Classy Continental: Raffine
Medina’s Raffiné opened this year promising to be an oasis of creative cuisine in the restaurant desert of Cleveland’s southwest suburbs, where chain and fast food eateries are about as plentiful and as interesting as grains of sand. Owner and executive chef Jason Schnur created his restaurant to provide area residents with something beyond the steakhouses, bars and chain restaurants that dominate the area’s dining choices. With Raffiné, he has achieved his goal — time will tell if he can lure the locals away from the least-common-denominator eateries that surround it.
Schnur ought to know this market well. He’s been cooking at this very location for more than two years, as executive chef of the Glass Garden, which he took over and renamed Raffiné in July. The Parma native worked in several local restaurant and country club kitchens before joining the Medina establishment.
He and his wife wanted a French name for their venture. “Raffiné, the French word for refined, just seemed to fit our vision for this place perfectly,” he says, “a restaurant with refined and elegant food served in a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere — one that doesn’t take itself too seriously.” Pronunced raf-ee-NAY, the name may remind folks of a certain age of the old W.C. Fields character Mr. Sousé (soo-SAY).
Raffiné is different, with an eclectic menu that in another era we might have called “Continental.” The menu is studded with retro favorites such as escargot, steak Diane, steak tartare and veal Oscar. (When have you last seen that one on a menu?) But it’s a mistake to dismiss the place as a culinary museum. For one thing, Schnur’s skilled handling of these classic dishes makes clear why they became classics in the first place. For another, he is hardly bound by tradition in cooking or presentation.
Schnur breathes new life into all the old warhorses. He garnishes grilled salmon with a luscious array of sautéed tropical fruits. Steak pizzaiola is topped with sautéed fresh Roma tomatoes, not the tinny pizza sauce so commonly served with this dish. An order of steak tartare is a still life arranged by a master artist with garlic-rubbed toasts fanning out like petals from the mound of perfectly seasoned raw beef.
Stuffed mushrooms ($10) are Schnur’s best-selling appetizers. Three plump, snow-white fungi are filled to overflowing with a delicious stuffing that’s mostly lump crabmeat with just enough breadcrumbs to keep it together and a shower of fresh herbs for flavor. The mushrooms are topped with an excellent house-made hollandaise sauce. Though some of his friends in the business warned that steak tartare would not sell in this salmonella-phobic age, Schnur says the dish is another of his best-sellers. Presentation is spectacular, with a generous mound of seasoned ground tenderloin topped by a lattice of anchovy fillets and a raw pullet egg — left in its shell so the squeamish can remove it easily. More daring diners may drizzle the yolk into the meat, heap it all onto the crisp baguette toasts that surround the dish and crunch away with abandon ($12).
Less successful is the smoked salmon ($10). Thin carpaccio-style slices of salmon, a trifle gamy and oversmoked, are topped with capers, chopped onions and basil, and then doused with balsamic vinegar. The flavors — smoky, sweet, acidic — seem to fight one another rather than work together. The dish would be better if the kitchen provided some bread, thin-sliced pumpernickel for example, to support the salmon.
If you choose soup as a starter, Raffiné offers French onion and a second choice “of the day.” The French onion is made with a rich, well-seasoned beef broth and plenty of caramelized onions and is served with the classic crouton and melted cheese garnishes. On one visit we were lucky enough to be offered a house-made tomato basil soup packed with bright summertime flavors (all soups $4).
All entrées include a house salad of cool and crisp mixed lettuces, mostly romaine, tomato and cucumber. Try the house dressing. It’s creamy with plenty of good garlic flavor. Other salad choices include a house-made Caesar ($8) and an unusual baked Caprese salad of tomatoes, fresh mozzarella and basil ($10).
Schnur likes to give the classic entrées he features at Raffiné a new twist — it could be a surprising choice of sauce or garnish or the accompanying side dish. Everybody offers sautéed salmon, for example, but at Raffiné it’s Hpnotiq salmon, named for the trendy French liqueur that blends vodka, cognac and a variety of tropical fruit juices (among them passion fruit and mango). Schnur decided the flavor of Hpnotiq would work perfectly with salmon, especially if he were to echo the fruit flavors in the liqueur with a medley of fresh tropical fruit. The result is a perfectly sautéed chunk of Atlantic salmon, topped with sautéed mangos, pears, apples and tomatoes, then swathed on the chef’s own “secret sauce” that’s generously laced with Hpnotiq liqueur. The chef calls it his signature dish, and it’s well worth trying ($25).
Steak Diane has been around forever, and at Raffiné you’ll get the dish in its classic form: A brace of fork-tender medallions of beef tenderloin cooked just as ordered, sautéed with a generous portion of mushrooms and onions, and finished in a cognac-scented sauce ($31). Nothing new here, you’re thinking, but at Raffiné the steak is accompanied by a perfectly made mushroom risotto, creamy and “on the wave” as they say in Venice, yet with each grain of Arborio rice separate and perfectly al dente.
The veal chop, another of the chef’s signature dishes, is a 16-ounce behemoth that’s fork-tender, perfectly grilled and served with an assortment of wild mushrooms in a creamy sauce redolent of cognac and fresh rosemary, then studded with bits of prosciutto di Parma. You’ll get your choice of sides — scalloped potatoes, vegetables or that house-made risotto. Go for the risotto. This dish is a splurge at $36, but before you wince, try pricing a 16-ounce frenched veal chop at your local supermarket. Another veal classic, saltimbocca ($24), also gets outstanding treatment here.
Other entrée choices include pastas — try the pasta in vodka sauce ($19) or the pasta carbonara, made with sautéed pancetta, eggs and pecorino cheese ($18).
Desserts are mostly made in house and vary day by day. You’ll usually find a creditable crème brûlée, a chocolate chiffon cake and a chocolate mousse cake. All desserts are priced at $6.
Raffiné is open for lunch with many of the dinner entrées offered in smaller portions at half price. Lunchtime selections also include sandwiches and salads, all priced at about $8.
Raffiné, 3571 Medina Road (state Route 18) between I-71 and the Medina Square; (330) 725-8007; Mon-Thu 11 a.m. - 10 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., closed Sun. The dining room and restrooms (which were spotless) are on the ground floor and easily accessible. All major credit cards are accepted. The restaurant may be reserved for private parties of 25 or more.
12:00 AM EST
November 29, 2005