If the Greek philosophers known as the Eclectics were still around, Zach Bruell, the man behind Table 45, would be an honorary member. These ancient thinkers cherry-picked ideas from many schools of thought, combining them into one unified view of reality.
Bruell, who is also the chef owner of Parallax (Table 45 is named for the most popular seat there), has done something similar with the food. He’s selected culinary tastes and techniques from South America, North Africa, Europe and Asia to create his cross-cultural menu for his new restaurant. He calls the result World Cuisine.
It’s an international tour d’table featuring Vietnamese pho, Peruvian-style braised lamb shank and salmon with Chinese broccoli and black bean sauce. A pan-national option on a single plate is the Bangkok Caesar ($7), and it’s worth a postcard home. In this fabulous cilantro-laced version of the leafy romaine salad, Thai fish sauce is the stand-in for anchovies, the croutons are replaced by a stack of crunchy fried rice vermicelli (hair-thin noodles), and lime juice is substituted for lemon.
Mixing, matching and taking liberties like this can be risky. But Bruell has the requisite combination of audacity, nerve and finesse to meet the challenge. As does chef Robert Ledzianowski, formerly at Vue in Hudson, who handles the actual food production and day-to-day operation of the kitchen.
Most of the time they pull it off. The food is inventive, adventurous and, at its best, both surprising and delicious.
Tandoori naan captures the essential idea in a single dish. The warm, freshly baked Indian flatbread is served with a trio of dipping sauces: Middle Eastern hummos with goat cheese, a Mediterranean tomato tapenade and French-style aioli (garlic mayonnaise) with a hint of spiciness ($6.50). It’s so irresistibly good my dinner mate and I would not let it go until we’d just about licked the platter clean.
A counter fronts a secondary kitchen in the dining area, so guests can watch as the cook shapes the rounds of dough and slaps the naan onto the intensely hot walls of the traditional clay oven.
The tandoor chicken ($22) is also made in this pit-style oven. The bird blackens quickly on the outside but remains moist within. Garlic gnocchi, more like potato puffs than the classic Italian dumplings, and Brussels sprouts dotted with pancetta complete the dish’s multicultural pedigree.
The wine collection covers a lot of terrain and terroir too, from America’s Napa Valley to Galacia, Spain, and Marlborough, New Zealand, but the emphasis is on California vintages. The list groups reds and whites according to their intensity from light to full, a big help when trying to find the right accompaniment for seared tuna or a rare strip steak.
An appetizer of raw diced salmon with green apples, blue cheese and sherry vinaigrette has no obvious country of origin ($9). The unusual and unlikely combination works rather well together, but it’s quite rich and better enjoyed split between two people. Something of an eclectic myself, I decided to create another shareable starter, pairing a side dish of creamy polenta ($6) with a warm and wonderful wild mushroom salad ($10).
Speaking of starters, the Saigon crab and avocado wrap ($10) should come with a warning: Eat at your own risk (and with great difficulty). The three rolls are presented with chopsticks, suggesting you should put them in your mouth whole, like sushi, but they’re too big for that. (Trust me, I tried, and what happened was not pretty.) The next one, cut in half with a knife, fell to pieces. The pretty dish is a nice idea, but somebody seems to have forgotten the mechanics of its consumption.
A grilled Kurobuta pork chop entree ($21) was also disappointing. The meat, from American-raised heritage breed hogs,
was marbled, tender and juicy. But the Latin accent that should have come from chipotle jam was overwhelmed by a mound of exceedingly ordinary mashed potatoes (oddly not mentioned in the description of the dish).
The accompanying cornmeal madeleine, a variation on the cookie of Proustian renown, was dry and crumbly.
But compare this to the black cod tagine — perfectly executed and one of the best things I ate here. In this version of the aromatic stew, the flavors of fava beans, potatoes, tomatoes and Moroccan olives come together, yet each retains its own textural identity ($25). The seared duck breast is also terrific. It’s given a complex, pungent sauce fortified with vadouvan, a currylike French spice blend that includes fenugreek, cumin and mustard seed.
Of all the desserts I sampled — the typical fine-dining lineup of crème brûlée, fruit tart and mousse given an international twist — none could top the trifecta called A Trip to Mexico ($9). The sweet spread consisted of a demitasse of thick-as-pudding hot chocolate with a candy cane-shaped churro (fried dough), a piece of tequila-infused tres leches cake, and mini corn pie topped with rompope ice cream. Let’s just say I was transported.
But I was also annoyed that I had to go online to discover that rompope — the menu gives no clue — is eggnog liqueur. Does Bruell think everyone will know this? Does he care?
When it’s good at Table 45, it’s very, very good. When it’s bad, it’s rubbery fritto misto (batter-coated fried vegetables) without even a hint of the promised crispness ($7), a lukewarm after-dinner café latte cocktail and servers who ignore dirty plates and used silver, leaving them on the table even after delivering the next course.
Perhaps problems like these explain why the restaurant hasn’t yet caught on with local diners and drinkers in a big way. On three separate weekend visits, the restaurant was less than half full and the bar mostly empty. It looked like a stage set before the actors show up. But given the talent and record of the guys in charge here, I’m inclined to trust that with more time they’ll get everything absolutely right.
The interior design is ultramodern and dramatic, different from anything else in town. Lighting produces the only variations of hue in the large, white-walled room. Some might call it minimalist. Depending on your mood and personal preferences, you’ll find it stark or serene, bare or uncluttered, elegant or austere.
The architect, Bill Blunden, calls it essentialism, an approach that eliminates fussy and unnecessary details and emphasizes functionality. He and Bruell are clearly making a statement, but I can’t figure out just what it is they’re saying.
A few enclosed areas in the dining room provide islands of privacy as does a “silo” of frosted glass floating in the middle of the lounge, while discrete sections offer different kinds of seating options.
In the kitchen, a chef’s table, seating up to eight and available only by reservation, provides a close-up look at the stove action with an audio track courtesy of miked cooks. It erases the boundary that usually separates the public from the pros. And that seems especially fitting for a restaurant where the culinary vision is global, with no borders for the gastronomic adventurer.
Table 45, 9801 Carnegie Ave., Cleveland, (216) 707-4045. Sun-Thu 11 a.m. - 11 p.m., Fri-Sat 11 a.m. - midnight. All major credit cards accepted, wheelchair accessible, complimentary valet.