Out of a Jam: Melange

No one who knows the restaurant business would ever say opening one is easy. Those who have taken the plunge find out how the process — from Day One to the finish line — is, as restaurateur Andy Zelenkofske so poignantly states, "like a mini soap opera."

That drama can often turn into a full-blown disaster, but those dedicated to the trade usually find a way to get their kitchen open. It can be a bitter pill when that opening finally comes and just a few days later the owner gets a letter from a California restaurant chain's lawyers explaining that the restaurant name is trademark protected.

That is exactly what happened to Zelenkofske after he opened Marmalade at La Place Plaza in Beachwood last October. Andy, a nonpracticing lawyer, says he checked for trademarks on the name but missed the California company.

Zelenkofske could have gone to court to keep the Marmalade name, but there was always the chance he would lose the case — and it would have cost him $100,000 in legal fees. Instead, he searched for a new name, and spent a more palatable $6,000, altering the restaurant name on new menus, signage and business materials and paying a few additional licensing fees to the city.

That's the bad news. The good news is that Melange, the new name of the old Marmalade, is a terrific restaurant. It's much more focused then Zelenkofske's previous venture, Sinergy, which was located in the Warehouse District.

Orange walls may seem likely to clash with diners' sensibilities, but the many browns in the two dining rooms create a good balance. The smaller dining area has a comforting appeal and affords a little more intimacy. The main dining room, which includes the bar, is better for people watching and includes banquets, booths and tables.

A bowl of French onion soup, with its thick buffer of Gruyère cheese, base of beef stock and sweet onion, was a nice start on a cool spring evening. The $4 price was nice as well. The tuna Napoleon ($12.50), layers of rare tuna between fried wonton skins, picked up extra flavor from the soy-wasabi dressing in the accompanying slaw salad. Very simple and very tasty. Lobster-crab fritters ($11) with light garlic and basil aioli were crispy on the outside, with creamy interiors and plenty of crab and lobster.

One of the aspects I most enjoy about Melange is the range of options: A meal could be a couple of those filling appetizers or a modest chicken pot pie dinner or a gustatory adventure incorporating three or four courses. The menu lists 22 entrees not counting nightly specials.

The chicken penne ($18) was a big hit. Its success came from a melange of flavors, ranging from roasted tomato and spinach to wild mushrooms, Parmesan cheese and a delicate chardonnay broth. A special of local pan-fried walleye served in its cooking juices was crispy outside, while the sauce added flavor to the soft interior flesh.

Roasted duck in the form of two leg-and-thigh pieces was crisp outside and, while not confit soft, wasn't chewy either. It included a creamy, flavor-studded cornbread pudding, sweet cherry chutney and haricot verts. Quite a meal for $19.

On a second visit, the lunch-portioned chicken pot pie ($12) came well stocked with bite-size chunks of white meat in a serviceable beurre blanc and a complement of vegetables, with a small salad on the side. The pie arrived in an artistic bowl that looked like it was going to fall over, but never did.

The only disappointment I encountered at Melange was the lobster BLT ($11.50). The grilled challah was so thick and large that it became the main attraction instead of the lobster, bacon, lettuce and Gruyère. A smaller brioche roll or some other bread would do this fine sandwich a better turn.

Those looking for a lighter lunch have a good choice of salads. The Melange ($9) was a standout, a combo of mixed greens, grapes, apricots, feta and a champagne vinaigrette dressing. The fruit, especially the grapes, gave this one a refreshing note.

Three years ago, Andy Zelenkofske's wife died of cancer. As a tribute to her, he has incorporated one of her favorite cookie recipes into the dessert menu: the chocolate chip macadamia nut cookies with a glass of milk ($6.50). Half the monthly proceeds from every order (you can also get chocolate chip walnut cookies or chocolate chip peanut cookies) go to a rotating list of cancer agencies, including hospices, family support agencies and other cancer-related organizations.

Melange, La Place Plaza, 2101 Richmond Road, Beachwood, (216) 378-9755; lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m.; brunch: Sat & Sun 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.; dinner: Mon-Thu 5 - 10 p.m., Fri & Sat 5 - 11 p.m. Sun 5 -9 p.m. dinemelange.com
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