The move reunites Popovic with his old friend and mentor, Doug Katz, Fire's owner and executive chef. The duo first worked together in the late 1990s at Beachwood's trendy Moxie, where Katz ran the kitchen.
For diners who know Popovic mostly from his big, sexy cuisine at XO -- a little foie gras here, a splash of truffle oil there -- the chef may seem an odd fit for Fire, where Katz embraces a Zen-like minimalism. But while both acknowledge their stylistic differences, they see them not as a potential bone of contention, but as a banquet of opportunities for mutual growth.
In fact, Katz is turning over a number of culinary projects to Popovic: He'll lead cooking classes at several local culinary venues and take over Fire's series of monthly wine dinners; he's also slated to prepare dinner at the prestigious James Beard House in N.Y.C. on August 18. (The menu for that shindig, incidentally, includes poached lobster with seared foie gras; duck pastrami with watercress, fennel, enoki mushrooms, and a champagne vinaigrette; and grilled lamb chops with tasso polenta cake, sautéed arugula, and an oxtail demiglace.)
Popovic replaces Fire's former chef de cuisine Ronnie Roberts, who is moving to Atlanta after eight years as Katz's right-hand man. Meanwhile, the kitchen at XO Prime Steaks is now the domain of Popovic's former sous chef, Ben Reiland.
Tuna surprise . . . Any fool can toss a hunk of salmon on the grill and call it dinner. But when Sans Souci chef de cuisine Ben Fambrough does it, we call it delish. Now through August 20, Fambrough's summer seafood menu showcases his talent for combining pristine ingredients into refreshing dishes of complex, evocative flavor. Take his lush Tuna Tartare ($11), which employs hints of horseradish, capers, tangerine oil, and lemon zest as flavoring agents for the impeccable diced raw tuna; he finishes the dish with golden bubbles of salty salmon roe and savory-sweet droplets of imported Italian green olive jam. In a word: amazing. Among the entrées, pearly pan-roasted sea bass ($15 lunch/$24 dinner), with the texture of butter, nearly hovers above a grassy green emulsion of watercress. And the wood-grilled King salmon, done to a succulent medium rare? Served with an heirloom tomato "carpaccio," on a platform of fingerling potatoes tossed with parsley pesto, and ringed with artichoke beurre blanc ($14 lunch/$22 dinner), the dish makes other salmon preparations look like Fancy Feast. Sans Souci is at 24 Public Square, inside the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel. Call 216-696-5600 for reservations.
Working on the Waterhouse . . . Less than 18 hours before their June 30 opening, workers at downtown's new Waterhouse Restaurant (728 Prospect Avenue, 216-694-0005) were still cleaning, painting, and assembling dining booths. Still, executive chef Adam Schmith (a Johnson & Wales grad, whose credits include a stint at Marlin Kaplan's One Walnut) seemed ready to rumble, with big lunch and dinner menus crammed with seafood, steaks, chops, and pasta. Midday options include a crab-and-langostino quesadilla ($9) and a blackened rib-eye steak with garlic mashed potatoes ($12). At dinner, guests will find rosemary roasted chicken ($14) and grilled beef short ribs with honey-spiced barbecue sauce and roasted potatoes ($18). Other attractions include a full bar, a 100-bottle wine list, and Sunday brunch, served from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Now, if they can just get those stairs carpeted.