I've eaten enough roasted beet salad with chevre to last me a lifetime. I've grown weary of the baconization of everything and the move toward upscale comfort food.
Happily, these are not part of the experience at Accent, an ultramodern restaurant in University Circle where chef and owner Scott Kim has been serving up something genuinely new and different since October.
Kim avoids the latest fads in favor of his cross-cultural, rule-breaking approach to cooking. While miso soup, soba and sashimi are on the menu, it's a mistake to think of this as an Asian restaurant. The kitchen draws on Korean, Japanese and Chinese elements but freely adds ingredients and ideas from other cuisines.
Kimchee and beef bulgogi flatbread ($9), for example, expresses the unlikely and ingenious combinations you're likely to encounter. Kim starts with a base of Indian naan covered with a spread of goat cheese, roasted tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms sprinkled with mozzarella. The fermented cabbage, a spicy and pungent version made in house to suit local palates, goes on next and is topped with brisket cooked sous vide, shredded and seasoned with Korean barbecue sauce. It comes to the table hot, melty and speckled with chopped scallions.
"It shouldn't work," says Kim, with obvious delight. "It doesn't sound like it will taste good. But it does."
It's creamy, zesty, tart, sweet, crunchy and chewy. The flavors and textures come together in a wonderful and surprising way.
Kim's culinary career has had a much more logical progression. He began with Matsu, a more traditional Japanese-themed restaurant, but found that concept limiting and closed it to open Sasa, a bistro that continues to thrive on Shaker Square. There, he began integrating a few Western ideas into Asian cuisine.
With a style that defies pigeonholing, Accent allows Kim to fully spread his wings.
He is free to create dishes such as Chinese corn dogs with soy mustard ($5 happy hour special), roasted Cornish hen with ginseng gravy ($22) and seasonal desserts such as a pumpkin bread pudding with five-spice ice cream ($9) or a personal-sized yuzu pie ($7), similar to lemon-meringue pie, but flavored with the Asian citrus that diners are unlikely to encounter anywhere else.
Kim got help developing the menu and opening the restaurant from chef Mike Lyons. Though he subsequently left due to family obligations, Lyons' heritage — Peruvian, Chinese and Irish — and his classical training in French technique continue to be an influence. Kim credits him as the inspiration for hanger steak with chimichurri glaze ($25).
For months before Accent was a reality, the pair explored the potential of two high-tech pieces of cooking equipment, the Josper oven and a Robata grill, which are the centerpieces of the kitchen. Both burn a nearly smokeless charcoal and reach exceptionally high heat so food cooks remarkably fast while remaining moist. They are rarely found in American restaurants and almost never together.
"They let us bring out the best in every ingredient," Kim says.
Roasted vegetables have an intense, concentrated flavor. Meats and fish are char-kissed without dryness or burn.
The method also addresses Kim's desire to serve healthy food, cutting back on the need for oils, butter and cream without sacrificing flavor.
The seared scallops ($26) provide ample evidence that it works: They're delicate, cold and smoky, accompanied by katsu, a condiment made with applesauce and soy sauce, and a smooth yellow puree of Japanese sweet potatoes.
There are always vegetarian and vegan options, including skewers of king oyster mushrooms ($4) that come off the grill with an appealing shine and a meaty taste, and house-made ravioli ($19) filled with tofu, oven-roasted tomatoes and shiitakes dressed in carrot glaze.
Entrees arrive with ban chan, an ever-changing array of mini sides — such as pickled vegetables, kimchee, a tiny omelet — chosen to complement the main course. Kim, who is Korean, says it's a gift to his customers and a way to share his heritage.
The excellent udon noodles and black bean sauce with vegetables and skewers of Robata-cooked pork belly and shrimp ($18) offers another connection to his past. "It was a childhood favorite," Kim explains, "our mac 'n'cheese."
But he doesn't reproduce the dish he ate growing up. "We use our own demi-glace for the sauce and lots of red wine. My mother didn't do that."
The same breakaway originality characterizes the restaurant's design. Architect Stanley Saitowitz, inspired by traditional lacquered and compartmentalized Japanese bento boxes, captures Kim's unconventional, adventuresome spirit in a futuristic, geometric look that features a black, scarlet and chrome color scheme. Three defined dining areas surround an open kitchen. The entire front wall consists of large windows that face the Uptown plaza.
Letters spelling out the name of the restaurant are cut into panels and illuminated from behind in bright glowing red light. It's not like anything you'll see elsewhere and effectively captures the promise and multicultural excitement of Accent.