Like many of Cleveland's successful chefs and restaurateurs, Zach Bruell has established a number of upscale eateries that cover a wide range of ethnicities and price points. Having already eaten at his two latest establishments, L'Albatros and Chinato, I decided to turn my attention to one of his earlier creations, Table 45, located on the first floor of the Intercontinental Hotel on the Cleveland Clinic's main campus very close to the University Circle area. Because I work fairly close to this location, I'm actually a little surprised that I hadn't gotten there sooner, but I find that sometimes the restaurants that are very nearly under your nose are the ones you don't see right away.
Since I was staying a little later in the office today in an attempt to avoid the afternoon traffic from Cleveland to Akron, I figured I would pop in at an early time on a Monday evening. Mondays are typically very slow restaurant days to begin with, so I was surprised to see that their website listed them as being open. At about 5:15 PM or so, I tidied up a bit at my office and walked the two blocks to the front of the Intercontinental Hotel at 9801 Carnegie Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106. Of course, should you require reservations, you can reach them at 216-707-4045 or make reservations using a link on their website. (Website Alert: Flash content is the least of your worries on this site. It will also resize your browser window. Quite annoying!) While there was valet parking available, since my car was already parked in one of the garages on East 93rd Street and I had walked, I had little use for this service.
Once inside the main door, I walked towards the rear of the building and was soon greeted with a pillar upon which these plaques had been placed:
At least I knew I was in the correct place. Should one turn to the right, you would end up at the North Coast Cafe, which conveniently enough happened to be closed on Mondays. Turning to the left yielded a much better result, the front door to Table 45:
As I had suspected, the restaurant was fairly dead so early in the evening on a Monday and after the hostess more or less gave me the tour of the bar area and sushi bar, we ended up in the back of the restaurant where for a time, I was the only diner. After seating me at a table with a decent light source nearby (as luck would have it), she left me with Table 45's menu:
Upon examining the menu, it was obvious that the restaurant's offerings were heavily seafood based. While I do love seafood, I've always been wary of ordering it on a Monday after reading Anthony Bourdain's scathing expose of the restaurant industry in his book Kitchen Confidential. My server promptly introduced himself to me and told me the two daily specials, neither of which were seafood-based. Looking at the fifteen or so appetizers alone, there were at least twelve that contained seafood. It seemed that since this aquatic ingredient was so prominently featured as part of the regular menu, perhaps I would overlook Mr. Bourdain's admonition. I can't imagine Chef Bruell would feature an entire class of ingredients if he couldn't get good versions for a Monday night service.
The other discovery I made as I studied the menu was the breadth of the range of world cuisines being offered at Table 45. While pure authentic dishes weren't being offered, what appeared on the menu were more of a world fusion between classic French technique and other food cultures: Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Moroccan, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese, just to name a few. I'm sure that this was a deliberate effort in the design of the menu in order to appeal to the diversity of the patients and families who fly in from around the world to consult with doctors at the Cleveland Clinic.
While I pondered my choices, another server brought me a basket of bread:
He also poured some olive oil into a small serving dish that was already sitting on the table when I had sat down:
Neither the bread nor the oil was anything particularly special. That being said, the two types of bread in the basket were fresh and the olive had a very subtle pepperiness and fruitiness that I appreciated during my pre-meal snack.
I quickly came to the conclusion that I wanted to try three items off the menu tonight. I would start out with an appetizer, follow it with a simple salad, and finish off my meal with a main course. There were more robust salads on the menu, but I figured between an appetizer and a main course, a simple salad would fit the bill a bit better (and make said bill a tiny bit cheaper, too).
For my appetizer, I decided to go with the Rice Paper Wrapped Crab Cakes with Spicy Asian Remoulade:
Here was a shot featuring just the crab cakes:
After cutting one of the cakes in half, I took a close-up shot of the interior of the cake:
Of course, with multiple elements on the plate, I made sure I tasted all of the components separately before starting to combine them. First I tasted the remoulade. It was creamy, just a tad spicy, and had a nice acidic zing to it that tasted like it came from a lemon. However, I'd be willing to bet that instead of lemon it was actually ponzu (remember, spicy ASIAN remoulade). I then tasted the finely shaved and pickled carrots and daikon that were neatly twirled into a little nest at the front of the plate. The minute I put a small bite into my mouth, I instantly puckered and thought to myself, "YOWZA! That is really sour!" By itself, this garnish was entirely unpalatable. And for those who might be thinking, "Well, gee, Tom, maybe that was supposed to just be a garnish," I have two responses to that line of thinking. First, nothing should ever go on a plate that isn't supposed to be eaten. Second, if it was just a garnish (for color, say), then why bother to pickle them first?
The final piece to this seafood appetizer was the rice paper wrapped crab cake itself. While the rice paper did a good job of browning and holding the lump crab meat together into a patty (which I suspect might be why the wrapper was used in the first place), the drawback was that it was a little difficult to cleanly cut through both the top and bottom layers of rice paper without destroying the integrity of the filling. But, I persevered and was rewarded with a mouthful of subtle crab meat, assertive ginger, and the herbaceousness that can only come from cilantro. The crab didn't taste particularly sweet to me, but it also didn't taste "fishy" either: A good sign. Having tasted all three components, I began to play with my food, combining various tastes together on my fork before transferring the bite to my mouth. While I had thought that the pickled vegetables were too strong on their own, by combining them with some of the fatty remoulade and the richness of the crab cake, it turned out that only with the trio of flavors in one bite were the flavors more balanced.
Having finished both my cakes and most of the remoulade (obviously I left the unused portion of the pickled carrots and daikon), my server soon returned with my next course, a simple dish of salad greens dressed with the most basic of all vinaigrettes, the Balsamic:
First the positives. The salad had come dressed perfectly, with just enough vinaigrette to coat each leaf and not leave a puddle at the bottom of the bowl. In my first bite, I managed to get a leaf that had been fully coated with the dressing and the dressing by itself was nicely balanced. Second, the negatives. While nicely dressed, the vinaigrette by itself may have had enough salt, but throw in a handful of greens and it wasn't enough to season the entire salad. Fortunately, there were salt and pepper shakers on the table, so I sprinkled a small amount of salt into the palm of my hand and used my other hand to add a few pinches of salt to the top of the salad.
I then re-tossed the greens with my fork and knife and took another bite. Yep, my brain registered, just that pinch or two more of salt was what the salad needed. Another negative was the amount of salad greens I received. While what I received was the right size for a three course meal, at $7 for a basic bowl of greens and a Balsamic vinaigrette this seemed overpriced to me. For $7, I should've gotten an entire plateful of dressed greens. For the amount of salad I received tonight, I think a fairer price would have been closer to $4, not $7. Especially given the fact that the farmer's markets were currently overflowing with greens at the time of my visit.
After clearing away my salad bowl and replacing the necessary silverware, my server returned a few minutes later with my main course:
This was a homemade pappardelle with grilled octopus, Kalamata olives, Feta, mint, and preserved lemons and had been topped with a bit of freshly shaved aged cheese. I had decided to order this dish not just because it sounded good, but octopus is an extremely difficult cephalopod to cook correctly. Just like it's cousin squid, you either cook it for 30 seconds or braise it for hours in order to get it to come out tender. When done correctly, the texture is sublime. When done poorly (which sadly is more often the case), it's like chewing on a mouthful of rubber bands. I tried several pieces of the octopus from various spots on my plate. There actually was a range in textures between the pieces. The best pieces were only slightly chewy and pretty darn good. The worst pieces were a bit harder to chew. Nothing at the level of rubber bands, but not ideal either.
The pappardelle was tender and sauced well. The preserved lemon and mint added a nice bit of freshness to the dish. While the Kalamata olives and Feta were prevalent in the taste of the pasta, the problem was that this dish had a lot of salty ingredients in it: olives, cheese, and preserved lemons. While the mint helped to offset some of that saltiness, I found myself drinking several glasses of water as I ate this. I know it may seem unfair to zing the kitchen because the overall dish was too salty when I clearly knew that the dish came with those specific ingredients, but that's the job of a good chef: to balance the flavors. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't too salty, and for those of you salt lovers out there, this dish would really appeal to you, but for me, it was a tad too much.
The one item that I didn't see right away in my pasta was the preserved lemon. I could taste it, just not see it. That is, until I got to the bottom of the bowl and spotted a few slivers of the rind:
A flavor traditionally used in the cuisine of North Africa and specifically Morocco, I took a bite and was rewarded with this most unique flavor. I didn't think to ask if the lemons were preserved in-house, but by the time I had finished with my main entrée, my side of the restaurant had gone from myself to a half-filled room of diners.
My total tonight at Table 45 with tip and tax came out to an even $50 (that included me having water to drink). While I didn't indulge in anything from the sushi bar tonight, both the crab and octopus used in my appetizer and main course were enough to convince me that my worries of ordering a fish dish on a Monday were unfounded. While my main course made up for the lack of salt in my salad, overall I liked the flavors I ate tonight. While I still question the value of a simple salad costing $7, this visit has piqued my interest in returning to try out more of Table 45's diverse cuisine. While I know that $50 per person can be out of reach for some, for those special occasions where spending a little more to dine out is acceptable, I would recommend that you check out Table 45.