Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: Fat Cats, a Perennial Favorite

These days it seems we have several restaurant openings every month. A new restaurant has a way of commanding a headline – openings are the culmination of years of hard work, from concept to the moment the first order hits the line. It’s a day the chef never forgets.
The greater accomplishment, however, is continuing to thrive 17 years later. That has been Chef/Owner Ricardo Sandoval’s good fortune at Fat Cats in Tremont.  Sandoval has yet to run out of inspiration when it comes to his well-executed Modern American menu with heavy Mediterranean influence.

Fat Cats
Simplicity is Sandoval’s hallmark: he allows the quality of the ingredients to shine through and take center stage. It may appear simple, but there is a lot of skill and genius at play. Extracting the most out of a few fresh ingredients and the perfect blend of seasonings is distinctively Mediterranean; it’s a region where simply but expertly prepared fresh ingredients – fish, meat, poultry, fruits and vegetables – are de rigueur. It is also no coincidence that, historically, the use of spices increases as you get closer to the equator.

Fat Cats radiates a fun, hip vibe. You enter by a long bar located in the first of three dining rooms. We’ve enjoyed many dinners at the bar over the years. Our most recent was on an idyllic late spring evening. We were seated in the middle of three rooms, adjacent to the patio. The doors to the patio were open and a gentle breeze wafted inside.

We selected a chilled rosé from the Loire Valley that was as light, acerbic and refreshing as we had hoped. We then turned our attention to the food: one of the keys to Fat Cats’ ongoing success is that Sandoval cleverly offers a lengthy list of seasonal specials in addition to his regular dinner menu. It adds a bit of surprise for returning patrons and keeps the focus on fresh, seasonal ingredients.

Touraine Rosé, Loire Valley
 As we sipped our wine, we settled on a couple of appetizers (we ordered two but three came to the table). The grilled baby octopus salad had a pleasant, smoky char and a delicate texture. The braised mushrooms with triple crème cheese, crostini sherry and tomato was a welcome accompaniment to the baby octopus. And we were genuinely surprised by Ricardo’s spin on a Caprese salad: the layering begins with sliced burrata rather than fresh mozzarella, topped with slices of tomato and a pungent pesto, all drizzled with a luxurious, extra virgin olive oil. The burrata was fresh and sinfully creamy.

Grilled Baby Octopus 

Braised Mushrooms

Burrata Caprese
Our entrees brought out a chorus of rave reviews. The most tantalizing to the eye was the pasta special: a generous plate of perfectly cooked orecchiette with just the right balance of rapini and rich, spicy sausage, all served in a light, savory chicken broth. I ordered the wild halibut special and found it to be perfectly cooked with a fine crusty exterior. It had a nice, firm texture and a mild buttery flavor, which I would attribute to it being wild. The fish rested on a bed of pureed turnips with grilled asparagus and radishes on the side. The wild salmon special was delightful – served on a potato pancake and topped with a fresh, tart garlic scape relish and a side of haricots verts.

Orecchiete Pasta with Sausage and Rapini

Wild Halibut Special

Wild Salmon Special

For dessert, we shared an order of crème brûlée – a rich, lavish custard complemented by a crystallized caramel shell. It had the traditional vanilla flavor and was served at room temperature – as it should be.

Crème Brûlée
The pace of our meal was leisurely and relaxed. The restaurant and patio were nearly full, yet our server seemed to be there when we needed her without hovering (no small feat). Fat Cats provided a pleasant, comforting, memorable meal that will remain with us long after the last bite.

Fat Cats is located at: 2061 W 10th Street, Cleveland, OH  44113, 216.579.0200

Prices are moderate: $$

Reservations recommended

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