Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Parma's Seoul Garden

Thank you, to whomever submitted Seoul Garden for my 2014 To Dine challenge! We finally made it there, with friends, on Saturday evening. Obviously, it was already on my "to-do" list, but the recent Scene article had peaked my interest even more. I'm happy to report that it did not disappoint.

This was only my second time eating Korean food (my first experience was through my 2013 To Dine challenge), so I am by no means an expert on this cuisine. However, I can safely say that this experience trumped my first, and we've found a new spot to frequent in Parma. Apparently, it's not a secret spot, because the restaurant was hopping on Saturday at 7:00pm.

Our group of six settled into a table after a brief wait, and began to look over the menu. One dish did give me quite a chuckle...
I love a good misprint.

I went straight for the Bibimbop ($10.95), a "gateway" to Korean food, for those of us that aren't familiar. It is steamed rice, topped with shredded vegetables, ground beef, and a raw egg yolk. It is served in a piping hot clay pot, and it literally cooks right in front of you. The idea is to slowly stir the pot, crisping the rice, cooking the egg, and blending in some hot sauce.
This version easily was better than the first one that I had tried at Miega, and I hadn't thought that one was bad. There was just something about the flavors and textures in this one that had me digging in for more.

We also shared some Fried Dumplings (you can order 8 or 16).
They were actually stuffed with beef, instead of pork. They were okay, but not the highlight of the meal.

Now, one thing that is wonderful (and a tad overwhelming) about a Korean dining experience are all of the little side dishes that arrive at your table with every meal. Plate upon plate is placed in front of you, all little dishes of different pickled, spiced, raw, or unusual items to try. Your table suddenly becomes quite full!
Some highlights included the spicy kimchee, pickled radish, gelatin herb "noodles", and crispy tofu. We probably had at least eight different ones to try.

A couple of our friends ordered the Bulgogi, and seemed pleased with the marinated beef. "R" went for the traditional Pajeon (pancake).
It's usually a popular Korean appetizer, stuffed with scallions and in this case, a variety of seafood. Miega's version was a lot smaller, and this dish was clearly intended for a table of diners to share. It was HUGE.

The price tag on many of the dishes may seem high when you're browsing their menu, but if you look closely, they are intended for 2-3 diners to share. They have a few Barbeque dishes, where diners can cook their own food at the table, and a selection of Jungol (stews/casseroles). I'd love to try the spicy chicken that we spotted at the table next to us.

The restaurant itself is nothing to look at from the outside, and it's not much better on the inside. Dated decor, old carpet, wobbly tables, bright overhead lighting. But, the food wins you over. My only complaint? Several times we could smell the most offensive fishy aroma that I've ever smelled in my life that was wafting over from other tables. I almost gagged.

Another restaurant was checked off of the 2014 list, and this one will remain in rotation for us. We had a great evening, with good food, good friends, and some good stiff cocktails at Drink. Bar + Grill down the street afterwards.

Seoul Garden
5270 Pearl Road
Parma, OH
216-661-5990

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Annex Bar and Grille

Last Sunday, we found ourselves at another 2014 To Dine restaurant...the Annex Bar and Grille in Solon. It popped into my head, because we wanted to watch the Browns game. Now, if only the game had been a little less disappointing...

At least we were at a fun place for the game, exploring and checking another restaurant off of my challenge list!
As we pulled up to the bar's parking lot, a party bus was unloading. Apparently, we were crashing a birthday party for a regular patron that was clearly well-liked. The bar was packed with his family and friends, and we did feel a bit out of place the whole time. But, everyone was very friendly and in a good mood, despite the game.

The Annex is quite the hole-in-the-wall, but in a good way. It's very casual, with plenty of charm and classic hometown bar atmosphere.
They have a pretty appealing menu of bar snacks. During the first quarter, we shared a basket of Fried Pickles (five for $4).
Once they cooled down a bit, they were awesome. Not too much breading, the pickle was still a bit crispy, and the unusual house-made dipping sauce (maybe a Cajun Ranch?) was delicious.

Now, I've heard a lot about their hamburgers. That's why we were there. Some claim that they are the best in the Greater Cleveland area. While I won't give them that title, I was pleasantly surprised.

I ordered the "Shroom Burger" with mushrooms, onions, bacon and choice of cheese ($4.75). I went with bleu cheese. You also have your choice of fries, between steak or fresh-cut and regular or Cajun. I knew "R" was getting the fresh-cut, so I wanted the steak fries.
The bun was fresh, and toasted lightly on the grill. You don't always see that, so it was appreciated. The bacon was crispy, and there was a lot of it. The onions were grilled, and tasted great. The mushrooms were canned, but that didn't detract too much. The patty was clearly handmade, because it didn't quite stick together very well. It crumbled a couple of times, making it pretty messy to eat. The meat could have used more seasoning, but overall this was pretty darn good for a bar burger.

"R" got the "Western Burger" with BBQ sauce, bacon, onion ring, and choice of cheese. He also selected bleu cheese, and paired the fresh-cut fries with his order.
He thought that the BBQ sauce was nothing special, and a little watery, but overall another good burger for this type of bar.

Best burger in the Greater Cleveland area will remain from the Tremont Tap House, in my opinion.

It's been a while since I've seen that much camouflage and Jager bombs, but it was endearing and I felt like I was back home in Upstate NY. The place was lively, everyone was so friendly, great music was on when the game wasn't playing, there is plenty of parking in the lot next to the bar, and the bartender was as sweet as can be. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Our Solon adventure was a success.

Annex Bar and Grille (unofficial website)
36200 Pettibone Road
Solon, OH 44139
440-248-5725

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

La Kabob

The end of the calendar year is looming, and that means that I need to wrap up my 2014 To Dine challenge. With six restaurants left, the list was looking a little daunting. I'm going to call it...I probably won't complete it this year. Thanksgiving, our wedding, and holiday travel plans are going to limit the amount of time I have left this year. All good things, that we're really looking forward to.

However, I did accomplish dining at three over the last few weeks!

Today, I want to share a recent lunch at La Kabob Lebanese Grill on Pearl Road in Strongsville.
They've won quite a few awards and honorable mentions through local media outlets. This family-owned business opened in 2011, and has been recognized for having some of the best Lebanese cuisine around.

It's a casual atmosphere, with an ordering counter as you enter. Once your order is placed (but you pay after your meal), there are several tables and high tops around. I imagine that they do a lot of takeout as well.
I ordered the Beef Shawarma Wrap, with slices of seasoned beef, onions, Mediterranean pickles, tomatoes and lettuce ($6.45). It was topped with tahini dressing and wrapped in a pita, then toasted.
"R" and I also shared an order of the Stuffed Grape Leaves ($5.45).
The wrap was full of flavor, and I loved the addition of the pickles, but it was really wet and messy to eat. That took away from the pleasure of the flavor. The grape leaves were some of the best that I've had around Cleveland. A lemon wedge would have been nice, for a squirt of citrus, but otherwise I couldn't think of other grape leaves that I've preferred.

The only real disappointment of the meal was "R's" Gyro ($5.95). It was pretty average, and not worth ordering.

We literally stumbled upon this restaurant, as we were driving down Pearl Road, while doing some errands this past weekend. We were looking for a quick lunch, and their sign in the strip of businesses just happened to catch my eye. It wasn't a planned 2014 To Dine adventure, but I'm happy that it happened. I don't know that I'd drive to Strongsville for it, but it was certainly good and I'd recommend it.

La Kabob Lebanese Grill
14228 Pearl Road
Strongsville, OH 44136
440-846-5100

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Butcher and the Brewer

"R" and I had our engagement photo shoot in Downtown Cleveland last week. Honestly, I was more excited to take some nice photographs in our "regular" clothes. That's who we are, and I can't wait to see them. The city lights, streets, and buildings made for a great backdrop. But, we were quite hungry once we finished up.

Since we ended on Euclid, near East 4th Street, we quickly decided on the newly opened Butcher and the Brewer.
The restaurant comes from the guys behind one of our favorite casual restaurants in Cleveland, the Tremont Tap House. For an outstanding beer selection, quality upscale bar food, and a casual atmosphere, we've loved dining there for years. Also, the Executive Chef for Butcher and the Brewer is a familiar face. Jim Blevins (formally of Downtown 140 and Hodge's) is crafting their farmhouse-inspired menu.

The restaurant's concept plays on diner interaction, and a sense of community through public house seating, progressive dining, and shared plates. Long communal tables are what you'll find here.

We plopped ourselves at the bar, and ordered a few small things to share. We started with an order of the House-Smoked Corndogs with whole-grain mustard aioli, and house-made ketchup ($10). The corndog itself was very good, with a tasty and fluffy batter, but the aioli and ketchup could have been better with more pronounced flavor. They didn't add much to the dish.

Then, we shared the Steak Tartar with horsey sauce, capers, poached egg, and crispy bread ($12) and the Tempura Asparagus.
Both were very good, and I would order them again. However, the beef tartar at Luca across the river still reigns supreme, in my opinion. That version just seems to stick in my brain.

Overall, a great first visit to the new Butcher and the Brewer. We weren't presented with a menu that listed the various Shucked (oysters), Cured (meats), and Cultured (cheeses) options to build your own boards, but that's something that I'd love to try next time.

Have you been to the new restaurant on East 4th?

Butcher and the Brewer
2043 East Fourth Street
Cleveland, OH 44115
216-331-0805

Monday, November 10, 2014

Recipe: Orzo with Butternut Squash, Spinach, Mushrooms and Blue Cheese

We made a dish this weekend that I just had to share with you right away. We adapted a recipe originally found on the kitchn, and it instantly became a new favorite. We'll be seeing this on our dinner table again this fall.

Recipe: Orzo with Butternut Squash, Spinach, Mushrooms and Blue Cheese (Serves 4 to 6)

Ingredients:
2 1/2 cups cubed butternut squash (1/2 inch cubes)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
8 oz regular orzo
2 cups shredded spinach
1 cup diced mushrooms
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. shallot, minced
1/3 cup blue cheese crumbles
1/4 cup pasta water

Preheat oven to 425˚F.
Toss butternut squash with the olive oil.
Spread into a single layer on a sheet tray.
Bake until squash is tender and starting to brown, 35 to 40 minutes.
Place the spinach in a large bowl and set aside.
In a small skillet, heat olive oil until just warm.
Stir in garlic and mushrooms, remove from heat and allow to sit until ready to use.
Place the orzo in a pot and cover with at least 2" of water.
Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cook until tender but not mushy, 8 to 9 minutes.
Drain and immediately pour the hot orzo on top of the spinach.
Let sit for a few minutes to slightly wilt spinach.
Add butternut squash to the pasta along with the cooked mushrooms, blue cheese, garlic, and olive oil.
Toss until well combined, pour pasta water over combination and stir, and serve warm.
We also topped ours with a peppercorn-crusted steak, sliced. The peppery and beefy flavor worked really well with this recipe.

We were able to use up some of the last Fresh Fork items lingering in our fridge and cupboard, and it was actually the first time that we had cooked with orzo. This dish will be making it into the rotation. It was relatively easy to make, didn't require a ton of time other than baking the squash, and we loved the flavor and textures in it. Enjoy!