here — you're looking to the "specials" board for inspiration.
2058 East Fourth St., 216-621-5652, lolabistro.com
The feature about special-occasion restaurants that makes them special is rarely the food; it's the way these plush places make us feel. In an age of declining customer service, it's nice to know that there still are places that champion basic human dignity. From the servers and bartenders on up to the sommeliers and general managers, staffers at Lola seem to be deeply, genuinely invested in a guest's well-being.
For dinner there are those quivering beef cheek pierogi, of course, but branch out to the crispy bone marrow if you really want to lay the groundwork for a "special" night. Don Angie in New York is booked solid for six months, but you can enjoy their game-changing salad right here on Fourth Street. For a dinner of high drama, go all in on the Dover sole, which is deboned tableside and gilded with brown butter beurre blanc. Wash it all down with too much Champagne and follow it up with the whimsical s'mores dessert, crafted by one of the city's best pastry chefs.
13101 Shaker Square, 216-921-3333, edwinsrestaurant.org
We can't say it any better than owner Brandon Chrostowski, so why try?
"Dining is all about the experience and the more majestic one can make it, the more memorable," he explains.
Edwins is like dinner and a show in a single outing. A wagon train of wheeled carts dispenses everything from rye-powered Manhattans to that aromatic tableau of weeping cheeses. In between are trolleys dedicated to hand-ground burgers, medieval pressed duck, and bananas Foster, which literally and figuratively warms the cockles thanks to that blazing rum-powered flash.
"Carts allow a diner to be engaged with the restaurant and the staff," adds Chrostowski. "Plus, tableside shows are intimate, sexy and when you flambe there is no better way to show off your date."
2100 Superior Viaduct, 216-862-2761, lucacleveland.com
From top to bottom, Luca is designed for indulgent pleasure-seekers. The 6-year-old restaurant enjoys some of the most enchanting views in town from its perch atop the Superior Viaduct, providing a dramatic backdrop for a menu threaded with extravagance and immoderation.
In the Sacchetti al Tartufo Bianco, white truffle, widely regarded as an aphrodisiac, is stuffed into fresh pasta purses along with ricotta, Pecorino Romano and Parmigiano Reggiano cheeses. Gilding the lily, as it were, those pillows are slicked with an intoxicating truffle cream sauce. Seafood lovers lap up every drop of lobster risotto, crowned with butterflied whole lobster, while meat eaters bend a knee before one of the best versions of osso buco this side of Milan. Pan-seared branzino is deboned tableside and finished with a delicate and bright lemon, garlic and wine sauce.
Speaking of wine: This list is studded with enough Barolos, Brunellos and Super Tuscans to mollify a Roman Emperor, and staffers are knowledgeable enough to lend a hand selecting a bottle or two.