Archive for May, 2011
We called Koko’s Bakery to determine if they were open on Memorial Day. There was no answer, so we decided to drive downtown anyway. It was a beautiful morning (after ANOTHER rainy night) and we thought, “Why not take a drive? They might simply be too busy to answer the phone.” We were of course disappointed. Our go-to weekend breakfast place was closed. Our back-up was Lucky’s Café. We didn’t know if they were open either, but as we said, it was a perfect day for a drive. Happily, Lucky’s was open and fabulous brunch was around the corner.
For Memorial Day, Lucky’s simple offered their regular weekend brunch menu. Michele tried the new Cuban sandwich and Jeff ordered the Shipwreck. Both were great. The Cuban featured fresh and tender pork with flavorful ham on house made bread. The Shipwreck was a mix of hash brown potatoes, eggs, cheddar cheese, bacon and vegetables alongside some buttered toast. A small serving of homemade berry preserves was perfect on the toast. While we missed our Koko breakfast, this was a very nice replacement.
Upon entering, we were reminded that the Chef, Heather Haviland seeks out local ingredients and attempts to make most everything in-house. We were even shown through the window, the garden that will supplement the kitchen upon harvest. It doesn’t get much fresher than that and food doesn’t get much better than that served at Lucky’s. What a treat!
http://www.luckyscafe.com/777 Starkweather Road Cleveland,OH 44113 216-622-7773
When Darna Moroccan Cuisine closed on Shaker Square, we were crushed. This was one of the most enjoyable restaurants to open in a long time. Unfortunately, people did not “get it” and it was empty most evenings.
Taking its place is another niche food-type, but unlike Darna, Zanzibar Soul Fusion seems to have already clicked with the neighborhood and the food community. After a few visits, we are happy to find plenty of people enjoying the home-style fare. A crowded restaurant is a joy to behold!
On our first visit, we came to eat. We were hungry and the menu came through with flying colors. Michele could not resist the Mini Tiger Shrimp Po’ Boys (a New Orleans favorite!) this tiny po’ boy sandwiches were crunchy, flavorful and (almost) as good as in NOLA. For her entrée, she immediately honed in on the deep fried catfish. It was so good; she went back for lunch the following week and ordered it again! Jeff was torn between the Chicken and Biscuits or the Chicken and Waffles. Since Phil the Fire closed just a few doors down on Shaker Square, this unusual treat has disappeared from Jeff’s repertoire. “Phil’s” version was poetry and he has been reluctant to try it elsewhere, to avoid tainting the memory. With a new place, he decided to play it safe, try something else and truly enjoyed the chicken and biscuits. Tender chicken smothered in onions and gravy over moist shortcake biscuits. It was all he could do to keep from licking the plate! The spunky corn side dish was also great. They have proven themselves, next time, Chicken and Waffles!
As we finished our meal, the owner stopped by the table to ascertain whether we enjoyed our meal. We enthusiastically expressed our satisfaction and learned that he was the son of Angie, owner of one of the longest running soul food restaurants in Cleveland. With this lineage and this quality food, Angie’s longevity may be up for some competition!
http://www.zanzibarohio.com/ 13114 Shaker Square Cleveland, OH 44120 216-916-9422
Since our first visit, Mint Café on Coventry had been our favorite Thai restaurant in Cleveland. It’s beautiful presentations and tasty entrees kept the room crowded and the tummy happy. Unfortunately, the owners decided to expand and opened a sister location in Pepper Pike cleverly called Pepper Mint Café. The call east took away the more creative kitchen people and the Coventry location lost some of its panache. A few months ago, separation was final with the original location being sold to one of the long-time workers. The bloom is now officially off the rose.
Simply put, High Thai is no Mint Café. The meals seem more haphazardly put together and beautiful vegetable sculptures that accompanied each dish now appear “manufactured.” Jeff’s Duck Choo Chee was OK and Michele’s Pad Thai was acceptable. These are not adjectives we had heretofore used at this restaurant. Perhaps they are why the room was for the first time very empty.
We have yet to try Pepper Mint. It looks like now, if we again want good Thai food in Cleveland, we’ll need to travel east, like so many other aspects of our city.
http://www.highthai.com/index.html1791 Coventry RoadCleveland Heights,OH44118 216-321-5000
Work continues to bring Jeff to Las Vegas. Michele comes along to shop and enjoy the shows. Evenings are spent together over dinner. This is not a vacation destination we’d choose. Neither of us gambles, Michele has done every possible tour and the assorted evening shows haven’t changed since we started visiting the city. The only thing that makes the city palatable had been the sun and food. With little exception, that joy has been diminishing over the last few visits.
To compensate for the reduction in gambling revenue and the lack of visitors, most of the hotels in the city seem to have decided that the way to financial strength can be achieved by increasing the cost of food. While it was bad last year, it has become almost chronic this year. Nothing was as bad as Bartolotta this year.
In 2009, Bartolotta won the James Beard Award for region dining. We knew the menu was expensive, but we had expected commensurate value and quality. We will pay, if the food is worth it. It is a tragic disappointment when the cost is high and the return is low. Such was the case with Bartolotta.
Things started out OK. Jeff’s appetizer of pancetta wrapped rabbit with artichokes was almost heavenly. The $21 cost was however, too high. Michele had a simple arugula salad that at $13.50 simply was not justified. For dinner, we decided to try one of their fresh catches, flown in daily from the Mediterranean. Each day, the collection varied. We selected the whole Orato, a mid-texture, mid-flavor variety. The waiter was clear with the cost, but we assumed this would be a treat. It wasn’t. Michele, much more an expert on seafood felt this was sub-par taste and presentation. The side dish of fingerling potatoes was more interesting than the fish. Lemon cake and Chocolate Almond cake dessert was good, but we have had better.
In this blog, we have conscientiously made a decision to avoid “bad-mouthing” restaurants. We enjoy eating and have a good history of determining value and quality, but we are admitted armatures. Some palette nuances are inevitably over our head. Bartolotta was simply not worth the money. Had this been a $75 tab, we would likely have stated it was good and never returned. When the bill is over three times that, it is time to shout. High price is not an antidote to marginal performance in the kitchen. The partially filled dining room was certainly an indicator that the word is out. There is not return on this investment and we urge you to overlook this place for almost any of the others we mention below.
Much better and somewhat more affordable was B and B Ristorante in the Venetian Hotel. This is one of Mario Batali’s establishments and the value was definitely higher than Bartolotta. Michele had a large lunch after a busy day shopping, so she simply ordered Orecchiette with sausage and rapini and enjoyed it immensely. Jeff hadn’t eaten all day, so he started with the Beet Salad accompanied by pistachio and ricotta. It was perfect. As a main course, he ordered the Rabbit Porchetta mixed with black mushrooms and served in a broth made from the rabbit bones, etc. It was magnificent. Dessert was an assortment of gelato. After a disappointing start, this was a welcome reprieve.
We know that Mon Ami Gabi is a chain, but as part of the Lettuce Entertain You Group, it is a cut above and we usually have one meal there each trip. This year, we joined friends for a very nice evening of conversation and food. Michele tried the Sea Bass special and while good, she wishes she would have stuck with her favorite roast chicken. Jeff really likes the Steak Frites with Béarnaise and was not disappointed. This is an enjoyable place in the quasi-French bistro environs of the Paris Hotel.
We also enjoyed a very good Chinese dinner at Wazuzu in the Encore Hotel. We started withLA California roll sushi. Jeff had the orange beef and Michele enjoyed a salmon rice bowl. Dessert consisted of three types of ice cream. We enjoyed eating here and the table which overlooked the gambling hall. Good food and good people watching.
Perhaps the most exciting dinner was one Jeff spent apart from Michele. China Poblano recently opened in the Cosmopolitan and has garnered some unprecedented buzz. Michele reviewed the on-line menu and was not intrigued, so Jeff suggested it to co-workers after the previous dinner at an unimaginative Italian restaurant off the strip left them “wanting.” This smash-up between Chinese and Mexican cooking comes from the inventive mind of José Andrés, the chef responsible for the much acclaimed Minibar inWashington, DC. Styled like a south-of-the-boarder honky-tonk, the vibe is designed for fun and experimentation. Jeff had the shredded pork and hominy soup (Pozole Rojo) along with a carnitas taco. Both were excellent. His co-workers enjoyed their version of Hot & Sour Soup (Don’t Be Jealous) and the Ten Treasure Soup. We shared a fabulous hand made Guacamole and Twenty Vegetable Fried Rice (the only so-so dish we sampled.) With a menu as complex as this, quality wait staff is important and they have an educated and engaging crew designed to help on your adventure. This place was created for fun. If you’re in town, grab a posse and try it. It is sure to please.
Work will definitely call Jeff back toLas Vegas. Michele will most assuredly join him. We both hope that this accelerating price war will end soon and we can return to reasonably priced food during these days away from goodClevelandcooking.
http://www.monamigabi.com/vegas3655 Las Vegas BoulevardLas Vegas,NV89109 702-944-4224
http://www.bandbristorante.com/ The Venetian3355 Las Vegas BoulevardLas Vegas,NV89109 702-266-9977
http://www.chinapoblano.com/ The Cosmopolitan 3708 Las Vegas Boulevard Las Vegas, NV 89109 702-698-7900
Despite the great showing in the finalists list,Cleveland did not fare well and earned no nominations this year for James Beard Awards. This was disappointing, but not wholly unexpected. Nationally, Cleveland simply does not get the press it deserves and in the regional competition, we have the great misfortune of being lumped into the same area as Chicago, one of America’s top five food destination. The deck is stacked…high. Four of the five Great Lakes nominees are from Chicago; one is from Ann Arbor, Michigan. This is a tough region.
Michael Symon is likely the only chef in Clevelandwith enough PR buzz to get a national nod and he fell short this year to some giant restaurant chefs. While we have not been to the other “Best Chef” nominees, we can state with assurance that Blackbird inChicago does deserve it place among the top five. After a couple of visits, we’re convinced Paul Kahan is the best chef in the windy city. Yes, we know there are lots of famous cook there, but without pretense and with reasonable pricing, Mr. Kahan presents meal after meal of delicious food. Many places in Chicago are more expensive, but not many are better.
The pastry at Eleven Madison Park is as mind-blowing as the meal. Blackbird’s pastry is likewise remarkable. Both are well deserved “Best Pastry Chef” nods.
We’ve eaten at three of the five “Best Restaurant” nominees. Blue Hill and Eleven Madison Park in NYC and Boulevard inSan Francisco. Food cannot be prepared better. If we were voting, Blue Hill, no Eleven, no Blue Hill….
Three of the five nominees for “Best Service” are in our history. The one sure thing about great restaurants is you MUST have a great staff. Without wonderful people, the desire for anyone to visit diminishes. We’d immediately go back to Topolobampo’s (Rick Bayless’ gourmet Mexican haven inChicago) or La Grenouille, the ultimate in French cooking in New York. Emeril’s is not our favorite place in New Orleans, but there is no question the staff is top notch.
In the remaining regional competitions, we are less knowledgeable, but in the coming year, we’ll do all we can to learn about these exciting restaurants! We’ll point out two to remember. WD-50 is nominated in the “Best Chef: New York City” category. This is revolutionary food from a food scientist. The plates are almost like experiments in art and taste that defy our perception of what a meal should be. This is not your grandmother’s Sunday dinner and Chef Wylie Dufresne is more like the mad scientist that lived next door. Buckle your seat belt and enjoy the meal.
Three chefs from New Orleans’ restaurants are nominated for “Best Chef: South” We’ve been to two. Cochon (pig in French) is fabulous and a real treat. The food is affordable and you’d never expect the lowly pork to produce such remarkably edible and varied foods. We’re rooting for a Stephen Stryjewski win. We’ve not had good luck with Commodore’s Palace and have not yet been to Lilette. Go, Pig, Go!
Like the Indians, Cavaliers, Browns, Barons, Monsters, etc. we can always hope for better luck next year.