Following this weekend’s Blossom Time festivities, the Chagrin Falls restaurant West End Bistro (79 West St.) will close. A week later, the restaurant will reopen with a brand new look, feel, menu and name: Casa Roja Tapas Restaurant.
The building, a small and attractive red-sided structure, was first converted into a restaurant back in 2008, when owner Tom Lutz debuted Village Exchange, a quick-serve sandwich shop. A year later, he transformed the operation into what it is today, a polished little eatery for 50 guests.
“After seven years, we feel we need to retool,” says Lutz, who also owns the neighboring Gamekeeper’s Taverne (87 West St., 440-247-7744, gamekeepers.com). “We had numerous conversations about going with a Mexican concept, but to be honest, we couldn’t bring ourselves to do a taco and street food theme.”
Lutz says travels to the Spanish cities of Barcelona, Madrid and Seville inspired him to open Casa Roja.
“I’ve always been enamored with their culture, art and especially food,” Lutz says of Spain. “I always wanted to do a tapas-themed restaurant.”
Lutz and executive chef Alex Arsham have devised a menu built around small plates, sharable platters, and a handful of entrees. The tapas is divided into sections for hot and cold. Diners will enjoy items like warm olives, hand-carved serrano ham, and a variety of paellas built for two. As time goes on, says the chef, the dishes will become more adventurous.
“We’re aiming for a nice arrangement of small plates and nice plate presentations to bring people in, but not things that will alienate people,” Arsham says. “At first it’s all about getting people comfortable with tapas and how we do things and slowly getting more adventurous.”
All dishes will be priced south of $20, with the majority of small plates costing $10.
Of course, there will be plenty of wines from Spain and South America, as well as Sherry and Sangria.
The interior will receive a major overhaul, says Lutz, leaving it “much more sophisticated and sexy.”
Look for Casa Roja to open for dinner the first week of June, with lunch to follow a week or so down the road.
Diners can look forward to changes at Gamekeeper’s as well, says executive chef Craig Fitzgerald, who has been making improvements since he started with the restaurant a year ago.
“We’re trying to evolve; we’re trying to get back up to what Gamekeeper’s was in the past,” he says.
He’s been incorporating more local produce and proteins, while introducing new game dishes to the menu.
“Being in business since 1976 we have to evolve, and I think we have the two guys here – Craig and Alan – who can effect that change,” says Lutz.