You will never know how I envied Chef Gregg Korney as I sat in the beautifully (and expensively) appointed dining room of Hudson's Vue Restaurant and Lounge. Why couldnít this have been me? I thought. Only five years beforehand, I had shuttered my own restaurant, burying my dreams one sunny April day, not five miles from the spot where I now sat enjoying a wonderful 1994 Mersault. Critics had praised my eponymous eatery (but who trusts a critic?) while the local diners had stayed away in droves. My primary clientele drove from Pepper Pike, Gates Mills and other points east. I attempted, when possible, to push the envelope and help my guests sample things that they may not have tried on their own. Some people loved the menu, while others found it too culinarily challenging for their suburban, steak-and-potato palates. Almost everyone thought it was too expensive.
Before expounding on this point, though, I suppose Iíd do well to give the present a bit more coverage. Vue, located at 49 Village Way in Hudson's First and Main development, opened to the public April 14. The chefís brother, Ken Korney, serves as general manager while sommelier Michael Tomaselli expertly lords over a wine list that runs beyond 400 bottles. Back in the kitchen, Korney, a self-taught chef, brings to the table experience he gained in Florida and locally at Giovanni's and Sushi Rock. He has a deep love for Asian cooking methods and ingredients and uses them to fuse together Eastern and Western flavors. So, now that we know the players, let's set the stage.
The restaurant itself, as briefly mentioned, is beautiful. Everything from the dÈcor to the plates and glassware is top-notch, thanks to a construction and opening cost that is rumored to have run into seven figures. Mary Cunningham of RBI Design has created a space that is simultaneously trendy, clean and comfortable. Giant windows and high ceilings are paired with dark woods, natural stone, and ruby tones to maintain the balanced ambience, creating one of the better rooms in the area. A spacious bar sits beyond crackled glass partitions, offering a sleek yet cozy area to enjoy after-work cocktails or finish the night with some friendly digestifs. A cozy back room with a stone fireplace and the same attention to detail is available for private groups.
Also impressive, the service staff at Vue is polished and attentive. Somehow it appears that any number of industry veterans from Cleveland's fine dining scene have found their way onto the floor at Vue and have been subsequently well-informed by both chef and maitre d' regarding the eatery's copious offerings from the kitchen and the vine. It should be noted that on the same visit the suggested 1994 Mersault ($45) was wonderful, a guest was also advised that the oil-poached swordfish would not be oily, advice which turned out to be somewhat imperceptive. Either way, I am picking over crumbs (which were always dispatched promptly from our table), for the service is, as mentioned, quite good.
With the setting now complete, we turn to matters gustatory. Much as I had done years before, Korney seems to find himself walking the same, strange culinary tightrope between what he would like to be cooking and what the local populace will consider safe enough to consume. On one trip, the menu featured two different dishes centered by filet mignon; hardly the most daring cut of beef. Lobster, a constituent I tend to dislike, seemed to appear in every other dish. Truffle, too, was used in excess, as though the kitchen had just discovered the world's most precious fungus. Generally, I was surprised with the number of cross-burns on the menu. (Note: One cross-burns an ingredient by utilizing it on several dishes, thereby reducing prep time, inventory, potential waste, etc. However, one ought to disguise cross-burns so as not to seem bent on redundancy.) I was interested later to discover in conversation that Korney shared some of my menu concerns and, with something of a downward glance, informed me that allowances were made for what people in the area enjoy: "If I include lobster in a dish, it sells." I assume as much of filet mignon, truffles and what-not. Ultimately, though, I respect Korney for his honesty and for paying attention to what the public needs. I closed my restaurant based in part on my own unwillingness to compromise. I would not like to see the same happen to anyone else.
As for the food itself, Korney's kitchen is generally good with occasional lapses based perhaps due to menu size (it runs over twice the length of anything in Tremont) or volume. Personally, I believe Korney is possessed of enough talent to flawlessly execute a menu with fewer dishes. Now, though, comes the really difficult part of this review. We had the misfortune (due to publishing deadlines) to dine at Vue right before a total menu change, which basically means we ate almost nothing that you can get now. I am reading Korney's new fall menu as I write this, and I think it looks great. Particularly, I enjoy the emergence of a more rustic style, perhaps inspired by the autumn season. A few dishes that we happened to try as specials (a good chef tests out next season's dishes as end-of-this-season specials) were particularly good and might show up during your visit.
Our favorite, a perfectly prepared foie gras and duck confit truffled grilled cheese, is a culinarian's dream-come-true. This homage to France's best bad-for-you foods sandwiches rich foie gras, flavorful duck confit and creamy, sumptuous St. Andre triple cream brie between butter-soaked grilled bread. A side of port-and-balsamic-braised rhubarb offers some counterpoint to the heavy fat intake, but I pushed it aside ... and contemplated ordering a second serving. A simple salad of romaine ($9) with a Parmesan crisp, roasted red pepper dressing and a white cheddar crouton was excellent, due mainly to the tasty dressing, and will probably appeal to any diner. On one low note, each Parmesan crisp we sampled during our visits was slightly burnt, an effect unfortunately enhanced by the saltiness of the Parmesan. Among the entrÈes, the pecan crusted pork medallions ($24) are nicely flavored for autumn and served with delicious whipped sweet potato and a teriyaki glaze that jives nicely with the other flavors. Porcini crusted beef medallions ($35) are served with lobster whipped potatoes and locally harvested chanterelle mushrooms. This latter dish was quite good, though it certainly typifies the sort of filet and lobster thing we talked about earlier.
The desserts at Vue are supplied by Ron Seballos, the man behind more of Cleveland's p‚tisserie than you can imagine, and are uniformly excellent.
In the end, Vue is a restaurant, much like mine was, whose primary clientele drive from Pepper Pike, Gates Mills and other points east. Korney attempts, when possible, to push the envelope and help his guests sample things that they may not have tried. Some people love the menu, while others find it too challenging for their suburban, steak-and-potato palates. More than a few people have mentioned that it is too expensive. But this is 2005 and maybe more fine dining can find a permanent home in Hudson, Ohio. Perhaps change is in the wind with this beautiful, busy restaurant on Village Way.Vue Restaurant & Lounge, 49 Village Way, Hudson, (330) 650-1883. Hours: lunch: Mon-Fri 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Sat noon to 2 p.m.; dinner: Mon-Thu 4:45 - 10 p.m., Fri-Sat 4:45 - 11 p.m.