The Epicurean: L’Albatros Lives Up to Hype


L’Albatros Brasserie and Bar’s charcuterie board offers a varied assortment of delicious samples. Columnist Matt Segall visited the popular Cleveland eatery and gave the restaurant a glowing review.

Matt Segall, Columnist

This is the second in a biweekly column highlighting our local culinary scene. Restaurant reviews, research, interviews, recipes and more will all come together in order to identify what makes the Cleveland experience unique.

Zack Bruell is not an attention-monger. You will not find him competing on “Iron Chef” or “Chopped.” You will not hear people speaking his name in New York or Los Angeles. But he happens to own five of the most popular restaurants in Cleveland. He is more local hero than national treasure.

L’Albatros Brasserie and Bar, his casual French outpost, has earned some of the highest Zagat ratings of any Cleveland restaurant, in addition to being one of the most talked-about restaurants in the city. Its proximity to Severance Concert Hall, the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art makes it an ideal spot for a meal before a night on the town, or a drink and snack to finish out the evening. Best of all, L’Albatros’s modestly priced menu is affordable even to diners confined by a college budget.

A small open kitchen begs for your attention immediately upon entering the building. The honesty and transparency of this feature is a confidence-builder for the diner and has become a hallmark of many Cleveland establishments. My dining companion and I opted for outdoor seating on the patio, complete with a cabanatype lounge, and were instantly met with decent bread and olive oil.

Attractive prices and even more attractive offerings served to whet my appetite as I perused their lengthy menu. With over 20 entrée options alone, they offer an absurd number of dishes. While a long menu makes sure there is “something for everyone,” that is something one typically expects at a hole-in-the-wall Chinese joint, not an upscale eatery. Mostly unfazed by the epic scroll in front of me, I ordered one item from each main section of the menu — the charcuterie board, a white pizza and the burger — to spotcheck their execution. Since I only had an hour to eat, I asked our server to put the whole ticket in at once, rather than staging the delivery in appetizer, entrée, etc. My request was handled with expertise.

The burger arrived first. Like any true American, I have consumed many plates of burgers and fries in my lifetime. Unlike most Americans, after eating so many burgers, most simply do not cut it. But L’Albatros’s burger hit all the right marks. Its loosely formed, tender patty is the polar opposite of the Feve’s dense, gritty meat-puck abomination. The toppings are expertly applied to highlight the flavor and texture of the quality beef and wisely tucked under the meat so they don’t slide out from within the bun. And the fries!

Noisily crispy even 15 minutes after being brought to the table, I suspect they are twice fried in beef fat — unarguably the best way to make a french fry. Upon finishing our plates, my dining companion declared that L’Albatros’s burger was one of the best he’d ever had. While I can’t quite agree with him (the Black Label burger at Minetta Tavern tops my list), L’Albatros’s is an honorable contribution to the burger canon.

The charcuterie (cured meats) plate was the highlight of the meal. I appreciated the variety of the five distinct meat products on the board, and at $12, with near-excessive amounts of each option, this is the best deal in charcuterie that I have come across. They don’t compromise on quality either; four of the five items are made in-house, which is a rarity in American restaurants. My favorite was the chef ’s terrine — a mixture of pork and veal studded with pistachios. Surprisingly, there was a sweet, chai spice aroma on the finish, which pleasantly counteracted the rich mouthfeel up front. The knowledgeable busser informed me that the chefs often use allspice, cardamom and cloves in their long-form terrines. The only disappointment on the board was the imported prosciutto, but going up against the four miraculous house-made patés, terrines and sausages, it is understandable that the still-luxurious ham paled in comparison.

Last came the pizza, which our food runner heroically managed to squeeze between the burger and charcuterie plates on our small two-seat table. But the positivity surrounding the pizza ended there. The size of the thing was a joke. At less than 7 inches in diameter, no perfectly charred crust, deliciously aromatic olive oil or melty parmesan could justify the $12 price tag. Hopefully our pizza’s size was a few standard deviations below the mean, and I’m inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Minus the pizza, which we clearly could’ve done without, my bill totaled $16 including tax and tip. I’d be hardpressed to find such a deal that does not compromise execution, service or atmosphere anywhere else in the country. Restaurants this popular tend to decrease in quality over time as they grow complacent, but for now, L’Albatros is living up to the hype.