When a new restaurant replaces a thirty year beloved landmark, it often has a challenge. Such is the case with l’Albatros in University Circle, Cleveland. It has taken over space in an old carriage house on Bellflower Road formerly occupied by That Place on Bellflower, a fixture for over 30 years. When restauranteur Isabella Basile decided (at advanced age) to retire from the business last year, there was great trepidation among the University Circle locals (who depended upon That Place on Bellflower for important business and “special occasion” lunches and dinners).
Then it became known that Zachary Bruell, known in Cleveland for his Table 45 restaurant at the Cleveland Clinic Intercontinental Hotel on Carnegie Avenue. Table 45 had been well received, so things looked good for his new restaurant, l’Albatros, in University Circle, which opened several months ago.
I’ve now had lunch there twice (no dinners yet, although I look forward to it) and I am happy to recommend it. l’Albatros is a brasserie in the classic French tradition, with such traditional dishes as cassoulet (that baked bean on steriods dish), French onion soup, steak/frites, even a croque monsieur sandwich. (Yes, you can get a burger, if you want it.) There are vegetarian selections as well as several pizzas and tarts. There is an inviting assortment of starters and salads, and desserts are interesting/classic as well. There is a soup that is different each day. The service is attentive, but not intrusive. The young people who are the servers are friendly and attractive.
On my first visit I started with a beautifully seasoned leek and potato soup, then chose a classic salade frisée aux lardons (that curly frisée lettuce with sauteed thick “sticks” of bacon and a garlicky dijon vinaigrette dressing) with a piece of roasted pork belly and a poached egg topping the salad. (Get out your copies of Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking or The French Chef Cookbook for more information about the classic versions of the dishes.) My dining companion on this visit had a goat cheese tart with olives and dried tomatoes. It was small, but looked delicious. (As Americans we get used to large portions, but sometimes a small amount of something delicious is better than a plateful of something….. well, not delicious.)
For my second lunch a week or so later I started with a cauliflower bisque, which was well-seasoned and delicious, but was a bit thinner than I might have expected for a preparation described as a “bisque.” (I could recommend even it to those who don’t like cauliflower–it was not obviously a cruciferous vegetable inhabiting this soup.) Then as the main I had a sausage platter with potatoes mousseline: what the Brits would more indelicately call bangers and mash. There was a nice selection of three moist, fat sausages, two sweet and one smoked. The pureed potoates were served with a garnish of pickled red onions and arugula, with a bit of sweet and sour sauce as a base in the dish.
I am a sucker for chocolate brownies, so I confess to having the same dessert twice: a warm chocolate brownie crammed with walnuts, with a scoop of vanilla on top, served over a dab of crème anglaise. Someday I’ll try something new.
I have eaten at Table 45, and I can say without hesitation that I prefer l’Albatros, not because of any fault with Table 45, but I just prefer the French menu.
Those who know me well are aware that I am a life member of Weight Watchers, who has managed to keep his weight in check for over three years. I hasten to point out that most of the dishes on l’Albatros’s menu are sky high with WW points. So make this a special once-in-a-while special destination, and choose carefully. (On my second visit I was having food therapy, so I make no apologies. I’m back on the wagon.)