Years ago, when we first started to date, eat at fine restaurants, develop a palette for fine cuisine and cook meals ourselves, there were a number of tiny eateries scattered around Cleveland (and the country!) that showcased the talents of an intriguing Chef with brilliant taste buds. Prices were higher than normal because the Chef demanded exacting quality and the nuances of flavor and taste began attracting a whole new clientele base for food. The “foodie” was born and we became “founding fathers” in this trend, long before people thought of it as a trend and the word “foodie” (which we still detest) became common-place. A lot has taken place in these subsequent thirty-plus years, but one thing remains, Chef’s just gotta’ create.

Nora is a Lilliputian spot on the edge of Little Italy. The Chef and minimal staff run a place that could have easily found favor in the Gordon Gecko era. These are nuanced dishes prepared with great skill. A dining empire is the farthest thing from their imagination. Good food is the goal.

We’ve been to Nora a number of times. Why not write a review sooner? Frankly, we may not be smart enough to fully grasp everything we are experiencing. While we both cook frequently, we are not at a skill level commensurate with Chef Zalar. Regardless, we’ll attempt to express our impressions.

Jeff started with a beautiful cold Cauliflower Soup that feature sweet corn and mustard seed in the crème. Topped with pancetta, this was the best cold soup of this summer. A little sweet (corn), a little salty (pancetta) over a rich base, the complexity delivered was indicative of the restaurant mission. Michele decide upon the green asparagus with pear vinaigrette and it was equally enchanting. Pear would not naturally be connected to asparagus, but this little dish work on so many levels.

Our main courses were equally complex. Michele fully enjoyed the Mahi Mahi, served over fergola and topped with a green mascarpone whip. At this point, we had ordered three of the four specials for the day. The last visit, we did virtually the same thing. Jeff broke the chain ordering the Fettucine Carbonara. Served over matchstick potatoes. Could that possibly work? Pasta and potatoes? It reminded us of the classic Italian restaurant movie, “Big Night,” when a customer wanted a pasta dish as an accompaniment to their risotto. The Chef asked, “Should we give her some potatoes to insure she has enough starch?” Regardless of the double starch, this was a great dish as well.

This is a special place that harkens back to a time in our past when “foodie” was not a word. At that time, Chefs began to define a new way to eat, the cost was an inconsequential byproduct. The audience was reserved for the select few who truly appreciated the output. Nora reminds us of this earlier time. To understand food in the 80’s, Nora may be the last remaining link. Enjoy this place that seems to have bridged the gap of old and new. 2181 Murray Hill Road Cleveland, OH 44106 216-231-5977


September 9, 2017 at 8:34 PM Leave a comment

Hook and Hoof

In general, when we go out to eat, we are perhaps the least demanding of patrons. Occasionally, Michele will prefer an alternate table, but that’s about it. After eating out together for almost forty years, we’ve seen our fair share of cranky customers and outrageous demands. For this reason, we felt a little out-of-sorts for the first few minutes at Hook and Hoof. Because of long-existing foot issues, Michele has a difficult time sitting at high-top tables. All of the two-tops at H&H are tall. Before we even sat, the gracious host needed to run back to the computer to determine if we could occupy a low four-top. A minute after being seated, Michele ordered her obligatory hot tea and was told they do not have any. Disappointing, but not catastrophic. After a quick glance of the menu, the server was back at our table with a smile. The owners had been contemplating the addition of tea and some samples were in the office. She found just the style Michele wanted. These may sound like simple issues, but we always feel, when a restaurant can accomplish minor things like these, there is a good likelihood that everything else will be under control. That appears to be how Hook and Hoof rolls.

While deciding on our food, we were all over the menu. Michele couldn’t decide between the Salmon or the Burger. Jeff was tempted by the day’s Jerk Lamb special and the menu’s Pork Chop. Would we split Mussels, individually have salads or Octopus? There were so many tantalizing combinations, we quickly defined the next two visits and we hadn’t even placed the napkins on our laps.

After seeing a plate walk by our table, Michele asked the server to identify it. She immediately wanted the Dirty Caesar salad. Because of the size, we decided to split it. This was something of a deconstructed Caesar, the greens were covered with a nicely spiced anchovy-based dressing. A poached egg sat atop the heap of greens with wonderful pickled onions in a pile to the side. There was an overall smokiness to the dish. Each element transferred a simple salad into a memorable start.

Jeff eventually settled on the Pork Chop which bore the telltale signs of a tea imbed brine. On top was a nice tomato and apple chop and underneath were smashed fingerling potatoes, crisp at the edge. Nicely browned Brussel Sprout halves served as a side. Buried deep below was a puddle of excellent horseradish. Jeff’s only issue was that by the time he got down to it, most of the pork was gone. This would have been more useful dolloped to the side. Michele finally targeted the Salmon which was set over a flavorful Farro “stew” and summer squash. Both dishes were excellent. For dessert, we split a Brownie and house-made Espresso ice cream.

About two years ago, we visit Fanucce’s Pizza, the former occupant of the Hook and Hoof space. Michele was repulsed by the grimy feel of the Formica-topped room with the grease-filled air. The transformation to the urbane H&H is nothing short of a miracle. Interesting lighting, an open (and hopping) bar and a glass faced open kitchen make this one of the most attractive small restaurants in Cleveland. The addition of fine dining to the vibrant downtown Willoughby scene rounds out a nicely varied collection of restaurants. Among the tacos, crepes, steaks, brew houses and pizzas, Hook and Hoof stands tallest now, for all of these reasons, service, atmosphere and cuisine. 4127 Erie Street Willoughby, OH 4094 440-571-5312

August 27, 2017 at 10:12 PM Leave a comment

Patio Dining at the Cleveland Clinic

Neither of us really has a passion for outdoor dining, but we know MANY people count the days, waiting for their first al fresco event of the spring and rue the waning available opportunities as autumn approaches. Unfortunately, so many of the outside venues are nothing but a few chairs and a table on the sidewalk, it is hardly worth the passion. With that in mind, we were amazed to find three elegant and relaxing outdoor dining spots all within walking distance and each inside the Cleveland Clinic main campus near University Circle. With so little time left to sample them all, we recommend you start soon!

We started our outdoor adventure at Table 45. Chef Michael Swann has developed a Brazilian small plate menu, with beef, chicken thighs and bratwurst grilled over natural coals in a miniature Brazilian Rodizio Grill. The non-chemical burn of the natural charcoal is extra hot and imbeds the meats with a remarkable flavor. While sitting on the patio, it was hard not to fall in love with the scent. At the side was a trio of sauces. The Chimichurri (a cilantro vinaigrette) was Jeff’s favorite. Michele liked the subtler Aioli. Added to the meats, they evened-out the dominant char taste. Sides were a nice collection of multi-color potatoes and Pão de Queijo (a doughier Gougères.) Matched with a dense red Sangria or a Caipirinha and you have a fabulous evening on the quiet, inviting Table 45 patio.

Brazilian guitarist and singer on the Table 45 patio.

Pao de Queijo, potatoes and sausage with the grill-master slicing the beef and chicken on the “Brazilian Patio” at Table 45.

Without question, the real surprise of this group of patios was that which was found hidden behind the Intercontinental Suites Hotel. A small bar is situated next to a great herb garden. Comfy chairs are positioned for relaxation. The entire patio is surrounded by greenery making it feel like a secret garden. If you’ve ever wanted to say, “I know this little place” to impress someone, this is the spot to do it. It totally impressed us.

C2, the restaurant at the Intercontinental Suites is designed with a “wellness-based” menu to help the patients visiting the Clinic adjust to a new type of eating. While we did not try any of the food at C2 (aside from the yummy bar snacks!) the hotel as well as the patio second that desire to help people rest and recuperate into a healthier lifestyle.

The quiet, tree-enclosed patio at the Intercontinental Suites Cleveland Clinic.

The fabulous herb garden near the outdoor bar on the patio at the Intercontinental Suites Cleveland Clinic.

When you say, “Holiday Inn” to people our age, visions of roadside motels with lumpy beds pop-up. Walking into the new Holiday Inn at the Cleveland Clinic was almost mind-boggling. This was a clean, contemporary setting that has a youthful, fun vibe.

True to the “new” Holiday Inn model, stale sandwiches and vending machines have been replaced with a hopping bar and Mocé, a fast-casual restaurant. As is expected, this Holiday Inn attracts more of a family crowd, so they have devised backyard picnic patio for the warm months. The fare is an “All-You-Can-Easy” hamburger and beer picnic. The hamburgers are very juicy and flavorful, but what really attracted us was the super creamy coleslaw and rich potato salad. The patio is also a bit more like a backyard with a huge green space behind the fenced-in paving. It is easy to imagine a pile of kids releasing some spent energy here after a day being cooped-up in hospital waiting areas or hotel rooms.

The family-oriented patio picnic area behind Moce at the Holiday Inn Cleveland Clinic.

There are currently three hotels on the Cleveland Clinic campus, each responding to a different clientele. The Intercontinental Hotel remains a hallmark of the IHG chain and Table 45 speaks to that international traveler with a world menu to match their life experiences. The Intercontinental Suites is geared for the extended stay patient of the Clinic and the food is designed to help them adopt a new lifestyle. It delivers a serene, tranquil space engineered to help with the Clinic treatments. As they were in the past, the Holiday Inn expects to entertain families. Rather than coop people in their rooms, the wide open communal areas invite social interaction. Both children and parent with adult needs will have them met. Their restaurant is keyed to please everyone with pizza to salmon to hamburgers and soda to beer to wine.

Signage in the Intercontinental Suites Cleveland Clinic defines the space and sets expectations of delivery for the guests.

Yes, massive hospital buildings surround all three of these patios, but you’d think you were in the middle of a quiet green-filled park in each and every one. They have all been purposely placed away from traffic and far from the buzz of an urban medical juggernaut. Because so many of the residents are visiting due to an unpleasant situation, the goal of solitude is ever-present. It can, however be as welcoming to you if you let the slower vibe mellow you to ahhhhh… 9801 Carnegie Avenue Cleveland, OH 44106 216-707-4045 9801 Carnegie Avenue Cleveland, OH 4410 8801 Euclid Avenue Cleveland, OH 44106 216-707-405 8801 Euclid Avenue Cleveland, OH 44106 216-707-430 8650 Euclid Avenue Cleveland, OH 44106 216-707-422 8650 Euclid Avenue Cleveland, OH 44106 216-707-4200

August 12, 2017 at 2:03 PM Leave a comment

Fluffy Duck Café

For multiple years we have spent weekend mornings at Koko’s. We love the Chinese (leaning toward Taiwanese) pastries and the unusual teas. The low sugar content typical of this type of cooking is also a benefit. Prior to Koko’s, we frequented the now closed, Appetit, a bakery that built breads, muffins and baked goods. The jump from a Western European bakery to Eastern Asian was as large as the geographic leap. While we continue to enjoy Koko’s (who wouldn’t?) we are always mindful of new options. Recently, we started to visit the Fluffy Duck Café, located across the street from the Cleveland Clinic on Chester Avenue in the new Innova apartment complex. This has been a nice alternative.

For early mornings, Fluffy Duck offers a variety of beautifully created Viennoiserie pastries. Central is the Croissant. These treats are deceptively simple, but the process to make a brilliant crescent of dough involves the laborious folding of flour and butter (and sugar.) The more the two dissimilar elements can be blended and stacked, the puffier the byproduct. Butter, between layers of dough bake into frail sheets of luscious pastry. While the concept is base chemistry, artistry is demanded of the practitioner. That is where the skill comes in. The Chef at Fluffy has managed to develop a technique that creates layers of fine wafer-thin goodness. Remember the best croissant you’ve ever had in Paris, Montreal or New York? The Fluffy Duck can equal or best that version because the more the layers are built in the preparation, the better the rise of the dough.

We’ve tried the basic croissant, the almond croissant (not like any other we’ve ever had) the ham and cheese stuffed version. All are remarkable. We part ways with regard to the Chocolate Croissant. Jeff thinks the chocolate takes away from the airiness of the pastry, Michele loves the extra sweetness.

We’ve also found a new favorite, the, Kouign Amann (translated as “Cake Butter” in the Breton [NW France] dialect) is a square of the same light pastry topped with some flaky sea salt. It seems simple, but nothing this good can really be “simple!” We again split on the Danish. Jeff liked the fruit topped pastry, but Michele wasn’t as convinced. She did however quickly fall in love with the Scone. She felt the Herb-based version could almost be served for dinner because of its savory flavor. Jeff has never been a fan of scones, but did like their’s.

Fluffy Duck also serves lunch sandwiches served on their in-house baked breads and a few pizzas are also offered. We’ve yet to sample the lunch fare, but can imagine their being anything less than top-notch.

As people who love alternative spots for breakfast, we are enjoying this option. If you too seek alternatives, try Fluffy Duck. We’re pretty certain you’ll enjoy. 10001 Chester Avenue Cleveland, OH 44106 216-218-944 3710 Payne Avenue Cleveland, OH 44114 216-881-7600

July 30, 2017 at 1:41 AM Leave a comment

Bold Food and Drink

It was a leisurely day at home and we were ready for a meal after lunch and before dinner (notice a theme here with Jeff and Michele?) We checked a few places and could not locate one until we stumbled upon Bold. They advertise being open all day. Just to be certain, we called and they insured us that everything on their menu was available (except a few weekend-evening specials.) Why we had not gone to Bold before this was a mystery. They have been opened for about a year. Occasionally, a place simply gets overlooked.

Amish Chicken Brasserie from a follow-up visit featured a beautiful chicken breast topped with Serrano Ham and Gruyere Cheese over Garlic Mashed Potatoes.

Our follow-up visit started with wonderful Maine Lobster Nachos and this delicious Shrimp and Grits.

As appetizers we order the “Little Devils” two Medjool dates, wrapped in bacon and stuffed with chorizo, served over a swirl of two spicy sauces. These were a treat. Salty, sweet, spicy all in one mouthful. Yum! We also enjoyed the Fish and Chips, a plate of deep fried smelt over a basket of fries. The smelt melted in your mouth and the fries were a nice complement, especially with the accompanying dipping sauces.

Michele ordered the Cornmeal Crusted Canadian Walleye. She has always prided herself as a walleye purist and she found this version excellent. Under the healthy piece of fish was a mound of shrimp and corn embed mashed potatoes. Michele felt the green garlic-butter sauce that surrounded the potatoes was the glue that held the entire dish together. It has the right amount of everything to complement both elements.

Jeff tried the Veal Milanese. Each piece of veal was perfectly sautéed and tender. Heaped atop was a fiery tomato sauce and capellini then cheese. As expected, the veal can be a bit flat, but the addition of the spice forward pasta electrified the whole dish. It should be noted this was a HUGE portion of veal. So much so, he actually took half home.

With a Crème Brûlée to finish, we found ourselves chatting about how much we enjoyed this place. Much of the interior has remained unchanged since Ken Stewart left. The bar looks like it could be a lot of fun and the windows overlook the growing east flats. Because the place was sparsely populated due to the “odd” dining hour, our server was very attentive and the folks working the room all made sure we were having a good time. How could we do something else? Nice place, relaxed atmosphere and attentive service…an award winning combo! 1121 W 10th Street Cleveland, OH 44113 216-696-8400

July 15, 2017 at 2:44 PM Leave a comment

Smokin’ Q’s BBQ and Beer House

As we indicated in our review of Woodstock BBQ a few months ago, Cleveland is quick turning into a barbeque haven. New spots are popping up faster than micro-breweries. Smokin’ Q has located itself in the former Fisher’s Tavern, a fixture on SOM Center Road for almost a century. It also brings with it the pedigree of the Quagliata family of restaurants, some of the most highly regarded in the Cleveland metropolitan area. The Texas born Chef had previously worked at their landmark Giovanni’s outpost in Beachwood. Even before entering the place, expectations are piqued. With all of this talent in place, the result were almost assured to be favorable

To begin, we started with a fresh Lettuce Wedge, topped with tasty pork belly bacon cubes, pecans and tomatoes. Michele ordered the ½ pound of Berkshire Pulled Pork and completely enjoyed it. Jeff managed to snag away a forkful (just barely!) and thought it was a touch dry. He fully enjoyed the Brisket however. You have the option of ordering slices or ends or half-n-half. The mix was a great option. Once the slices were thoroughly diced, the crunchy exterior combined with the soft inside meats and the result was heaven. We complimented the entrées with a side of creamy potato salad

It is interesting to note that unlike the score of new BBQ places that are littering Cuyahoga County, less emphasis is placed here on the sauce. As a matter of fact, the sauce is placed in a plastic bottle with a Duct Tape label and a hand-written, “Sauce” scribbled in the middle. The secret here is the seasoning, the rub and fire control. Without the BBQ sauce (which was tasty) the meat was fabulous. We estimated we used substantially less sauce in our meal than almost every other place in town. That is a testament to the care taken before and during the cooking

Another difference at Smokin’ Q are two serving options, traditional or “El Jefe Style.” Like with most places, “traditional” means a bun and pickles. El Jefe substitutes the bun for tortilla and the pickles are changed to salsa and guacamole. Because so little sauce was needed with their meat, this might be a great way to enjoy their offerings

We can’t imagine this place failing. The only negative is they do appear to be priced a dollar or two over the norm. The half-chicken was especially costly, but it might feed two, depending on the size. Check out their website to fully understand this tiny little objection. We’re definitely planning a second trip, if only to see if El Jefe makes the experience even better. That would be a high bar to jump 718 SOM Center Road Mayfield Village, OH 44143 440-646-0429

July 1, 2017 at 9:28 PM 1 comment

Eatin’ in New York 7

Every year, Jeff must travel to New York (sometimes Michele joins him, but not this year) While he must work, he also has the opportunity to try a sampling of restaurants. Great things can come as a byproduct of necessity! This year, Jeff sampled a wide collection of interesting places, many that deserve recommending and one that deserves caution.

Without question and without reservation, Jeff’s favorite this trip is the new place Le Coq Rico. Le Coq Rico is a poultry-centric place that works to understand the flavors of each breed and capitalize on that individuality. While other restaurants may treat their chicken option as a “back-up” or an afterthought, Le Coq Rico forces you to pay attention to the chicken and respect it as a viable option and an integral element of haute cuisine. There is no question the lowly chicken has been elevated to superstar status here. Specific breeds are defined and quantified with flavor elements and culinary highpoints. Various locations and farming techniques are explored, as they relate to the bird. These are serious practitioners in a very narrow culinary band width.

Jeff and his dining companion started with the Terrine En Croute of Duck Foie Gras. This was lovely, rich, dense and flavorful liver wrapped in the lightest of pastry. What a nice combination! Unbelievably memorable. The entrée was a Chicken Pot that featured a rich, rich broth that cooked the vegetables and bird. The meat was amazingly tender and enjoyable. His dining companion could not say enough good about the Squab en Croute, again marveling at the tenderness and the delicate puff pastry. The final “home run” was a show-stopping dessert, L’lie Flottante. The meringue was formed into a “tennis ball”, surrounded with Red Praline and placed in a pool of Crème Anglaise. It is a dessert that will be almost impossible to forget, for a very long time. Le Coq Rico will force you to reassess your preconceived notions of poultry, in addition to what constitutes fine dining in America.

A very close second was found tucked away in a quiet corner of Greenwich Village at Babbo. Upon entering, a bar and bistro area is abuzz with people. Upstairs and in the back is a quiet, beautiful sky-lit dining room that matched the elegance of the prepared food. Jeff and this dinner companion split two appetizers. Fresh, new asparagus were topped with a soft duck egg and parmesan cheese. Once the toppings blended together the rich mix made for a full-flavored crunch of greens. The Baby Beet Salad featured diced cubes of an assortment of beets formed into a cylinder. These were equally fresh and flavorful. The Rabbit was prepared three different ways and Jeff simply could not pick which was better then the others. His dinner companion’s Pappardelle Bolognese was a nice blend of pork and veal. A different restaurant, but another merengue dessert, also very good. This is a place that wants guests to return, whether to the more formal area upstairs, or the rowdy barroom at the front. A lot of fun can be had at Babbo.

While working in New York, meals often need to be squeezed between assorted commitments. Regardless of the time and location, a good meal can almost always be had. Lure Fishbar is a perfect example. Jeff needed to eat at an odd time. A few places advertised a menu throughout the afternoon, but once inside he found that wasn’t the case. After two false starts, he walked down the steps at the corner of Mercer and Prince and enjoyed a handful of bar appetizers. The Clam Chowder featured full-sized clams and a rich broth. The Shrimp Tempura was accented with a spicy mayo that elevated this sometime average dish up a notch. With a delightful staff to compliment to good food, this was an enjoyable third-choice for food!

As Jeff was eating his Lyonnaise Salad at Bar Boulud prior to an evening curtain across the street at Lincoln Center, he asked himself, “When was the last time I ate Lyonnaise Salad?” This chicken liver, lardon, egg and crouton mix is much more an appetizer than “salad” (despite the frisee!) It remains a classic that we too often ignore or forget. As Jeff was finishing his Coq Au Vin, he again asked himself, “When was the last time I ate Coq Au Vin?” The chicken was rich with the flavor of red wine (especially the thigh) and the spätzle soaked up the dense cooking sauce. The Il Floatant (yes, another meringue dessert!) was a light way to end a meal of superstar foods. There is a reason foodstuffs become a part of the culinary lexicon. They are just so darn good that people continue to desire them. Jeff is surely glad he revisited this trio of staples and he was happy that Bar Boulud does them so well!

A few years ago, Jeff tried Scarpetta in Las Vegas. It was an excellent meal and that encouraged him to seek out the original in New York. This trip, he was in the Meatpacking District and found the parent to be even better than the sibling. The Polenta appetizer was unbelievably creamy. When the wild mushroom broth was poured over the top, it went on, beyond decadent! This was “lick the bowl” good! Jeff never heard of a Capretto cooking technique. His server called this a “wet roasted” preparation that adds moisture and flavor to the meat. He was right, the ultra-tender goat was heaped on a disc of chopped rapini and baby potatoes. The tartness of the greens and the mild game of the goat was mollified by the stableness of the potato. It could be a perfect meal. To finalize a fabulous evening, the Lemon Cake’s mix of sweet and tart was just right, just like everything else!

The disappointment on this trip was The Cannibal. A few months ago, a collection of Cleveland Chefs cooked at the James Beard House. It was a special honor and an article about their time in New York was featured in the Plain Dealer. When asked what restaurant they visited and enjoyed, many of the chefs said, “The Cannibal!” Jeff had high expectations but unfortunately was met with pedestrian and puzzling results.

Jeff and his dinner guest decided to share the Short Ribs, typically a luscious, rich and flavorful beef. Unfortunately, that is not what was served, The Cannibal’s was completely uneventful. The saving grace was the accompanying Parmesan Truffle Fries. They were wonderful. The Kielbasa was very good, but the side slaw was the most memorable, crunchy, and spicy with a touch of heat. It was excellent. It certainly is puzzling when the remarkable elements of a dinner is the sides at a restaurant called The Cannibal! Also good was the fine Mole Pudding. As the name defines, the flavors of Mole are imbed into pudding. Wow was it good, but again, not really in accordance with the restaurant name. Perhaps the most confusing thing was the “Chicken Sweetbread” appetizer. Do chicken have a thymus? Apparently they do. Were these thymus or chicken livers? They sure tasted like liver. At any other place, I might have taken them on their word. In hindsight, I’m not so sure here.

One last place that Jeff regularly visits, typically after an evening at the theatre is Aldo Sohm Wine Bar. This is a cozy little place tucked into the 6 ½ Avenue arcade between 51st and 52nd Streets. They have an excellent selection and a wide variety of wines from around the globe. The staff is very well versed and extremely helpful as you select a glass or a bottle. Often, a special bottle is available and there are some light appetizers and desserts on the menu. After a full evening in the city, this can be a great place to unwind.

As always, New York offers a wide variety of excellent dining options. We are fortunate to be able to sample many of the places whenever we are in the city. Fine dining certainly makes travel extra special! 30 E20th Street New York, NY 10003 212-267-7426 110 Waverly Place New York, NY 10011 212-267-7426 142 Mercer Street New York, NY 10012 212-431-7676 1900 Broadway Avenue New York, NY 10023 212-595-0303 355 W 14th Street New York, NY 10014 212-691-0555 113 E 29th Street New York, NY 10016 212-686-5480 151 W51st Street New York, NY 10019 212-554-1143

June 18, 2017 at 9:34 PM Leave a comment

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