Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Birthday Dinner at The Black Pig

This entire blog is built upon trying new-to-me restaurants and sharing these experiences with you, but sometimes you just have to fall back on a tried-and-true favorite. One that you KNOW will be consistent, and that you just can't go wrong ordering anything on the menu at.

I planned a big night out for Mr. H's birthday recently, and unfortunately it did not turn out as we had hoped. We left the very expensive meal being disappointed in the food, service, pacing, and a couple of big "whoops" moments. I've only reached out to a restaurant a couple of times to share our feedback on a negative experience, but this was one of those times. I always encourage you to do so, as owners/chefs/managers do want address issues, and they may not know they exist if diners simply head to social media or sites like Yelp to vent.

The birthday boy deserved a re-do, so just a few days later we headed straight for The Black Pig in Ohio City. Always in our "Cleveland top restaurants" since it opened many years ago.

We settled in for a chef's tasting, and Chef Michael sent out beautiful course after beautiful course. The dishes are always pretty and creative, but also taste EVEN BETTER than they look. How it should be.

A few highlights was the Seared Scallop with celery root hash brown, tarragon dressed greens, fried capers and topped with trout roe.
This was a tasting menu portion, and the scallop was literally the largest scallop I've ever seen. The photo does not do it justice.

We enjoyed the pasta course, as all of their pastas are made in-house, including the Mushroom Agnolotti.
The real star of the meal was the tender and rich Braised Pork Collar with rosemary creamed Brussels sprouts, poached apple, toasted hazelnuts, and an orange glaze.
Do yourself a favor and get in there to order this before the preparation changes! I'll be dreaming about it for a while.

Let's just say that I had a much happier birthday boy on my hands after this meal (pictured with their Pork Rinds topped with house-made fresno chili hot sauce that I want to own a bottle of).
Service, drinks and atmosphere matched the food. From start to finish, it was a great meal and experience, as usual.

I know I'll always be drawn to trying new spots, but sometimes...why bother? Go for a home run when it counts.

The Black Pig
2801 Bridge Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant & Bar

Cleveland's first Ethiopian restaurant on the west side just opened on December 30th, Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant & Bar, and it's right in our neighborhood of Old Brooklyn! I've been meaning to go to Empress Taytu for years, and then Zoma Ethiopian Restaurant opened last year, but somehow I just never got around to trying either. I'd never had Ethiopian cuisine before, and now I was going to get to try it right out my back door. How exciting!

It's on Broadview Road, in a bar-turned-half-restaurant-still-half-bar space, which can make for some interesting dining. During our weeknight visit, the dining room was separated by an accordion wall and the atmosphere and noise of the bar area did not flow over (on our second visit on a Friday the half wall was open and the pop/rock music overpowered the traditional music that was also playing).

We enjoyed taking in the authentic music and decor...
..including their traditional coffee ceremony setup, where they will roast, grind, and brew the coffee beans right in front of you. But you must allow about an hour for the ceremony, and you should call in advance to schedule it. Traditionally, it is held three times a day, involved with all three main meals in Ethiopia. The owner was so kind to take the time to talk to us and explain quite a bit about their culture and the food we were enjoying.
For a newbie like me, it's best to go for one of the Combination plates. You get a little bit of a couple main dishes and sides. I selected the Beef Combination ($16).
It was all tasty, but my favorite was the Kaywat (pictured front). It was a large plate of food, and you're served additional Injera (sponge-like, thin flatbread made with teff flour) too. Traditionally, utensils are not used and you use the injera to scoop. It took some getting used to, but then it was just plain fun to eat with your hands. It did surprise me that they didn't provide any sort of hand-washing method like a wet towel or wipe beforehand though. Just head to the nearby restroom before you get started.

I don't have anything to compare it to at this point, but we liked it enough to head back there two weeks later with friends again!

Lucy Ethiopian Restaurant & Bar
2218 Broadview Road
Cleveland, OH 44109
(216) 417-2550

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Weekend Bites

The first weekend of 2018, and it was off to a good start. After seeing an Instagram post of the Tremont Tap House's burger special of the month, I just had to get my hands on the lamb burger with caramelized shallots, Gouda, and a lemon-thyme aioli.
Yes, it was as good as it looks, and they continue to be one of my favorite burger spots in the city.

Saturday morning, we headed to Cleveland Bagel Co. because I created a bagel/lox monster out of Mr. H while we were in NYC last month. They've added sandwiches to their menu, and one includes housemade lox, cream cheese, red onion, and capers. He approved. I was just as content with my classic bacon, egg and cheese. They make a darn good bagel.
Next stop on Saturday morning was grocery shopping at Ohio City Provisions. While you can't always count on specific cuts of meat, vegetables, etc. that you are looking for, you really can't go wrong just popping in to build a meal from what they have available that day. We were specifically looking for leg of lamb to make a ragu with on Sunday night, and we were in luck that day and grabbed the only one!
Saturday night brought a fun night out celebrating one of my favorite birthday girls, but Mr. H and I made a quick stop at Lola's bar for a drink beforehand. Just a stunning setting, and a great start to our night on East 4th in downtown.
The fun, and good eats and drinks, continued over at Chinato. Nothing beats the best of friends.
Due to our "amount" of fun on Saturday, we woke up on Sunday pretty unmotivated to do much. Turned into the perfect lazy day of binge-watching Blacklist and staying cozy on the couch in our pajamas for most of it. Sometimes you just need that, and after the hustle and bustle of the holidays, it was just perfection!

Thursday, December 28, 2017

North End Wine Bar

Phew, I did it! I completed the 2017 To Dine Challenge in time for December 31st to roll around. For those of you that aren't familiar, since 2010 I've been setting a goal for this blog to dine at 10 specific restaurants over a 12 month period. Each December, I had gathered your suggestions, narrowed it down to 10, and announced the new Challenge list on January 1st. A little "New Year's Resolution" of sorts. 

There were some years that I didn't get to them all before December ended, and other years I was able to complete it in time. For 2017, I decided to bring back any restaurants that I had missed from other years (those that hadn't closed), and added a couple of new ones to round out the list of 10.

Well, I was able to get to all 10 over the last year, and I'm officially calling it QUITS. Completing all of the past restaurants that I missed, and a couple of fun new ones this year, is a great way to end the 7 year stretch of the To Dine Challenge. It's been fun, and thank you for all of your input, and sometimes company, in this annual challenge.

The last 2017 restaurant was North End Wine Bar in Hudson. It had originally been on my radar about a decade ago now, when my friend Chef Jeff Jarrett was there. It was one of the restaurants from my 2011 To Dine Challenge list that I never got to, and so it made its way back on to the list this year.

We were immediately greeted by what looked like the owner, as he swung open the front door for us as we arrived. The first section is a casual bar setting, with brightly lit coolers of all kinds of great craft beers and a few wines.
The larger section of the restaurant and retail shop is dedicated to wine sales and bistro seating.
It was Happy Hour, so we snagged flights of wine for just $10 (four 2 oz. pours). Thursdays are also Retail Wine Night, so if you order two entrees and a bottle of wine then the price of the wine is at retail value and the corkage fee is waived.
They also had good Happy Hour deals on wine by the glass, beer, and food. We ordered the Arancini ($5).
We then decided to share a few small plates instead of ordering entrees, so we decided on the NE Signature Dip ($10) with artichoke, Asiago cheese, roasted red pepper, garlic pita chips, and Parmesan.
The Lobster Cakes ($12) with lobster meat, boursin cheese, green onion, panko, and a roasted red pepper sauce.
Lastly, we shared the Chef's Pizza of the Day, which included short ribs, arugula, roasted red peppers, and a boursin cream sauce.
While I didn't care for the Signature Dip or Lobster Cakes, the Arancini and Pizza were both good.

They had asked if it was our first time there when we arrived, and as we wrapped up the meal a complimentary dessert wine and wedge of chocolate brownie arrived. What a sweet surprise! 
Honestly, it was the service that made me love this place. They were so welcoming, and went above and beyond to make our experience a good one. While some of the food was hit or miss, the concept is just great and I'd love to have a spot like this closer to us on the west side!

Well, that's a wrap on 2017. It's been a delicious and fun year. Cheers to what 2018 will bring!

North End Wine Bar
7542 Darrow Road
Hudson, OH 44236
(330) 342-1400

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Marble Room Steaks and Raw Bar

Since Marble Room Steaks and Raw Bar opened their doors just a short time ago, I've seen nothing but stunning photographs posted all over social media of their renovated bank building space.
But, I've also heard varying reviews of both food quality and service. So, Mr. H and I held out for "something special" before rushing in to try it for ourselves. We celebrated our wedding anniversary on the 13th, and had decided that Marble Room was going to be our big night out.

Immediately, any diner is impressed with the architecture and grand scale of everything in the room, including the raw bar on your right as you enter the main dining room.
We settled into a comfortable table...and I mean COMFORTABLE. You look around, and all of the chairs and booths look like you could sink in and spend some time. So, we did.

We had to start with some raw bar options. A dozen Oysters quickly hit the table ($27). I do have to say that I found it odd that they only had one type of oyster available. That's unusual, right? Particularly for a restaurant with "Raw Bar" in their name too, right? Anywho...they were plump and delicious, so I wasn't complaining.
We also ordered the Yuzu Miso Salmon Roll ($16) with avocado, cucumber, and pineapple salsa.
Our server had really talked this sushi roll up, but honestly I found it too plain and bland. I'll just head to Mizu Sushi for a specialty roll next time I want one, and for a cheaper price point and larger size.

Mr. H and I decided to both order steaks, because, well, we were at a steakhouse. You feel a sense of obligation to try one when it's your first time there. So, we decided to share two side dishes to accompany the steaks.

We ordered the Creamed Spinach ($10).
Also, the "Marble Room Specialty" Crispy Potato Cake ($11) with roasted poblano and guajillo, cojita cheese, and scallions.
The creamed spinach was certainly fine, but we had just had some outstanding creamed spinach at a steakhouse in NYC the week before (Quality Meats), so it didn't leave me digging in for more. The potato cake was unique, and ate like a fancy fried hash brown with Mexican flavors. Personally, I'd probably stick with more traditional potato or pasta side dishes with a steak next time.

Mr. H ordered the Dry-aged Delmonico ($68), and really didn't think the steak was very good. But, we've become steak snobs over the years, because he makes fantastic steak at home and the more recent dry-aged versions we've had at home have been wonderful. I went for the 6 oz. Filet ($38) and added a lobster tail. My steak was seasoned well and cooked perfectly. It was so tender that it literally melted like butter in my mouth. I was happy!
We were completely full at this point and turned down the dessert menu, but they knew it was our anniversary and a complimentary dessert arrived at the table as we wrapped up the meal. I won't say no to a bite of rich, dark chocolate that appears in front of me! The gesture was appreciated.
I know a lot of people have complained about service so far at this restaurant, but we had no issues at all. We were pleasantly greeted at the hostess stand (even though we were 20 minutes late thanks to Cavs' traffic and Uber), and our server was attentive, funny, and knowledgeable about the food and wine.

The atmosphere can't be beat right now for elegance and size, there were very talent musicians wandering throughout the main dining room (but yet piped into the sound system so it filled the space) that truly made the experience feel special, and we had no issues with service. But, I think the food wasn't quite as good as some other local steakhouses at this time, so I see some "newly opened" kinks that they still need to work out. For what we spent on that meal, I was glad we tried it, but I would have preferred to spend the money somewhere else that was a home-run for such a special occasion.

Marble Room Steaks and Raw Bar
623 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 523-7000