Marlin Kaplan decided to name his latest dining venture Roseangel before it was anything more than a concept. Inspired by a brand of tequila, the moniker seemed a good fit for the modern taqueria Kaplan hoped to open in the Gordon Square Arts District. When he noticed a sign for Angel Printing on the side of a building in the neighborhood, it seemed like divine inspiration.
Roseangel is Kaplan's sixth restaurant. Four of them, most recently One Walnut, are closed. But his fifth, Luxe, a few blocks away from Roseangel, is thriving. Some would be content with such an achievement, but not Kaplan. He took over the former La Boca restaurant property in partnership with its owner, Rosita Kutkut, last summer and gave the space a colorful overhaul in 30 frenzied days, doing much of the work himself. Since opening Roseangel in July, he's been in the kitchen almost every night.
Why? Because this serial entrepreneur is more doer than dreamer. He's the kind of person who's at his best with a chef's knife or a paintbrush in hand. Creating things is his idea of fun.
Roseangel's walls are papered with faux crocodile skin in sherbet shades of raspberry and tangerine. Kaplan stenciled the black polka dots on the tabletops himself and fashioned a room divider out of old french doors.
It's an informal setting just right for the eating experience he wants to deliver: sophisticated, affordable and approachable. But if you want to enjoy this place for what it is, get over the whole taqueria thing. Modern is the key descriptor. This is not a Mexican restaurant. Yes, you can get lime-licked guacamole, fresh corn chips and an excellent margarita. True, the pantry is stocked with cilantro, jicama and jalapenos. But these are merely starting points and accents.
Don't expect traditional combos, sweat-inducing spiciness or something you can fold and pick up. Kaplan says he likes the challenge of working within the parameters imposed by tacos but refuses to be limited. Taco shells and tortillas are his canvases; the background for braised pork, avocado cream and a variety of Latin-inspired creations.
The tortillas are small in circumference but arrive loaded with a base layer of crunchy shredded cabbage and a generous portion of protein. They're best eaten with a knife and fork, especially the house-made soft tacos, which are always the better choice.
From the 12 options, go for the hangar steak and crispy onions with smoky chipotle mayo. Duck confit is also a good choice. The rich meat marries well with diced sweet potatoes, crumbles of tart goat cheese and chili sauce. If you like fish, try the tuna. Each slice is coated with a spice rub, seared, and served with artichoke heart quarters, black olives and a zesty habanero mango salsa.
Tacos are priced at $4.75 each ($2.50 more for shrimp and crab) unless you opt for a share platter of eight ($34). Two tacos constitute a dinner portion for most folks, especially if you add a side of pinto bean mash larded with bits of bacon or Kaplan's excellent Caesar slaw ($4.50 each), seasoned like the salad of the same name but dressed in creamy aioli.
Or, build out a meal by beginning with a few starters. There are eight different salsas, including a daily special, and they can be ordered singly, in couples or as a trio ($3.50, $5.50, $6.50). For a shared snack, go for the posh lobster nachos ($13.50) or an over-the-top dessert version concocted from Nutella, spicy cashews and marshmallow ($7).
Just come thirsty. Margaritas and sangria are made with fresh-squeezed fruit juices ($6.50-$7.50/glass, $25-$27/pitcher). Bartenders also shake up equally interesting spirit-free drinks. The wine list is short and merely functional, suggesting that there's not much demand for a boutique pinot noir that pairs with well with a corn dog. The beer list, however, is sizable with both the obvious and the unusual. The latter includes Kentucky Bourbon Barrel on draft ($5.50), Looking Glass Hazed and Infused ($5) and big bottles of Brew Dog Punk IPA ($12).
Despite the polished appearance, this is truly a casual spot. Servers won't refold your napkin when you visit the restroom or constantly replace the silverware. With Roseangel, Marlin Kaplan's ditched all remnants of formality. You'll likely see him dressed in jeans, a T-shirt and a long white apron, checking in and chatting with the guests whenever he steps away from the stove for a few minutes. It's clear the man's having a good time. You will too.
When You Go5800 Detroit Ave., Cleveland, Ohio 216-961-5800, roseangel-cle.com
Mon-Thu 5-11 p.m., Fri & Sat 5 p.m.-1 a.m., Sun 5-10 p.m.