Himself, for instance. MacLaren attended Miami University for two years, triple-majoring in English literature, political science and Russian with the idea of becoming a professor. He then transferred to Ohio State, obtaining a degree in medieval and Renaissance studies that, he says, "uniquely qualifies you to starve to death before you get to graduate school."
So MacLaren altered course toward the restaurant business. He had some experience in the field, having been dragooned into a seasonal food-service job at Blossom Music Center at age 16. He also bore a love of food that began in childhood.
"When I look back to when I was a kid," he says, "I thought the greatest reward for anything was to go eat and I wasn't even always this heavy. ... I loved hanging around in the kitchen with my grandmother."
Still hanging aroundMacLaren is still hanging around the kitchen this time his own in Twinsburg. A blond wood floor, walls decorated with huge European posters, wine racks and a raw bar grace MacLaren's establishment. There's seating for 40, with small tables dominated by silver chargers and 24-oz. Wine glasses big enough to make you feel like a child playing dress-up with your parents' tableware.
|To read Michael von Glahn's full review of MacLaren's, pick up the February 2001 issue of Cleveland Magazine.
"I heretofore spent so much time in the kitchen that none of my personality was out front. I was relegated to a shelving unit in the back," he explains. "I thought the only way that people would ever know what I think or how I feel is if I do a long-text menu."
So diners are treated to a bit of background on every dish, from MacLaren rhapsodizing wistfully about Heidelberg for his Kalbschnitzel mit Rahmchampignons und Nudeln ($21) to memories of fishing and "shore lunches" in Ontario with his grandfather for the potato-bacon-crusted walleye ($21).
MacLaren has been taken to task by at least one critic for this indulgence, but we found the menu a treat and continued reading long after we'd made up our minds on entrees.
Our walleye entreé, crusted with crisp, shredded Yukon gold potatoes and peppered bacon, arrived over a deep plate of sweet-corn chowder. It's an unusual approach to say the least, but works surprisingly well.
Ditto for MacLaren's "wild" meatloaf, loosely inspired by his wife's great-grandma's recipe, but replacing the traditional beef and pork with veal and boar ($20).
"I think it's a cool meat that is underutilized," MacLaren says of of the latter, which he gets from Blue Ribbon Meats. "Boar has no fat content at all almost," which makes it tricky for cooking. He tries to get some fatty pieces, but also usually reserves tenderloin trimmings or beef back trimmings to grind in to prevent it from drying out.
The entreé is full-flavored but not gamey, doused with a smooth brown sauce loaded with strips of mushroom and sided by creamy mashed Yukon golds. Here, too, portions are very generous.
A seasonal complementBy the time this review is published, MacLaren wil have moved from his autumn to his winter menu. But most of the menu will remain the same, which is a very good thing.
"I think my cuisine is stronger in the fall and winter," MacLaren says. "I love heartier food and I think my menus are best in the fall and winter, so whatever you do don't come in the spring and summer."
Do not take him at his at his mock-earnest word on that because MacLaren has asked sous chef Michael Bruce to fashion next spring's menu. Bruce is an experienced and inventive chef, especially with spring and summer cuisine, according to MacLaren.
MacLaren says he'll be retooling the wine list, as well, taking vintages off in acknowledgement of the restaurant's small size. Also, he notes, "the list was a little too static." When certain wines blew out and the supply of them was already allocated, it created too many holes in the list. "I don't like telling somebody they can't get something," MacLaren says.
So if, as MacLaren did in childhood, you see food as a reward, MacLaren's Cuisine is the place to claim your prize.