Thursday, August 21, 2014

#ThisisCLE Culinary Tour: Part Two x 2

When I last left you, we were getting some rest and freshening up for dinner on Day Two of our Cleveland culinary tour. Sarah, from Eat PGH, and I had quite the evening planned for Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood. It's one of my favorite areas of the city, and it certainly has a lot of great dining options.

I chose to take her to my personal favorite, The Black Pig. It also happened to be their Two-Year Birthday that day, so they were in full celebration mode.
Besides the food, one of the things that I love most about The Black Pig is their unique rooftop patio. With a nice view of Downtown, secluded and small, it's perfect for a fun dining experience.

We wanted to share a couple of small plates to start the meal. I absolutely had to order the Braised Pork Belly ($11) for us.
The preparation changes often on their menu, but the pork is always cooked to perfection with a crispy crust and melt-in-your-mouth belly meat. The peaches this time were a great summery combination of flavors.

We asked our server to select the other small plate for us to share. She chose the Crispy Chicken Thigh ($10).
The chicken itself was only okay. I think it's hard for chicken to be a "star," so her selection was curious.

Luckily, this course quickly redeemed itself when Chef/Owner Michael Nowak sent up some complimentary Pork Rinds ($5) with salsa verde and Parmesan.
They were still cracklin' on the plate for quite some time! So crispy and delicious, we happily munched away.

We both selected the fish special, a Swordfish. Every day they do a Market Fish special.
This meaty fish was prepared very well, and the spaetzel paired well with it.

Nowak couldn't let us leave without sending out a sweet bite to finish the meal. It was a chocolate sampler, and a perfect ending to the meal.
It was an outstanding one overall, and one of my favorites during our three-day tour.

Then, we walked for a bit and ended at Crop Bistro. We were a little early for our dessert reservation, and they were slammed, so we settled into a high-top table in the bar area. Our frazzled and gruff server made a poor impression, in my opinion, but we made do. I wanted Sarah to see the beauty of the converted bank space. Although, the high ceilings and use of marble make for a very loud setting when the restaurant is full.

Our sweet tooth was satisfied by the chocolate tasting from The Black Pig, so we ended up ordering a Cheese Plate from their Daily Cheese Selection (five cheese for $20 or three for $15).
We also ordered their signature Balsamic Popcorn ($6) so that Sarah could try it.

Service continued to be an issue, and it was extremely loud in there, but the food was fine and we enjoyed ourselves. We were both dreaming up copy-cat recipes to do the popcorn at home.

The night ended with a drink at Velvet Tango Room. We had originally tried to head to Porco Tikki Lounge, but the parking lots were packed and we couldn't find a spot. Great to see! The prohibition-style VTR is certainly worth showing off as well, so I wasn't too disappointed. The $18 price tag on the cocktails may seem steep, but they can be well-worth it. Still not feeling it? Stop in for happy hour prices.

Completely whooped from our day, and bellies quite full, we called it a night. One more day to go!

Disclosure: I partnered with Positively Cleveland to host a three-day culinary tour for a visiting food writer. All meals, admission tickets, and transportation costs were paid for. All opinions stated are 100% my own.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

#ThisisCLE Culinary Tour: Part Two

Day two of our Cleveland culinary tour started off early, with my first cup of coffee from Pour Cleveland.
This charming coffee shop is sandwiched between the 5th Street Arcades and Hodge's in Downtown Cleveland. They are a "pour over" and espresso bar.
It was my first time watching the pour-over method of brewing, and they certainly make it fun to watch. Everyone was so warm and welcoming, and it started our day off well. Go check them out!

Sarah (from EatPGH) and I needed the kick of caffeine to fuel our tour of the West Side Market.
Cleveland's public market is one of my favorite places in our city, and a "must-stop" for any out-of-town guests.

We snacked as we toured, munching on a Cheese Danish and Apple Fritter.
Then, a steam bun from Jonathon Sawyer's Noodlecat stand.
Sarah had the Pulled Pork with sesame BBQ, and I tried the Daily Special Bun with Pork Chop Shop (another great West Side Market vendor) chorizo, homemade slaw, avocado, and sprouts. A little messy, but delicious.

After our stroll through the market, we headed out to shop on West 25th. Salty Not Sweet is one of my favorite stops, featuring local goods and gear for anyone wanting to express their Cleveland pride. We also stopped at Room Service, Penzey's Spices, and Campbell's Sweets Factory.
I love that you can sample their small-batch gourmet popcorn at the shop. I picked up a Salt and Vinegar White Popcorn, that we have yet to open.

Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. We headed back into Downtown for Jonathon Saywer's famous The Greenhouse Tavern.
I wanted to make sure to show off our East Fourth dining area during Sarah's visit. With twinkling lights, an abundance of outdoor patio seating, great people-watching, and big-name chefs like Bruell, Symon and Sawyer, it's an area that you should always consider for bringing visiting guests.
I also knew that Sarah would love their Crispy Chicken Wings Confit...
...and Pomme Frites with garlic, rosemary, and aioli.
She loved them both. I also couldn't resist the famous Hand Ground Beef Tartar (even though I still think Luca's version is better).
The kitchen also sent up two desserts, including the inventive R.O.Y.G.B.I.V with orange carrot halwa, raspberry, lemon lime and lavender candy, and their well-known and well-loved Buttered Popcorn Pot de Creme with caramel and sea salt.
That pot de creme is one of Cleveland's best desserts, so don't miss it if you have a sweet tooth!

A quick stop at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to check out the Beyonce exhibit...
...some shopping in Coventry, then a sweet afternoon treat at Sweetie Fry...
...and suddenly the afternoon was over.

I'm exhausted even writing about it. The day just sped by. It was time for a quick break at home/hotel. I think that I'll have to leave our dinner excursions for another blog post. Check back later this week for Part Two of Day Two!

How am I doing so far on showing off our city and its culinary scene? At this point, my tummy was already very happy.

Disclosure: I partnered with Positively Cleveland to host a three-day culinary tour for an out-of-town food blogger. All meals, admission tickets, and transportation were paid for by PC. I set our itinerary. All opinions stated are 100% my own.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Chefs Unbridled 2014

The popular event, Chefs Unbridled, benefitting Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center is slated for Saturday, September 13th at the Chagrin Valley Hunt Club in Gates Mills. Eight of Cleveland’s premier chefs, led by Scott Kuhn and Chris Hodgson of Driftwood Restaurant Group, will prepare a delicious seasonal tasting dinner for 600 guests. In its fourth year, Chefs Unbridled is expected to be a sell-out.
"R" and I attended last year, so you can read about our experience here.

The rundown of talented chefs at this year’s event include:
Scott Kuhn, Restaurateur/Chef of Driftwood Restaurant Group
Chris Hodgson, Partner/Consulting Chef of Driftwood Restaurant Group
Tim Bando of Grove Hill in Chagrin Falls
Brad Cecchi of Urban Farmer Cleveland
Andy Dombrowski of Cowell & Hubbard
Jeff Jarrett of AMP 150 in Cleveland
Matt Mytro of Flour in Moreland Hills
Ian Thompson of Radius Restaurant at South Franklin Circle in Chagrin Falls

A pretty great lineup of chefs!

The event, which is the Center’s primary annual benefit to raise money for riders with special needs, will take place under a decorated tent on the grounds of the prestigious polo field in Gates Mills. In addition to cocktails and appetizers, guests will sample cuisine from various stations around the tent. Food trucks will be on site serving as well, including the addition of the ever-popular Hodge Podge truck. WKYC-TV3’s Kris Pickel will be Master of Ceremonies for the evening.

Entertainment will be provided by the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra, while guests can also enjoy a horse-drawn carriage ride throughout the grounds. A fundraising silent auction and raffle will also be part of the evening’s festivities.

Ticket prices begin at $125 and include a tax deductible donation to Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center. Tables and sponsorship packages are also available. Reservations for Chefs Unbridled can be made before August 29th, however seating is limited and the event sold-out last year before the reservation date. For tickets contact Maureen Foster at 440-708-0013 ext. 123 or mfoster@fieldstonefarmtrc.com. To learn more about Fieldstone Farm Therapeutic Riding Center visit www.fieldstonefarmtrc.com.

Disclosure: I was provided two media passes in exchange for a preview blog post. All opinions stated are 100% my own. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

#ThisisCLE Culinary Tour: Part One

I had the chance to play ultimate culinary tour guide this weekend, thanks to Positively Cleveland. They contacted me a while back to see if I would be interested in partnering with them to host an out-of-town food blogger on a three-day culinary tour of our city. I got to set the itinerary, and all meals, tickets, and transportation would be covered. I didn't even hesitate to say "YES!"

Now that it's over, I don't even know how to begin to describe our three-days of culinary bliss. But, I'll try...

I was partnered with Sarah from EatPGH. Four friends are behind this food-blog-turned-brand, and they certainly know their Pittsburgh eats. They've turned their blog into a business, focusing now on event production and authoring wonderful dining guides. It's very inspiring, and I knew that I had my work cut out for me. I needed to impress. I couldn't let our city down. It was more pressure that I had originally thought, and selecting restaurants and attractions to visit during her short three days here was harder than it sounds! I think that I did a pretty good job, but you be the judge.

I'm going to have to break this tour into three parts, to summarize each day that we spent touring the city. Day one began on Thursday evening, with a quick stop at the last Edgewater Live event of the season. The Cleveland Metroparks introduced a fantastic new event to Edgewater Park this summer, bringing in live music, food trucks, and more. The weekly Thursday event was free to attend, and Clevelanders arrived in droves. Sarah was interested in hearing about our food truck scene, and it sounds like our city has embraced food trucks much quicker than Pittsburgh. I'm sure that they still have their challenges, but the amount of food trucks in Cleveland has grown exponentially over the last few years, and there seems to be a great community built around the concept. Working together on events like Walnut Wednesdays, and rallying behind all kinds of public events and causes. Sarah wanted to try a bite from at least one truck, so I recommended a taco from Touch Supper Club.
She enjoyed pulled pork and shrimp tacos, and I got my hands on my first Chorizo Mac n' Cheese Taco from Touch. The little patty of chorizo, macaroni, and cheese was breaded and fried. It held together well, and was still creamy when I bit into it. However, I do wish that the "scallion cream" on it had more flavor. For just $10, we enjoyed three good-sized tacos as a pre-dinner snack.

After a stroll around the park, I took her downtown to Playhouse Square.
With the addition of the new signage and outdoor chandelier, the area is impressive and just feels special. We're so fortunate to have such a large theatre district with amazing shows year-round.

We had dinner at Cowell and Hubbard.
While L'Albatros will always be my favorite, I had to bring her to at least one Zack Bruell restaurant during the trip.

We started off the meal with Bruell's famous cheese service.
While the other restaurants don't have quite the spread of selections like L'Albatros, the build-your-own cheese plate and presentation of the board is still unique at all Bruell restaurants. It takes "cheese plate" to a whole other level.
The kitchen also sent out their Crispy Pork Stack with vegetable risotto and a one-hour egg ($9).
The pulled pork was quite crispy on top, and balanced the creamy texture of the risotto well. The greens had a subtle heat to them, and I enjoyed this dish.

Getting a little full, and still needing room for dessert, we decided to share the Sea Scallops entree with pea puree, roasted fennel, and Thai curry cream sauce ($26).
I appreciated that they split the dish for us (only a half-portion pictured above). This dish was light in flavor, and a perfect end to our meal. We also decided that peas don't get enough recognition.

They didn't let us leave with a special after-dinner dessert wine.
Then, we walked over to Bin 216 for dessert. I hadn't been to the newly-opened Driftwood Catering spot, so I was interested to check it out.
Located inside of the Ohio Theatre, it has that great feel of an ornate, swanky theatre inside of the restaurant and bar. We settled ourselves into two plush chairs, and located the list of desserts.
Specializing in small plates and desserts, I was surprised by how limited the list of desserts was. From a handful of choices, we decided to share the Chocolate Fondue and the Pound Cake (pictured below).
The chocolate fondue was made with dark chocolate, so it was very rich and decadent. It arrived with mixed berries, pound cake, bananas, and then two original dippers: spicy bacon and mini s'mores. I haven't seen either served with fondue before. The pound cake, however, was disappointing. A little too dry and dense, for my personal taste.

This stop at Bin 216 was really the only disappointment during our three days. I loved the space itself, but the dessert menu needs some work, and there was only one other patron in the place on Thursday evening. I think that they opened two months ago a little too quietly. However, I did think that the small plates menu sounded appealing, and I'd like to go back to try some of the dishes.

Exhausted after a busy evening eating our faces off, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel/home. Day one was a wrap, and overall very successful. Tune in later this week to see where I took Sarah on day two and three!

What's one restaurant that you always take out-of-town guests to in Cleveland?

Disclosure: I partnered with Positively Cleveland to host a three-day culinary tour. All food, admission tickets, and travel expenses were paid for by Positively Cleveland. I also received a Cleveland-themed goodie bag. All opinions expressed are 100% my own. 

Friday, August 15, 2014

North Olmsted's Nuevo Acapulco

Remember my 2014 "To Dine" Challenge? Yup, me neither. I tend to take a hiatus during the summer, focusing on all of the great outdoor events and patio weather instead. The brief break is over, and it's time to kick my butt into high gear. I still had 7 left to go before January!

So, that took "R" and I to Nuevo Acapulco in North Olmsted this week. It was pouring rain, so the first thing that I noticed, and appreciated, is that it is connected to a motel by an overhang. A covered run to the restaurant door! There are only a handful of parking spots in front of the restaurant, but plenty of parking in the rear.

It's decorated in your typical American-Mexican decor, with some highlights like the brightly colored birds hanging from the ceiling.
The restaurant was bright, clean, and had both table and booth options. We sunk into a booth and started to browse the menu.

Normally, when dining out, I never like to order the same thing. However, American-Mexican is an exception to the rule. I always search for a combination platter with an enchilada and chili relleno. It gives me the best "apples to apples" comparison. Nuevo Acapulo did not disappoint. I found "my" dish easily.

One enchilada with choice of one chalupa chimichanga or one chili relleno (with rice and choice of beans).
It was one giant, gooey, cheesy, brown heap of food. I've never asked myself if there was such a thing as too much cheese (being the cheese lover that I am), but this might have pushed that envelope. I wasn't even sure that there was a pepper underneath all of that cheese on the left-hand side of the plate. Overall, it was good. The rice was a little dry, but an addition of hot sauce and salsa fixed that. However, I can confidently state that Cozumel in Independence still does this dish better.

"R" ordered the Tacos al Carbon with three thick flour tortillas, dipped in special salsa,then stuffed with your choice of marinated char-broiled steak or chicken garnished with pico de gallo, Parmesan cheese and guacamole.
Again, the rice was dry, but he did enjoy this dish overall. It was huge, and he ended up taking home two of the tacos and the rest of my rice and beans. What's with the Parmesan cheese, though?

So, not a bad meal at all, but we'll stick to Cozumel in Independence. They still reign supreme, in my opinion.

What's your favorite Mexican restaurant in the area? Luchita's is one of the only ones that I haven't been to yet.

Nuevo Acapulco
24409 Lorain Road
North Olmsted, OH 44070
440-734-3100