Longtime favorite Pier W in Lakewood recently opened after an eight-month hiatus, during which the restaurant was remodeled and redecorated from bow to stern at a cost of $3.5 million. The new design is handsome, extraordinarily comfortable and finally takes full advantage of Pier W’s spectacular setting.
Of course, people come to a restaurant to eat, not just to look at scenery. Rest assured that under executive chef Anthony Phenis the food at the newly launched Pier W lives up to the promise of excellence implied by its gorgeous interior and unmatched views.
The rehab was overdue. The restaurant had begun to look a little shabby in recent years with tired furnishings and a shopworn collection of kitschy maritime artifacts — relics of an age when every restaurant had to have a theme. Despite the aging interior, Pier W remained a favorite for Clevelanders and out-of-towners alike. The view of Lake Erie and the Cleveland skyline was always the restaurant’s greatest asset.
Oddly, the original design restricted choice views to a handful of tables in the lower level of the dining room. Upper-level tables and the bar were cut off by a maze of weirdly placed walls and half-walls. Headed by Ronald L. Reed, the design team from Westlake Reed Leskosky wisely ripped out most of the offending partitions. Patrons can now take in the vista from just about every table in the upper and lower levels and the bar.
The interior sparkles with cut glass, polished marble and brass. A blue floor and cloudlike ceiling panels bring the colors of sky and water into the bar and dining room. Panels of rippled glass echo the rhythm of Lake Erie’s waves. The restaurant’s look and feel will remind you of a deluxe cruise ship’s dining room. Most of the kitschy stuff (life preservers, a diver’s suit and a most unseaworthy looking dinghy) has been exiled to a back hallway.
Phenis, an alumnus of the Culinary Institute of America, cooked at Select Restaurants Inc. (Pier W’s parent company) establishments in Chicago, Boston and Baltimore before taking over as Pier W’s executive chef in 2003. Phenis and international food consultant Tim Cushman developed the new menu.
As always, the menu features seafood in just about any form you can imagine, though determined carnivores will find a few steak, chicken and veal dishes to satisfy their tastes. This place is so serious about fish the kitchen has a refrigerated cutting room where seafood is kept cold to prevent deterioration during preparation.
Diving into the menu, you may choose one of the perennial Pier W favorites such as clam chowder or shrimp cocktail, which chef Phenis does as well as ever, to start. But his new additions, such as halibut tacos, scampi bruschetta and roasted heirloom beets, really deserve a try. The halibut tacos, which have already become the most popular appetizer on the new menu, wrap chunks of grilled Alaska halibut in a light, crisply fried wonton shell. The tacos are served with avocado, a sprinkle of tiny cilantro leaves and salsa. The textural contrast of tender, succulent halibut, crispy shell and unctuous avocado, topped off with the herbal fillip of cilantro, make this a special creation ($8.50 for a trio of tacos).
The scampi bruschetta, another winner, starts with a slice of grilled country bread, anointed with olive oil and a whiff of garlic, then topped with jumbo shrimp and a shower of miniature basil leaves ($9.50). Calamari (rings and tentacles) are dusted with a mixture of flour, Parmesan cheese and seasonings, and then deep-fried to crisp/tender perfection. They’re served with a real League-of-Nations combo of condiments, including aioli (a Frenchified garlic mayonnaise), gremolata (an Italian blend of lemon rind and parsley), Siracha (Thai hot sauce) and tamarind (Southeast Asian fruit paste). Each bite offers a new taste sensation: hot, sweet, tart or fruity depending on which of the condiments you choose for dunking ($9.50).
A more homespun, but equally delicious, choice is a plate of roasted miniature beets and goat cheese. The kitchen roasts several heirloom varieties, from yellow through pink to bright red, and tops them with balsamic vinegar, dill oil and shiso (a Japanese herb similar to basil but a tad spicier). A few bites will convince you that beets are sadly underused on most restaurant menus ($8).
Pier W also offers a selection of raw oysters, priced by the piece. Selection varies with seasonal availability.
A miniature salad is served before every entrée. It’s a well-chilled, artistically arranged collection of mixed greens held together by a ribbon of English cucumber and drizzled with a tasty soy sauce and sesame oil dressing. Want a bigger salad? Choose the blend of chopped iceberg with bacon, tomatoes and green beans with Parmesan dressing ($7).
Purists may choose an entrée from the restaurant’s selection of seafood prepared with just a dash of olive oil and accompanied only by braised spinach and roasted potatoes. Among the selections: pan-seared walleye ($25), grilled swordfish ($26), and roasted cod ($23). Serving fish so simply prepared is gutsy. Without a sauce or fancy seasonings or highly flavored sides to beguile the palate, the fish had better be fresh and well prepared. Pier W easily passes the “nowhere to hide” test.
If you want your seafood a bit more gussied up, try one of the house specialties. Among the best is walleye tempura ($24). Delicious, top-quality Great Lakes walleye is encased in a delectable batter and deep-fried crisp. The fish is snow-white, sweet and succulent. The batter, while perhaps not as light and lacy as the best tempura, is a deliciously crunchy addition nonetheless. The fish is served with asparagus, green beans, ginger-flavored mayonnaise and ponzu (a bitter and vaguely fishy Japanese dipping sauce).
Sea scallops, sweet and full of flavor, are seared and served in a piccata sauce of butter, lemon juice and capers ($28). A longtime Pier W favorite, salmon roasted on a cedar plank, is back on the menu. The dish is normally served with farm-raised salmon, but chef Phenis says diners who prefer the stronger flavor of wild salmon have only to ask for it. Whichever you choose, you’ll love the woodsy, smoky flavor this cooking technique, developed by American Indians in the Pacific Northwest, imparts to the fish ($24).
Another returning favorite is Pier W’s bouillabaisse. It’s not served in the trademark iron pot as in the old days, and the size of the portion has been scaled back a bit, but it’s still a generous mix of clams, fish, shrimp and mussels in a lip-smacking tomato broth with a hint of saffron, served with a chunk of toasty garlic bread to sop up the juices ($25).
Panzanella is a Tuscan salad usually made of bread, tomatoes, onions and olive oil. At Pier W panzanella is served as an entrée and it includes the surprising, and surprisingly delicious, addition of grilled swordfish ($27).
Don’t pass on dessert. Pier W desserts are excellent and their petite size makes them a sweet ending. All are house-made by pastry chef Lori Gale. They’re priced at $6 each or $17 for three. Some of our favorites: white chocolate macadamia nut tart served with rum raisin ice cream; a wild berry shortcake served on a cookielike crust in a puddle of crème Anglaise; molten chocolate cake made with premium Valhrona chocolate. The restaurant also offers an excellent selection of dessert cheeses, all served with appropriate accompaniments such as preserved fruits, fresh fruit or honey. All are priced at $6 per serving, $17 for a trio of cheeses. Diners may elect to make cheese one of the selections of a dessert triple play.
Pier W, 12700 Lake Ave., Lakewood, (in Winton Place); (216) 228-2250 (reservations are strongly recommended); Mon-Thu 5 - 10 p.m. (Thu until 11 p.m.), Fri-Sun 4:30 - 10 p.m. The bar usually remains open for an hour after the dining room closes. At press time, Pier W was not yet open for lunch or Sunday brunch, but the restaurant expects to expand its hours by late autumn. All major credit cards are accepted.