The Big Chill

Good times await at The Cleveland

It's all sloping beanies and soft flannel shirts. Glasses of orange wine twinkle in the candlelight, refilled by servers so thoroughly chill it's like they were sedated before service.

You'll feel the same way with some dry sherry down the hatch and a bowl of Max Sussman's fresh tagliatelle ($16) before you. The noodles unwind in a pool of sweet clam broth, with smoked sable and cheese made from sheep's milk on a Croatian island.

You may not have been paying attention to The Cleveland, but since Sussman took over about a month ago it's become a fine place to meet friends for dinner and take it easy. Sussman used to cook at Roberta's, where he was the chef de cuisine, and has brought his unfussy charm to Nolita. He dresses Brussels sprouts ($12) in a sunflower seed dressing and cantaloupe-colored trout roe and makes sprout fatigue disappear.

Vegetables, from the roasted carrots ($8) to the escarole ($7), are lovely, and be sure to order the steak ($27). It is more exciting, not to mention more affordable, than most of the monster, show-offy cuts at the city's steakhouses, and it's presented in a way that's easy to share: slices of wonderfully fatty bavette piled with red chile, mint, cilantro leaves and a scatter of small potatoes cracked in half–creamy inside with a crisp, browned edge.

There's an intensely creamy rice pudding ($8) with chewy pieces of candied fennel and a confetti of those colorful, candy-coated fennel seeds you eat by the handful on your way out of Indian restaurants. It's a sweet idea, but the more sophisticated halva with chocolate ice cream ($9) is the kind of dessert most chefs can't deliver without a pastry chef in the house, a knockout.

Max Sussman is cooking at The Cleveland in Nolita, and it shows in gorgeous new dishes like the sweetbreads with pickled turnips.

Sussman's excellent dish of hedgehog mushrooms with barley is one of many vegetable-focused sides.

From left to right: Co-owner Paul Shaked, chef Max Sussman and co-owner Hudson Solomon.

The Cleveland's casual dining room looks out onto Cleveland Place in Nolita.

The dining room.