Georgetown, a lovely spot on the Lakewood-Rocky River border, is still something of a secret. Set back from the street and hidden behind a brick wall, it's part of the building complex, once known as Georgetown Row, that used to be the Bonne Bell cosmetics company headquarters. James Bell, a member of the firm's founding family, opened Three Birds restaurant there eight years ago. Mickey Krivosh, the proprietor of Around the Corner, a popular bar across the street, purchased the place from him last spring and announced the new name in the fall.
Wisely he kept on the gifted Rachael Spieth as executive chef. She's had the title for five years but wasn't in charge when the place was reviewed in 2003, so she hasn't received much media coverage. The recent changes are just the excuse we needed to revisit and give this young chef the attention she deserves.
Her approach falls into that vague catchall term "modern American." It includes a little bit of everything from ethnic to edgy. What really defines her food is a focus on seasonal ingredients and the way she uses sweetness, often from fruit, to accent and harmonize flavors. The one-page menu is divided into three almost equal sections: To Begin, with starters such as pizzas or steamed mussels, suitable for sharing or enjoying as a lighter main course; To Follow, five salads and two soups; and Entrees, a mix of seafood, meat, poultry and one vegetarian option.
Her radish salad ($8), a dish refreshingly unlike anything on other menus in town, is a knockout. She pickles a variety of these familiar roots and combines the slices with yellow raisins, goat cheese and orange segment, tying it together with a caper vinaigrette. The uncommon combination works remarkably well. She employs the same principle in a small, wonderfully conceived foie gras appetizer, searing three pieces for a darkly caramelized exterior and pairing them with fresh figs, pear compote, a drizzled ginger orange gastrique, and a dusting of ground pistachios ($16). Get everything in a single bite for a mouthful of complex, balanced tastes and textures.
In her excellent celery root and apple soup, apple juice is the main liquid, with some cream added to finish ($7). The smooth velvety blend, with a squiggle of green parsley oil and an apple chip on top, has an extra boost of earthiness from a toss of crumbled blue cheese.
Following the same intuition, Spieth uses a spoonful of orange gremolata, a condiment she makes with garlic and anchovies, to add unexpected zing to a hearty wine-braised veal osso bucco that's plated with mushrooms, caramelized onions and a marrow-filled bone ($24). These little touches, which express her sense of how to elevate a dish from merely good to very, very good, make eating here a true pleasure.
A peppy red pepper relish brings out the best in blackened pork ($22). The meat, done medium rare as the chef suggests, is moist and well matched to a sweet potato hash larded with bacon bits. But the promised paprikash sauce is just a smear hidden underneath, and I couldn't detect it.
Often her concepts start with the vegetable. Butternut squash inspired a thin, crusty six-slice pizza ($12). Instead of sauce, it has a layer of silky squash puree plus breakfast sausage, maple syrup, goat cheese and pine nuts. The dominant herb is sage. A soft-poached egg crowns the whole thing. The first bite had me grinning in surprise, and I was still smiling when it was all gone.
One alteration Krivosh and Spieth have made is to offer happy hour 5-7 p.m. weekdays and 9-11 p.m. Fri-Sat. Bargain lovers and budget diners should take note: You can eat like a king in the bar without spending a bundle. Eight starters from the regular menu are half off. A bowl of short rib risotto is a steal ($5). The generous, filling portion is flecked with bits of beef, roasted tomatoes and grilled Swiss chard. A crisp Parmesan cracker garnish provides contrasting crunch.
Waitstaff stayed on after Krivosh took over, and their experience shows. They care for patrons efficiently and well. We never waited too long for clean silverware, food or water refills, and questions were answered competently. The dining room, with its mix of booths and tables on two levels, exposed brick and big windows has a timeless appeal and is none the worse for wear. It's as nice a place to sit as it was the day it opened.
The best of the past has been seamlessly wed to a new identity. It's clearly a happy marriage with a bright future.
When You Go