Monday, July 30, 2012

Bruno's

On Thursday, I was able to cross another restaurant off of my 2012 "To Dine" list. The lovely Crystal and I had our first dining excursion together at Bruno's Ristorante on West 41st Street. Once I realized how close to home this classic Italian spot was-- I was a little embarrassed that I hadn't made it there yet. Or even heard about it until you, loyal readers, selected my 2012 list for me. They take online reservations, which is always appreciated. Our table was waiting for us when we arrived, but it was a little hard to find. The poor restaurant had lost power, and we walked into a dark dining room. The staff did their best to open curtains and supply tables with candles, and assured us that the kitchen was still operational.

This didn't stall us, and we quickly made our menu choices. She had been craving their Ravioli with Meat or Cheese (or both! They mixed them for her) in red sauce for just $10.95. Crystal suggested getting something with their marinara sauce, and also noted that the seafood pasta was packed full of seafood. So, I went ahead and ordered the Bruno's Famous Linguini alla Pescatore ($22.95).
The picture doesn't do this dish justice. It was huge. I felt like I ate, and ate, and ate...and barely put a dent in it. It included clams, mussels, calamari, shrimp, and scallops. The pasta itself was served al dente, which was appreciated. After a couple of shakes of red pepper, I was good to go. The mussels were overcooked and dry, but the rest of the seafood was very good and there was plenty of it. I had at least half of it left over, and they happily packed it up for me. It made a great lunch the next day, and the pasta was more flavorful after soaking up some of the sauce overnight.

Both main courses included a standard dinner salad, and I liked their House Dressing of a balsamic Italian. The fun part? Each salad includes one single rotini noodle. I thought that a pasta salad noodle had gone rogue and made its way onto my plate, but no--this was intentional.

I thought that for the price, it was a lot of food and was good for straightforward classic Italian fare. I also ordered a Tiramisu to go, for "R". I stole two bites before he inhaled it, and it was delicious. The piece completely filled up the to-go container. They certainly aren't shy with their portions.

The lights eventually came back on (and the A/C, phew), and I saw that the restaurant and bar area is quite cozy and traditional. There aren't many tables, so I do suggest making a reservation. Parking is free in a small lot across the street, and check out their website for coupons before dining there. Our server was outstanding, and so pleasant and attentive even though she was working in the dark and heat. They really tried to make us feel at home there. Our ice water was never empty!

Will I be back? The answer is yes. For my Italian experiences in Cleveland, it made its way to spot #3. Above it? Gnocchi from Trattoria and Maxi's sauces (both in Little Italy).

Bruno's Ristorante
2644 West 41st Street
Cleveland, OH 44113
216-961-7087

Bruno's Ristorante on Urbanspoon

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Man v. Brian Okin

That's the name of our new reality TV show- Man v. Brian Okin. I'm pretty sure that "Man" lost last night.

What am I talking about? Last night was another CLEDinnerClub outing, and this time it took us to Luxe. Chef Brian Okin (co-founder of Dinner in the Dark and former chef at Fountain) recently took over the kitchen, and we couldn't wait to see his menu changes. 23 of us gathered for a family-style dinner that was completely the chef's whim. The only thing that we knew would be included in the meal...a mystery meat from an "unusual" animal.

We settled in at our table with some of Luxe's delicious cocktails. The Bloom and Medusa are my personal favorites-- light, citrus-based, and summery. Then the food started to arrive-- stuffed zucchini blossoms (one of my favorite dishes of the night), fried talleggio with oven-dried tomatoes, their Mediterranean trio of dips with pita, the de-LUXE pizza with chorizo, the wild mushroom pizza, pork belly with poached eggs (a table favorite)... We thought that the meal was done.
Boy, were we wrong. That was just the first course! Next up-- salads. The table received three kinds of salad. This included a prosciutto and melon salad with arugula, kale salad with ricotta and avocado, and a shaved asparagus and fennel salad.
Honestly, I liked all three. I'm a salad girl.

Totally full, and almost calling "uncle"...we still had the main (and final, phew) course. This is where the "mystery" meat would appear, and we couldn't wait to see what it would be.

Chef Okin rolled out SIX different kinds of entrees for us, including: walleye in a dill sauce with summer vegetables, pork and chorizo sausage with creamy risotto (great spices!), chicken and mushrooms, Himalayan rice and beans, shrimp and grits with Ohio sweet corn, and the highlight of the night...kangaroo.
Here's Joe G. digging right in to the kangaroo.

I had no problem trying this unusual meat. Almost everyone at the table sampled some. Some felt that it tasted like a gamey beef, and others got a hint of lobster from it. Paired with blueberries and caramelized onions, I thought that it was a little tough but delicious!

Several of these dishes are available on the new Luxe menu (don't worry, the gnocchi with short rib is still there), but after our experience last night...I suggest checking out their Family Meal option. It's a two person minimum, but for $28 each-- Chef Okin will create a personalized three-course tasting menu for you. This is one talented chef, and I'd gladly blindly put my meal in his hands any day. I already can't wait to go back and try more. Perhaps on their fantastic patio with another Bloom in my hand.

Thank you, Joe G. for organizing another great dinner club outing (follow the club on Twitter at @CLEDinnerClub), and to Chef Okin for sharing his talents with us last night. "Man" definitely lost. I don't think that I am going to eat today.

6605 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH

Monday, July 23, 2012

GNO at Battery Park Wine Bar

A recent GNO with Michelle led us to Battery Park Wine Bar for dinner and drinks.
"R" and I had dined there a few months ago, only trying their mussels (which were okay but nothing special) and the lamb sliders (dry and under seasoned). So I was anxious to try it again, and our GNO experience was totally different than my first visit.

We decided to just share a couple of small plates. First up, the Watermelon Fennel Salad.
It was very mild and refreshing, a great summer salad that I would like to try and replicate at home. I'd probably try to infuse a bit more citrus just to punch it up. The watermelon was the sweetest melon I've had so far this summer.

We split a flatbread- the Arugula Pesto, Camembert, and Roasted Grapes ($11).
Nice flavors, the crust was thin and crispy, and overall I really liked it.

The last dish that we decided to share was the Citrus Scallops.
Served on a bed of fresh spinach, the three scallops were prepared well (look at the nice sear). Upon our first bite, we both weren't sure if we liked it. You were smacked in the face with tart citrus. But as I continued to eat, I found myself enjoying it more and more. It just had to grow on us.

Top this meal off with some good wine, and this was a "win" in our opinion. The restaurant is industrial-chic, with plenty of free parking and seating. They offer an "All Night" Happy Hour on Tuesdays, and from 4-7PM Wednesday-Friday. This includes $3 draft beers, $4 wines by the glass, and $5 select food items.

It's close to other Gordon Square restaurants and bars, so it's easy to hop from one place to the next (as we did that night). After enjoying dinner and wine at BPWB, we popped over to Stone Mad and then XYZ. I really enjoy that neighborhood, and loved sharing it with my east-side friend.

Battery Park Wine Bar
7524 Father Frascati Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102
216-631-WINE

Friday, July 20, 2012

Spoiled Rotten.

Cleveland is spoiled rotten with our long list of fantastic independent restaurants at our fingertips. Even our area's hotels have stepped up to the game, and offer great spots like AMP 150 at the Airport Marriott and Table 45 at the Intercontinental. "R" and I have also enjoyed a great meal at Sans Souci in the Renaissance in the past.

Traveling for work, and eating on the road just makes me homesick and appreciate how lucky we are even more than I do on a regular basis. I selected a Cincinnati hotel based on the fact that it offered a restaurant on-site. I was going to be arriving late on Wednesday, and was going to need a bite to eat (no fast food here, please). Also, I needed to work from the hotel all day Thursday. So dining at the hotel would be convenient. I looked at their Bistro menu online, and it looked fabulous. What a lie.

Most of the tantalizing items listed on their online menu weren't even included. I settled for a Steak Salad with apples, dried cranberries, onions, and a garlic dressing for lunch on Thursday. Even though it was ordered as medium-rare, the steak arrived well-done. And the apple slices...BROWN. Eww.

What a let down.

What do you think guests think when they discover some of our hotel restaurants? I'd feel like I hit the jackpot. Way to show out-of-towners what we've got, Cleveland!

Ahh, it's good to be home...

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Beer and Sausage Fest- August 4th

Who doesn't love a good sausage fest? No, not that kind. I'm talking about the 3rd Annual Beer & Sausage Fest at Sachsenheim Hall on Saturday, August 4th at 6PM.
For just $30, it's all-you-can-eat sausage (10 different sausage flavors) and beer. The beers are from Fat Head's Brewery, Buckeye Brewing, Willoughby Brewing Company, and Market Garden Brewery. There will also be live entertainment from 7PM - 11PM.

But, the people-watching alone will be worth the price tag for this event. So, a few of us are headed there and you should join us! We purchased our tickets at Market Garden Brewery. I'm assuming that they will be available at the door as well, but I'm not sure.

Sachsenheim Hall
7001 Denison Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102
216-651-0888

Sunday, July 15, 2012

A Weekend of Food and Fun

This weekend was packed with plans. "R" was away, so I scheduled some time with several different friends.

It all started with a return trip to Dante's DC Pasta Company in Strongsville on Friday. My first dining experience there a few months ago was memorable, and not in a good way. The food left a lot to be desired, and we had the worst service that I've ever had. But, Dante had been responsive to the situation and I was willing to go back for a second try. Unfortunately, the experience was very similar. Our server was socially awkward and hard to communicate with, he was absent most of the evening, we had to wait 43 minutes before placing our food order, the food was still bland in my opinion, my salad hadn't been ordered so it arrived well after my friend's, and one of my pasta tastes was stone-cold when it reached the table. I don't need to go back. But I had a great time catching up with two of my favorite girls!
Saturday was a new day. My foxy date and I headed to Whiskey Island in the afternoon for the Shoes and Clothes for Kids Luau on the Lake event.
(Only the third picture ever that I've put up of myself on this blog!) The event was fun, and being down by the lake sipping on some cocktails with friends and good tunes was just perfect. But I had to jet out of there early to help a good friend celebrate her 30th birthday with family and friends. Cheers to a great year, Lindsay!

Sunday was another "Funday" this weekend. It started by meeting friends at Market Garden Brewery for brunch, and their unlimited mimosas. Trouble. I ordered the Breakfast Tacos with chorizo, queso, pico, hollandaise, and scrambled egg ($10).
Three small tacos were included, and they were really good! I would order them again, for sure. I also tried the $4 English Muffin with house made preserves. It was a good English muffin, but the price tag is steep. The sides are the only things that seemed too high. Otherwise, the breakfast dishes are reasonably priced and everyone liked their meal. Michelle and I also enjoyed the bottomless mimosas! For $15, they just keep filling up your glass.

With a slight buzz and a full belly, I headed home to meet "R". He's only been home three days so far this month, so it was wonderful to see him. Then, we headed up to one of our favorite summer food events--the Taste of Tremont.
The annual street festival takes over Professor Avenue in Tremont, and is filled with vendor booths and tasting stations. It always has some great people watching, and I love attending every year. I was still not hungry, but I couldn't pass up a taste of Lucky Cafe's heavenly mac and cheese. Did you attend this year's event? What was your favorite dish?

Phew, it was quite a weekend.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Sunday Funday- Dim Sum

Have you ever done dim sum at Li Wah? The restaurant is located in Asia Plaza on the corner of East 30th and Payne. They do dim sum every day from 10AM - 3PM, but not like they do it on Sunday.

Sunday, the restaurant is packed and employees push around cart after cart of interesting Chinese treats. The dim sum dishes come in four sizes: Small ($2.25), Medium ($2.75), Large ($3.95), and Special ($6.95). Almost everything on the carts is in the small or medium category, so you can order and order and still walk away with a reasonable bill.

Last weekend, it was my first time experiencing their dim sum. It was overwhelming at first, but we got in a groove. Sometimes, you aren't quite sure what is being offered to you. Most of the time, the server could roughly tell us what it was (only once did we have complete miscommunication). Or, you can choose to be bold, and just not ask and let your eyes do the ordering.

Between three of us, we ended up sampling 13 dim sum dishes off the carts.
We enjoyed Steamed Pork Buns (middle), Sesame Balls (left), Sticky Rice with Lotus Leaves (top left), Fried Taro Dumplings (right), Egg Custard Tarts, Baked BBQ Puffs, Taro Cakes, Vegetable Dumplings, Shrimp Dumplings, and Beef Balls. A couple of them we got a second order of, and almost all of them I would order again. Our total...$46.60. So cheap for feeling so stuffed!

So, if you're in the mood for some Chinese this Sunday--head to Li Wah and they will add a "Funday" to your Sunday.

Li Wah
2999 Payne Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
216-696-6556

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hudson's Lager and Vine

Another foodie friend invited me out to her hometown of Hudson to check out the newly opened Lager & Vine Gastropub & Wine Bar. Of course, I took her up on the offer immediately--always willing to travel for good food.

They take reservations by phone, so we made one for 6PM and were seated immediately in a comfy booth towards the front of the restaurant. The restaurant is broken up into a couple of rooms, so the conversation level remains minimal and it was very pleasant to be able to catch up properly.

Our server was young, but as sweet as can be, and very professional and knowledgeable about the menu. They clearly have trained their staff well since opening. She was attentive, but let us take our time ordering. There were a lot of items that sounded great on the menu, so we had some difficulty choosing.

We decided to share the Garlic Roasted Crostini with fresh baked thin cut sour dough chips with wine infused cheese spreads ($9). The spreads will apparently change every season.
Currently, they were offering a goat cheese infused with white wine (Pinot? my memory escapes me) and a Cabernet-infused creamy cheddar. Both cheese spreads were very enjoyable. The goat cheese was smooth and light in flavor, and the cheddar had quite a bite to it. They balanced each other well. The real issue with this dish? The sour dough chips. They were cut thicker than I think is appropriate for a dish like this, and they were toasted beyond life. It was incredibly hard to bite through, and very rough on the mouth. With a thinner cut chip, or just lightly toasted bread-- this "tidbit to share" would be a winner.

We each wanted a salad, so we went with the Classic Chopped Wedge with crumbled bleu, beefsteak tomato, and onion ($6).
As you can see, there was nothing special about this wedge salad. It was fresh and fine, but not memorable.

Lastly, we split one of their flatbreads-- the L&V Blanco with garlic basil white sauce, prosciutto, basil, green olives, mozzarella, Parmesan, and deep fried crispy capers drizzled with herb oil ($12).
The toppings and overall flavor were outstanding. The flatbread itself, however, did not hold up well and was very flimsy from the beginning. It needed to be crispier, and this forced us to use our forks. I really wanted it to be better, because the combination of those toppings was spot on. It had such potential.

Potential. That's how I left Lager and Vine. Thinking that there is real potential there, but they just don't quite have it yet from what we experienced. Some real "bread" issues in the kitchen. It was just little things about the dishes that could have been helped, so hopefully they will adapt over time.

They have a great bar area, and boast that they only have craft beers on tap. They even have wine on tap, and many options by the bottle of both. On their dinner menu, suggested pairings are printed right with the dishes. They are really trying to capture the feel of a great wine bar and a trendy gastropub. I think the prices are reasonable, service outstanding, and menu tempting. They just aren't quite there yet.

Have you been?

Lager & Vine
30 Streetsboro Street
Hudson, OH 44236
330-650-1717

Lager & Vine on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 9, 2012

Phil the Fire and a Luau Winner

Thank you to everyone that entered the Shoes and Clothes for Kids ticket giveaway to their annual Luau on the Lake this weekend. I used random.org, and it selected lucky #19...Michelle from All Lacquered Up. For sharing her favorite summer drink, white sangria, Michelle has won two VIP tickets to the event. It's not too late to purchase them online for just $40 before July 11th. They will go up to $50 after that, and are will also be available at the door. If you do purchase them online, make sure that you add "Bite Buff" to the Special Notes section of checkout to be entered into an exclusive social media raffle at the event. You could win a basket full of fun prizes. I hope to see you there!

Last weekend, "R" and I found ourselves over on the east side doing some errands (which included a stop at Jeni's in Chagrin Falls for my favorite seasonal flavor- Brambleberry Crisp). So we decided to catch an early dinner at the newish Phil the Fire in Beachwood. The chef/owner has a long history in Cleveland, but has been off the culinary map locally for a while. Fans were excited to see him pop up again, and that he was continuing to offer his famous chicken and waffles.
This "Comfort Food for the Soul" restaurant offers diners traditional Southern fare. After our trip to New Orleans in March, I was even more excited to try out this restaurant. Overall, it was the closest that we've come to having good Southern food here in Cleveland.

We shared the Fried Green Tomatoes with greens and fried corn served with aioli ($7.95).
They were served burn-your-mouth hot, but once they cooled down a bit we were able to dig in. The breading dominated the flavor of the tomatoes, so a lighter breading would have elevated this dish a bit, but they were fried nicely and were still enjoyable. The greens were almost as good as the ones we had in NOLA, but the real star of this dish was the fried corn. As you can see, it is more like a creamed corn. But the flavors really popped, and I would order this as a side dish with any meal.

"R" went with the famous Chicken and Waffles with a Quarter Chicken, including a breast and wing for $15.95. He also decided to go with a sweet potato waffle for an additional fee.
It was served with house syrup, butter, and hot sauce. The chicken was lightly breaded, not greasy, and still moist throughout. (Ugh, I hate the word moist). The sweet potato waffle was tasty, but the center got very soggy very quickly. He also loved the addition of hot sauce to the plate.

I absolutely love traditional Southern side dishes. I had already decided to make a meal of just side dishes before I saw that they offer that as an option on their menu- genius. For $14.95, you can enjoy three side dishes as your entree.
I went with the Three Cheese Mac and Cheese, Candied Yams, and Fresh Collard Greens. All were prepared just as I expected, and I left satisfied with the experience. Only real misstep was a bone in the greens. Not a pleasant experience to find in your mouth.

Nothing blew me away, except for the Fried Corn, but overall we did enjoy the meal and it brought us back to NOLA for a minute. To be fair, after eating down there, nothing up here could truly compare to the amazing fried chicken and other traditional fare that we dined on. Service was attentive and our meal was served quickly. It is a family-friendly spot, with plenty of free parking since it is attached to a hotel. This restaurant probably won't make the cut again when we are dining out on the east side, but if you enjoy Southern cuisine then I do suggest checking it out.

Phil the Fire
3750 Orange Place
Beachwood, OH 44122
216-831-3473

Phil the Fire on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 6, 2012

Lunch Box Deli

I like sharing undiscovered gems with you best. The big-name, flashy restaurant-of-the-moment is always fun to go check out, but I truly enjoy finding small places that I've never heard of before.

For those working in the area, Lunch Box Deli in Brooklyn Heights is well-known. Soups, salads, wraps, and sandwiches are made fresh daily.
Located on Schaaf Road, next to South Hills Hardware, this cash-only lunch spot is tucked away in what looks just like any other residential house on the street. Once inside, you're greeted with a smile and lots of choices for lunchtime fare. The bread is always fresh, each sandwich is made to order, and service is so quick that you can be back to work in no time.

A Turkey, Ham, and Swiss sandwich will run you $6.10, or a Chicken Salad Sandwich (too much mayo for my taste) for just $4.70. Sides like potato salad, macaroni salad, pasta salad, or cole slaw are also available for 95 cents. They always have a soup of the day, and other specials running. Dining Deals Alert!

You may not find yourself in this area often, but if you do...stop on in for a quick bite at a reasonable price.

Lunch Box Deli
223 W. Schaaf Road
Cleveland, OH 44109
216-749-4835

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy 4th! It's Giveaway Time.

Happy 4th of July, people! I hope that you spend the day relaxing with good eats, some adult beverages, fireworks, and just enjoying a random summer day off with friends and family. I, myself, am headed to a pool party/backyard BBQ shortly. The rain better hold off today.
In honor of the holiday, I have a fun giveaway for you today.

Shoes and Clothes for Kids is a local non-profit organization whose mission is to provide a unique service for income-eligible families in the Greater Cleveland area. They fulfill their mission by distributing new shoes, clothing, and items to infants and youth in need. 2012 marks the organization's forty-third year of service to families, and the organization will distribute new clothing and Payless gift cards with a retail value of $2,300,000 this year. They rely heavily on support from donors and volunteers in the community to help execute their mission.

Here is how you can help. Shoes and Clothes for Kids is hosting their seventh annual fundraiser on July 14th, Luau on the Lake, at Wendy Park in Whiskey Island. Guests enjoy great food, beer, wine, soft drinks, sand volleyball, music, and a fabulous day on Lake Erie. The event begins at 4:00PM, and General Admission tickets are just $40. They also have a VIP package that includes early entry at 3:30PM, three specialty cocktails, a Hawaiian lei, tote, and souvenir cup for $50. When purchasing your ticket online, enter my blog name "Bite Buff" in the Special Notes section at checkout, and you'll be entered to win a special social media prize basket at the event!

But, it is your lucky day. By leaving a comment on this post telling me what your favorite summer beverage is, you can be entered to win two Big Kahuna VIP tickets to the event. You can also gain a second entry in the giveaway by tweeting "I want to attend the @SC4K event thanks to @BiteBuff at http://tinyurl.com/75369n9 . #SC4KLuau12" Make sure that you leave a second comment on this post to let me know that you tweeted. You can tweet once a day until the winner is drawn. I will select a winner using random.org on July 9th. Ticket sales end on July 11th for this event.

Good luck!

Disclosure: Shoes and Clothes for Kids is providing me with four VIP tickets to the event, two to give away to one lucky reader and two for a guest and I to enjoy the event. My opinions are 100% my own.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Renovated Reddstone

It's no secret that Reddstone in the Gordon Square Arts District has one of our favorite patios. The character of the brick and stone work, shaded area surrounded by trees and a high fence, and relaxed vibe have drawn us in many times. When I heard that they were renovating their space, including the patio, and menu-- my initial thought was "Noooooo...."

Well, we found ourselves there recently, and I have to say that I was wrong. We did not make it inside. I heard that the changes in there were good as well, but as for the patio-- it looks great! They leveled the bricks, without taking away from the overall look and feel that we loved. Also, can anyone else confirm that they removed a tree in the middle? I swear that it felt more open and sunny this time.

Happy to see that our beloved patio had not changed too much, we were excited to check out the new menu as well. It was nice to see that they still offer flatbreads, burgers, and sandwiches...but it was the Small Plates section that really stood out. Some creative combinations, and a wide variety made it hard to choose.

We went with an order of the Stuffed Mushrooms with goat cheese and chorizo. For $9, the portion wasn't quite big enough, and we really wished that you could taste more of the chorizo. I wouldn't have known that it was in there if we hadn't read it on the menu.

We also shared the Hong Kong Noodles with five spice beef medallions, veggies, fried egg, and shogun ($12).
Again, I think the price point was a little high for the portion size. But the Asian-inspired ingredients were flavorful and well-balanced. I had imagined that the dish would be served chilled, but it arrived hot. I did enjoy it, but I still think that it would be better chilled. The beef medallions were also hard to manage with chopsticks. I would have appreciated smaller pieces that didn't need to be cut.

So, it's safe to say that we were happy with the changes overall. I was pleasantly surprised, and we'll be back. Has anyone ever been to their Sunday Brunch?

Reddstone
1261 West 76th Street
Cleveland, OH 44102
216-651-6969