If you don't think that big-name chefs influence a restaurant's development, consider the case of menu6. While planning his Larchmere Boulevard project, owner Said Ouaddaadaa envisioned a hip neighborhood steakhouse. His intention was to plug the chophouse gap that exists between Beachwood and Public Square. But he also wanted a partner in the kitchen with draw — a buzz-worthy pro with instant name recognition. A guy like Michael Herschman.
Once Herschman signed on as chef, a new concept began to emerge: one that veered from simple (steakhouse) to mathematically byzantine (six categories of six items). In the end, a sort of hybrid emerged. Now, alongside contemporary steaks, chops, and filets are Herschman's signature Pacific Rim-inspired seafood dishes. Depending on your point of view, this is either the best of both worlds or a case of dish disharmony.
You can debate the merits of mingling bone-in rib steaks with mussels in green curry till the grass-fed cows come home. But armchair assessments quickly lose gravity as soon as the plates begin to arrive. Eye-catching, multifaceted, and utterly enjoyable to devour, Herschman's food keeps diners on the edge of their seats.
While every other joint in town is slinging "gourmet" wings, menu6 is turning out crispy tempura-fried shrimp ($8) with aromatic peanut-coconut sauce. Now that's finger food. Better still are the limited-time-only soft-shell crabs ($29). Three fat, succulent whales are spice-dusted, deep fat-fried, cleaved in half, and served with a spicy Thai-style cashew dipping sauce. Memories of that dish will sustain me clear until next year's soft-shell season.
If you were to draw a Venn diagram for steakhouses and Pacific Rim cuisine, one of the few elements to land at the crossroads would be raw fish. Menu6 takes the classic chophouse raw bar and nudges it to the Far East by adding thick-sliced sashimi to the usual just-shucked oysters and clams. Buttery blocks of tuna ($7), yellowtail ($7), and scallop ($7) are served with pickled ginger, wasabi, and micro-greens. Parties of two or more should seriously consider the glistening raw platter ($25-$36), which combines sashimi, oysters, and clams with poached shrimp, creamy seafood salad, and caviar-dolloped crostini.
Menu6 bills itself as "food forward," but many of the dishes come straight out of Herschman's past. Mojo closed seven years ago, but fan faves like sweet and spicy calamari ($7.50), green curry-spiked mussels ($13), crispy spicy tofu ($8), and four-cheese penne ($8 half, $15 whole) all make encore appearances on Larchmere. Of course, that hardly means the chef is standing still: Numerous specials give even the most frequent flyers something fresh to try on each visit. Recent features include smoked bacon chowder with crunchy mussel fritters, mushroom-dusted halibut with warm ramp and mushroom salad, and scallop crudo with roasted jalapeno gazpacho.
Bearing at least some steakhouse DNA, menu6 also offers a robust and contemporary selection of meats and chops. A deftly grilled and texturally appealing prosciutto-wrapped filet ($25) is on hand for conservative meat-and-potato diners. Unabashed beefeaters, meanwhile, will assuredly gravitate to the one-pound USDA prime bone-in rib steak ($32). Diners who covet a deep char on their chops will want to pass on the salt-roasted rib-eye ($28), a technique that leaves the meat supple but also salty and sear-free.
Much has been made of menu6's mathematical menu maneuvers. In theory, the "6" in the restaurant's name was to serve as a rule of construction, whereby six different categories would contain six items. In practice, the concept is taken less literally: Some contain just four, while others exceed their allowance with seven. In reality, it's not as confusing as it sounds, with sections devoted to raw bar, salads, starters, meats, seafood, and sides.
Like the main menu, the wine list is broken into six categories — and the method works flawlessly. Looking for a dry, crisp white? There is a grouping of 10 of them, including a minty Gobelsburger Grüner ($10 a glass). Need a bold red to pair with a steak? More than a dozen choices fit the bill. Also on hand are wine flights, craft beers, and modern cocktails built with the trendiest liqueurs and spirits.
A modest but effective makeover has given the old Boulevard Blue space a dramatic new look. The raised platform in the rear of the room that long supported jazz bands was reworked into a snazzy semi-private dining nook. A roomy chef's table now sits directly in front of the open kitchen. That's great news for Herschman, a chef who is as comfortable in front of the pass as he is behind it.
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12718 Larchmere Blvd.
Hours: Lunch, 11:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. (Friday and Saturday); dinner, 4:30 to 10 p.m. (Tuesday-Thursday), 4:30 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4:30 to 9 p.m. Monday. Closed Sundays
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