Archive for February, 2011
Last week, the James Beard Foundation announced their 2010 finalist list, from which this year’s nominees will be selected. Cleveland was fortunate to earn five mentions.
- Michael Symon (Lola) – Outstanding Chef
- Lola – Outstanding Restaurant
- Jonathon Sawyer (The Greenhouse Tavern) – Rising Star Chef
- Zachary Bruell (L’Albatros) – Best Chef: Great Lakes
- Eric Williams (Momocho) – Best Chef: Great Lakes
The whole reason we started to write these blob postings is because we feel that Cleveland food stands up very well when compared with other cities. In fact, when comparing Cleveland to other similarly sized (even larger) cities, we stack up quite well. Following are the major cities with fewer finalists than Cleveland:
- 0 – Detroit
- 2 – Pittsburgh, Houston, Indianapolis
- 4 – Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Denver, Las Vegas, Miami, Phoenix
Experts are noticing Cleveland and that is great news. The increase in quality and creativity has made dining in our town a joy and has provided bragging rights for those of us who travel and compare.
Out finalists this year have moved up a notch. Both Michael Symon and Lola are in the national race. Jonathon Sawyer repeats in the national, Rising Star category. Mr. Bruell again will compete against Mr. Williams, but this year for his “other” restaurant, L’Albatros, again attesting to his standing as the dean of Cleveland cooking. We hope this year the James Beard Foundation finally acknowledges this giant. It is time. The five nominees from these lists of 20 (30, in the case of Rising Star) will be announced on March 21, 2011. Keep your fingers crossed.
Now, lets think about 2012 and how the Cleveland presence can be expanded. Clearly, we have talent that can easily stand up to the rest of the nation. Our challenge is to get the word out. Let’s pump up the volume for these Cleveland champions, Douglas Katz (Fire) Ellis Cooley (AMP 150) Matthew Mathlage (Light Bistro) and Karen Small (Flying Fig.) The world is listening and it is time to increase the volume!
One of the great things about living in an ethnically diverse city like Cleveland is the wide variety of exciting food options. For weekend breakfast, we have visited many spots, some remarkable food and some, simple sustenance. After a recent visit to No 1 Pho, we were trolling the neighborhood, looking for “something sweet.” We found Koko Bakery on Payne Avenue and ordered a piece of conventional cake. It was good, but our eyes turned toward the case of Chinese and Taiwanese sweets and “buns.” A mental note was made to return someday for breakfast. That return occurred this weekend…both days!
We arrived on Saturday at about 8:30AM and found the cases bare! After a quick conversation, the owner informed us that they will soon start bringing out things. They were running late. Jeff ordered a steamed red bean paste bun and Michele remembered a “sponge cake” cylinder from a past visit and asked if it was available. We sat down with our first piece and a cup of ginger-honey tea and watched as the parade of goodies rolled by and the cases filled. As the morning progressed, Michele grabbed a coconut-condensed milk bun and Jeff a pork stuffed bun. We split an egg and ham bun and vowed to return the next day (Sunday) with a newspaper and larger appetite.
On Sunday, we tried the Hong Kong tea (black tea with condensed milk) and Jeff had the red bean paste bun (not the steamed bun from yesterday – both good, just slightly different tastes.) Michele had the coconut cream bun with a whipped condensed milk center (again, similar, but a bit more decadent.) We shared another ham and egg bun and took home a hot dog bun (for Jeff) and coconut-condensed milk bun (for Michele.)
After talking with the owner, we learned that she uses less sugar and no preservatives in her baking. These are sweets without the remorse! The variety of available teas will keep us busy for a year and there is a case full of buns and treats we’ve yet to try. Some much food, so little time!
Looking for something different? Try Koko Bakery for a taste of Asian morning foods. Oh, they also have lunches, but we’ll save that for another time!
3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-881-7600
We’re not sushi aficionados. We enjoy it occasionally and both of us need to be in the mood. That mood struck this weekend and we visited Sushi Rock, together…for the first time.
Michele has been to this restaurant for business dinners many times. Because of her frequent visits, she has typically been nonplus when it came up in our conversation about dining selection. Consequently, Jeff has never eaten there.
On Michele’s suggestion, Jeff tried the Lobster Bisque. It was rich and creamy, but could have used a little “oomph” to steer it away from normal. Michele has the house salad, with a sweet citrus based dressing. Very good. Together, we shared a California Roll, Rock and Roll and a Beachwood Roll. All were very good, with the Rock and Roll being just a touch too large to easily bite. Jeff preferred the Beachwood and Michele the California.
During our crème brulee dessert, we discuss ranking of the assorted sushi restaurants in Cleveland. We both agreed that Pacific East on Coventry was number one and that Sushi Rock was second, primarily due to the wide variety and interesting combination available at Pacific East. Perhaps folks more educated in the subtleties of this wonderful food have alternate opinions, so take our comments with that information in check. Different palates react differently and this place was full at a very early time, so apparently, lots of people like this place.
Save your money, buy good food!
2101 Richmond Road Beachwood, OH 44122 216-378-9595
It seems that work finds Jeff in Phoenix at least once each year. During these trips, he has had the opportunity to sample some of the most interesting food in the city. On his most recent trip, he returned to an old favorite and tried two new places. All were enjoyable and worth your consideration.
Every neighborhood needs that small Italian restaurant with great food at a good price. Nick’s Italian serves that purpose in Scottsdale. The chicken tortellini was handmade with tender, flavorful chicken inside and the sauce Rosa (they called it pink sauce) a mixture of tomato sauce with cream was perfectly balanced. Not much was left on the plate except “white.”
Michele and Jeff discovered the Roaring Fork about five years ago. At that time, famed western chef Robert McGrath was cooking and the nation was paying attention. After he sold the place, we expected the restaurant and the food to slip, but an amazing thing appears to have happened, the food has stayed good and the place is even busier than when Chef McGrath was preparing the food.
Without reservations, Jeff and his co-worker were told there were no tables available until 8:30PM, a full two hours from our early arrival time! The bar was our only option and magically, two seat opened up as we made our first trip through the crowned bar area. Happy hour ends at 7:00, so we had the opportunity to sample some of the flavorful western cooking at a discount. A Caesar Salad and the pot of Chili-Pork served with fresh tamales were as good as Jeff’s first visit. Back in Phoenix again? Yes, I’ll be eating at the “Fork.”
The place, about which Jeff was most excited, is St. Francis. Unconventional for Phoenix, the concrete and glass was more industrial chic than he’s seen in this Mecca of southwestern cuisine. The atmosphere sent the right signals for food that could easily have been found in Denver or Chicago.
Jeff started with the daily special of roasted beet salad with mozzarella. Three or four different beets were intertwined with slices of the buffalo cheese and greens. He really enjoys beet salads, and this version, sans the typical goat cheese was among the best. Because the restaurant is serviced by a wood-fired, brick oven, the roasted chicken sounded like a perfect choice and after one bite, it proved to be the right one. Crispy on the outside, unbelievably moist inside, not a sliver of meat was left on the plate. Creamed parsnips, broccolini, farro and a whimsical pomegranate roasted garlic sauce kept his taste buds excited and alive until the last bite. This is a restaurant to which he will definitely return, perhaps as many times as Jeff is needed in Phoenix.
Three locations in the Scottsdale area.
Roaring Fork 4800 North Scottsdale Road Scottsdale, AZ 85251 480-947-0795
111 East Camelback Road Phoenix, AZ 85012 602-200-8111
In 1991, there was no Indian food in Cleveland. A small storefront in Orange quietly opened. Each day, the eight tables quickly filled and a line formed. The secret was to arrive moments after the 5:00 opening; otherwise you were forced to wait, with the fragrant aroma of the remarkable food teasing you. A move was inevitable and the Saffron Patch relocated to Shaker Heights. Other Indian restaurants opened, some were good, some were so-so, but the Saffron Patch continues.
When we go to restaurants serving Indian food, we’ll often plan on a vegetarian meal. That was the case this visit. We started with Papadum, the lentil crisps that are a perfect “snack” to enjoy with the delightful chutney and Indian beer (either the Flying Horse or Taj Mahal are good.) Michele had the Palak Paneer, spinach and paneer (non-dairy Indian cheese) and flavorful, Masala Tea. Jeff ordered the Mutter Paneer, peas, cheese and curry. Each is best when served over Saffron Rice and of course, Indian food is much better when accompanied by bread. This visit, we ordered the simple Naan, but many option are available and we continually rotate our choice. For dessert, we had Gulab Jamun, two fried dough balls in syrup. One of the closed Indian places used to make the absolute best version. Saffron Patch’s version is good, but we are still seeking better. (The delicate rosewater syrup is the missing link.)
Since the first halcyon days, the quality of the food has slipped a bit. It is still good and since the Tandoor Café has suffered the same fate in performance, it remains the best we have on the eastside of Cleveland. We continually hear of good food from the sub-continent somewhere west, but we’ve yet to explore. For now, we’ll go back to the place that introduced us to the wonderful flavors of India.
20600 Chagrin Boulevard Shaker Heights, OH 44122 216-295-0400