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Escape to classy, fiery Sarav
for dazzling Brazilian cuisine


Friday, March 24, 2006

Debbi Snook, Plain Dealer Reporter


Take a vacation from the mundane at Sarav
.

Sergio Abramof's new restaurant in Shaker Square -- a spacious counterpoint to his longstanding Sergio's at University Circle -- delivers a dining transformation.

It isn't just the look, although there is momentum in its sweeping, Art Deco lines, mahogany rain-forest details and shadow-dappled lighting. It isn't just the food, a Brazilian-inspired menu blended with both spark and soothing substance. And it isn't just the servers, swiftly translating each dish and then getting out of the way of their guests' good time.

No, what struck this happy customer was all this originality in perfect rhythm, the big, one-of-a-kind effect that is remarkable here and would be remarkable in any city. Sarav
  (sarah-VAH, translated as a warm Portuguese salutation) is perfect territory to slip out of your regular skin for a first date or a 457th date. It is like running away from home for dinner.

That said, I will quibble a bit. I wasn't dazzled with the drab artichoke fritters ($5) and rainbow smelt tempura ($5.50), until they met their sauces. Nor was I happy paying $1.75 each for crab claws that seemed rinsed of flavor.

Since the selection of small plates, raw bar and appetizers is almost 10 times that size, I will accept that the odds were not in my favor. And I do so with the confidence of having tasted the beef Churasco ($9), a miniature street festival on a plate with its dizzily charred and marinated miniskewers, tomato relish, zesty green sauce and smidge of rice. How better to temper the tug of a classic Brazilian rum drink poured over crushed mint and lime?

Each main dish had something hauntingly good to remember. In both the Shrimp Quiabo ($19), with okra, tomato and rice, and the Xim-Xim (zim-zim, $22.50), with its chicken, shrimp, veggies and roasted peanuts, it was coconut milk that calmed the chile heat into friendly fire. A small boulder of pasture-raised tenderloin ($26.50) wore a hint of black pepper, garlic and port on its shoulders. (With the house's crisp-fried and salted spinach as court jester.)

A mahi-mahi special ($23.50) promised a pineapple sauce that turned out to be classy and complex. The pork loin special ($24.50), accompanied by a mighty mashed potato side, carried sparkle in its candied caramelized onions. Finally, the feijoada, "the ceremonial party dish from Brasil" ($19), earned its heavyweight title in vibrant ruffles of flavors -- beans, rice, sausage, salsa and a splash of lime.

"Sarav
"? Oh no. The Portuguese greeting seems too well-mannered for all these thrills and for a place that makes it hard to slip back into your own skin.

To reach this Plain Dealer reporter:  DSnook@plaind.com  216-999-4357

2006 The Plain Dealer

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