(12413 Cedar Rd., 216-862-2508) might be one of the most cohesive new restaurants to open in Cleveland. From the seating to the lighting to the music, the overarching effect is to create an elegant but informal environment built around the sharing of small plates. For a year and a half, chef Doug Katz has been researching, devising and testing the dishes that will be unveiled next week when the restaurant officially opens. The location, in the former Fawaky Burst/Liquid Planet space, is in the Cedar-Fairmount district of Cleveland Heights
“Last year I went to Tel Aviv and tried 20 restaurants a day,” Katz explains. “Now, I wouldn’t really call this Israeli, because we have Spanish, Greek, Turkish, and Lebanese foods. It’s more Middle Eastern and Mediterranean.”
Massive front windows, tall ceilings and low-slung furniture combine to give the look and feel of light-filled art studio. Muted tones, soft lighting and candlelight provide a laidback setting for 75 to 100 guests seated at handsome wood tables, comfortable pillow-backed banquettes and a smooth concrete bar.
A menu consisting of nearly 30 tantalizing items, many of them vegan, vegetarian and gluten-free, are dished up on gorgeous pottery, some of which was crafted by Katz’ own hands. Prices range from $5 on up to $20, with options spanning the spectrum from a dish of warm citrus-cured olives with fennel pollen on up to braised lamb shoulder with dates, cocoa and pecorino.
Diners are encouraged to order all at once or in waves, adding new items as the desire strikes.
“We wanted it to feel more like a bar where you’re eating great-quality food as opposed to a restaurant where you’re sat and served in a more formal way,” Katz adds. “This is more like you’re just walking in and having amazing food. We want people to be spontaneous, maybe stop in here for a drink before going to Vero or after drinks at Parnell’s.”
To that effect, no reservations will be accepted. If there is a wait, diners are encouraged to browse the adjacent bookshop or slip in a neighboring pub while they wait for a text.
The menu is compelling to behold, with literally dozens of alluring options. Various hummus dishes come topped with spicy harissa, burnt onion and nigella seed, or curried lamb and apricots. Lutenitas, a roasted red pepper and eggplant spread, is paired like most foods with warm, soft pita. Whole cauliflower heads are brined, roasted and drizzled with almond chimichurri. Crispy Brussels sprouts are presented on creamy pine nut puree and gilded with pomegranate syrup. Octopus is braised, air-dried, cold-smoked and then marinated in harissa before being going into the oven. It’s served with olives, crispy potatoes and saffron aioli.
All of the above, of course, is served with plenty of the namesake zhug, a fiery concoction made from Serrano peppers, spices and herbs that adds a kick to whatever it touches.
To drink there are cocktails and wines, both by the glass and bottle, that hail from Mediterranean wine-growing regions.
This Saturday, November 16, will be open on a first-come, first-served basis, with all of the proceeds going to benefit the Ohio City Farm and Refugee Response. Zhug will open for regular business sometime next week. The exact day has not yet been determined.
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