Friday, March 30, 2012

Fried Chicken Face-off: New Orleans

After we had experienced the crawfish boil, and had several other great seafood meals down in New Orleans- I was craving fried chicken. I wanted a traditional Southern meal of fried chicken and all the fixin's. So I went on the hunt.

Several people had made suggestions before our trip, but we found that a lot of the famous chicken joints are only open for lunch service, or closed on Mondays (our only dinner option due to other plans). So I hit Yelp and Urbanspoon.

I found the Praline Connection (#6 most popular fried chicken on Yelp), located on Frenchman Street. My dad had heard from a local that Frenchman Street was a great place to find live music. Full of dive bars and restaurants, you just walked the street hearing all kinds of entertainment coming through the doors. So, it was decided.My parents and "R" were tempted by the "Taste of Soul" Platter, which had a little bit of everything: file gumbo, red beans and rice, jambalaya, greens, fried chicken, ribs, catfish strips, and bread pudding ($23.95). I stole a couple of bites off of "R's" platter, and it all had the traditional flavors and preparation of the South that we were searching for.

I stuck with my gut and went for the Fried Chicken that came with a "fresh quarter chicken lightly seasoned and deep fried to crispy perfection" (their words). The plate included my choice of two sides ($13.50), and I selected the Macaroni & Cheese and Collard Greens.The collard greens had an unusual heat to them, which we all enjoyed and wanted to recreate at home. The mac & cheese arrived at room temperature, but was clearly made in-house and had a nice crispy crust to it. It probably would have been outstanding if it had still been hot and creamy. The fried chicken was lightly breaded, and not greasy. The meat was still very juicy, and I truly enjoyed it. Our meal also came with large slices of cornbread, which we devoured.Now apparently "R's" craving for good fried chicken was not satisfied, because when we found ourselves with a couple of hours of extra time on Tuesday afternoon before our flight out, he demanded that we hit Willie Mae's Scotch House for lunch (Seventh Ward).Deciding what to get was easy- fried chicken. It came with one side and a cornbread muffin.I got the French Fries, that were nothing special but fine. "R" ordered the green beans with rice and gravy. They were clearly canned green beans, and the gravy over the rice and beans had very little flavor. Also, the cornbread muffin was small and dry. I only ate half and left the rest. Now, the chicken. It was breaded heavier than Praline's, and was greasy as you dug into it. But it was so crispy and flavorful, and the chicken was juicy and tender.

Willie Mae's was the clear winner when it came to the chicken (some claim that it is the BEST chicken in New Orleans, and it has been featured on several TV shows), but the side dishes and overall experience go to Praline Connection. Other top contenders in the area are Coop's Place (French Quarter) and Jacques-Imos Cafe on Oak Street.

Either way, we conquered fried chicken in New Orleans and I left a happy girl. Still to come...our meal at Cochon and the food tour of the French Quarter.

Praline Connection
542 Frenchman Street
New Orleans, LA 70116

Willie Mae's Scotch House
2401 Saint Ann Street
New Orleans, LA 70119

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hodge's to Open Today!

Many Clevelanders are overjoyed today, as the new restaurant Hodge's is opening in downtown at 4PM for their first dinner service. The brain child of popular food truck owner Chris Hodgson (Dim and Den Sum and Hodge Podge) and restaurateur Scott Kuhn, Hodge's moved into the old Zinc space on Euclid right around the corner from East 4th Street.

We enjoyed their patio on St. Patrick's Day, and had the privilege of attending a preview party last night to sample some of the menu. If the food we were served is any indication of what is to come from this new restaurant, then Cleveland is in luck.

Please keep in mind that these are sample portions.

Brought over from the food trucks, Hodge's will serve a specialty tot (changing every month) and piping hot cornbread for every table.First course was off of the Snacks section of the menu- Tuna Poppers with ahi tuna, ponzu, and crispy rice (two for $6).These, along with four other starters, are available to order at your table, or you can enjoy them at a designated area at the bar where the chef will prepare dishes right in front of you. It's Hodge's take on traditional dim sum. These poppers were something that I would order myself. The rice cake had lost some of its crispiness since they were producing many at a time for our event, but the tuna tasted fresh and I look forward to trying them again.

Next up, our favorite dish of the night- "Pork & Beans" with braised bacon, pine nut baked beans, red cabbage, and parsley ($10).This dish is featured in the Appetizers section, and conceptually it is pure genius. The fatty bacon was braised down so that it was so tender that it just melted in your mouth, but then still had a great crispy layer for added texture. The pine nuts are where this dish stands out. They are prepared to take on the texture of true beans, and really made this dish special. I want more.

Then we moved on to samples of the Entrees. First, we had the Hanger Steak with tomato creamed heirloom beans, potato shards, and salsa verde ($23.5).The meat was prepared medium rare, and I really enjoyed the kick of the salsa verde. We did feel that the potato shards could be elevated with adding a spice to it. They were a little basic, but nice and crispy on the outside.

Then we tried a sample of the "Peas and Carrot" Scallops with smashed peas, pea soubise, cumin, chef's garden carrots, grapefruit, and cilantro ($26).It was the prettiest dish of the evening, that's for sure. Components of this dish on their own were not working well, in our opinion (grapefruit overpowering if you took too much of it, scallop salty), but once you took a bite that included small portions of the components together- then it all made sense. So just be careful to do so if you order this dish.

Last up- dessert. Chris playfully told us that this dish is a result of hankering for a McDonald's apple pie when he's been drinking. I love hearing about a chef's inspiration.Overall, we really enjoyed the preview meal and it left us wanting more. I liked the space- a rustic "barn" feel with upscale red leather seating and a sleek bar area. We also sampled two cocktails, and I ordered an additional two. All were interesting combinations, and quite refreshing. My favorite was the White Cosmo with ketel one vodka, triple sec, white cranberry, lime, and blackberries ($10).

Hodge's will also be doing a 2 for $40 Tuesdays special, where diners can enjoy one starter, two entrees, and one bottle of wine for just $40.

With one of my favorite Cleveland chefs heading up the kitchen- Adam Bostwick (formally of Melange)- it looks like these guys have the Dream Team in place. I wish them well with the opening today, and I already can't wait to go back.

Disclosure- I was invited to attend the free media preview party, and bring a guest. We were provided with a gift certificate to return once they are open. Thank you to Chris, Scott, and their team for a wonderful event! Best of luck.

Hodge's
668 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
216-771-4000

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Food- New Orleans Style

Well, I am back in the land of the CLE (and without my luggage). We had an amazing trip to New Orleans. Seriously, one of the best vacations that I've ever had. We spent Thursday night through Tuesday afternoon there, and accomplished a lot without ever feeling rushed. The weather was perfect- in the low 80's, sunny, and hardly any humidity. We went on a fan boat tour in the swamp through Airboat Adventures, toured Mardi Gras World where all of the floats are made and stored, spent an afternoon at the zoo, dined at a James Beard Award Winning restaurant, and just generally ate our way through the city. I'm sure that is what you are interested in, so let's get to it. I do have to break it into a couple of posts, because there was just so much of it- including a walking historical and culinary tour of the French Quarter, which deserves its own post. So here we go...

We started with po' boys from FredRick's (Central Business District).
I got the Shrimp Po' Boy, but we also had the Oyster, Crawfish Cake, and Catfish sandwiches. All were prepared the same. It was hard to select a table-favorite, because all were good, but I think the Shrimp Po' Boy was the least favorite. Some hot sauce added a nice kick. But this casual, counter deli was a fun first stop.

Dinner on Friday night was as close to a traditional crawfish boil that we could get. My dad found a local on the plane, and he suggested Smitty's Seafood in Kenner. It was about a 25 minute drive from our rental house off of Oak Street, and it was so worth it.An average man eats about seven pounds of crawfish at a traditional boil. I can see why- these suckers are addicting! The Cajun seasoning is so good, and it is quite fun to crack the tails off, pinch the head to suck the juices out, and then get at the tail meat by peeling back the shell. We ordered four pounds for four people, and it was a nice starter to the meal.We had made friends with the owner's brother, so he guided us through the menu. I ordered the fried Eggplant Napoleon with a shrimp and crawfish sauce, as he suggested. Rich, but delicious.Saturday afternoon brought our culinary tour, so you'll just have to wait for that.

For dinner that night, we wanted to eat light and also had a craving for oysters after stopping in several oyster bars on the tour without having any. Our knowledgeable tour guide suggested Deanie's Seafood (French Quarter), so we headed there.

Two dozen oysters were ordered:They were the biggest suckers that I've ever seen. Very fresh, and we slurped them right down as we caught the start of the Syracuse NCAA tournament game. My dad also had a killer Bloody Mary, and he and "R" shared an order of Deanie's crawfish. We easily determined that they were good, but no where near as good as Smitty's.

For breakfast on Sunday, we wanted to check out the area near our rental house- Oak Street. Several restaurants, bars, shops, and other businesses line the streets. We decided to pop into the Oak Street Cafe (Uptown), and sit outdoors to enjoy the weather. Several of their breakfast dishes included house-made items, and live jazz music added a festive vibe to the meal. I ordered the Cilantro Lime Benedict.The sauce was unique with zesty flavors of lime and cilantro, but I wished that it had a slightly stronger hint of traditional hollandaise. That being said, the poached eggs were cooked perfectly, and the English muffin was clearly baked locally and fresh. The potatoes were only okay, so I ate a couple and passed on the rest.

That night, we hit our first fried chicken stop. But that will have to wait as well, because the Fried Chicken Face-Off deserves its own post. As does our last dinner of the trip at Cochon. For now, I'll leave you with a shot of the beignets at Cafe Du Monde- a New Orleans staple and tradition of all travelers. Just don't wear dark colors when eating this! Open 24 hours a day, their fried beignets and hot chocolate are famous. Don't be fooled by the smaller locations that have popped up all over the area, the original is located in the French Market.

FredRick's Deli
312 St. Charles Avenue
New Orleans, LA 70130

Smitty's Seafood
2000 West Esplanade Avenue
Kenner, LA 70065

Deanie's Seafood
841 Iberville Street
New Orleans, LA 70112

Oak Street Cafe
8140 Oak Street
New Orleans, LA 71088

Cafe Du Monde
800 Decatur Street
New Orleans, LA 70116

Friday, March 23, 2012

I'm here- New Orleans!

Yup, we're in the South. First meal of the trip, and all breakfast orders included a side of grits......and a side of butter came with my omelette. Is that for the toast, you ask? Nope, because that's already buttered.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Bistro 185 Review

I have crossed the first one off my 2012 "Top 10 To Dine" list- Bistro 185. Full disclosure- I've been to Bistro 185 many times for lunch, and a couple of happy hour stops, but this was my first time there for dinner (which is why it made the list).

Bistro 185 is located on East 185th Street, and quietly has gathered quite a local following. But, I feel, that this hidden gem does not have the popularity that it deserves. Since I used to work in the Collinwood neighborhood, this was a perfect spot for co-workers and I to pop out for lunch to, or gather for a cocktail (or several) after work. It is dark and cozy, with rich wood and deep hues. They have great happy hour deals in the bar area from 4:30-6:30PM on Mondays-Fridays, with drink specials and $5 small plates. Both the lunch and dinner menus are extensive, without being overwhelming.

On our maiden dinner visit, "R" and I shared the Medjool Dates starter that are stuffed with almonds, wrapped with bacon, drizzled with a balsamic glaze, and then topped with crumbled goat cheese. The order included five dates, and several large dollops of creamy, soft goat cheese. I really love bacon wrapped dates, and this version was no exception. The bacon was crispy, goat cheese present enough to add wonderful flavor, and the sweet dates worked well with the balsamic glaze.

I was in the mood for scallops, so I ordered the Pan-Seared Day Boat Scallops served with a butternut squash risotto and wild mushrooms.With only three medium-sized scallops, it was more "risotto" and less "scallop" than I had anticipated. The way that the dish is described on the menu, I think this is a little misleading. That being said, the scallops had a nice sear to them, and I enjoyed the rich risotto. There was more than enough for me to take home as leftovers. The chunks of butternut squash and diced mushrooms added just enough texture to the risotto, so that it wasn't just soft and creamy. I would order this dish again, but it would be hard to because several other dishes sounded tempting on the menu.

The prices are a little high, with most of the entrees ranging in the mid to high 20's. But the restaurant prides itself on sourcing local product, and they even have their own rooftop garden. They often have special events and themed dinner specials, so stay up-to-date by following them on Facebook and Twitter.

I'm happy to finally try their dinner menu, and to conquer one restaurant on my Top 10 list. It was a great first stop.

Bistro 185
991 East 185th Street
Cleveland, OH 44119
216-481-9635

Bistro 185 on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Taco (Thursday)- Touch Supper Club

This is the first official post of the new "Taco Tuesday" series that I will be featuring. It is simply an ongoing series of reviews of the overall taco scene in Cleveland, with a focus on Taco Tuesday specials. Since Touch Supper Club is the reader that challenged me to review Cleveland tacos, it is only fitting that they are the first review that I will share.

Touch Supper Club in Ohio City always has creative specials and events taking place. They have a late night menu, great happy hour (including free sushi every Friday), Burger Bash every Tuesday, and my favorite- Taco Thursday. They call it- F#@K Yo Dolla Tacos, and feature gourmet tacos for $3 or two for $5. The taco menu typically features around five different options, and it changes every week.

I've been twice now, and the tacos were exceptional on both visits. Last Thursday, "R" and I went and I enjoyed two tacos:

Kimchi BeefBlackened Shrimp with Pineapple SlawThe tacos are served on soft, warm flour tortillas, and are small enough that they are manageable to eat and yet filling. I had two tacos and a salad, and it was more than enough food for dinner. By the way, the Warm Mushroom salad with dried cranberries, Lake Erie Creamery goat cheese, mixed mushrooms, field greens, and creamy Parmesan basil dressing ($7) was outstanding.We both ordered it, and "R" is still dreaming about it.

But back to the tacos. They can easily be compared to the more popular Deagan's Kitchen & Bar tacos, and I'll have to visit them next so that it is more of a head-to-head comparison. We're truly lucky that the Touch food truck is a taco truck- so keep your eyes peeled for them on the streets of Cleveland. For all you taco lovers out there, get over to Touch and give them a try on Thursdays. Just ask for extra napkins, because they are juicy! Surprisingly, the tortilla holds up well and no tearing or sogginess occurred.

Have I mentioned that I'm super pumped to start this series? Mmm, tacos. Who's coming with me to the next place?

Touch Supper Club
2710 Lorain Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216)631-5200

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Blogiversary- 3 Years!

Bite Buff turns three today!Yup, three years ago today (on a Friday the 13th, no less), I started this blog with no idea of what I was getting myself into.

I've met some amazing people that have turned into real-life friends, found out just how strong (and big) our Cleveland blogging community is, attended some fantastic events, sampled products, hosted giveaways, and of course- had some wonderful meals along the way.

With the new blog design, a great Top 10 list to try in 2012 (first one tackled and the post is coming soon), and new features like Taco Tuesday reviews (first post coming next week) and Dining Deals (meals under $10)-- I'm even more excited to head into this year of blogging.

Anything that you want to see more of, less of? Thank you for continuing to follow my journey, and I can safely say that Cleveland is "home" now.

Happy Blogiversary to me! (I'm singing the "Happy Birthday" song in my head)

Monday, March 12, 2012

Communication is Key- DC Pasta

Last Saturday, "R" and I joined Michelle and her boyfriend at D.C. Pasta Company in Strongsville. Located in the old Palate space, Dante Boccuzzi's newly opened restaurant was pretty full at 7PM- but we had a reservation and were seated right away. We were left with the menus, and we started to map out our meal. The menu is broken into several categories, including: Starters, Marinated Stuff, Olives, Cheese/Meats, Main Dishes, Meatballs, Desserts...and then the star- Pastas. Diners are encouraged to try many items. The menu offers different quantities of the olives, cheese/meats, and marinated stuff, including individual meatballs and three sizes of pasta. I knew that it was going to be tough to choose, so I focused on the drinks first. Immediately, I was pleased to see that they offer 25 Wines Under $25 on their menu. "R" and I ordered a bottle, and started to select our meal to share.

This is where the night started to turn. As I mentioned, we were seated right away and our drink order was placed not too long afterwards. But then we waited 36 minutes before our server appeared at our table again to take our food order. We watched as she came to the table next to ours three times during this time period, and (I felt) purposely kept her back to us so that we couldn't grab her attention. Our water glasses went empty, and we finished our cocktails before she finally approached us to order. Instead of apologizing for the wait, she simply said "Are you ready?" Holding back, Michelle said "Yes, we've actually been ready for a while now." Her response, full of attitude- "Well, you have to be patient with the kitchen tonight, it's really busy." Huh? Last time I checked, that could account for food arriving at the table slowly, but not you ignoring us and letting our drinks run out. But, I wish that it had stopped there. Her attitude worsened. As a dish was mispronounced when ordering, she proceeded to throw insult. We were shocked.

Her service and attitude just became comical, and thankfully provided us with entertainment for the rest of the evening. Her name was Rebecca. But let's move on to the food, because that's why we were really there. Here is the meal that "R" and I split:

Funghi Al Forno- oven roasted mushrooms $7.Pappardelle Alla Bolognese- ragu of beef, veal, pork, and tomatoes.Gnocchetti Sardi Verdi E Blu- spinach pasta, walnuts, Gorgonzola cream sauce.Lumache E Polipo- toasted garlic, snails, octopus, parsley, chile flakes, and broccoli.Agnello- lamb meatball.Ricotta- ricotta cheese meatball.I can generalize the dishes, because for the most part we felt the same about all of them. The mushroom appetizer was earthy, and included a couple of different types of mushrooms that were cooked well. It was certainly good, but not overly impressive in flavor or creativity. The meatballs are served individually, and are a decent size for $1.50 each. The meat of the lamb meatball was seasoned well, but the ricotta cheese meatball was cold in the center when it was served. Each meatball was served with a watery and bland red sauce, which became a reoccurring theme that night.

We chose the $5 "Taste" portion for each of the three pastas we tried, which provided each of us with two generous bites. The Lumache was our favorite, with the Bolognese sauce being our least favorite. Each of the pastas were cooked well, and I appreciated that there was such variety of styles on the menu. However, all four of us determined that anything served with a red sauce was very light and flavorless.

With tasting six dishes, I think we walked away with a good sense of the current menu. The sauces need some work, but they certainly know pasta and there is room for improvement overall as they settle in. With Dante and Ginko under his belt, we all see that Boccuzzi knows how to run a successful, and tasty, restaurant.

Now done with our meal, we were still left with a sour taste in our mouth about the service. We did not see a manager floating in the dining room that evening, and there was no one at the hostess stand when we left. So I did something that I've never done before- I emailed the restaurant to share our experience. I've never felt that anything was so bad that it was worth passing on to management before, but this experience was. I believe that my email was polite, and simply outlined our perspective on what happened that night. I used the email address provided on the website, and within 24 hours- Dante himself emailed me a very gracious and appropriate reply. He offered his apologies, and a gift certificate for a return visit.

Lesson is, communication is key. On both ends. If Rebecca had simply apologized for the wait and explained that they were busy and still getting their feet wet at the new restaurant (and also lost the attitude), our dinner would have been a completely different experience. Also, if you do have issues that you feel are worth sharing, then contact management appropriately. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, Urbanspoon, blogs, etc., sometimes we forget. All in all, the situation was handled properly. Even though we walked away not being impressed with the food, I do look forward to a return visit once they've settled in a bit more. They have already started to make changes within weeks of opening, and that shows that they are open to improvement.

D.C. Pasta Company
12241 Pearl Road
Strongsville, OH 44136
440-238-8500

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Pizza Quest

I think every Clevelander has asked themselves this question- "Who has the best pizza in the area?"

I still don't know the answer after four years of mildly searching, so I put the question out to you. Who has YOUR favorite pizza around? And why? Because pizza is a very subjective and personal thing.

Last Thursday, I finally tried the pizza at Edison's Pub/Edison's Pizza Kitchen in Tremont.It was a little too greasy for my personal taste (look at how soaked the paper is), and the crust was overcooked and hard to bite through. It was fresh though, that I do know. Dining Deals alert- two slices and an order of breadsticks was only $9.

We've really only had pizza close to home, with the exception of Danny Boy's in Rocky River. So maybe I need to venture out further to find "my" favorite pizza in Cleveland. Where would you send me?

Edison's Pub
2373 Professor Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
216-522-0006

Edison's Pizza Kitchen on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Local 127 in Cincinnati

I don't often write about restaurants that are not in the Cleveland area, but the meal that we had at Local 127 in Cincinnati two weeks ago is worth sharing.

I had to travel to Cincinnati and Indianapolis for work, so "R" and I started poking around online to try and find some local, independently-owned restaurants to check out while in town. A site, similar to our Cleveland Independents group, led us to Local 127. It ended up being only two blocks from our hotel in downtown Cincinnati, and the menu looked like it was right up our alley with their farm-to-table concept and seasonal dishes.Even on a Tuesday night at 8PM, the restaurant was almost full and certainly had a lot of energy. The lime green walls, playful art, and decorative accents were whimsical and hip. We decided to start with two "Smaller Plates"- the Chicken & Potato Dumplings and Cheesy Grits.
The three "dumplings" were actually house-made gnocchi, which were light and creamy. The crunch from the tiny toasted "chips" added a nice texture to the dish. Both starters were very good, but I did slightly prefer the grits. As you can see, they included crispy bacon and a drizzle of hot sauce. The flavors and textures worked so well together. But I would order both again.

I decided to get the Sea Scallops with lentils, bacon, puffed rice, and smoked trout sauce.The scallops were large, and perfectly seared. There was a sweetness to the crust, and they were translucent when I cut into them. The puffed rice was a fun addition to the plate. "R" ordered the Duck, Duck, Duck with wild rice, pistachios, dried cherries, and thyme jus.The medium-rare meat was tender and juicy. I love the combination of cherries and thyme with the duck.

Completely full, and so happy with our meal, we wanted to resist the Dessert Menu. However, the Cheese Plate caught our eye. All of the cheeses came from a local Cincinnati farm, and the items served with them sounded interesting.The cheeses were served with things such as: local honey, candied apricots, dried cherries, pistachios, and fig spread. While I love trying different things with cheeses to see how they play with the flavor of the cheese, these were served directly on the cheese and a lot of the cheese itself was drowned out. I wanted to be able to try them each on their own, but it just wasn't possible.

This was honestly one of the best meals we've had in a while, with each dish being thoughtful and full of flavor. "R" even said- "I don't normally want to meet a chef, but this makes me want to shake his hand." Also, the chef is a master sommelier and he selected a wonderful wine for us. It makes such a difference when a chef is knowledgeable about pairings.

So, if you are ever in Cincinnati for a night and are looking for a place to eat downtown- don't miss Local 127. It will remind you a lot of Cleveland.

Local 127
413 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513)721-1345

Local 127  on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 5, 2012

Nothing But Net- Vote for your favorite blogger.

It's March! Growing up in the Syracuse area, and then becoming a proud SU alum- I bleed orange. March is always an exciting time, with tournament play for our men's basketball team- and this year it is even more anticipated since we are currently 30-1. Aww yeah!

Well, Cleveland Magazine had the idea to play a little bit of their own March Madness. They have selected 32 Cleveland bloggers, me included, to pit against each other in four categories in the Nothing But Net voting contest. Of course, I'm in the Food & Drink category, and my first match-up is against Cooker Girl.
Voting is open to the public at https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/LHKQGN8, so click over and vote for your favorite CLE bloggers to advance to the next level. Cough, cough- ME. Voting opens today, and each Monday the new match-ups will be announced- which means a new round of voting.

Either way- it's a fun avenue for people to discover some great Cleveland blogs. Thank you to Cleveland Magazine for including me. Now go vote!

Friday, March 2, 2012

New Crop Bistro Location

On Thursday, a work meeting brought me to Crop Bistro for lunch. It was my first time seeing the new space (on Lorain in Ohio City) since they moved out of downtown. Have you been? What do you think of the new restaurant?The old bank space is impressive and decadent, that's for sure.

The lunch menu was appealing, and I had a hard time selecting. I ended up with the Lamb Sliders with bleu cheese and coarse ground mustard. It was served with a small salad and the side of the day, which happen to be pasta salad.The lamb meat was boldly seasoned, and so juicy. They were a little messier to eat than I had hoped (I was at a work meeting after all), so I did eventually have to start using a fork and knife.

Again, the lunch menu had a lot of great options. I see that several favorites from the old location have remained on the menu, such as the Cherry Bomb and Balsamic Popcorn. The menu has the same feel to it, so you can tell that the quality of the food and the chef's vision has not been lost in the transition.But what are your thoughts on the new space? It's beautiful, but a part of me misses the old restaurant. Either way, I'll be back and I'm thrilled that it moved closer to us. It's a great addition to the expanding restaurant lineup in Ohio City.

Crop Bistro
2537 Lorain Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
216-696-2767

Thursday, March 1, 2012

CLE Dinner Club Checks Out Fountain

It is really exciting when a meal or an event is so good that I just can't wait to share it with you. This is why I blog.

And it happened the other night at the CLEDinnerClub outing to Fountain in Moreland Hills. Located in the same plaza as Flour, and just a short drive down the road from the heart of Chagrin Falls, it was pretty easy for the west-siders to get to. When I walked in, I was struck by how different it was compared to what I was expecting. It was much bigger, and most of the dining room was split into small sitting areas with coffee tables, big leather chairs, and other soft seating. It was begging us to settle in for a bottle of wine and a slow meal of many small shared plates. We hadn't even tasted the food, and I already pictured us coming back. But the food, ahhh the food...

Our table of 14 was treated to a truly special meal, courtesy of Chef Brian Okin (of Dinner in the Dark fame)- who took over the Fountain kitchen not too long ago. There was a lot of food consumed that night, so I'll get right to it.

We started with shared boards of Charcuterie and Cheese, before the first course of a FOUNTAIN SCALLOP- seared scallop, speck, creamy polenta, and truffle honey oil.This was my favorite dish of the night, and it set the tone for the meal. The larger pieces of speck were a little chewy, but other than that the dish was exceptional and I'd love to have a whole plate of them. A perfect sear on the scallop, soft and creamy polenta, and the truffle honey oil just brought it all together.

Next up, WILD MUSHROOM CONSERVA- wild mushrooms steeped with fresh herbs and olive oil, frisee, and a poached quail egg.Frisee is just not a green that I personally enjoy too much, but that being said- it was a nice salad. The dressing was light and herbaceous, and the poached egg with the slightly warm mushrooms was delicious.

Course three was a LOBSTER PASTA- seared lobster, sweet and hot peppers, fresh basil, gruyere crema, and papardelle pasta.This was a crowd favorite at the table, and probably my third favorite course (and all three were close). I am a lobster nut, so when I saw the plate set down in front of us with a gorgeous half tail- I was thrilled. The gruyere cheese sauce was faint enough to let the rest of the ingredients shine, and the pasta was cooked perfectly. My only objection to this dish was the amount of cooked peppers. I love the flavor of peppers, but don't really like to eat cooked peppers. After finishing, we discovered that my serving had about double the amount of peppers in it. I should have switched plates with "R".

We still had two courses left to go, but Okin surprised us with two family-style plates to share as a "snack" in between the pasta and the final savory course. Here is a shot of the Seared Lamb with Roasted Fingerling Potatoes:The meat was so tender, and it stole the number two spot in my mind. During our "snack", we also enjoyed a Baked Eggplant dish.

The last savory course was up next- PORK OSSO BUCO- braised pork shank, seasonal roasted vegetables, creamy polenta, and gremolata.You just touched the meat with your fork, and it fell right off the bone. Even though I was pretty full at this point, I still managed to eat most of the meat, half of the polenta, and all of my veggies. The baby brussels sprouts and carrots were both delicious, and the carrots (from Chef's Garden) had a caramelized sweetness to them that was unique.

Now, I am not normally a "sweets" girl. Give me salty and savory any day, and I'm always going to choose a cheese plate for dessert when given the option. So, the fact that I was stuffed and we were headed into the final course- dessert, I was content in thinking that I was done. I was wrong, because this is what came out:It was a OHIO APPLE CREPE- caramelized local apples, brie, and a sherry raisin reduction. The crepe was light and fluffy, and the flavors of the sweet apples and brie worked so well together. Add in a bit of the sherry raisin reduction to your bite, and suddenly I had eaten half of it.

This meal was truly one of the best multi-course meals that I've had in a long time. Usually, you have at least one that doesn't fit your personal taste, or was a stumble in the kitchen- but not here. I think you can see that the menu was well-thought out and progressed nicely, and each of the dishes were executed with great flavor balance and beautiful presentation. Looking at their menu online, it appears that about half of the dishes that we enjoyed are currently on the
Cuisine Lounge menu.

It left me wanting more, and isn't that the point? I cannot wait to get back over there. A big thank you to Chef Okin and Fountain for hosting (and spoiling) us, and to Joe G. for coordinating these fun CLEDinnerClub outings where we all get to explore new places, enjoy wonderful meals, and meet new friends. The next one is set for the end of March at Washington Place Bistro.

Fountain
34105 Chagrin Boulevard
Moreland Hills, OH 44022
216-755-1225

Fountain Cafe and Lounge on Urbanspoon