Cleveland is lot of things: eclectic, energetic, dynamic. But the newly reimagined Fahrenheit in Public Square from Rocco Whalen is making a strong case for adding “glamorous” to that list of defining characteristics.
The 15,000-square-foot space, once home to John Q’s Steakhouse and Stouffer’s Restaurants, is nearly unrecognizable from its dark, wood-paneled predecessors. Now sleek and lofty, it’s outfitted with geometric lighting, faux marbling and leather and velvet seating, with space for up to 700 diners. A glass-encased wine wall leads the way to an upstairs dining room and attached roof deck, which boasts an unparalleled view of the city skyline.
The red cursive script atop the menu and the neon sign above the bathroom mirrors both read “Smokeshow” — and Fahrenheit is just that.
“There’s an artistry and show to this place, whether it’s our drink carts or smoking a piece of beef with sesame or having you into the chef’s kitchen,” Whalen says. “There’s a theatrical part of it, a little smokeshow to it all.”
It’s a rare story — a classic, longstanding restaurant that reinvents itself enough to capture buzz. This summer, Whalen relocated Downtown after 21 years in a dimly lit, modestly sized spot in Tremont. He considered dropping the Fahrenheit name altogether and starting with a blank slate that would allow him to build upon his legacy without feeling beholden to it. But he couldn’t do it.
“I put so much pride, love, time and energy into the brand,” he says. (Plus, he says, too many past and present employees have Fahrenheit tattoos!)
Swanky as it is, Fahrenheit doesn’t leave your wallet slimmer and your appetite wanting. Its prices are comparable to peers of its caliber, but the portions are more generous; you might even have enough for lunch tomorrow.
The perpetual star of the menu is the iconic, Korean-inspired Wagyu short rib ($45), which Whalen has been serving since 2001. It’s as tender and flavorful as ever, braised for 12 hours and served over teriyaki lo mein with roasted mushrooms and baby bok choy. He used to occasionally cycle it off of the menu, but diners demand it.
“I do have other short rib dishes up my sleeve,” he laments, “but I’d rather focus my energy on other things where people won’t be upset with me.”
There are, of course, other entrees, including a buttery lobster mac and cheese ($48) so sumptuous you’ll stop mid-conversation to savor every bite. Four steak options range from $55 for a center-cut prime filet to $125 for a 12-ounce Wagyu New York strip. The standouts, though, are the appetizers and seafood offerings, which make up two-thirds of the menu.
“Sharing is the way it should be in the food world,” Whalen says.
The ahi poke nachos ($18) are a take on a dive bar classic that swaps tortilla chips for a dramatically large bowl of crispy wontons topped with cubed tuna, pickled red onions, shaved jalapenos and a sweet-and-spicy aioli. The miso-glazed eggplant cups ($13), served on bibb lettuce, delight even the devout of carnivores. And though the unagi-sauced corn “ribs” ($14) are technically a side, don’t hesitate to order them as an app to share.
The seafood menu, too, is both extensive and expensive, with presentation always top of mind. Pristine oysters, shrimp and crab claws are served in bowls of ice illuminated from the bottom with a neon glow. The seafood towers ($60-$160) overflow with split lobster tails and king crab, paired with cocktail sauce and horseradish as well as options like tart ponzu, salsa verde and chimichurri.
Much of Fahrenheit’s menu is Asian-inspired, but Whalen doesn’t want to be limited to one genre. Instead, he wants to explore and incorporate his evolving culinary curiosities.
“I want to give everybody an open palette,” he says. “I tell [my team], use the knowledge that you’re gaining here to develop your repertoire.”
Whalen feeds his 100-person staff a “family meal” every day, always asking for tweaks and suggestions. For him, it’s as much about the food as it is about the camaraderie and creative process.
He’s also enthusiastic about Fahrenheit’s burgeoning beverage program, especially the custom bar carts commissioned from Adam Sywanyk of Diesel Designs in Tremont — all brushed-gold with swirls of glass tubing and large domes on top, like high-brow science experiments. Each contraption aerates oak barrel-aged liquor and sends it through a brown-sugar-and-apple rinse. After it’s poured, each drink is individually smoked tableside.
“Am I some fancy bartender barista now?” Whalen says. “No. But I am a guy who’s interested in new, different apparatuses and engaging cocktail programs.”
At the end of the day, Fahrenheit’s goal is to foster a dining experience that makes you feel like you’re on top of the world. Whether you’re nestled into a velvet banquette in the dining room, sipping a hand-smoked cocktail at the bar or sitting on the roof deck with the colorful lights of Terminal Tower shimmering above, Fahrenheit offers a choose-your-own adventure of indulgence.
“We don’t have white tablecloths,” Whalen says, “but we definitely have everything else.”