The Sycamore celebrates its third birthday this month, and the neighborhood tavern keeps using every inch of its shotgun-style brick and tin-ceilinged space wisely, including chef and co-owner Bradley Balch's bowling alley of a kitchen (about 300 square feet). The Sycamore's consistently creative menu, top-of-the-line cocktails, knowledgeable service and lively vibe help it to stay ahead of flashier, larger establishments.

Details are well considered here, from the setting-appropriate music, to the interesting wine list, to the spicy pickle sitting alongside the lobster roll. Balch changes the menu not based on traditional seasons, but on the quality of seasonal ingredients. A wonderfully fresh gazpacho is now gone and has been replaced by Curried Sweet Potato Bisque. Seafood is also a real focus, and chef Balch goes out of his way to source the best he can find. He takes, for example, a great scallop and creates a crudo (barely torched) with grapefruit, pickled jalapeno, red onion, avocado, bean sprouts and black sea salt-a mind-bending combination. Beautifully plated, the layers of flavor and texture somehow work.

Beef is sourced from New Creations Farm in Chardon, Ohio, and some version of a braised short rib is usually on the menu. This fall it's a Brioso coffee-rubbed short rib. Finally, this is a place where you should forgo the beer (although they rotate four local ones on tap) and order cocktails, because while the bench is not extensive, it is deliciously deep thanks in part to the leadership of Annie Williams Pierce behind the bar. The wonderfully herbal vodka cocktail Dillusions of Grandeur, the delicate Danish Clover and Jareth's Ransom, a Manhattan featuring Ransom Sweet Vermouth, are solid bets.