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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Reimagined Dragonfly Has Wings

Posted By on Thu, Mar 31, 2011 at 12:33 PM

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The newly reimagined Dragonfly officially reopens tomorrow with a flavor-packed menu of pan-Asian cuisine.

Partners Jeff Allison and Adam Waldbaum have been using the past few days to show off the changes to family, friends and media. We stopped in last night for a small private reception and were impressed by what we saw and tasted.

Located next door to Allison's Garage, a casual Ohio City bar, Dragonfly is a warm, intimate, and sophisticated space that blends old red brick with contemporary lighting to great effect. Nonetheless, it has struggled since its 2010 opening to find its niche. While its retro menu of handcrafted cocktails has been a hit, the food part of the equation hasn't quite added up.

"I'm a bar guy, not a restaurant guy," says Allison, who has the bar thing down solid. After weeks of tossing around ideas for energizing Dragonfly with veteran Cleveland chef Marlin Kaplan (Luxe, the former One Walnut, and the 1990s groundbreaking Marlin, among others), the solution became obvious.

Allison and Waldbaum brought Kaplan on board as a partner in early March. In turn, Kaplan — who has long demonstrated an uncanny ability to predict culinary trends — has brought a seasoned restaurateur's eye to the operation, revamping everything from the menu to the seating arrangements. Most notably, the dining room's lounge-y high-tops have been replaced by traditional dining tables, the better to suggest actual dining. And the steakhouse menu — a hard-sell in these veggie-happy times and in this veggie-happy hood — has been replaced by a deliciously wrought lineup of intensely flavored Asian inspirations.

Helping create the cuisine is long-time chef Robert Ledzianowski, who came to Cleveland from the Battery Park Ritz Carlton about 10 years ago. He worked with Kaplan at One Walnut for five years; other stops included Table 45, Pier W, and the former Vue in Hudson. At Dragonfly, his enthusiasm and inspiration is evident, and is something he shares with Dragonfly's sushi master Kimo Javier.

"Kimo and I are going to have fun," promises Ledzianowski as he dashes around the open kitchen. "We're going to start doing some very creative things here."

Besides Kimo's first-rate sushi (including an umami-packed veggie version made with kampyo, avocado, and a bouquet of enoki mushrooms), the menu includes small plates like shaved jicama salad, crispy lobster potstickers, and spicy pork shoulder meatballs on lemongrass skewers, served with sprouts and sweet chile sauce.

Large plates include vegetarian soba with smoked tofu, scallions, shiitakes, and lime sesame dressing, and one of Kaplan's faves, roasted chicken with purple yam puree and Asian succotash.

The other fave is the Banh Mi, the French-inflected Vietnamese sandwich. Starring Kaplan's freshly made pate, thinly sliced roast pork, picked carrots, cucumber, cilantro, green chiles, and ginger aioli on a crisp French baguette, the flavors are rich, vibrant, and fresh, and the mouthfeel is first-rate. "I really think this is going to be a top seller," said Kaplan.

I think he is right.

Even the freshly made desserts get the pan-Asian treatment. Creme brulee is seasoned with lemongrass and kaffir lime. Flourless chocolate torte (a Kaplan signature) is goosed with chai, cardamom creme fraiche and salted caramel sauce. Of course, then there's the funnel cake with strawberries and banana cream. "Hey, who doesn't like funnel cake?" Ledzianowski asks rhetorically.

Partner Waldbaum owns a large eastside property that will be home to the restaurant's garden; Ledzianowski is also planning an herb patch for a nearby rooftop. The flavors and textures of fresh local produce are natural complements to the pan-Asian cuisine, of course. And with large plates priced mainly below $20, the menu should be a great complement to the neighborhood.

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