architecturally striking university circle restaurant will place accent on global fare

If you don't know the name Scott Kim, then you likely have been missing out on some of the most thrilling food presently served in Cleveland. Kim's Shaker Square restaurant Sasa, which is modeled after the sake bars of Japan, eschews a conventional menu in favor of one that encourages exploration through a bevy of small plates. From Kobe beef dumplings to grilled whole mackerel, Kim's food is as enjoyable to look at as it is to eat.
Kim's next act will expand the chef's culinary borders well past those of Japan to include influences from Korea, India, China and beyond. Located a short stroll from the shimmering new Museum of Contemporary Art in University Circle, Accent is slated to open in a few short weeks. Enclosed in a 5,700-square-foot oval, the soft-edged restaurant is an apt foil for the angular museum down the block.
Despite juggling 1,000 tasks, Kim volunteered to give this writer a pre-opening tour of the new space. As we stepped over boxes, dodged a battalion of tradesmen, and talked over the drone and buzz of power tools, we observed that satisfying stage when countless loose ends are stitched together to form a real, live restaurant.
This place really is coming together quickly.
The last two weeks, when they're putting it all together, that is always the most fun. I come here in the morning and go, "Wow, they did all that since I left last night?"
Did the unconventional oval footprint create any problems in laying out the restaurant?
There were design challenges for sure. We lost a lot of valuable space in the corners. But I think it worked out great, especially at nighttime, when all these lights are glowing. It will be very stunning to look at from the outside. That was the whole idea -- we didn't want to over-decorate it. We wanted to have an open plan so people can see out but also see in from outside.
And one of the main features those people -- inside or out -- will see is that jaw-dropping open kitchen.
Yes, the focal point is definitely the kitchen -- all that shiny stainless steel, the culinary activity. It's like a chef's dream kitchen. I couldn't imagine how wonderful this is. I always had to design my menu to fit the kitchen. This time I was very fortunate to be able to come up with the menu first and design the kitchen accordingly.
Tell me about this robata grill. It uses special charcoal, right?

I'm becoming an expert on charcoal. I've been testing manmade and natural products from Mexico, Korea, and Japan. Binchotan, the traditional charcoal, is so expensive nobody can cook on it. You have to balance flavor, heat and cost. Some burn really hot and then there's nothing. This grill cooks food at 1,000 degrees, so you get a crisp, outer texture without overcooking the food on the inside.
What types of food will you cook on the robata?

Everything: fish, meat and a lot of vegetables. We will serve yakitori (on skewers) mushrooms, scallops, chicken livers, beef brisket. They come with a choice of dipping sauces. Our signature dish will be a sous vide turkey leg grilled whole on the bone.
How is this Jasper oven different from a regular oven?
It is heated only with hardwood and charcoal, so food cooked inside gets that great smoky flavor. Once it reaches its cooking temperature, it maintains its heat incredibly well. The heat is so intense that foods don't lose any moisture. We can put a pan in there and cook pan-seared salmon with smoky flavor. It's a little hard to describe how it tastes.
Tell me a little about Accent's executive chef, Michael Lyons.
I've known him for about 10 years. We would drink sake and talk at Sasa. I found out that he is one quarter Peruvian, one quarter Chinese and half Irish, so obviously he has a lot of cultural backgrounds. One of the biggest reasons I chose Mike instead of an Asian chef is that sometimes, we Asian chefs don't go far enough. Mike and I go back and forth a lot; it's more like having a conversation.
What's an example of a dish that resulted from one of your "conversations?"
I started with the idea of making Korean mung bean pancakes. We ended up with a play on bacon, eggs and pancakes. The final dish has mung bean pancakes with caviar, bacon and yogurt sauce.
With seating for 200 inside and 100 outside, Accent is considerably larger than Sasa.
The space is divided into separate areas for drinking and dining. The bar side will be more casual, with communal tables. The dining side will be calm and relaxing. I wanted to create a comfortable place where you can stop on your way home from work and have a beer or two and a couple skewers.
Look for Accent to open around mid-October.

Photos Bob Perkoski

Read more articles by Douglas Trattner.

Douglas Trattner is a fulltime freelance writer, editor and author. In addition to acting as Managing Editor of Fresh Water, he is the Dining Editor of Cleveland Scene, author of “Moon Handbooks: Cleveland,” and co-author with Michael Symon on two New York Times best-selling cookbooks. His work has appeared in Food Network magazine, Miami Herald, Globe and Mail, Wine & Spirits, Cleveland Magazine and others. He lives in Cleveland Hts. with his wife, two dogs, five chickens and 20,000 honeybees.
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