The Grille Above the Valley occupies the site atop Granger Road hill that until about two years ago housed the venerable Czech Inn. Chef/general manager Rob Stauch guided the shift from neighborhood ethnic eatery to chic, upscale restaurant. He knows that for the Grille to succeed he'll have to draw from beyond the restaurant's historical Garfield Heights neighborhood base and attract diners from the entire metropolitan area — diners who are willing and able to pay for prime ingredients and innovative preparations.
"So far, so good," he says. "For the last few months, in what has been a tough time for a lot of local restaurant, we've seen our business grow each month."
Stauch, a graduate of Arizona's Scottsdale Culinary Institute, cooked in some of the Phoenix area's best-known restaurants before coming to work at Blue Point Grille in the Warehouse District. Under his hand, Grille Above the Valley has become a restaurant with food that's very much of the 21st century: modern, trendy and chef-driven. Stauch's menu replaces the Old Country gemÃ¼tlichkeit of the Czech Inn with the Asian, Latin American, Continental and Caribbean touches associated with today's hip dining spots.
The dining room is a bright, open space with a floor of golden oak and pale walls. Almost as soon as you're seated, your server hands you a drink menu that tells you there's something special about the place: The Grille offers about three-dozen vodkas from almost as many countries — from all the usual suspects (Russia, Poland, Sweden) and some surprises as well (Italy, Estonia and Ireland). Stauch calls this vodka extravaganza "one of my pet projects. I think it's one of the things that really sets us apart from other restaurants in the area." It might be fun to try all of the Grille's vodkas, but your liver would probably give out about three-quarters of the way through the roster.
The wine list is impressive, too, with about 200 offerings from virtually every wine-producing area of the globe.
Appetizers are offered either as individual servings or as platters for sharing (priced per person). The sharing platters make great bar snacks for groups who want to get together after work for a drink and a little nosh. Most popular is the charcuterie platter of imported and domestic cold cuts and sausages served with pickles and hot pretzels ($10 per person). For a splurge ($25 per person), the seafood platter includes a lobster tail, crab legs, shrimp and lemon-scented aioli.
Among the appetizers offered in individual servings, Stauch says the pork pot stickers are his best sellers. They're stuffed with ground Kurobuta pork, which the chef describes as "an heirloom pork. It has more marbling — a higher fat content — than most of today's pork, and I think it does offer more flavor because of that." The Grille serves its pot stickers with a tamarind and sake glaze and a tangle of soba noodles ($7). We found them pleasant enough but lacking the gingery/salty tang that we like in pot stickers.
The calamari — despite what the menu describes as "firecracker dusting" that imparted a pleasing flash of heat — proved bland as well. The pineapple salsa and delicious coconut aioli that accompanied the squid were really the best part of the dish ($7).
With a nod to its Slavic ancestry, the Grille also offers housemade lobster-stuffed pierogies on a bed of herbed potatoes with onions and butter ($11). More full-flavored than some of the other appetizers we tried, these get our vote as tastiest first course.
Salads at the Grille reflect Stauch's innovative bent. He recommends the salad lyonnaise as a "salad that's really unique to our restaurant." It's a concoction of frisÃ©e, a poached egg, croutons made of toasted brioche-style bread, bacon and a housemade shallot vinaigrette ($6). Our favorite was the "Grille Classic," a salad of arugula (billed as "baby arugula," but in fact big enough to serve as David's fig leaf), bleu cheese, apples and candied cashews dressed with a homemade black-pepper vinaigrette ($7).
Entrees and their accompaniments offer further evidence of the chef's eclectic approach to cuisine. Cases in point: the Asian/Caribbean combination of jerk-flavored sashimi-grade tuna; the all-Asian scallops served with nori-wrapped mushrooms, sticky rice and lotus-root slaw; the Italian/French combo of filet of beef served with foie gras and wild mushroom ravioli. We found all the entrees to be carefully prepared and beautifully presented, though in some cases they could have used a bit more seasoning to bring out the natural flavors of the obviously high-quality ingredients.
The jerked ahi tuna ($25) was fresh and succulent, though the jerk seasoning seemed almost undetectable. Excellent sides included a delicious coconut-and-lobster risotto sparked with tasty pineapple salsa and vinaigrette jazzed with cilantro and ginger. To our taste, the best of the seafood entrees was a shrimp-and-scallop combo ($24). The shrimp were plump, firm and perfectly cooked; the scallops grilled to a T. The luscious crustaceans are served on a delicious, perfectly seasoned lobster-and-herb risotto.
Kurobuta pork shows up on the entree list in "Pork two ways" ($23). First are sautÃ©ed medallions of pork tenderloin, second is a trio of pork-stuffed pot stickers. The medallions are juicy, tender and perfectly cooked, the pot stickers, as reported earlier, could have been spiced up a notch.
Red-meat lovers might try the center cut of beef filet, grilled and served with foie gras and mushroom ravioli, spinach and a red-wine demi-glace. The Grille offers the filet, which Stauch identifies as his signature dish, either as an 8-ounce portion for $32 or a 12-ounce cut for $36. On one recent visit, we tried the 14-ounce strip steak of certified Angus beef with roasted garlic mashed potatoes and haricots verts ($32). The steak was perfectly grilled to a rosy medium-rare, just as ordered, though it did cry out for a bit of salt. Garlic mashed potatoes and green beans were, by contrast, faultlessly seasoned and delicious.
Desserts are all housemade and many feature the outstanding Woo City ice cream. Try "Fire and Ice," a luscious molten chocolate cake, its cargo of hot, semi-liquid chocolate melting into a generous dollop of Woo City vanilla malt ice cream ($7). For a sundae on steroids, there's the chocolate and caramel coupe featuring chocolate and vanilla malt ice cream layered with caramel sauce, chocolate sauce and cashews, the whole topped with a mound of whipped cream ($7). Note to the chef: Get longer spoons — it's impossible to reach the bottom of the sundae glass and scour out the last bits of ice cream with the utensil provided.
The Grille Above the Valley, 9729 Granger Road, Garfield Heights, (216) 587-1158. Hours: Lunch: Mon-Fri 11 a.m. - 4 p.m. (the lunchtime menu features sandwiches priced from $7 for a burger or grilled chicken to $12 for beef tenderloin; entrees and salads are available as well); dinner: Mon-Thu 5 - 10 p.m., Fri and Sat 5 - 11 p.m. There are two steps up from the parking lot into the dining room. Restrooms are on the ground floor. All major credit cards are accepted.