When Michael Grieve took over as executive chef of Tartine Bistro (19110 Detroit Rd., 440-331-0800, tartinebistro.com) in March, he inherited a fully stocked spice rack. But Grieve likes to call himself more of a salt-and-pepper kind of guy. Part of his goal has been to simplify the menu in order to let natural flavors shine through, and he is finding his footing as he moves into his first spring and summer seasons with the restaurant.
"Salt and pepper, olive oil; I like to keep it simple," he says. "You don't need to take away or mask anything with too many different seasonings."
A Willoughby native, Grieve relocated to San Francisco after military service and graduated from Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts. He worked at the esteemed fish market and seafood restaurant Anchor Oyster Bar until he returned to Cleveland in 2013. He started at Tartine as a line cook last November and quickly climbed the ranks.
Grieve might be nostalgic for the fresh, plucked from the ocean catches of the West Coast, but his love of seafood remains a prime influence on the menu, which previously was light on such offerings. Octopus and shark already have made well received appearances as specials, and he's planning to introduce halibut cheeks and calamari soon. He recently added a lemon and thyme crusted cod, which is caught and shipped to Ohio within 36 hours. Cod has long been one Grieve's favorites.
"It's so delicious on its own," he says. "It's a balance; you can overdo a piece of cod and you've just ruined a wonderful piece of fish. Why overcomplicate it?"
He's found a perfect pairing of seafood with tomatoes that will continue clear through summer. "They're just so colorful, they make every dish pop," he says.
A Basque shrimp dish is tossed in a marinara made with tomatoes sautéed with bell peppers and a bit of garlic and white wine. Scallops, which are topped with citrus zest to brighten the dish, are served over sweet corn risotto mixed with sofrito sauce.
"The acid in the tomatoes helps to cut the richness of the scallops and sweetness of the corn without taking away from the flavor of the two," Grieve explains.
The chef been busy introducing new techniques to the kitchen as well. Cherry tomatoes are cooked sous vide with lemon juice and basil then served with lemon pesto and grilled fresh sardines, a fish with which Grieve worked regularly in California. Tartine has since expanded sous vide cookery to lamb and short ribs.
Root vegetables and select herbs have helped usher in the chef's new seasonal menu updates. Baby heirloom carrots are blanched and sautéed with greens and served with lamb. Grieve also uses carrots for a bit of color and crunch in the weekly slow-roasted beef bourguignon plate, which he seasons with rosemary smoke. The rosemary makes another appearance on the beef tartine.
"I wanted to add rosemary without taking away from the natural flavor of the beef," the chef says. "Rather than tasting it with the first bite, the smoke is the first thing you smell when it gets to the table."
Soon, the once-cozy restaurant will be able to serve many more guests. A major expansion project will add a new dining room and up the seating from 50 to 150. Throughout it all, Grieve will make sure that there is no loss in quality and consistency.