Smart new chefs add spice at Zócalo, Muse

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Economic woes aside, Cleveland's restaurant scene continues to sizzle, and a recent influx of savvy chefs has only raised the temp.

At East Fourth Street's Zócalo Mexican Grill & Tequilería, the addition of consultant and celebrity chef Aarón Sánchez should be a huge boost for this previously lukewarm eatery. Clevelanders will remember Sánchez as one of Michael Symon's (Lola, Lolita) competitors for the Next Iron Chef title. But beyond that, the charming 32-year-old operates two acclaimed restaurants in N.Y.C., Paladar and Centrico, and was nominated as a James Beard Rising Star Chef in 2005. He's also best buds with Symon, who helped lure him to Cleveland.

At Zócalo, Sánchez's challenges have included adding "authenticity and contemporary technique" to the Mexican menu, and "teaching and inspiring" the staff. The result, he says, is "a new era, a new concept, and new food in a city that is already going through a renaissance." His new menu debuted last Thursday.

The restaurant, at 2071 East Fourth (216-781-0420), serves lunch and dinner daily.

Ritzy revision: Good things are also cooking at Muse, the Ritz's intimate sixth-floor restaurant.

For one, it's out with the small-plates concept and in with a tightly crafted menu of contemporary-American fare, featuring luxurious, high-end products sourced from a cadre of specialty growers.

Heading up the revitalized kitchen is chef de cuisine Timothy Maxin. Also on board, chef de partie Constantine Vourliotis and pastry chef Roger Smith. Together with food and beverage manager Jude Feyedelem, the team is a hotbed of talent, energy, and ambition, capable of crafting some of the most precise (if pricey) plates in town. That includes apps like seared Hudson Valley foie gras ($16), enhanced by a beautifully composed salad of Asian pear, vanilla-poached rhubarb, mascarpone panna cotta, and tupelo honey; and, among entrées, a half-rack of rosy Colorado lamb ($37), in a fresh garbanzo-bean crust, on a swoosh of sunchoke purée.

Dinner is served daily; call 216-902-5255 for reservations.

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