Sunday, February 28, 2010

Ode to the GHT Wing!

It was a rough week at work- filled with events, deadlines, and stress- and I was in need of a good night out to truly celebrate T.G.I.F. I quickly convinced "R" that we needed to head downtown for dinner and drinks. It really didn't take much arm twisting!

I recently purchased a gift certificate in the Cleveland Independents' quarterly sale for The Greenhouse Tavern. I jumped online and made a reservation through Open Table (thank you, thank you, thank you for being on there!). Even though the snow was coming down, East 4th didn't look like it was hurting for business. Take that Forbes!

We were seated immediately, and I hungrily started to peruse the menu. This would be my first time truly dining there- only stopping in for Happy Hour treats and quick bites before. We decided to start with the Bread and Butter- with grilled bread, goat's milk butter & sea salt ($3.5). "R" deemed this the "best bread and butter I've ever had", and he was probably right. The bread was lightly grilled, which gave it just the right touch of crisp to support the creamy butter. The butter was smooth and rich, and the salt added a nice balance. I just wish we had more than 3 pieces of bread- we had to fight over splitting the last one!

The next course demands its own paragraph. The one dish that everyone talks about is Sawyer's Crispy Chicken Wings- with roasted jalapeño, lemon juice, scallions & garlic ($11)- and rightfully so. These were hands-down the best chicken wings that I have ever had in my life and I didn't even know that chicken could fall off of a wing bone that easily. Flavor aside (which had a nice soft heat to it), the wings were beautifully crispy on the outside and the second that your lips or fork touched the tender meat it fell right off the bone. There was no work needed here! We were so excited to experience chicken wings like this that we asked the server how they were prepared. Oops Chef, she gave away your secret. Confit and then duck fat. "Everything is better with duck fat", she said. Agreed! On Saturday night we actually attempted to replicate the way that the meat fell off the bone by slow cooking wings for just over 4 hours and then flash frying them. The flavor wasn't nearly as good as Sawyer's, but the meat was just as tender and juicy, and the desired result of it falling off the bone was accomplished. Thanks for the tip Chef!

We then moved on to "thirds". I had the Oxtail Pasta- with dry cured olives, cotechino sausage, chili flake & tomato ($19). It was a cold, snowy night so I told the waitress that I was looking for a dish that was filling and would warm me up from the inside out. She was spot on in her recommendation. "R" tried the Ohio Beef Burger- with raclette cheese, preserved tomato, guss' pickle, pommes frites & house made beer vinegar ($14). I've actually read a few bad reviews of this dish before, and I probably should have steered him towards another dish. Sawyer's selections are so well thought out and executed, but this one dish seems to be missing the mark. It was a disappointing burger, and in my opinion it is not what we have come to expect from this fabulous chef. We split an order of the Gravy Frites- with mozzarella cheese curd & brown veal gravy ($8.5) from the "halfs" menu. The melted pools of cheese and thick, rich gravy was a perfect topping for Sawyer's famous fresh-cut frites on this cold evening! Even though I was stuffed, I kept going back for more.

Sawyer and his infamously fabulous wife have truly created a wonderful treat on East 4th. I think you can feel their dedication and passion for what they are doing while dining there. The atmosphere, prices, drink menu, and of course the food is setting the bar pretty high. We are lucky to have them here in Cleveland, and they make me #HappyinCLE! Thanks for turning my week around- one chicken wing at a time!

The Greenhouse Tavern
2038 East 4th Street
Cleveland, OH 44115
(216) 393-4302

The Greenhouse Tavern on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Toto, Are We In A Strip Mall?

Since moving to Cleveland two years ago, I've been meaning to try Corleone's Ristorante & Bar in Parma. Our grocery store is nearby, our gym is nearby, the dry cleaner is down the street- I find myself driving past it on a frequent basis and I have always wondered what was inside. From the outside it is nothing special. Located in a strip mall with Pat Catan's, you certainly wouldn't expect what you find inside.

Upon walking in we discovered a warm, cozy yet modern bar area with beautiful wine racks and a door to an enclosed patio. I could easily picture "R" and I perched at the bar sipping a good glass of wine or tasty martini. I'll be back with the boyfriend in tow!

My group and I settled in out in the dimly lit main dining room. It certainly makes for a romantic spot, but it was a little hard to read the menu. One thing that I instantly loved about the restaurant is that it offers an Early Dinner Menu from 3-6 PM. The lengthy list of entrees is taken from the full Evening Dinner Menu but comes with soup, salad, bread, and a soft beverage for only $12 (veal dishes are $14). I thought that this would mean smaller portions of the traditional dishes and a cup of soup, but I was wrong!

We started with the Artichoke Sorrentino- lightly floured artichokes served golden brown with a side of cream cheese sauce ($9). This antipasti is from the main Evening Dinner Menu, but I don't suggest ordering this dish. The artichoke hearts were thickly breaded and deep fried, and all of the wonderful artichoke flavor was lost. Large steaming bowls of soup arrived next- wedding soup for one and vegetable beef for the rest of us. Both soups were flavored appropriately, but the slightly sweet wedding soup was the winner of the two. House salads arrived next- very standard and not worth describing. Two of my dining companions ordered the Liza- sautéed chicken encrusted with pine nuts and asiago cheese in a Romano chardonnay cream sauce. The only one of us that had dined there before swears by this dish, but I didn't have the chance to try a bite. I ordered the Gnocchi Capone- potato dumplings sautéed with mushrooms, onions and bacon in a spicy marinara cream sauce. The mushrooms, diced onions, and crumbled bacon were a nice combination of texture and flavor, and the sauce had a subtle heat to it. I was very happy with the dish.

We all know that some of the best hidden gems in our community (hell any community) are the ones that from the outside you wouldn't look at twice. So next time you are in Parma, turn in to the Pat Catan's strip mall and settle in for a glass of wine and a plate of tasty pasta. Just make sure that you take advantage of the Early Dinner Menu, because the prices seemed a little high for the Evening Menu. It's $12 good, but not $15-$39 good (prices of the Evening Menu only include entree).

Corleone's Ristorante & Bar
5669 Broadview Road
Cleveland, OH 44134
(216) 741-0220

Corleone's Ristorante & Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Supporting Local (Sort of...)

When I announced on Twitter that I was headed to New York City, several fellow Clevelanders chimed in with restaurant suggestions- but two recommended the same restaurant. What are the odds of that happening in the sea of amazing dining options in NYC? I knew this meant that I needed to check it out. It also helped that the chef/owner, Andrew Carmellini, is Cleveland-born. That concept excited me- supporting "locally" while traveling. I'd love to do more of it when I'm out of town. I'll keep you posted!

I finally got my wish on our last night there. We headed into Carmellini's Locanda Verde in Tribeca with high hopes. They reserve 3/4 of the dining room but allow 1/4 for walk-ins, which I appreciate. We arrived to put our name in and were told that the wait would be about an hour and fifteen minutes- which is nothing in NYC. (P.S. World-famous chef Eric Ripert walked in just as we did- so we knew this was going to be good!) I asked when we should check back in, was told an hour, and then we happily walked down the block to a wine bar to settle in for a drink during our wait. 45 minutes passed and we headed back up the street- only to be told that another party of five had checked in before us and they had given our table away. With a little persuading I found out that they had a "drawing room" table available, so we jumped at it.

Seriously the main dining room patrons didn't know what they were missing out on! This quiet, cozy area is tucked away for special guests and included a roaring fire, soft leather couches and chairs, candles galore, and a private bar. It suited us just fine. We curled up around a long wooden coffee table and settled in for one of the best meals of my life. I can truly say that Carmellini is a genius in the kitchen, because we sampled over half of the dishes on his extensive menu. Some were slightly better than others, but all stood out as well-thought out and executed combinations of ingredients and flavors.

I won't describe each, but I'll indicate the best and provide a few notes. You would not be disappointed with any of these dishes, seriously. Here are the dishes we tried by category:

Sheeps' Milk Ricotta with sea salt and herbs ($12)- perfect to share, the bread was fantastic
Blue Crab with jalepenos and tomato ($10)- best of the three
Cotechino Sausage with pickled ramps on ciabatta ($7)- weakest of the three but still very good
Marinated Beets salad with pistachio pesto and gorgonzola ($10)- tasty but needed more pesto and cheese
Steak Tartara Piedmontese with walnuts, truffles and crispy guanciale ($17)- needed more spices but the best that we've tried
Lamb Meatball sliders with caprino and cucumber ($12)- his twist on a gyro, best antipasti
Casarecce with spicy shellfish and toasted garlic ($19)- prefect hint of heat, well-prepared calamari, mussels, and baby shrimp included
Fonduta Ravioli with wild mushrooms and parmigiano reggiano ($19)- best pasta dish!
Penne Rigate with lamb bolognese, ricotta and mint ($19)- bolognese was very good
Wood-Fired Pork Chop with fagioli stufato, pepperoncini and aceto onions ($28)- crispy outside and slightly pink throughout, very moist
Hazelnut Semifreddo with coffee poached pear, mocha sorbetto, toasted hazelnuts ($10)
Maple Budino with candied pecans, apple butternut sorbetto ($11)- the best dessert, a house specialty
Fromagio di Fossa
Blue di Moncenisio
Pecorino Oro Antico

We thoroughly enjoyed the entire experience, which went well beyond the food. I also felt my Cleveland pride shine, because when I asked my NYC-native friend if she had heard of the restaurant she lit up with excitement. Locanda Verde is making quite a splash in the NYC dining scene and she was dying to try it. It felt good to tell her that he was from Cleveland. Now if we could only get him to come back and open a restaurant here....

Locanda Verde
377 Greenwich Street
New York, NY 10013
(212) 925-3797

*photo courtesy of Sheeps' Milk Ricotta