If we have learned anything from dining at a Gregg Korney restaurant, it is that there is no such thing as "simple."
For proof that chef Korney is up to his old tricks, consider a simple bowl of soup as it is presented at Quince. In a lovely earthenware crock is the main event, thick butternut squash bisque that is pure vegetal bliss. But to get to that soup, one must first eat or remove the three pieces of squash tempura that hover on top. Not that it is a chore: The thin-sliced squash tempura is crisp and delightful. Sharing the oversize rectangular platter with the soup bowl is a shot glass filled with what appears to be packing material. In truth, it is curry-dusted popcorn gilded with coconut shards. The idea is to use the popcorn like crackers to jazz up the soup. But in order to get to the popcorn, one must first eat or remove the thick cap of frizzle-fried sweet potato. I'm not sure where the fried basil leaves are supposed to go.
Korney, you might recall, was the chef and owner of Velocity American Bistro, which lasted a short while in the old Jeso-Mise-Giovanna's spot. Before that, he worked as chef at Vue, Sushi Rock and Giovanni's.
Following the closure of Velocity, Korney opened Quince in Olmsted Falls, a move that seems to better suit his cooking style. In Cleveland, the chef's over-the-top approach was often perceived as a lack of restraint. In Olmsted Falls, it comes across as pure genius. I can't tell you how many times I overheard a customer say something along the lines of "Oh, my!" or "Ooh, la, la!" or "That's the biggest plate I've ever seen!"
While you can't always count on subtlety from Korney, you can expect value. The above soup presentation, including the tempura, checks in at $6. Most entrees at Quince come in south of $20, and I'm guessing few plates ever come back to the dishwasher empty. Portions here are so robust that when our server delivered one dish, he actually said, "Good luck."
Looking for a relatively light lunch one afternoon, I ordered the pork schnitzel ($9) from the menu's "Between Bread" section, expecting a sandwich. What arrived was a tower of food that could have served as a last meal. I am not exaggerating when I say that the stack was a half-foot tall, comprising alternating strata of potato pancakes, pork schnitzel, artichoke hearts and roasted garlic. The whole shebang was drizzled with a buttery lemon-caper sauce. Garnishes included airy gaufrettes, grainy mustard, pesto and fried basil leaves.
In jazz they like to say it's not the notes you play, but the ones you don't. In this case, the ingredients Korney mingles are not uncomplimentary, but he sometimes mingles too many of them. My scribbled comments note how wonderful that soup tasted, but all I remember was the curry popcorn. I'd kill for a sandwich made with Korney's ethereal schnitzel, but I'd be hesitant to commit to that whole dish again.
More often than not, though, Korney's skill, ambition and playfulness result in winning combinations. An appetizer of rosy rare beef rolled around gorgonzola, spinach and onions ($7) gets a flavor boost from a kicky horseradish cream sauce. While technically superfluous, you won't find me griping about the accompanying crispy mushroom "fries" with shitake aioli.
A beautiful flank of cod ($21) is bundled up in bacon, roasted to perfection and plopped down on a bed of hearty potato hash. That hash, by the way, also features sweet bay scallops, diminutive shrimp and golden roasted garlic. I'm as giddy as a schoolboy when the server delivers my "Three Little Piggies" ($20). Arranged on a multi-sectioned platter are various and delicious treatments of pork, including slow-roasted pork belly, spiced grilled pork and an absolutely brilliant bacon-studded lentil stew.
Over the span of two meals and multiple dishes, only one was a total flop. Another, the chocolate tart ($6) with homemade chocolate ice cream, nearly cost me a filling. Hidden in the ice cream are nuggets of caramel with the hardness of diamonds. Bite on one of those the wrong way and it's off to the dentist.
Quince's setting in the quaint, old-timey Grand Pacific Junction district is a bit incongruous. Korney's contemporary arrangements seem out of place against a backdrop of tea parlors and quilt shops. But I think it is precisely that juxtaposition that so tickles his guests. Korney didn't have to change his culinary approach to find success; he just had to change his audience.
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