Archive for April, 2010
You will note a gap in blog postings. Jeff was working in Chicago and combined visits to Cleveland area restaurants were impossible. Despite the heavy work schedule, Jeff did enjoy some wonderful Chicago food and we thought it would be good to share.
There is no question, in Chicago, pork is king. A few years ago, Paul Kahan (Chicago’s Zach Bruell) opened a restaurant called the Publican. While the menu featured other items, the Chicago buzz consisted of the remarkable pork dishes. Area chefs took notice and it was impossible to walk into a restaurant during the week, where pork was not offering in an amazing array of variations.
The only day Jeff finished work early, allowed him to try Avec. Avec takes no reservations, so arriving early is a must. Located next door to his wonderful first restaurant, Blackbird, Paul Kahan has created one of the most stunning interiors ever. Jeff couldn’t determine if it cedar or redwood, but the entire space is covered in wood. Ceiling, tables, walls, stools are all warm wood in this communal setting spot. A stainless bar reflects and complements to space. The food matches the interior toe-to-toe.
Jeff started with the chorizo-stuffed dates. The sausage was slightly spicy, the bacon topping salty and the tomato based cooling. According to the server, this is a popular item and she arranged a half-order so Jeff could have the escargot tortellini appetizer. Served with frog legs, fiddlehead fern and artichoke, it was easily polished-off and he simply could not wait for the entrée. Braised pork shoulder was served in a puff pastry with kale, butternut squash and chestnut bacon dumplings. The incredibly tender pork was rich and flavorful, the vegetables tasty and the entire meal a success. To finish, paper thin pieces of crunchy chocolate (dark and milk) were served for desert. A wonderful meal and the perfect preamble to a week of eating in the windy city.
615 W. Randolph Road Chicago, IL 60661 312-377-2002
Do you remember Piccolo Mondo? Do you remember Chef Todd Stein? After introductory small talk with the waiter, Jeff and his co-workers were reminded that this James Beard finalist Cibo Matto’s Executive Chef got his start in Cleveland. This is the hot spot in Chicago and after the first bite; it is easy to tell why. Jeff started with the sweetbreads. Light and delectable with roasted lemon and a citrus overtone they were perfect. For dinner, Jeff ordered the Bucatini, according to the waiter, the “meal of the city” at this time. A great carbonara with meaty pancetta, snappy pecorino Romano, cracked pepper all topped with a duck egg. After mixing the plump bucatini with the soft egg, a plate of heaven was created. It is easy to understand why an entire city has gone gaga over a simple meal. It is easy to understand why Cibo Matto (“crazy food” in Italian) is such a popular restaurant.
201 N. State Street Chicago, IL 312-239-9500
A few years ago, Ostoria via Stato was named one of the best new restaurants in Bon Appetite magazine. Jeff visited shortly after the list was printed and it was a revelation. The menu consisted of a simple decision. Five choices. Appetizer, Antipasto, pasta and dessert were included. If you wanted wine, you needed only to select whether you wanted good, better or the best wine they offered. While it was a lot of food, it was all great. Since that time, the simple menu has expanded and the place has become wildly popular. Jeff has been to this place three times and the latest visit showed some wear and tear. The food was good, but the finesse was missing. The parmesan crusted sweat onion could have been good, if there was less oil and the serving temperature was down a few hundred degrees. Three-meat pappardelle was rich and flavorful, but extracting the fat from a good ragu is key and was not done carefully enough. With the competition getting more and more intense in Chicago, Osteria is in danger of loosing its strong following if it forgets the details.
620 N. State Street Chicago, IL 60610 312-642-8450
On a walk down Michigan Avenue, Jeff passed an advertisement for the new issue of Chicago Magazine. The cover story talked about twenty new restaurants that everyone should try. He bought a copy at corner newsstand. Coming on the heals of the Chicago-centric 2010 James Beard finalists, it almost forced Jeff to extend his stay indefinitely, but of course, that was impossible. Using the article, he decided on the Purple Pig for an early Sunday dinner and this was a fortuitous decision. Nicknamed, “Cheese, Swine and Wine” the menu was essentially small plates of yummy things you never tried before. Divided into sections such as Antipasto, Salads, Fried Items, Panini, Cured Meats, Smears, Cheese and al la Plancha, so many options sound so good, you want to over order. Jeff started with the salt-roasted beets topped with whipped goat cheese and pistachios. These may have been the best beets Jeff has ever had. Each was fresh and crisp, the cheese rich and creamy. After that, Jeff enjoyed the Jamon Serrano, crusty bread topped with the jamon, asparagus and fried egg. The best was saved for last with a “smear.” The roasted bone marrow with herbs was served with crunchy slices of bread. Full of dense pork flavor, when the bread ran out, a finger was needed to scoop out the last of the “smear.” Wow, was this place good. The farro and ricotta “rice pudding” with chocolate sauce ended a meal that Jeff hope would never. You should definitely try this place if you ever find yourself in Chicago.
500 N. Michigan Avenue Chicago, IL 60611 312- 464-1PIG (1744)
On the last day, work ended earlier than expected. Jeff took the opportunity to visit one of Chicago’s historic restaurants. Berghoff’s has been a part of Chicago since 1898. The interior reminds one of an old speakeasy and the menu contains dishes that have become déclassé. Regardless, Jeff ordered the home brewed root beer and Wiener Schnitzel. Light and crisp with an asparagus and green bean side it is easy to understand how this classic stayed around for over 100 years. The apple strudel sealed that deal of a very successful culinary tour that complemented the already successful business trip. All in all, a good week in Chicago.
17 West Adams Street Chicago, IL 60603 312-427-3170
Since opening, Mint Café has been a very popular destination. So much so, that it is sometimes difficult to get a table. For that reason, we always plan a trip to this Coventry Road spot when we can arrive before 6:00PM and that occurred again this week. The reason for the crowd is evident once you order. The food is beautiful and almost always perfect.
Michele always starts with the seaweed salad. Moments after arriving at the table, it is gone. This time, because of a late lunch, she passed on the seaweed and went straight for the Pad Thai. She feels their version of this popular rice noodle dish is the best in town. Jeff almost always has the Tom Khar Gai soup, a coconut milk base with sliced chicken, mushrooms and lime juice. While it is usually flawless, the broth was a bit watery during this visit. Not bad, but not as good as always. For the dinner entrée, Jeff jumps all over the menu, but the dish usually includes duck. It just seems Thai food works so well with this waterfowl. Curry, Choo Chee, as a special with mangos (when in season) …yummy. This time it was Chili Duck, the half duck is boneless, with an incredibly crunchy exterior and succulent meat. This dish can be tricky. If the duck’s skin is not fully cooked, it is inedible. If done too long, the meat inside becomes inedible. Their version is perfect and the slightly spicy topping sauce is a delightful addition.
Because of its popularity, the folks who own Mint Café opened a second place in Pepper Pike called Peppermint. We’ve never been to Peppermint, but it is our suspicion that the more talented food artisans migrated east. Mint Café on Coventry is very good, but little things have been slipping lately. We hope the owners don’t let this Cleveland Heights giant crash and burn. That would be tragic.
1791 Coventry Road Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 216-320-9915
Many people ask us if we ever eat “fast food.” The answer is yes and no. We haven’t been to McDonald’s, Taco Bell or Burger King in close to ten years. No KFC or Wendy’s for at least five years. We’ve never eaten at Rally’s or Church’s. There are however, a few fast food places that we do frequent. Following is a list of some of the quicker, cheaper places we do enjoy.
Popeye’s – fried chicken, by design is probably horrible for you, but when we get a hankering, this is the place. Jeff orders the spicy and Michele the mild. These people really know how to make crispy, moist chicken. The mashed potatoes and gravy aren’t bad either.
Schlotzsky’s – these are delightful sandwiches. The bread is warm and crispy-crunchy and the meats inside are fresh and tasty. Jeff divides time between the Original Deluxe (on sourdough) and the pastrami and Swiss (on pumpernickel). Michele sticks to the Turkey Bacon Club (on sourdough) with a bag of sour cream and chive potato chips. We know this meal is a sodium overload, so we watch the intake afterwards, but sometimes it is worth it!
Penn Station – this is one of the odd situations where we both order the same thing. Their Artichoke sub is fabulous and likely the healthiest thing on the menu. We both add mushrooms to the provolone, parmesan and mayo. The bread is split, laid flat and grilled so the bread is crunchy and the cheese is melted, but not runny. We also split a medium order of fries. These are among the best fries in town. They actually taste like potatoes! To top it off, they make fresh squeezed lemonade daily and it is also great!
Skyline Chili – Here we start with the same core order, but veer off with the side dishes. Cincinnati Chili is a strange food. The chili is served over spaghetti noodles and topped with MOUNDS of shredded cheddar cheese. You then use a fork to eat slices of the three layer pile (kind of like eating pie or cake.) this is know as “3-way”. Four-way includes onion and five-way includes beans. Michele enjoys her three-way with Garlic toast and Jeff has a couple of mini hot dogs with chili sauce and cheese, called a Cheese Coney. The chili is spunky, the cheese is fresh and the spaghetti has a flavor unlike any we’ve ever had. Jeff also gives the hot dogs a thumbs-up!
Chipotle – one of the first Cleveland area Chipotle opened across the street from our previous house, so we have been going to them for a long time. We have both settled into our favorites and little will pop us from this repetition. Jeff has the Barbacoa Burrito with pinto beans, medium-hot (corn) salsa with sour cream and cheese. Michele has the Fajita Burrito with EXTRA (read: lots and lots) of cilantro-lime rice and only a small amount of the Chicken-pepper-onion mix. She prefers the mild tomato salsa and cheese. Occasionally, we order guacamole, but typically, the chips are too salty. These are very tasty quick meals and the ingredients always seem fresh. It is also a very filling, so we try to stop here only when we are very hungry.
Chick-fil-A – We don’t know whether to believe the hype that they invented the chicken sandwich, but they sure as hell make the best one currently on the market. The breading is crisp, the chicken meat moist, the bun is flavorful, the pickles (order extras!) add tang and a touch of mayo forms an almost perfect lunch treat. With all of the waffle fries in the world, this seems like the only place that really knows how to cook them. They are always flavorful and not dried out. To top things off, they also serve lemonade and that tastes combines perfectly with the chicken.
Fast food is not really bad food, as long as you use it in moderation and select those establishments that try to rise above the fray. In a movie made about the fast food industry a few years ago, one of the characters asked another, “What do you think you’re getting for 99 cents?” Indeed.
We are just not sure how to review this restaurant. Either the food is uniformly hot, or the waitress did not understand us. Either way, we’re confused.
Many years ago, we enjoyed our first Indian dinner. The Saffron Patch opened in Orange Village. The tiny (and those who visited, know we are not exaggerating) eight table restaurant opened at 5:00PM and if you arrive at 5:20, you were first in line for a seat. It was remarkable food and the word got out. They quickly moved to larger quarters and the quality of the food subsequently slipped a bit. Tandoor Café opened shortly thereafter and they took over where Saffron left off. Recently, Tandoor’s quality has also deteriorated. We have heard of a good place on the westside, but haven’t traveled that far. We hoped Indian Flame was going to fill an eastside need, but still don’t know if it will.
Michele started with the tomato soup and Jeff ordered the Aloo Tikki, patties of potato and herb. The appetizer course left us with hope. For dinner, Michele ordered the Shrimp Biryani and Jeff, the Lamb Korma. The waitress asked Jeff about the spice level. As always, he ordered “medium.” Michele asked for confirmation that the Biryani was not spicy. The server confirmed (we think) that it was “not spicy.” Either she misunderstood Michele’s question or everything from the kitchen is hot. Jeff’s lamb was exactly as requested, but Michele was unable to finish, or even put a dent in the rice dish she so enjoys. Our suspicions of misunderstanding were further heightened when Jeff ordered Gulab Jammun desert and the waitress thought he said, “Coca-Cola.” This dough and rosewater touch of sweetness is a wonderful way to end a spice-filled Indian dinner, but the Flame’s version was not good at all. The rosewater wasn’t, and the dough was void of any taste and flavor.
Had this been stunning food, the sub-par atmosphere would have been ignored. If this was exceptional food, the price would have been acceptable. The problem is multi-dimensional. The surroundings are grungy, the parking is difficult and the prices are similar to those found at the nicer looking Tandoor Café and Saffron Patch. Topped with the “hot” problem, it is difficult to recommend this place. The search for great Indian food continues.
List Status: Not Added
11623 Euclid Avenue Cleveland, OH 44106 216-791-5555
For almost as long as food has been served at this great location overlooking Lincoln Park, we have been dining here. Starting with Miracles and moving onto Donna Chriszt’s, OZ, a trip to Tremont always means good food, but none was better then Sage who settling in for a long, impressive stay. Unfortunately, this loved restaurant (especially by us!) is gone. In its place is the Bistro on Lincoln Park. We might be inclined to surmise that the location draws us in, but we know better. It’s the food and while we still pine for Sage, this is damn fine cooking. We’ve dined here for lunch and dinner and every time has been superb.
This evening, Jeff enjoyed the mushroom and goat cheese tart and venison Bolognese. Perhaps the one-two punch of rich, dense food could have been too much, but he found it more then satisfying. The Bolognese was especially good with perfectly prepared fettuccini and a melt-in-your-mouth venison sauce. Michele, smart person she is, decided to go a lighter route with the Bistro salad and pan roasted walleye. Soft butter lettuce, onion vinaigrette with tomatoes and sunflower seeds, this was a good start to the perfectly prepared and VERY fresh fish served with a side of blue potatoes and bacon hash. Desert was profiteroles (cream puffs) stuffed with vanilla bean ice cream and topped with hot fudge.
Another treat is their 20 for $20 wine list. There is a list of ten white and ten red wines for twenty dollars a bottle. If you typically have a couple of glasses of wine with dinner, this is a great bargain with some nice options.
While we will always miss Sage, it is nice to know that a place as good as Bistro on Lincoln Park has taken its place.
List Status: Existing
2391 West 11th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-862-2969
Saturday was a beautiful day. The sun was shining, it was unseasonably warm and the thought of sitting in a dark movie theatre watching a matinee seemed almost sacrilegious. The solution was to lower the car windows and take a long drive to the westside. We have been aware of Wild Mango for a while. Jeff’s mother raves about it and of course, the other reviews have been very positive. That was our destination.
…and what a destination. Upon entering, you find yourself in a small utilitarian white room. The hostess quickly escorts you through the double door at the front of this foyer and a palace of marble and aesthetic good taste is set before you. The dining room is a visual treat that belies its shopping mall location. Rich plum furniture and accents play alongside bold red lighting fixture drums. The tables are heavy lacquered cherry wood. This was an inviting place to enjoy a meal.
…and what a meal. With such attention paid to the restaurant’s look, it could have been easy to skimp on the food, but the kitchen matched the room, toe to toe. Each meal was as beautiful as the surroundings. We both started with the daily soup, today creamy corn and chicken. The corn had been blended into the rich chicken broth, with a few kernels and bits of chicken remaining. A dot of punch was provided by white pepper (?) Michele had the “Simple Salad” a misnomer if every there was one. A complex arrangement of greens, radishes, tomatoes with vinaigrette over the top and an underlying dressing at the base. Beautifully presented on a linear plate, Michele could not wait for the main course. She was rewarded with a perfectly seared salmon with a ginger-soy glaze. The accompanying mango-cucumber salsa had a nice spunky flavor. The dish typically comes with sweet potato fries, but Michele substitutes the rice and lighter felt like a better balance. Jeff enjoyed the Chicken Cheese Cake. Imagine a crab cake made with chicken and accented by the addition of mozzarella, tomato and Asian pesto. The “cake” sat atop a puddle of soy and orange mango coulis. The side of French-fried sweet potato was a perfect match for this slightly heavier, but no-less enjoyable entrée. Desert was a 14 layer chocolate triangle, one of the most unusual presentations. Huge, by any standard, the rich chocolate and moist cake disappeared faster than we expected.
All of this remarkable food was had for a remarkably low price. Our lunch bill was almost embarrassingly small for the quality of food consumed. Despite the long travel distance we will definitely return, perhaps for dinner next time, but regardless, based on this first experience, we’re sure to be stunned.
List Status: Added
362 Great Northern Mall North Olmstead, OH 44070 440-979-1888