The rambling 1850s structure on River Street has always been a great vantage for gazing down at the Chagrin River spilling over the falls. It has housed a wooden-peg factory; the Deerlick Oilstone Co., manufacturers of knife sharpeners; a dry-cleaner; an insurance company; and most recently, an Italian eatery that went belly up.
Now, with the opening last July of Blake's Seafood Grill, the space finally has a tenant that takes full advantage of the site, offering an experience that matches the spectacular view.
|Pick up the April 2001 edition of Cleveland Magazine to read Michael von Glahn's full review of Blake's Seafood Grill.|
Blake's is the work of Hyde Park Restaurant Systems Inc., which has been very busy opening new and renovating existing restaurants in the past year. Co-founder Joe Saccone had been approached about the Chagrin Falls space several years ago but hadn't been able to put a deal together. But when the previous tenant, Leonetti's by the Falls, closed, the chance came around again.
He and partner Rick Hauck quickly decided the site didn't seem right for a steakhouse, plus they already had the Hyde Park Chop House just up Chagrin Boulevard. But it was still an opportunity they couldn't pass up.
Saccone and Hauck put their heads together to figure out what was missing from the East Side dining scene. They tested the waters by letting word out that they were thinking of putting a seafood restaurant into the space. Saccone says the response was an enthusiastic "Great! About time! Thank you!" That was all they needed to hear to make their first venture beyond the steakhouse concept.
"What we tried to create here was a sophisticated atmosphere, but yet casual," Saccone says. And the balance is right: Tabletops are covered with white butcher paper, yet attentive servers still briskly decrumb the surface between courses. The wine list offers a large selection of bottles ranging from as low as $24 on up to a $175 Domaine Epernay 1993.Wood is Good
Earlier in the year, the partners had opened a Hyde Park Grille in New Orleans with a lot more fish and seafood on the menu than the chain's other steakhouses. When Saccone tasted dishes cooked on the wood grill the New Orleans chef had insisted upon, he was impressed enough to "roll the dice" and install a wood grill at Blake's.
"About 75 percent of sales is coming off that," McNamara says. The mainstays of his menu are wood-grilled grouper, salmon, sea bass, yellowfin and other fresh seasonal fish ($16 to $23), served with the diner's choice of a basic seasoning, a crystal citrus sauce or crabmeat and béarnaise sauce for those who like a heavier touch (add $4.75). Oak, hickory and cherry are the standard woods, though others are added for special entrees.
There's no walk-in freezer at Blake's because everything comes in fresh: fish seven days a week and produce six days a week. "The clientele here tells me what to get in," McNamara explains. If someone requests abalone or 14-ounce lobsters, he'll order it.
The menu changes every two months, but only a handful of items at a time. For the flagship dishes, only layout and sides will change, such as replacing a wintertime raspberry vinaigrette with apricot in summer.Winners Without a Gamble
We started with a pair of tender, wood-grilled scallops skewered by a sprig of rosemary atop roasted corn risotto and a Petit Syrah reduction ($9.95), the flavors all combining perfectly, and lobster ravioli fanned on a bed of spinach purée and balsamic syrup ($7.95), another winner that had us scraping every last drop of purée from the bowl. We also shared the wood-grilled Belgian endive with shaved Asiago cheese, tomato and aged balsamic vinaigrette ($6.75). Grilled endive may not win any beauty contests, but the inventive salad offers a remarkable ensemble of tastes and textures.
We already know the Hyde Park guys do steak right, so it was off to the sea for entrees. Roasted Maine Atlantic salmon with oyster mushrooms, fluffy spinach risotto and a Cabernet-reduction syrup ($17.25) was generous and well flavored, though just a hair unevenly cooked on the grill. No such caveat on the striped sea bass, pan-roasted and sided by wilted spinach and creamy lobster mashed potatoes ($19.25) a winner from first bite to last. An à la carte side of wood-grilled asparagus ($6.95) was right on the money.
Portions left us satisfied without stuffing, and there was nothing to box up.
"This restaurant, if it goes right, will be here for a very long time," says Saccone.
Our experience at Blake's indicates that's no roll of the dice.