Eatin’ in New Orleans 5

Breakfast of Champions! Café au Lait and Beignets at Café du Monde.

This was a quicker than normal trip to New Orleans We arrived late on the first day and departed early on the fourth. This left us just enough time to catch a quick late-night snack at Kingfish, a place where we have twice had only a snack, but never sat down for a “bread to dessert” meal and we should. It has always been good. We also indulged twice at Café du Monde for our beloved beignet and chicory-infused Café au Lait before Jeff started work. Michele also snagged a solo lunch while Jeff worked one day. That left us with only two complete dinners at two new, never sampled places. We are happy to report that New Orleans food is alive and still able to surprise!

Snapper Escovich at Compere Lapin

Curried Goat with Gnocchi at Compere Lapin

The last time we were in New Orleans, we were blown away by Sac-a-Lait. It was our unquestionable favorite and we have been evangelizing on their behalf since. Our new religion is Compère Lapin. “Brother Rabbit” (in French) is run by a Chef from St. Lucia and she has combined the flavors of the Caribbean with the excitement of New Orleans cooking. It is a match made in heaven. We knew it would be good upon delivery of the biscuits. Warm, light and fluffy, they were served with two types of flavored butters, apparently different each day. We shared the Conch Fritters appetizer, but unlike the quiet versions typically served, these had a fiery snap that was cooled by the Remoulade dipping sauce. The Cobia appetizer reminded Jeff of crudo, this one prepared with passion fruit and grapefruit acids and of course, the perfect amount of spice. If you are in a restaurant run by someone who hails from the Islands, you must have goat. The Curried Goat was flawless. The sweet potato gnocchi that accompanied it was inspired and we believe helps to understand the level of sophistication you’ll find here. It also fully defines the Chef multifaceted culinary life that runs from the Caribbean, to French cooking school, into work at an Italian restaurant, culminating in the unique food of New Orleans. Michele normally does not eat Snapper, but the Escovitch version they offered was too tantalizing to pass-up. Escovitch could be described as a warm version of ceviche, where vinegar and spices are added to the fried preparation of fish. Served with a Beurre Blanc sauce, it was heaven on a plate. The Banana Zeppole was like a beignet stuffed with Nutella and served with a caramel-rum dipping sauce. From the factory chic interior to the energetic servers and especially to the food, Compère Lapin should be the place you visit on your next trip to NOLA.

Michele did not have an appetizer at Compère Lapin because she snuck away for a quick lunch at Muriel’s. Tucked into the northeast corner of Jackson Square, Muriel’s is a quiet respite from the hustle and bustle of touristy New Orleans. We often stop here, if for nothing other than a cold Abita beer at the bar tuck WAY in the back corner. A quick bowl of Seafood Gumbo and a few minutes off her feet and Michele was ready to conquer the city again.

Our final new adventure for this trip was Coquette. Located west of the French Quarter along trendy Magazine Street, this is spot that has taken the wonder of area cooking and combined it with classic French cooking sensibilities. The result is fabulous food. To start, we had the massive Gulf Shrimp served on a bed of horseradish-based remoulade. Michele has been spoiled by New Orleans gulf shrimp, almost since our first trip and this is the reason. They taste like no other, even with this ultra-simple preparation. Likewise, she could not say enough about her Gulf Seafood Stew. When you are that close to fresh seafood, it is almost impossible to mess-up. Combine that with Chorizo and okra and you’ve got a real winner. Jeff could not believe the tenderness he found in the Smoked Short Ribs. It was also full of flavor, but the green mole added an extra element that mixed so well with the beef. The crispy rice upped the meal with extra texture and the pumpkin seeds scattered across the top finished it nicely. Basil semifreddo? What an inventive and refreshing finish. Coquette is a small place, but with food this good, it packs a big punch.

A lot has changed in New Orleans since our first visit in 1990, but the one thing that remains the same is the quality and uniqueness of the food. There is a New Orleans flavor that is unmistakable and indicative of the area. For that reason, we expect to return for at least the next twenty-five years!

https://kingfishneworleans.com/ 337 Chartres Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-598-5005

http://www.cafedumonde.com/ 800 Decatur Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-525-4544

http://www.sac-a-laitrestaurant.com/ 1051 Annunciation Street New Orleans, LA 70130 504-324-3658

http://comperelapin.com/ 535 Tchoupitoulas Street (at the Old No. 77 Hotel & Chandlery) New Orleans, LA 70130 504-599-2119

http://muriels.com/ 801 Chartres Street New Orleans, LA 70116 504-568-1885

https://www.coquettenola.com/ 2800 Magazine Street New Orleans, LA 70115 504-265-0421

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October 7, 2018 at 7:35 PM Leave a comment

Szechuan Gourmet

Whenever we lament about the lack of great Chinese food in Cleveland, we are continually told, “You need to try Szechuan Gourmet!” We drove by the place once and Michele told Jeff, “I’m not eating in there! It looks like a warehouse!” Still, we were continually drawn to the place because of the overwhelming good reviews from virtually every facet of the Cleveland food world. Michele finally acquiesced and we gave the place a try. Unfortunately, we should have trusted Michele’s initial gut reaction.

It started with the tea. Rather than the bold flavorful brew typically served at even the cheapest Chinese restaurant, this was a tepid, watery version, no doubt at the end of the batch of leaves. Our Crab Rangoon appetizer was mistakenly interpreted as Scallion Pancakes. When presented we hurriedly refused the greasy plate of unappetizing dough triangles, but were rewarded with something not much better. The Crab Rangoon were heavy pinched-dough blossoms rather than the light-airy treats we have experienced in the past. Michele’s Shrimp and Broccoli was sitting in a pond of extra-salty brown sauce and Jeff’s Kung Pao Chicken was a fraction of the treat he experienced in China, or even locally in the past. On the positive side, the Coke was cold!

For multiple years, we have lamented the dearth of premium Chinese cuisine in Cleveland. People recommend; we try; we are disappointed. Rinse and repeat. We check highly reviewed placed online, in print and almost every other place and we are greeted with mediocrity. There are a few places that serve reasonably good Chinese food and those are the spots to which we return. We will gain an optimistic outlook when James Beard returns from the grave, arm-in-arm with Julia Childs to present the Best of Cleveland Award to a new Chinese restaurant. Until that happens, we will cautiously try new Chinese spots, but neither of us are holding our breath.

https://www.facebook.com/Szechuan-Gourmet-258602604242428/ 1735 E 36th Street Cleveland, OH 44114 216-881-9688

September 22, 2018 at 10:19 PM Leave a comment

Sol

There has to be something connected to the building. When this structure (a very cool 1920’s era power substation) housed Gavi’s, it was the talk of Cleveland. We visited a number of times. While we enjoyed each meal, we never quite understood the crazy fervor it managed to acquire. When Sol opened, we never felt the draw to visit. Jump ahead to today and friends wanted to sample one of the MANY restaurants in Willoughby. When we told them we had never been to Sol, they immediately decided that was the place we should dine! The building was dragging us in, this time, with better results.

Rather than the tortilla chips served by most every Mexican or Central American restaurant in the city, Sol serves Malanga chips. Malanga is a root vegetable and the tuber is sliced thin and fried to produce a substantially more interesting chip. Combined with a nice salsa, we were off to the races!

Our friends ordered the Avocado Pasta and Pork Vieja. While the Avocado Pasta was judged to be “wimpy;” the Pork disappeared immediately. Michele devoured the Salmon with a zucchini and squash ratatouille and Jeff could not finish his Chorizo Bolognese, a wonderful pasta with a sauce that combined the best of Mexico and Italy. While a touch heavy, the Lecce dessert was very good.

Overall, we had a very good time at Sol. Our Server (Autumn) could not do enough to make our visit perfect. She was friendly when needed and out of the way when we were in the middle of a conversation. She could teach a masterclass in restaurant service, but we do believe the entire place is geared in this way. We sure felt comfortable visiting and everyone wanted us to have a good time and return.

Based on our server’s recommendation, we stopped for Brunch a few weeks later and found it to be equally interesting. Michele fully enjoyed the Chicken and Waffles. The Crab Cake Bennie (Eggs Benedict with the crab cake replacing the English Muffin) was a properly decadent brunch offering for Jeff. That menu alone featured another half-dozen dishes we want to try.

We will be back. Not for the reason of the building dragging us, or with the idea we want to confirm a marginal restaurant, but we are looking forward to more great meals.

http://solwilloughby.com/ 38257 Glenn Avenue Willoughby, OH 44094 440-918-1596

September 8, 2018 at 5:13 PM Leave a comment

Flying Fig

It has been a long time since both of us have been to this classic Cleveland restaurant. Shortly after they opened, we tried it, like we do almost every new spot. Jeff was a fan, but Michele was served an undercooked piece of fish. With that sour taste in her mouth, she never had a desire to return. Jeff on the other hand has made a number of subsequent visits, most recently with a group of out-of-town business guests. Each of those follow-up stops have been excellent, without exception.

What is so lovely about Flying Fig is the overall impression that you are invading a boutique operation run by a close collection of friends. The atmosphere is relaxed, languid and calming. A look outside the front window delivers a view of the hustle and bustle of the Great Lakes Brewing Company. Even more reason to enjoy the Zen inside Flying Fig. After this long period of operating a restaurant, everyone knows how to deliver service without interrupting a quiet talk, or a raucous moment. Servers quietly appear at the right time to introduce the menu, answer questions and are fully aware when glasses are empty and plates are clean. Bus help sidles in and surreptitiously fill water glasses and plates are delivered with care and minimal fanfare. You are in the hands of pros here.

Jeff entertained a table of a ten and the selections were as varied as the menu offers, Halibut here, Pork Loin there, Bolognese and Chicken interspersed with a vegetarian special. No one was disappointed and everyone felt they were treated to one of the best places in Cleveland…and guess what, there were. It has remained a viable dining room over a long period of time because the Chef has kept her eye on the prize. She has not expanded, built new places or appeared on reality TV. That attention to a place has provided countless customers a quality meal virtually every time. For that concentration, she was recently recognized as a James Beard Semi-Finalist. Our guess is that while this is an honor, it matters very little to the way she runs her place. “Forget about the awards, we have people to feed.” Amen.

 http://www.theflyingfig.com/ 2523 Market Avenue Cleveland, OH 44113 216-241-4243

August 25, 2018 at 10:29 PM Leave a comment

Bomba Tacos & Rum

Almost since they opened, we’ve been fans of Paladar, the Latin cuisine restaurant in Woodmere. That aside, when they told us during a recent visit that they were opening another place that featured tacos, we had mixed emotions. There are a pile of places opened and opening around town and the country that are capitalizing on America’s passion for this folded street food. We’re starting to think that people only want to eat three things, Burgers, BBQ and Tacos. Paladar’s solid performance over the years reduced our skepticism and we decided to give the place a shot and we’re glad we did!

The menu features a number of things that instigate communal noshing, such as Tostones, Queso Dip and Guacamole, with a recipe no doubt borrowed from Paladar. There are over a dozen tacos priced between $3 and $5. Sides and soup are also fairly priced at $3.50. A handful of other options are also available. It is a nicely rounded menu and one which will not break the bank.

Clockwise from the far left: Coconut Mango Shrimp, Crispy Shrimp, Jamaican Jerk Chicken, Plantains, Wild Mushroom, Chorizo and Potato and Carne Asada.

We shared a bowl of Gazpacho. On this hot summer day, it was refreshing and flavorful with a “Pasta Rosa” color and a perfect amount of spice. (In our book, not “hot” for Michele and enough interest for Jeff.) Michele had two tacos (Jamaican Jerk Chicken and Crispy Shrimp) Jeff ordered three. (Carne Asada, Chorizo & Potato and Wild Mushroom.) To avoid any possibility of heat, Michele asked the wonderful server to remove the pickled Jalapenos from the Shrimp and this was easily done. While she has her eyes on a few others for the next visit, she’d order each again in a heartbeat. She felt each were fresh and tasty. Jeff will rush back for another Chorizo taco and was only marginally unhappy with the Carne Asada, primarily because the beef pieces were cut rather large and there was a bit of residual liquid from either the meat or the stuffing, resulting in a torn shell. Had the beef been diced a bit smaller, all would have been perfect and we would have avoided the “wardrobe malfunction.” We accompanied our tacos with two excellent sides. The Plantains were sweet and soft and we knew they would be excellent, but the real surprise was the Coconut Mango Rice. Both of us were fighting over the last of the serving bowl because they were such a nice counterpoint to the flavor-intense taco.

Despite all of this food, we still had room for dessert and what a dessert! Churros are simply fried dough. That allows for a broad interpretation of where to go from there. Bomba rolls theirs in cinnamon and served them with dipping pots of warm marshmallow and spiced chocolate. Michele determined early-on that the secret here is to “double-dip!” (Sorry George Costanza!) Cinnamon, Chocolate and Marshmallow. How could you go wrong?

The truth is we waited a bit longer than expected for the dessert. Michele wondered if they forgot our order. They hadn’t. In fact EVERYONE in the place apparently knew of the delay. Our server (again, excellent!) deliver the dessert sans chocolate with a heartfelt apology. The delay was caused by the chocolate. Because of the long wait, they would not charge us for the dessert. (After one bite, we would have happily paid!!) The chocolate was eventually delivered, again with an apology. Once we had ravaged the Churro plate, the manager (?) stopped by to again apologize for the chocolate delay. To put this in context, the restaurant has been opened for a few days! Mistakes will happen. Especially in these early stages. If this is the only problem this establishment has in the future, the sky is the limit!

As we indicated before, we like Paladar and we liked their Larchmere Restaurant, (does anyone remember?) Boulevard Blue before that. This has quick become a powerful restaurant group for good reason. For your next act however, can we PLEASE have something other than Burgers, Tacos or BBQ? That said, we love you!

https://bombatacos.com/ 2101 Richmond Road Beachwood, OH 44122 216-755-5907

https://paladarlatinkitchen.com/ 28601 Chagrin Boulevard Woodmere, OH 44122 216-896-9020

August 12, 2018 at 9:37 PM Leave a comment

Hello Bistro

We don’t typically write about fast food chain restaurants. Their inconsistency and generally overpriced menu is often exacerbated by a cloying automaton staff. Most importantly, the food at most fast food places is basically okay and not worthy of a review. While we are always warry of fast chains early levels of high quality, we have been very happy with Hello Bistro after multiple visits.

Hello Bistro concentrates on two food items, hamburgers and salads. There are a handful of additional items on the menu, but clearly, this duo needs to be specifically regarded. The hamburgers are fine. They appear to be prepared well and the ingredients are fresh. The menu variations are creative enough, but the better option appears to be the salads. The Caesar, Cobb and Shrimp Salads were all well-made and enjoyable. While not sampled yet, we’re certain that the other offerings are just as good.

Years ago, Beachwood Place Mall housed a little salad place in the food court. Michele enjoyed this place so fully that she often called Jeff at his office and asked him to pick up her favorite on his way home. Since it disappeared, finding a salad restaurant has been difficult. Hello Bistro may finally be a viable replacement. We’re keeping our fingers crossed that it does not deteriorate like so many fast places inevitably do.

http://hellobistro.com/ 2101 Richmond Road Suite 821 Beachwood, OH 44122 216-342-4641

July 28, 2018 at 10:20 PM Leave a comment

Astoria

For some reason, this one passed us by. We think we know why. A few blocks up Detroit Avenue, another restaurant was being built around the same time as Astoria. This one was called, Arcadian. Shortly after they both opened, Arcadian abruptly closed. We believe we got the two confused. As quickly as the “new place on Detroit” was on our HOT list, it was off. Driving down Detroit Avenue a few months later, we noticed some activity. Innocently, we assumed that the much-ballyhooed renovation attracted a caterer, or an events planner to use the space. We still had not separated Astoria and Arcadian. Jump ahead a few more months and while walking with friend on Detroit and 65th, Jeff’s friend indicated he was sad that this place closed, pointing to Arcadian. “It was very good!” We finally realized our mistake. “We have to go here.” Nothing happened for a few more months until we were driving around on a rainy Saturday looking for a late lunch place to eat. The great idea, that took eighteen month popped into our heads. “Let’s try that place on Detroit!”…and not a moment too soon! Boy, has our confusion caused us to miss out on some wonderful food. We quickly returned for a dinner a few weeks later.

Jeff hasn’t enjoyed a Croque Madame this much in a long time. The ham was wonderful and the Gruyere was perfectly sharp. Michele had a fabulous Chicken Sandwich and as we left, we tried to calculate our next visit. Dinner with friends was a perfect opportunity. They suggested the Gordon Square area and we suggested Astoria.

We haven’t had Saganaki since the days of The Parthenon, the storied Greek restaurant located downtown, when nobody when downtown after work. We did and we loved this place. One of the house specialties was this flaming Kasseri cheese dish that arrived at the table aflame and was quickly doused with a squirt of lemon juice. Astoria’s version comes to the table, sans fire. Less dramatic, but almost as good. Theirs is a touch more salty, but the taste brought back memories. Michele ordered the Chicken Souvlaki, grilled, skewered breast with a side of greens. The chicken was perfect, it had a light lemony flavor and was served over sticky rice with a vegetable medley on the side. Jeff had the fabulous Veal and Lamb Meatballs served over a bed of Cavatelli and spicy marinara. The meatballs were perfect, light and delicate as can be imagined with lamb and veal. The hidden secret was the “spicy” part of the marinara. It was exactly what this dish needed. So good. Our dinner companions ordered the Lamb Paidakia and loved the fingerling potatoes served with a Mascarpone sauce, the Chicken Avgolemono (classic chicken, rice, and lemon soup) which they thought was a bit too lemony and a Greek salad they found perfect, the feta drawing particular attention. All in all, a wonderful meal.

The moral to this story is now simple to us, pay attention to the spelling. In New York, a hot new restaurant is called, The Nomad. A less successful spot is named Nomad. Arcadian is not Astoria. Adding a definite article in front of a word changes things. Do your homework and don’t make the same mistake as us, but also, learn from our experience and try Astoria, that’s A-S-T-O-R-I-A. You won’t be disappointed.

http://astoriacafemarket.com/ 5417 Detroit Road Cleveland, OH 44102 216-266-0834

June 27, 2018 at 8:59 AM Leave a comment

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