Few things have bugged us more intensely than the fact that, while it had dibs on the most spectacular view in all of Northeast Ohio, Pier W (12700 Lake Avenue, Lakewood, 216-228-2250) squandered it on mediocre food and clichéd, dated decor.
But get a load of that bad boy now. After an eight-month hiatus, the lakeside restaurant overlooking downtown reopened for dinner on July 19, and with its new, elegantly spartan decor and contemporary-global menu, even its mama would hardly know it.
It's out with the cluttered "Olde Salty Dog" motif and in with a sleek, open design that channels all the sophistication of a 1950s luxury liner. Black marble, white walls, and buttery soft faux-leather upholstery in shimmering metallics add a subtle opulence that complements -- but doesn't compete with -- the jaw-dropping view. Likewise, white linens, minimalist place settings, and theatrical lighting from a series of tiny, ceiling-mounted spotlights direct attention to Executive Chef Anthony Phenis' equally stunning food.
Phenis, brought in from Chicago by Pier W's owners (Cleveland-based Select Restaurants Inc. , which owns and operates nearly a dozen restaurants across the country), has come up with a big menu of contemporary fish and seafood creations that contains some real winners. Take a look at the first-course trio of halibut tacos ($8.50), a mouthwatering combo of plump, pearly fish, juicy pico de gallo, and piquant micro-cilantro, tucked into dainty, U-shaped fried won-ton shells that practically evaporate at first bite. A satiny avocado garnish is the finishing touch.
Entrées (mostly in the $24 to $28 range) come with a bread basket featuring an extraordinary French baguette from Tribeca Oven Bakery in New Jersey, as well as housemade pine-nut hummus, an evocative purée of pignolis, lemon zest, sesame oil, and cumin. A dainty mesclun salad with sesame-soy vinaigrette also comes with, but it's worth the extra charge to substitute the gorgeous wood-roasted heirloom-beet salad ($8), with its accompaniment of marinated watermelon balls, dill oil, and red-and-green shiso (a culinary herb with a haunting taste sometimes described as a cross between parsley, cilantro, and cumin).
Cool, smooth summer gazpacho ($6) and the restaurant's signature bouillabaisse ($25) were also tasty and well executed. An entrée of walleye tempura ($24), however, arrived barely lukewarm; and while the tempuraed fish, green beans, asparagus, and Meyer lemon slices were tasty enough, the absence of non-fried counterpoint on the plate led to rapid gustatory boredom. Still, that's a minor blip in the face of all the newly installed hipness. It appears as if Pier W is finally on course to become one of the city's most exciting restaurants.
Party, people . . . Last year's Share Our Strength benefit at Tremont's Lola proved to be one of the most intimate, casually elegant gourmet blowouts of the year, with a fabulous mix of nationally known chefs and fun-loving foodies snuggled up under one tall tin ceiling for a night of first-rate food and drink. This year's event, scheduled for 6 p.m. on Monday, August 29, at Lolita (site of the former Lola), is shaping up to be every bit as buff. The eight guest chefs include Paul Kahan (Chicago's Blackbird and Avec), Aaron Sanchez (N.Y.C.'s Paladar), Trey Foshee (La Jolla's George's at the Cove), Michael Schlow (Boston's Radius), Anne Kearney (formerly of New Orleans' Peristyle), and local honchos Paul Minnillo (Baricelli Inn), Rocco Whalen (Fahrenheit), Matt Harlan (Theory), and of course, host Michael Symon (Lolita, and soon, downtown's reincarnated Lola). Eight courses, eight wines, and an unlimited opportunity for world-class elbow-rubbing will set you back $225, with all profits going to support Share Our Strength's national anti-hunger campaign. Call 216-771-5652 to get in on the fun.
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