So, finally, in print, I get to answer a question that has burned inside me for months.
parallax n. 1. common the apparent difference in the position of an object when viewed from different positions, e.g. through the viewfinder and the lens of a camera; 2. astronomy the angular difference in the apparent positions of a star observed from opposite sides of the earth's orbit; 3. maclaren the predetermined site of the second coming of the father of Cleveland's contemporary dining scene.
A score of years ago, Zach Bruell opened the first incarnation of his quasi-legendary Z Contemporary Cuisine in Shaker Heights, following serious stints in some cutting-edge Los Angeles and Philadelphia eateries. At the time and throughout the restaurant's subsequent incarnation in Eton Collection, his mixture of culinary fusion and contemporary minimalism broke down the barriers between fine and bistro dining, establishing the format for most of the trendy, white-tablecloth business that goes on in Cleveland today.
At least that's what I've been told. Unfortunately, when all of this was going on, I was eating in school cafeterias, enjoying a confused, minimal dining format and trying in vain to break down the conversational barrier with a cute girl in my class.
In 1995, Bruell, burned out from a decade of 80-hour weeks and the responsibilities of ownership, shuttered Z and dedicated more time to his golf game and, of course, his family.
At about this same time, David Schneider, who'd come up through the ranks of Bruell's front-of-the-house staff, was moving to Chicago to work with the Lettuce Entertain You restaurant group. Schneider would ultimately helm Bin 36, a hip new joint with a heavy accent on wine.
In time, Bruell, too, moved on and signed up with heavy-hitting Akron restaurateur Ken Stewart at his iconic eatery, Ken Stewart's Grill and, later, its rustic follow-up, Ken Stewart's Lodge. (Stewart is evidently the George Foreman of restaurant naming.)
Bruell and Schneider kept in touch over the years. In the course of their conversations, the idea of a joint venture arose. In September 2004, they acquired the Tremont restaurant space formerly known as Kosta's. A whirlwind 60-day build-out had them ready for business by mid-November. Parallax was born and Bruell was poised to reclaim his rightful place in Cleveland's culinary pantheon.
With the help of Schneider's front-of-the-house expertise; a great, young kitchen staff culled from some of the area's most popular dining spots; and what is quite possibly some of the best sushi in Cleveland, compliments of Terno Kinoshita, it looks as if Bruell is on his way.
The restaurant is an embodiment of the contemporary East-meets-West theme that weaves through Parallax's cuisine. Clean lines in white, gray and black are accented by halogen track lighting and giant vases of tall, bright green grass set in wall cutouts between the bar and dining room. Add in the all-stainless-steel open kitchen and brushed-aluminum clipboard menus and the place is a Zen-tastic feng shui fest. (Our only complaint is that the molded-plastic dining-room chairs are perhaps a bit too minimal in comfort, but Zen is partially about calm acceptance, so I'll shut up and meditate on the menu.)
Bruell is certainly one to either buck or set trends; nowhere is this more obvious than with his menu. Even without the sushi page, Parallax's offerings run almost double the number of any other restaurant in the same class. Bruell says he wants to give people choices. Needless to say, in two trips we only began to scratch the surface of the restaurant's offerings.
One look at my companion's appetizer of Japanese shrimp with sweet soy glaze ($12.50) and I knew something else was different at Parallax: the portions. I described them to my dining guests as "Akron portions." (As my Akron readers — a.k.a. Mom and Dad — know, fine dining in Summit County seems to often involve really large portions à la Ken Stewart's Grill or Lodge.) Bruell says he wants people to feel that they're getting their money's worth and hopes guests have some food to take home, something that he maintains also appeals to his many fans from the East Side.
So, back to the shrimp before they get cold. Wrapped in kataifi (shredded phyllo dough) and fried, the plethora of shrimp was accompanied by sweet soy glaze and delicious. Along Thai lines, the steamed mussels in a curry-coconut broth with mixed peppers ($8) and the housemade grilled Thai pork sausage ($8) receive warm reviews for their exotic, yet comforting flavor profiles. We would have tried more of the 12 (!) appetizers offered were it not for our gluttonous desire to consume way too much sushi at every sitting.
Kinoshita, Parallax's sushi master, trained as a classical chef in Tokyo and didn't work with sushi until learning the trade at the Ritz-Carlton. Regardless of where he acquired his talents, Kinoshita is a sure hand behind the Hoshizaki (they make those little refrigerated sushi stations). Expect all of the standards prepared from the finest and freshest ingredients and running the gamut in price from $4 to $13 based on style and contents. My companion was especially pleased to see the inclusion of spider rolls ($12) featuring tempura soft-shell crab. On one visit, Bruell got in on the fun with a tasty steak roll special ($8.50) that encased rare strip steak and fried onions in rice and nori (the toasted seaweed wrap on the outside of a maki roll that creates the look most people associate with sushi).
Salads feature an eclectic range of influences from traditional Greek ($8.50) and Caesar ($7) preparations to more modern offerings such as the warm wild mushroom salad with raspberry vinaigrette ($9) and the warm goat-cheese salad with endive, radicchio and grain-mustard vinaigrette ($9). As elsewhere, everything we tried was a) good and b) big. The goat-cheese salad with its bitter greens, tannic chèvre and grain-mustard vinaigrette, however, could be a bit abrasive for the meek of palate.
Entrees at Parallax lean heavily (almost 70 percent) toward seafood. Seared tuna ($24) is served with caramelized portobellos and cabernet sauce, a smart compositional choice since Asian influence would have created redundancy for those interested in sushi. Grilled swordfish ($22), an increasing stranger on many menus, was also given a Mediterranean-style treatment with creamy risotto, roasted tomatoes, kalamata olives and double-blanched garlic. The dish was satisfying and the risotto artfully executed, though we found ourselves wishing the fish had been slightly more translucent in the center. (This is a personal preference; there are plenty of Cleveland diners who balk at fish served any less than fully done.)
Last among our seafood samplings was the Alaskan black cod ($23) with miso glaze, sautéed bok choy and (though not listed on the menu) bamboo rice. The fish was fresh and perfectly prepared, but the dish seemed strangely flavorless. Based on the rest of our experience, we assume that some oversight must have occurred in the seasoning process or that perhaps some component was missing.
Firmly back on terra firma, we loved the grilled pork chop ($17) with creamy polenta and a piquant sherry-vinegar sauce. Again, though, there seemed to have been some departure from the menu (probably for the better), as our wonderful polenta was semi-firm and seemingly pan-fried. It seemed to bridge the gap between the two prominent styles of polenta preparation, creating a more pleasing product than either.
Our Asian-style beef brisket ($16) was tender, nicely spiced and sided with some really, really good shiitake mushroom farfel. Again, it's important to note that we barely scraped the surface of potential offerings and the menu certainly offers some attractive alternatives to the above dishes.
Unfortunately, between our two visits, we only managed to try one of Bruell's housemade dessert offerings: an unusual but delicious ginger crème brûlée ($6). We did, however, sample plenty of wine from Schneider's extensive list and were particularly delighted to find two varieties of Ontario ice wine offered by the glass as digestifs.
In the end, while the times may have finally caught up to Zach Bruell's cuisine, it has not been surpassed and is as thoroughly contemporary now as it was ahead of its time before. Any way you view it, Parallax is an excellent and welcome addition to Tremont and a dining trip well worth taking.
Parallax Restaurant and Lounge, 2179 W. 11th St., Tremont, Cleveland, (216) 583-9999. Hours: Mon-Thu 5 - 11 p.m., Fri and Sat 5 - midnight (bar until 1 a.m.)