Rocco Whalen's Fahrenheit still hot, hot, hot in Cleveland's Tremont (photos, review)

After 15 years and a freshened decor, Rocco Whalen's Fahrenheit restaurant is still turning out a decadent, exacting

Michael Symon, Jonathon Sawyer, Zack Bruell. When we're talking about Cleveland's leading chefs, we have a tendency to stop at three. It's quick. It's tidy. And woefully insufficient.

That's how I feel again after two exhilarating visits to Fahrenheit, Rocco Whalen's place in Tremont. The place was due for a fresh review after its re-decoration last year and I expected the answer would be good. But after its 15 years in business, a sag in quality was also possible. Never found it, glad to say, and I'm running my finger through the calendar looking for the next special occasion to spend there.

Okay, so the mish-mosh flavors of a house salad didn't turn me on, even with the crunch of little sweet bits. And I was divided on the desserts, loving the Passion Mango Jar but wishing for a little more of the hazelnut flavor advertised in the otherwise satisfying chocolate mousse, and more strawberry and rhubarb flavors in the refreshing sorbet.

Little of that mattered in the face of all else. Whalen's ability to take classic American hits, then contemporize them, sometimes Asian-ize them, has kept his menu alive and kick-boxing. He is a true, cross-generational, cross-cultural kitchen champ.

His signature dish, Asian Short Ribs, still tops the list of reasons. A downy textured pillow of beef bathed in the sweetly caramelized flavors of soy-based teriyaki sauce, it sits throne-like atop fresh noodles and ginger-glazed vegetables. The last time I had this umami-bomb here, it was a bit too candied for dinner. Since then it has negotiated a food-world peace treaty between sweet and savory. Beef lovers of the slow-cooked school should not miss it.

Look for uncommon flavor depth in the beef tenderloin with truffle jus, and in the Prime Steak Burger "Trattoria," piled with creamy gorgonzola, an oven-roasted tomato, pancetta and arugula. This is the right way to do a "Roman Burger."

Whalen's menu chooses and identifies Verlasso salmon, one of the few farm-raised varieties that make an acceptable showing on Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch sustainability list. List or not, the fish was plush-fresh in texture, neatly challenged for the spotlight by the warm, sexy sting of wasabi mashed potatoes, and finished with miso and refreshing sweet pickled cucumbers that would make Opie's Aunt Bee smile.

This is the perfect time to say we've all read a lot of fancy descriptions on menus that are mere come-ons. Fahrenheit's crew not only brings them to life, they make the ingredients play together well. They keep promises.

Our tuna, seared outside with a rare interior offered the best of both temperatures, and the green curry and coconut sauce set it all off without drowning the fresh fish flavors. And don't hesitate to order the "Roasted Organic Chicken Breast," even if it sounds bland. This is really deconstructed classic fried chicken with juicy meat, rich, herby pan gravy and separate chunks of fried chicken skin for a targeted surprise.

Half the entree menu is over $30, all of it over $25 except for the burger. You get what you pay for, including an intuitive, educated, responsive staff. Visit the place at a lower price point for the burger, quality pizzas, and starters such as fried cauliflower with burnt lemon vinaigrette, or the Crispy Gochujang Chicken Wings, with their gooey good glaze of Asian fusion flavors. A separate Happy Hour menu runs $5-$11 on weekdays.

The swanky new decor is spot-on, more stylish vigor than the speakeasy verboten of the past. Even with a second Fahrenheit running in Charlotte, N.C., Whalen has managed to keep the home fires burning. Fahrenheit is still hot.


Fahrenheit

Where: 2417 Professor Ave., Tremont neighborhood, Cleveland, 44113.

Contact: 216-781-8858.

Online: http://www.chefroccowhalen.com/fahrenheit-cleveland/

Hours: 5-11 p.m. Mon.-Thu., 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri.-Sat., Sunday brunch, 10:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m..

Prices: Starters and salads $7-$15, pizza $18-$22, main dishes $20-$35, desserts, $8-$9.

Reservations: Highly recommended.

Credit cards: All major cards.

Cuisine: New American.

Kid-friendliness: Will cook to please. High chairs available.

Bar service: Full. Happy Hour 5-7 p.m. Monday-Friday with separate menu, $5-$11.

Accessibility: Full.

Grade: * * * *

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Article Rocco Whalen's Fahrenheit still hot, hot, hot in Cleveland's Tremont (photos, review) compiled by www.cleveland.com