Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Place Fit for a Prince

Like the artist of Purple Rain fame, the Cuyahoga Falls restaurant formerly known as Lefever’s River Grille will soon be reborn and rechristened. Executive Chef Michael Fiala, the guy who made the now defunct Inn at Turner’s Mill such a satisfying place to eat, is at the helm here along with partner David Slaght and group of investors. The new name will remain a secret for a few more weeks, but I was among a small group that gathered Monday night to sample-- and score-- dishes from a menu that goes public next Wednesday (July 8).

Our assignment was to taste five appetizers, three salads, and nine entrees, and rate each on a scale of 1 (poor) to 5 (great). The food was set out buffet style one course at a time. The challenge was to keep self-serve portions small enough so you could go the distance.
I failed, forced to cry uncle before the final two- a char grilled pork rib chop with cheddar cheese grits and chimichurri sauce, and a ribeye steak topped with spicy corn and sweet pepper sauce.

Fiala’s food concepts are creative and tasty, and will often spotlight farm fresh ingredients. The bibb lettuce salad was composed of local leaves jazzed up with candied pecans and blueberries and Tea Hills of Loudonville, OH supplied the wonderfully moist organic chicken he served with an outstanding mushroom bread pudding. His panko crusted walleye with potato bacon was a favorite at my table . Fish will be a big part of the offerings: we tried grilled rainbow trout atop a lovely herb salad; poached salmon with red onion slaw; pan seared halibut in a roasted tomato beurre blanc; and scallops dabbed with cucumber melon sauce. Garlic marinated anchovies kicked up a traditional Caesar salad- really wanted to go back for seconds on that. Two seafood appetizers got high marks from me—crab cakes with red onion jam and pan roasted mussels with ginger pesto and jicama slaw. Other thinsg deserving of a shout out were a baby iceberg lettuce salad with feta cheese, pickled red onions and banana peppers in a kalamata olive, cucumber vinaigrette, and a vegetarian grazer's pie made with creamed spinach and wild rice on a potato crust that had a satisfyingly rich and complex flavor.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this is going to be a fine place to spend an evening and well worth the drive from Cleveland. The space- in an old power generating plant- is attractive and comfortable with a dash of beam and brick charm. The dramatic views of the river can’t be beat. And after Monday night, I know Fiala will quickly win a following.

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