Wednesday, July 30, 2014
Back in 1999, Chef Donna Chriszt was drawing on world flavors for the food she prepared at Jeso, her highly regarded Clifton Boulevard restaurant, and J Cafe on the East Side. Now she's at it again, this time in the kitchen of Table 45 in the InterContinental Hotel Cleveland, a Zack Bruell concept. It was defined by his modern interpretations of global cuisine and a series of Chef de Cuisine have done their best to execute that since it opened in 2007. Chriszt, with 30 years experience under her apron, is more than up to the task and — based on dishes I sampled at a private tasting of her new summer menu last week — is making it very much her own.
"I've always been inspired by culinary traditions," she says, "as a way to get beyond basic meat-and-potato cooking. But I like to get creative and put my personal twist on ethnic authenticity."
And that's exactly what she does in a fantastic banana leaf smoked trout entree ($23), plated with smashed yucca and sweet potatoes, jicama slaw and a tomatillo vinaigrette. Cultures combine, but don't clash, to delicious effect in the Thai duck breast ($29) — the bird has red curry crust and is served beside coconut risotto, korean kim chee slaw and baby bok choy.
Other things I ate and enjoyed on our international tour included Moroccan spiced lamb and beef kebabs (based on a staff member's "secret" family recipe) with a North African salsa, naan and tzatziki sauce ($15); spicy Spanish shrimp and chorizo ($13); a Middle Eastern fattoush salad ($11); and a flat iron steak grilled and presented with an Argentine chimichurri sauce ($32).
Our small group dined at the private chef's table in the kitchen, which seats eight and can be reserved in advance. With the flair of a natural artist, Chriszt delivered courses with plenty of eye appeal as well as tasty and nuanced seasoning. It's no wonder she was something of a national celebrity before there were star chefs on every corner. She was heralded in Food and Wine, Gourmet, and Food Arts, and invited to cook at the James Beard House before many other Clevelanders. She's been laboring out of the limelight for awhile. But she's in her element now. "I come to work happy every day," she says.