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After a week eating in New Orleans, it was going to be a tough follow-up as Jeff traveled to Philadelphia. The last time he needed to work there, he had some excellent food at Chifa and Barbuzzo and was in-fact looking forward to the diversity. To make the change he decided to eat “as far from NOLA” as possible. This trip would be Greek and Italian. It was a good adventure.
Vetri has been called the best Italian restaurant in America. It is regularly listed as one of the top 20 restaurants in the country of any type. Jeff tried to dine there two years ago, but could not secure a table. This time, he was lucky…boy was he lucky!
Vetri offers only a multi-course Chef’s tasting menu. You arrive and are shown a list of the things being prepared that evening. Unless you have some dietary restrictions or are dying to try one specific offering, you are left in the Chef’s capable hands. Michele does not like this type of eating, inevitably feeling she’s consumed too much, or they deliver something she doesn’t like, but feels compelled to eat, so with Jeff alone, it was the perfect opportunity. Jeff told the waiter that he was glad the Chef was making the decisions, because he couldn’t! They also offer a wine pairing in two grades and a beer pairing. Wine by the bottle is also available.
While perusing the scrumptious list, a complementary glass of champagne is poured and an amuse buche of house made cheeses and house cured meats is served. Salumi, prociutto, foie gras and reggiano were each flawless. The fun then began!
First was Orata (a Mediterranean fish) in a beautiful green fava bisque. This was followed by a Sweet Onion Crepe with a truffle fondue. The Spinach Gnocchi with Brown Butter was about to be Jeff’s favorite course until the Setaro premium pasta) Porcini with Braised Snails arrived. Jeff argued with himself all the way back to the hotel trying to decide which was better. As of this writing, he is still arguing with no result in sight. The last dish was an unlisted goat entrée that may spoil him for goat forever into the future.
Dessert was perfect, dinner was perfect, the service was perfect, the evening was perfect. Jeff cannot imagine a restaurant being better and he thinks he know why. Chef Marc Vetri was ever present. The folks at the table next to him were acquaintances, on the other side, their children when to school with him. He asked Jeff if everything was as expected. (Of course it was!) Then back into the kitchen, not the food network or the airport. Vetri is not cheap, but then again, nothing this fabulous would, or could be. You get what you pay for and at Vetri, you get an avalanche.
The first evening in Philadelphia was spent in a crowded neighborhood corner eatery with the food of Greece and Cyprus. Kanella is an unassuming space, but the simple ends there. The Bureki appetizer was phillo filled with feta and thyme, drizzled with a luscious honey, tinted with thyme and beets. The dish did not leave the table without a finger drawn through the scented sweet drippings. Jeff’s entrée was Goat Stew with crispy okra and a lovely wheat barley-type grain (called “berries” in the menu.) A dollop of yogurt kept the Mediterranean spunk in check. This was an excellent dish. We could argue if this goat was better than Vetri’s, but really, who cares? Both were at the top of their game! Dessert was a Moroccan Orange Almond Tart with Cardamom ice cream, the perfect cool and creamy end to a wonderful meal.
Kanella is a BYOB restaurant. BYOB restaurants are apparently very popular in Philadelphia. If you enjoy wine with your meal, you may want to note this information on restaurant’s respective websites.
Before leaving town, Jeff couldn’t go without a turkey sandwich from The Original Turkey in the Reading Terminal Market. This is very good turkey, tender, juicy and flavorful piled on fresh baked bread. One of Jeff’s Philly favorites!
After a few trips to Philadelphia, Jeff has come to appreciate the culinary adventure. With Chinese-Peruvian food at Chifa, Cyprus cuisine at Kanella and flawless Italian at Vetri, Philadelphia is almost as cross-cultural as Cleveland.
http://www.vetriristorante.com/ 1312 Spruce Street Philadelphia, PA 19107 215-732-3478
http://kanellarestaurant.com/ 1001 Spruce Street Philadelphia, PA 19107 215-422-1773
http://www.theoriginalturkey.com/ordereze/splash.aspx 45 North 12th Street Philadelphia, PA 19107 215-925-5598
We now have yet another reason to travel west for food. Barroco Grill. Wow, is this good food!
We’ve often talked about ethnic food in Cleveland, but most of the conversation has been geared toward Europe and even Asia, but more and more, food from south of America is being added to the conversation. The emergence of Barroco a few years ago is endemic of that exciting shift and we’re happy to partake in this culinary revolution!
Barroco, when first opened, announced themselves as Columbian street food. The arepas are labor intensive corn meal patties that are formed into a pocket and filled with an assortment of grilled ingredients. The menu offers an exciting collection of options. Chicken, pork, beef, chorizo and veggie are blended with mozzarella cheese, onions and other ingredients to create a delightful handful of flavor. A collection of “entrée” type dishes are also available. Virtually everything sound wonderful and selection was VERY tough.
Jeff ultimately decided to sample the Chorizo Arepas. The arepas was crisp on the outside soft to the bite and totally perfect. The spiced sausage was just spiky enough to invite the next bite. A squirt of one of the five sauces made the pocket an experience. The cabbage slaw was a nice respite between bites and the Black Bean soup was good, but certainly not what you would expect if a Cuban version is your benchmark. This was a soupier, more bean-centric variety, without the sausage. When sampling a new a new food that has not crossed your life path before, it can be a mind opening experience. This was in-fact that.
Michele, always a sucker for plantains, decided on the entrée Chicken Tostones. Plantain were pounded flat, deep fried and topped with grilled chicken, corn, peppers and mozzarella. It was a flavorful mound of goodness. A tasty flan (made off-site) capped a delightful afternoon.
Halfway through the meal we were talking about the next visit. This is always a good sign. We simply could not get enough of a good thing in one visit. We knew we would need to return again… and gain… and again!
A note about libations. This food would be PERFECT with beer, but they do not have a liquor license. Uncommon in Cleveland, but VERY typical elsewhere in the US, Barroco invites BYOB customers and a couple of knowledgeable customers arrived after us with a six-pack in hand. If you like a cool brew with your food, bring it along. The accommodating staff will be happy to help you enjoy their food. We will be back to Barroco soon. We’ll see you there!
http://www.barrocogrill.com/ 12906 Madison Avenue Lakewood, OH 44107 216-221-8107
This was a great year to eat in Cleveland. Only a few places closed, most unmemorable. The best places remained and seamed to thrive and get better (see L’Albatros and Crop.) The reason we started this blog is because we are excited by Cleveland cooking and 2012 is the perfect example of that excellence.
We are convinced that Spice is the best new place to open in 2012. The attention to detail here is amazing, the raw material is fresh, the menu changes almost every time we have been there, so that adds to the excitement and somewhat importantly, the prices are more than fair. They could actually charge more and the value would still survive. We have been encouraging everyone we know to sample this place. We’re convinced, in a year, this is going to be the hottest restaurant in Cleveland.
Giving Spice a run for their money is late entry, Accent. While Spice has pared meals down to some very simple flawless preparations, Accent is a bit more complex. The interesting thing here is the cooking method. Generally, most of us don’t really care HOW the meal was prepared, as long as it is good. The unique high-heat cooking methodology creates some very exciting foods. The combination of Korean, Spanish and Central American ideas results in a menu that will require multiple trips to fully appreciate (and we’re just the couple to do that!) We think Accent has legs.
The West 25th Street food scene is another amazing highlight of 2012. This small stretch is jam-packed with culinary excitement. If you are attempting to dazzle out-of-towners with Cleveland, there can be no better place than Crop. The building is amazing, the food is remarkable, and the impact is unforgettable. Bar Cento, with its “senior status” on the street, remains a treat, even after Jonathan Sawyer left. Market Garden Brewery has become something of a go-to place for us. The reasonable prices invite you back often and the beer is very good and continually changes. SOHO consistently excites. The southern menu is fun and flavorful with a staff that matches. Orale! Contemporary Mexican may be the smallest restaurant on the street (if not Cleveland!) but it packs a wallop of flavor into the compact room. Boy do they offer some great salsa! The one “bad-apple” in the bunch was Dragonfly and it has thankfully been replaced by Black Pig, which still has some growing pains, but sold Jeff the best Pork Belly he’s had in years. We often decide to go to West 25th and on the way determine which restaurant. That is impactful.
Just as the only good Thai food restaurant in Cleveland closed on Coventry (replaced with a poor impression) salvation arrived on Payne Avenue with Map of Thailand. This is excellent, perfectly prepared and beautiful food, served by friendly, helpful folks. If you like Thai food, this is THE place in Cleveland for the very best.
When talking about best food, two things don’t often come up, the Westpark neighborhood of Cleveland and Donuts. All of the rules are out the window with Peace, Love and Little Donuts. Located on the corner of Rocky River Road and Lorain Road is a mod-era throwback serving excellent little donuts. If you gave up these circular treats when the last independent donut shop closed, try them again. This is good stuff…man!!
Another place that fills the cravings provided by a sweet tooth is Sweet Moses on Detroit in the Gordon Square area. The sweets are hand prepared, things you haven’t had in years are available (remember your last Chocolate Phosphate?) and the décor is 90’s (1890’s) wrought iron tables and wooden booths. Step inside and go back a few years.
If you miss the Grapevine wine store on Cedar-Fairmont, salvation has arrived on Lee Road with The Wine Spot. In the former Seitz-Agin Hardware store, a classy urbane space has been established and shelves are filled with a wide selection of wines from around the world. Owner, Adam Fleischer is a talented tour guide of the world of wine and can be an amazing resource to help you pick a bottle or case that matches your palette.
Indeed, 2012 has been a good year, but what is happening next year? Around the corner, smart cooks are planning interesting ideas for 2013. We might actually have a permanent restaurant in the diner cars on Lee Road. More storefronts will be filled in the emerging Uptown development. Some spots in Tremont are being repopulated by chefs with excellent credentials. We can’t wait for 2013!
http://www.spicekitchenandbar.com/5800 Detroit Avenue Cleveland, OH 44102 216-961-9637
http://www.accentcleveland.com/11460 Uptown Avenue (Euclid Avenue) Cleveland, OH 44106 216-721-8477
http://cropbistro.com/ 2537 W 25th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-696-CROP (2767)
http://barcento.com/ 1948 W 25th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-274-1010
http://marketgardenbrewery.com/ 1947 West 25th Street Cleveland, OH 441 216-621-4000
http://www.sohocleveland.com/ 1889 W 25th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-298-9090
http://www.oralecmc.com/ 1834 West 25th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-862-3117
http://theblackpigcleveland.com/ 1865 W. 25th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 440-454-0300
http://www.mapofthailandrestaurant.com/3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-361-2220
Peace Love & Little Donuts – 3786 Rocky River Road Cleveland, OH 44111 216-862-9806
http://www.sweetmosestreats.com/6800 Detroit Avenue Cleveland, OH 44102 216-651-2202
http://thewinespotonline.com/2271 Lee Road Cleveland Heights, OH 44118 216-342-3642
It is finished. We have completed our tour and have the tee shirts to prove it!
We are not strangers to the restaurants owned by Zack Bruell. We happily visit them through the year, so the annual Tour de Bruell just means an adjustment of our visits to coincide with the contest rules. Last year, it resulted in our becoming a finalist, enjoying a beautiful five-course meal at Table 45 and winning a third-place “behind the scene” experience in the kitchen of Table 45. You’ve got to love a place that treat return customers with this much regard.
After having returned to all five places in the last two months, we though it would be a good time to recap our thoughts on each place.
• Parallax – We still regard this place to be Chef Bruell’s benchmark. We have enjoyed every meal here and this trip was no different. A great atmosphere, knowledgeable staff and a perfect collection of eating options makes this a place, by which almost all other Cleveland eateries should be measured.
• L’Albatros – After a year or two, some restaurants start to get sloppy and the quality begins to diminish. Just the opposite has occurred here. It seems as though every visit results in better and better food, even when Jeff orders his favorite Pied de Cochon and Michele the Trout with Almond crust. L’Albatros is giving Parallax a run for its money.
• Chinato – It is always exciting to visit Chinato, because of the vibrancy of its downtown setting. A blink and you might think you were in Manhattan. Like L’Albatros, this food has maintained its high standard. This is hearty fare, best defined by the Beef Braised in Amarone over Creamy Polenta. Rich and exploding with flavor. One meal compels you to the next visit.
• Cowell & Hubbard – While still new, we have enjoyed each of our meals here. With a menu that has you planning your next visit, while ordering for the current, Cowell & Hubbard is on the precipice of greatness.
• Table 45 – We are just a wee bit worried about 45. We have had fabulous meals here, but we have also experienced more than one boo-boo. Way too much butter soaking the fish and an extreme amount of garlic on a delicate veal dish have drawn or concern. Regardless, this remains a favorite that we hope will find its assured footing.
So all is completed, except the waiting. Will we again be fortunate enough to be a finalist? We’ve got our fingers crossed and our tee shirts on. If you haven’t completed your tour, get moving! You know it’s worth the effort!
http://parallaxtremont.com/ 2179 West 11th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-583-1111
http://albatrosbrasserie.com/ 11401 Bellflower Road Cleveland, OH 44106 216-791-7880
http://tbl45.com/ 9801 Carnegie Avenue Cleveland, OH 44106 216-707-4045
http://chinatocleveland.com/ 2079 East 4th Street Cleveland, OH 44115 216-298-9080
http://cowellhubbard.com/ 1307 Euclid Avenue Cleveland, OH 44115 216-479-0555
Prior to traveling to New York, Jeff took a quick look at the 2012 James Beard finalist list. One name jumped out immediately, Tremont. Upon checking the restaurant website, he learned that indeed the place was named for Cleveland’s Tremont area and the three guy behind it all spent time there. So where does a loyal Clevelander dine in the Big Apple? Tremont, of course and it couldn’t have been a better experience. Jeff is not sure why, but octopus is always prepared perfectly in New York. The Tremont version was mixed with garlic sausage, sweet onions, chilies and lemon. The octopus was butter-soft; the sausage would have made any ethnic Tremont butcher proud and the sweet, hot, tart mixture added a host of flavor. He was off to a great start. The glazed Pork Shoulder was crunch on the outside, impossibly tender and flavorful on the inside and the grain mustard added just the right amount of earthiness needed for this heretofore ignored porcine cut of meat. The rutabaga kraut was a wonderful and inventive side. It made Jeff wonder why chefs everywhere aren’t using this tasty, tangy vegetable more. Tremont New York was the perfect place to start his eating adventure in New York and these guys have really done Cleveland proud.
While wandering around TriBeCa, Jeff considered another visit to Locanda Verde, a fabulous place with some of the best nouveau Italian cuisine he’s ever enjoyed. Instead, he decided to try the Tribeca Grill. While Robert De Niro’s ownership may have graced it with initial patronage, good honest food has allowed it to continue. Jeff grabbed a bar seat and simply had the Maytag Bleu Cheese and Endive Salad with a nice glass of Italian wine. It was good, but the most memorable aspect of this visit was the genuine care and friendliness of the lunchtime bartender/server. Lunch was almost over, regardless, he made Jeff feel welcome, wanted and unhurried. His care was reason enough to schedule a return visit for a whole meal.
After a day of work and preceding tickets to a hot evening performance, Jeff squeezed in an early Saturday dinner at Aldea, a Mediterranean eatery that has garnered a bit of notice over the years. He started with the excellent Green and White Asparagus served with seared ramps and a soft-boiled duck egg over the top. A quick slice and chop allowed the gooey egg goodness to envelop the grassy green and spunky white split stems. Ramp, quick becoming a chef’s secret ingredient added a perfect amount of “pungent” to the mix. For dinner, Jeff decided on the Arroz de Pato, a delightfully original blend of rice, duck breast, duck confit, chorizo sausage and citrus. This was heaven on a plate and not a grain of rice went uneaten. The cashew-banana mousse dessert sealed the deal. The next time he is in New York, a return is inevitable.
No trip to New York can be complete without a late-night visit to La Masseria. This is Jeff’s “default” restaurant for after-theatre food in the theatre district. The orecciette with broccoli rabe is his “default” selection. Sometimes soup precedes, sometime salad begins. Regardless of the start, this is a nice place to finish an evening.
New York is a place that many dollars can be spent for and endless variety of food. Much will be good, some will be great. Before planning a trip, careful research will enable you to maximize your value and enjoyment. Save your money, buy good food!
http://tremontnyc.com/51 Bank Street New York, NY 10014 212-488-1019
http://locandaverdenyc.com/ 377Greenwich Street (at N Moore) New York, NY 10013 212-925-3797
(Tribeca Grill website features a danger warning)375 Greenwich Street New York, NY 10013212-941-3900
http://aldearestaurant.com/ 31 W 17th Street New York, NY 100 212-673-7223
http://www.lamasserianyc.com/ 234 W 48th Street New York, NY10036 212-582-2111
Since the disappearance of The Grapevine in the Cedar – Fairmount shopping district, Jeff has struggled to buy wine. Bob at the Grapevine was a great help and always stirred him to the best bottle for the money, even while money was never pushed. After having helped with his wine selections over 20 years, he understood Jeff’s palate and made wonderful recommendations. In the subsequent months, wine purchases have been hit or miss. Most of the bottles bought at the Legacy Village Giant Eagle were a disaster. He found a few lucky breaks at Zagara’s wine area, but mostly because he remembered the names and labels from past conversations with Bob. A young man at Whole Foods recommended a delightful bottle of Thief Pinot Noir, but when he went back to talk with him again, he wasn’t around. Such are the problems with corporate retail, especially with something as complex as wine. So it was with a great deal of enthusiasm that Jeff welcomed the news of a new wine store taking over the Seitz-Agin storefront on Lee Road.
From the moment Jeff entered the store, he was made to feel welcome. The owner Adam Fleisher greeted him and discussed the store, his philosophy on wine and beer and some of his preferences. Jeff explained his history with wine and the price levels he prefers. It was an engaging conversation and the two began to assemble a case of wine to replenish his severely barren rack.
The Wine Spot is different than the Grapevine in that Mr. Fleisher has wine from around the world and Jeff has spent 20 years concentrating on wines from western USA (California, Oregon and Washington.) He was going to need a lot of help and Fleisher was willing to provide it. If the first bottle sampled is any indicator, this looks like it will be an excellent relationship. Eve a Chardonnay from Washington State (you’re right, he didn’t stray too far from his comfort zone on the first bottle!) was about as close to perfect as Jeff has had. It was crisp, clean and with just a touch of effervescence. He can’t wait to crack the next bottle!
If you live in the Heights (like us!) have found uneven service and selection at the local supermarkets and miss the Grapevine, the long, dark days are over. The Wine Spot is now here. Give the Spot a shot! We’re sure they will steer you in the right direction, as they did for Jeff.
http://thewinespotonline.com/2271 Lee Road Cleveland Heights,OH 44118 216-342-3642
Located on the powerhouse East 4th Street strip of culinary Cleveland, between Michael Simon’s Lola’s and Jonathan Sawyer’s Greenhouse, it is easy to overlook La Strada. Were it positioned elsewhere, it might have had a chance to earn some buzz, neighborhood walk-in traffic and maybe a little clout. For no other reason but locale, La Strada could be destine to a life in second place. That is unfortunate.
Prior to a Lake Erie Monster’s game we decided to try this place. We arrived early and really enjoyed our meal. Apparently, we weren’t the only ones looking for a new restaurant. By the time we left, most every seat in this warm two-story trattoria was taken. The Monsters may have lost, but we won, with another good Cleveland restaurant.
Michele started with the Wedding Soup, a rich, vibrant version of this traditional Italian favorite. Jeff enjoyed the Buffalo Mozzarella, full of flavor with a nice dense tomato base topped with cracked pepper and olive oil. We both ordered daily specials, despite having already picked a menu item. Michele passed on the stuffed chicken that sounded good with prosciutto and chevre cheese. Instead she had the grilled Bronzini with fennel salad. The fish was perfectly moist with the fragrant fennel salad as a perfect counterpoint. Jeff decided to wait on the menu’s hanger steak and ordered the short rib orchietta that exhibited a touch of almost Marsala sweetness with the raisin sauce. The evening’s only shortcoming was the dessert. We did not ask if it was pre-packaged, but it had a plastic taste and Jeff swears Hershey’s chocolate sauce.
We’re going back to La Strada. We both have a menu item picked out. We may get sidetracked with specials, but we’re also unlikely to order a dessert. We also want to see if something other than Federico Fellini’s “La Strada” is projected on the restaurant’s upper wall.
http://lastradacleveland.com/ 2050 East 4th Street Cleveland, OH 44115 216-861-3664
Of all the ethnic restaurants in Cleveland (and boy, do we have a pile!) Mexican cuisine is the one we are least likely to patronize. We love Momocho, but it is atypical. Burritos, tacos, etc. have never been “gotta-have” food for us. Yes, we occasionally visit Mexican restaurants, but VERY infrequently. That is likely the reason we had not been to Lopez for years. We had just seen a performance of “The Seafarer” at Dobama and wanted a place close by. The options are limited on Sunday so we figure, “What the heck!” We booked a reservation.
Michele took a bit more convincing. Her stomach has a difficult time with spicy food and beans, so a typical Mexican restaurant is cause for concern. Ordering takes time because she must carefully review each option to be certain whether one or more ingredient will cause her some digestive issues. Because she wanted a place close to the theatre, she reluctantly agreed.
Jeff had hoped to sample the Black Bean soup special, but when Michele ordered the grilled Caesar Salad, the GREAT waiter indicated that the salad was big. “Would you like to share?” Michele was at a disadvantage, so Jeff agreed and it was very good. The large shaft of Romaine was grilled and topped with Manchego cheese and roasted garlic. Michele was happy and things were looking up.
For her entrée, Michele decided on the Lobster Enchiladas. Rich, creamy lobster and rock shrimp were wrapped inside a soft tortilla and topped with cream sauce and queso fresco with a touch of lemon. It was good, but so rich, much of it went home with us. Jeff ordered the exciting special. A perfectly prepared duck breast was sliced and fanned out under Smoked Gouda quesadilla and topped with a spicy arugula salad. It was excellent. Dessert was a spicy apple crisp with cinnamon ice cream, without question, not your grandma’s crisp!
About half-way through our entrée’s Michele said to Jeff, “Next time we’re here. I want to try the trout…or maybe the roasted salmon.” That was a good sign. Jeff had his eye on the Pulled Pork and Shrimp and Grits. It is likely a return visit will occur sooner then anticipated.
(P.S. – one of the reasons Lopez returned to our radar was because of the addition of Michael Herschman as executive chef. We have loved his food way back to the Cena Copa days, a few steps away. When we heard he landed at Lopez, we again paid attention to this Cleveland Heights landmark. Maybe it was Chef Herschman, maybe it was the time of day, maybe it was almost 30 years of food service, regardless, well be back to Lopez, soon!.)
http://lopezonlee.com/2196 Lee RoadCleveland Heights,OH44118 216-932-9000
Many years ago, the restaurant that introduced us to the intoxicating flavors ofIndia, the Saffron Patch was beginning to slip in quality. A newIndiarestaurant came on the scene. Café Tandoor opened and became an immediate success. The food was excellent, the staff was helpful and friendly and the dining room was always filled with anxious eaters. Since that time, restaurants serving Indian fare have come, gone and some have prospered. We have been told by reliable sources that Indian Delight onDetroit Avenueis now a kitchen that requires respect. Regardless, Café Tandoor is about a mile from home and we both had an exhausting day. After a few years absence, we thought we’d try it again to see how it has matured.
From the outset, nothing much as changed. Tables, chairs and menu are much the same as when we first visited. The crowds had thinned and there was less a buzz than we remembered. Michele always enjoyed their soups and this visit was no exception. The creamy lentil was as good as she remembered. In the past, the lightly spiced tomato soup was also enjoyable and she often shifted between the two. Jeff moved between the Paneer Pakora and Samosas. He ordered the Paneer this time and they were good, but not what he remembered, a bit of the finesse had gone, but the accompanying chutneys remained excellent.
For dinner, Jeff typically rotated among the wide collection of lamb dishes. Some are curry, some tandoor cooked, but all featured excellent raw materials. This visit he ordered the Lamb Shahi Korma, bits of lamb in a cashew cream sauce. Again, it was good, but like the Paneer, some of the cooking finesse had disappeared. It could also have been warmer, at the end of the dish it was a bit too cool to fully enjoy. Michele likes Saag Paneer, the same non-dairy cheese in Jeff’s appetizer, but this time mixed with creamed spinach and mild spices. She pronounced it average and still prefers Saffron Patch’s version. Together we shared the Saffron Pullao (rice) and Pratha Lachhedar wheat bread, both very good, especially the bread.
While we like Indian food, we are by no means experts. After over twenty-five years of sampling the food, we have come to expect a level of quality and taste. While Café Tandoor established that bar for us years ago, we now believe it has slipped below it. Yes, it is good, but we do not believe it is as good as before. Time marches on and things change. Like the food ofThailandbefore it, we remain on a quest for good food of this variety. Like Map of Thailand, hope springs eternal. Maybe Indian Delight is the answer. We’ll soon find out.
http://cafetandoorcleveland.com/2096 South Taylor Road Cleveland Heights,OH 44118 216-371-8500
A few weeks ago, we went to Carrabba’s Italian Grill for the first time. Last week, we had a quick lunch at Champp’s. Because we do not typically patronize these places, it was an interesting reminder of why we stopped eating at corporate food outlets (our term for high-priced, fast food.)
First, there is a plastic friendliness grilled into the employees, almost as plastic as the surroundings. Deep down, you know the employee is not happy and under normal circumstances, would not greet you with an overzealous, “Hello! Welcome to [fill-in the blank]!” So why do it? It’s a corporate thing, just like the Manager who painfully travels from table to table; interrupting conversations to remark that the [fill-in the blank] you just ordered is his favorite. He then asks, “Is everything perfect?” or something equally scripted and moves along. You know his insincerity is real, because moments before he told table 36 that her [fill-in the blank] was his favorite. At normal restaurants, comments and queries from the staff and management seem real and a genuine caring is attached to the questions. They understand that your approval means a return visit, not an “atta-boy” from Corporate.
The main reason we don’t frequent corporate food outlets is the food. It is not bad. It is just not that good. The food has been created and sampled and tested to offend the fewest amount of people as possible. It has also been designed for preparation by a wide variety of cooking skill. To us, this was clearly brought to a head when two chains opened, Maggiano’s and Bahama Breeze outlets a few years ago. During their initial weeks in town, the food was actually very good. After a month or so, the quality begins to slip to a point where you must stop eating there. When we asked about this phenomenon, we were told that Corporate sends expert chefs to new locations to train the staff. In the first few weeks, work is done under the watchful eye of a talented individual, or someone they trained directly. As weeks go on and people quit, the skill level deteriorates. Finally, the kitchen is left to its own devices and slips into a well-established mediocrity.
Contrast this with better chains. We have eaten at McCormick & Schmick’s a few times and each visit was very good. They are priced a bit higher than the others corporate chains, but they appear to have secured the talent of a real chef in the kitchen and it shows on the plate. The same can be said for Mon Ami Gabi. (No venue is located in Cleveland.) Food is honestly good because they allow the locale to customize the place to the customer base. The Original Pancake House may be the best example in Cleveland. While a chain, there is little or no indicator in the quality (except their sub-par coffee.) The menu is the same, but this is not mass produced food for the lowest common denominator. Instead, this is “come back because we make great breakfast,” food.
We know a lot of people like these places. The horribly over-priced, blasé food at the Cheesecake Factory, the generally mediocre fare at Applebee’s, the deteriorating slop at Friday’s and the “we don’t even know how to explain” food at PF Chang’s hopefully is leading those eaters to try better, well prepared food at privately run local restaurants. If they do not graduate to something better, we wonder what they are eating at home. We know. Don’t ask.