Restaurateurs Ali and Marcie Barker have been shaking up diners' expectations for nearly three decades. The talented twosome first grabbed America by the culinary collar back in 1985, when they helped launch Danny Meyer's seminal Union Square Cafe in Manhattan and ushered in the "new American" era in dining by melding top-notch food in an informal, casual spot.
They brought the same excitement to downtown Cleveland in 1992, when they opened the groundbreaking Piperade on Prospect Avenue. That place went on to become nothing less than an early shot across the bow in the city's culinary revolution — complete with an ahead-of-its-time commitment to using local ingredients.
In 1997, new opportunities took the couple and their growing family to the Michigan resort town of St. Joseph, where their Bistro on the Boulevard snagged Ali Barker a 2009 nomination from the James Beard Foundation as best chef in the Great Lakes region.
Now, the Barkers are back and as innovative as ever. Just don't go looking for their newest opus in Tremont or Ohio City. Instead, you'll find the couple happily ensconced in Chagrin Falls, where they operate Radius, a fine-dining restaurant in Judson Retirement Living's new South Franklin Circle.
"The idea behind this community was to rewrite the book on retirement living," says Marcie. "Where else will you find a first-rate restaurant designed with the needs of an older population in mind?"
That means things like smaller portion sizes and more grains and veggies on each plate. Still, it would be a serious mistake to write off Radius as a mere amenity for residents. Since opening to the public in 2010, the spot has been growing into a well-regarded destination, recognized for its beautiful setting, attentive service and precisely prepared food.
With a focus on the familiar — dishes such as seared scallops, Atlantic salmon, steak and chicken — the concise menu may sound a little plain Jane. But executed as they are here, with impeccable technique and top-notch ingredients, even old standards can be showstoppers.
Before there was a farm-to-table movement, the Barkers were championing the cause of fresh, local produce. No surprise then that the kitchen pays veggies their proper respects. The Radius Salad is a case in point, with its dainty mix of Geauga County baby lettuces tossed with just right amounts of toasted walnuts, Roth Kase blue cheese and house-made sherry-shallot vinaigrette. Like many starters and mains, the salad comes in two sizes: a $3 half portion and a $5 full.
At a mere $10, a half-sized version of the horseradish-and-pecorino-encrusted chicken entrée included a juicy half breast, a tennis-ball-sized portion of indulgent fontina-shellacked macaroni, and a lustrous green hillock of satiny sautéed spinach.
On the other hand, we had no problem polishing off a full serving of crab cakes Creole ($19). Plump, sweet and bursting with backfin crabmeat augmented by a bit of diced pepper, a wisp of cayenne, and a dab of house-made mayo, the twin cakes were served on a ragout of black beans, tomato and andouille. A swoosh of roasted red pepper aioli added its own irresistible zest.
While new dishes are added to the dinner menu every few weeks, diners can also check out the short list of daily specials. We gave high marks to one night's poached Arctic char ($19), a mildly flavored freshwater fish. Slender ribbons of the pale pink char were wrapped around nuggets of creamy bass mousseline, then settled into a rich but delicate roasted tomato beurre blanc.
The only ho-hum discovery was the evening's braised barbecue country pork rib special ($15): Despite a bed of sweet-and-earthy parsnip-apple puree, the three thick, boneless pork pieces seemed neither tender enough nor flavorful enough.
That certainly wasn't the case with the house-made mini desserts, $3 indulgences that included key lime pie, molten chocolate cake, profiteroles and a textbook-perfect rendition of vanilla-bean creme brulee.
As backdrop to the dinner menu, the decor is elegant, modern and understated. With only 72 seats, the circular room feels cozy and intimate; an exterior wall of windows provides serene views of a naturally landscaped meadow.
Radius certainly puts a whole new spin on retirement living. But who says retirees should have all the fun?