'08 Dining Balance Sheet

Gains And Losses From The Year That Was

Big gains were in short supply in '08, not only in the Dow, but also at the dinner table. This year's most notable newcomers include entries from heavy hitters like Zack Bruell, Marlin Kaplan, Carl Quagliata and John McDonnell. Bruell completely reworked the old That Place on Bellflower locale into L'Albatros, a contemporary French brasserie. Kaplan jump-started Detroit Shoreway with Luxe Kitchen & Lounge, an affordable, approachable and spirited saloon. In nearby Rocky River, affable host McDonnell delivered Tartine, an Ÿber-cozy bistro and wine bar. Veteran restaurateur Quagliata rewarded hungry Aurora residents with Café Toscano, an elegant little Italian trattoria.

Also in the asset column is Bistro on Lincoln Park, Pete Joyce's Mediterranean-themed boite tucked into the old Sage Bistro spot. When it comes to cozy, few businesses can best Felice Urban Café, a Latin-inspired gem set inside a restored Craftsman-style home. The old Wine Room on Lee Road was transformed into Taste, a sharp new bistro with a mild French accent. Meanwhile, the Euro-American bistro Americano at Bratenahl Place hopes to undo that location's record of short-lived ventures. East Fourth Street scored a well-known operator when Terry Tarantino opened La Strada, a fanciful restaurant featuring foods from Spain, Italy and Greece. Similarly, small plates from Spain, France and Morocco make frequent, flavorful appearances at Coventry Road's Bodega. Fans of Russian cuisine (and apparently there are many) cheered with the opening of Restaurant Europa at Landerwood Plaza. Down south in Wooster, Michael Mariola opened the fine-casual City Square Steakhouse.

The Theater District got just what the doctor ordered when Akron-based Bricco introduced Clevelanders to its signature "Phunky Pizza and Pasta." Nearby, on the campus of Cleveland State University, Elements Bistro taught students and faculty that mess halls needn't be all that messy. Across town, Max's Deli was given a second life, so to speak, when former staffers reopened the deli as Sweet Melissa's. Sweets guru Heather Haviland retooled the former Café Limbo spot into Vine & Bean, a locavore's version of the neighborhood diner. Fresh, local and seasonal is the thrust behind Go! Bistro, a soup, salad and sandwich emporium in Mayfield Heights. Described as "comfort food with an Italian twist," Quince is the latest offering from chef Gregg Korney.

Spirits-focused establishments played a significantly smaller role in 2008 than in '07, when seemingly every other opening was a beer bar or gastropub. Stone Mad popped onto the scene like a bejeweled immigrant with Irish and Italian ancestry. At Crocker Park, the Gamekeeper's Hospitality group opened a bigger, snazzier version of 87 West, the popular Chagrin Falls wine bar. Former Brownie Bob Golic opened his Sports Bar & Grille in the old Synergy location. Visible Voice Books, Tremont's favorite indie bookstore, added a wine bar with courtyard seating. Out in Madison, Debonné Vineyards celebrated the grand opening of Cellar Rats Brewery, an onsite bar and microbrewery.

A couple of legends returned from the dead for an encore. On the East Side, the notorious Euclid Tavern reappeared in a revitalized state, while on the other side of town, Brothers Lounge roared back to life after significant restoration. Music is a near-nightly affair at Jazz 28, a snug little supper club that opened in the old Halite/Budapest Blue spot.

Once again, some of the biggest gains are coming out of the Asian marketplace. Saigon, a Vietnamese restaurant from the folks at #1 Pho, opened across the street from Lola. Wonton Gourmet tastefully took the place of New Wong's on Payne Avenue. Ariyoshi reintroduced sushi to Lee Road in Cleveland Heights, quickly followed by Aoeshi Café, a smaller, more modest Asian eatery. Pacific East at Eton is considerably more intimate than the original on Coventry, but is no less stellar. Also on Coventry is Tree Country, a multiethnic eatery serving the cuisines of Japan, Thailand and Korea. Korean food is largely the bill o' fare at Ha-Ahn, a spare little spot that recently opened in the Golden Plaza.

Sweets fans scored big with the arrival of Lilly Handmade Chocolate, a stylish beer, wine and chocolate boutique with a big-city feel. Also in Tremont is the scrumptious Cookie and a Cupcake, opened by pastry chef extraordinaire Wendy Thompson and co-owner SynDee Klingenberg.

Mergers and Acquisitions

Chef Kurt Steeber became the proud new owner of Boulevard Blue when founder Andy Himmel bowed out after a successful five-year run. Nick Kustala sold his eight-year-old Lure Bistro to chef Jaret Havanchak. Viva Barcelona reverted back to its original owner and reopened as Viva Fernando. North Olmsted's Kashmir Palace underwent a mini-makeover and reappeared as Flavors of India. Yashar Yildirim turned lemons into lemonade when he relocated his popular Anatolia Café from closed-for-demolition Cedar Center to Lee Road. The abruptly shuttered State Fish in the Flats was acquired by Catanese Classic Seafood. Pickwick & Frolic debuted the city's first Champagne Bar. Seth Bromberg added a second Melting Pot to his portfolio. The West Side Market scored returns with Mediterra Bakehouse and Side Show. Ejected from the only home it has ever known, Market Avenue Wine Bar was fortunate to find refuge in the old Talkies spot across the street. Michael Symon unveiled Roast in Detroit's glitzy Westin Book Cadillac while recruiting his buddy Aaron Sanchez to join the team at Zocalo Mexican Grill.

Losses and Liabilities

Our on-again, off-again love affair with La Tortilla Feliz may permanently be dialed to the "Off" position. But Dan Krasny, owner of Vivo, promises that that Italian hotspot will reopen now that the Euclid Avenue dust finally has settled. Blake's Seafood Grille closed in Chagrin Falls but will soon return with a new name and concept. Moroccan tastemaker Moha Orchid locked the doors of Venezia and went on an open-ended sabbatical. Neighbors Dish Global Deli and the Monastery both closed within weeks of one another. And three separate diners - Chuck's, Sand's and Gali Gali - all were 86'ed in '08.

The Far East suffered significant losses with the closure of C & Y Chinese Restaurant, Ly's Thai Gourmet, Kimo's Sushi and Shinano, though the latter should reopen soon in Solon. Krazy Mac's, formerly Cheddars and Snicker's, closed on the Near West Side. Aura Global Cuisine closed down south, as did Good Taste Market. Fireside Lobster and Chop House disconnected the phones out east.

Looking Ahead

There is hope on the horizon in the form of Greenhouse Tavern, Jonathon Sawyer's ambitious new East Fourth Street gastro tavern. Dante Boccuzzi is relocating his empire from Valley View to Tremont, promising a new arrival this spring. Any day now, Fat Heads Brewery & Saloon will open in North Olmsted and Grotto Wine Bar will unlock the doors at Shaker Square. The guys from Wine Bar Rocky River will unveil a sports bar-themed steakhouse, while Hospitality Restaurants will breathe new life into the old Inn at Turner's Mill. Heather Haviland hopes 2009 will bring the opening of Sanctuary in the Tremont Place Lofts. Look for the swank Estate on Coffee Creek to open in Ashtabula County and Erie Island Coffee Co. to do the same on East Fourth Street. And, yes, the Big Egg has been put back together again. Look for it to reopen under new management in the original spot.


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Douglas Trattner

For 20 years, Douglas Trattner has worked as a full-time freelance writer, editor and author. His work on Michael Symon's "Carnivore," "5 in 5" and “Fix it With Food” have earned him three New York Times Best-Selling Author honors, while his longstanding role as Scene dining editor garnered the award of “Best...
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