Friday, February 21, 2014

First Visit to Edwin's

What Brandon Chrostowski is doing with his new venture- Edwin's Leadership and Restaurant Institute, is bringing a fresh concept to Cleveland. Devoted to helping returning ex-offenders integrate back into our community, while teaching them invaluable skills and hands-on job training; they are providing culinary training, life-skills classes, housing, clothing, counseling, and other important support services. The student-run restaurant is officially open in Shaker Square (in the old Grotto Wine Bar space), and "R" and I decided to celebrate his birthday there.
The restaurant was busy on a Saturday night (a good thing), but this did lead to some noise level issues. We were in the smaller dining area, partitioned off from the bar and main dining room. Every table was filled, and it was often hard to hear "R" across the table. A couple of times the volume of the music got in the way as well. They seemed to be adjusting it throughout our meal.

Let's briefly talk about service. Our server, Jamar, was pleasant and attentive. He made a couple of recommendations, always cleared our used dishes promptly, and in general was very good. Making some casual observations of the room, there were often times that you could tell the servers were "in-training" by small missteps that they made. Another server crossing in front of our server as he spoke to us about the menu, our server presenting the check before asking us if there was anything else that we'd like that evening, and visible jitters from some of the waitstaff.  Brandon was constantly sweeping the room, checking in on guests, and playing a very hands-on role. Overall, service was a bit off from the level of skill and professionalism that you would expect at a fine dining restaurant, but they were clearly trying and hustling to do a good job. Time and strong leadership will certainly make a difference, and you can tell that the desire is there.

Now, on to the food. The "entrees" section of the menu is really more like "shared plates", and we decided to split the Tarte de lapin au Parmesan et jambon en croûte- Rabbit pie with Parmesan and Prosciutto crust ($9) at our server's suggestion. It was a small, warm, little pie of rabbit that was probably the best thing that we ate that night. It was almost sausage-like in texture, and full of flavor.

"R" ordered the Paupiettes de poisson du jour- Market fish wrapped in crispy potatoes with haricot verts and beurre rouge ($28). The mild white fish had a faint ammonia taste to it, so that was a little unappetizing. The shell of crispy potatoes was lost in this dish, but the sauce was the star on this plate. It was wonderful, and saved this dish.

I went with the Confit de canard avec ses champignons sauvages au risotto- Duck confit and wild mushroom risotto ($23) from the Plats Principaux section of the menu.
This dish was a little one-note in flavor, but the variety of textures was fantastic. My favorite part were the tiny, crispy pieces of duck skin that garnished the dish. The duck pulled off the bone easily, and the texture of the risotto was perfectly creamy.

If for no other reason, you have to visit Edwin's for the cheese service. Luckily, Brandon has brought over his love of good cheese and the elegant presentation of a cheese board from his days with Zack Bruell at L'Albatros. "R" and I prefer to end our meal with cheese, and the highly anticipated cheese board did not disappoint.
The fromages are $3 each. Each cheese is described with enthusiasm, and diners can build their own cheese plate based on your personal preference. Us? The "stinkier", the better. When this board is wheeled up to your table, you can't help but drool and elicit stares from around the dining room. It was a perfect ending to a celebratory meal.

Edwin's Restaurant
13101 Shaker Square
Cleveland, OH 44120

Edwins Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Chutney Rolls Brings Fast Casual Indian to Little Italy

Chutney Rolls quietly opened their doors in August, bringing their Indian fusion bistro to a brick-and-mortar restaurant on Murray Hill Road. Their business had an interesting start at the local business incubator, The ShakerLaunchhouse, before debuting their wraps and smoothies at the Shaker Farmer's Market. Gaining confidence and momentum at several festivals and farmer's markets throughout the summer, the result is the space that they now call "home" in Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood.

I was invited to come and check them out, so "R" and I drove over last night. Indian is one of my favorite cuisines, and their menu looked small but tempting. It didn't take much convincing to get us over there. Free street parking is available, and there is a small lot behind the storefront. When you enter, you are greeted by a counter and chalkboard menu. The steps to ordering are clear, and our only problem became what to get when several items sounded so good.
We started with two orders of Mini Samosas- Potato and Peas and Spinach and Paneer (two for $1.50).
Pictured above are the Spinach and Paneer, but they look exactly the same until you bite into them. Both versions were good, but I slightly preferred the Potato and Peas. It had a bit more flavor. The dough wasn't too thick, which often causes samosas to be dry and bland for my taste. This was not the case here! It was a tasty start to the meal, and a nice side dish option if you're ordering a roll. If you're dining there for dinner, you may need more than just a roll. They aren't huge.

"R" and I were both drawn to the Murgi Tikka- chicken marinated in yogurt and spices ($6.45) and Palak Paneer- sauteed spinach with cubes of savory cheese ($6.15), so we decided to order both as rolls and split them. Dining Deals Alert! 

Murgi Tikka:
Palak Paneer:
All wraps are topped with a crunchy cabbage salad, paired with a zesty lemon dressing, a tangy tamarind chutney, and fresh cilantro chutney.

A bit messy to eat, but delicious. Some traditional Indian flavors with great texture, all wrapped up in a flaky blanket. It was thinner and flakier than naan I've had, but held up well to the wrap's contents. The chicken was a little dry, but we poured some of the leftover sauce from the samosas on it, and that helped significantly. The spinach was moist and flavorful in the Palak Paneer.

I'd love to go back to try a rice bowl. You can order any of their dishes as a roll, rice bowl, or salad bowl. They have four options, with additional rotating daily specials. There are also two other appetizers, and a variety of signature beverages to order from.

The small restaurant is designed for quick and easy service. It struck me as an Indian version of Chipotle, with its ordering system and line assembly. There are only five tables and two high-tops, and it was cute inside.
I was having flashbacks to college. With its close proximity to campus, we were clearly the only non-students dining there. It also reminded me of our beloved Pita Pit, which I still crave to this day.

Delivery is available, and they are catering as well.

Overall, it was tasty, casual, quick, and cheap. Perfect for what we needed that night. For my personal taste, I'd love the option to increase the heat level of the food. Perhaps some sauces on the side to kick it up a notch? A fun addition to the neighborhood, I could see this business growing. I'd love to see a west side location! We'll be back, for sure.

Chutney Rolls
2218 Murray Hill Road
Cleveland, OH
216-721-2295

Disclosure: I was contacted by a student that is helping Chutney Rolls with their marketing efforts, asking that I come in and review the restaurant. I paid for my own meal, and all opinions stated are 100% my own.

Monday, February 17, 2014

2014 Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week

Press Release:

DOWNTOWN CLEVELAND – Downtown Cleveland Alliance (DCA) is hosting its seventh annual Downtown Restaurant Week February 21st through March 2nd, featuring around 50 popular downtown restaurants.

Participating restaurants will offer $30 three-course menus for one or two diners as well as a $15 lunch option at select restaurants. Some establishments will offer an option to “play with your food,” allowing diners to build their own meals. For example, Wonder Bar is offering options for diners to create their own salad and crepes dishes.

The list of participating restaurants and menus is updated daily on the Restaurant Week website.

“Downtown Cleveland offers a unique experience because of the tremendous density of walkable dining and entertainment options,” said Joe Marinucci, president and CEO of Downtown Cleveland Alliance. “The prix fixe menus offered during Restaurant Week give visitors the ability to pair a first-class meal with unique entertainment options without breaking the budget.”

DCA is encouraging Restaurant Week participants to take advantage of opportunities to play downtown; from sporting events to comedy shows, Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week offers a range of activities before or after your dinner.

For an updated listing of participating restaurants, menus, and special events for Restaurant Week, visit www.downtowncleveland.com.

More about Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week:

Downtown Dinner Dream Package Contest: We know that these great specials at these even greater restaurants are prizeworthy enough, but why stop there? While you're visiting these Downtown establishments, be sure to ask your server for the Restaurant Week Check Stuffer.

Just complete the questions on the form and return it to your server. The more restaurants you dine at during Restaurant Week, the more chances you get to win.

The winning package includes:
Downtown dining for a year
An overnight accommodation at the Hyatt Regency Cleveland at the Arcade
An autographed copy of In the Kitchen with Cleveland's Favorite Chefs by author Maria Isabella
Park and Eat:  During Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week, ABM Parking Management & Operations Services is offering $3 off parking at select locations for Downtown diners. Print out the voucher here by clicking on the icon, and present it to the parking lot attendant prior to paying.

Participating parking locations include:
Warehouse District – 1371 W. 6th Street (W. 6th & St. Clair)
Gateway District – 740 Euclid Avenue (entrance on both Euclid and Prospect Avenues)
PlayhouseSquare – 1520 and 1600 Euclid Avenue
RTA’s free trolleys are also a great way to explore town for free. Schedules and additional information are available here.

Will you be checking out Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week? Did any of the menus listed catch your eye?

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Recipe: Slow-Cooked Moroccan Short Ribs

We've been really busy since December, so there hasn't been a lot of cooking going on at home. With our birthday celebrations wrapping up, it's time to get back in the swing of things. We started by making some Slow-Cooked Moroccan Short Ribs last week.

Slow-Cooked Moroccan Short Ribs: 4-6 servings, total time = 4 hours (high heat)

For the Rub-
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. ground turmeric
1 tsp. salt

For the Ribs-
2 1/2 lb. short ribs (4-6)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 1/2 cups of low-sodium beef broth, divided
3 carrots, cut into 2" chunks (2 cups) (Note: we used baby carrots)
10 baby Yukon gold potatoes (2 cups)
1/2 onion, root intact
2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. red pepper flakes
6 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
1/2 cup dried apricots
2 tsp. lemon juice

Combine cinnamon, ginger, cumin, turmeric, and salt in a small bowl and rub onto ribs.
Sear the ribs in oil in a large saute pan over high heat until browned on all sides, 10 minutes.
Transfer to slow cooker and pour off oil from pan.
Deglaze with 3 cups broth, scraping bits from the bottom.
Transfer deglazing broth, carrots, potatoes, onion (keep whole), honey, and pepper flakes to the slow cooker.
Simmer ribs in the slow cooker on high-heat setting until fork-tender, about 3 1/2 hours.
Discard onion (Note: we removed, cut into 1" pieces and returned to slow cooker before serving) and strain fat from the surface of the sauce. (Note: we found straining the fat impossible, and left it.)
Whisk flour and remaining broth together and stir into the slow cooker with the apricots.
Simmer until ribs are fork-tender and sauce has thickened (about 1/2 hour).
Stir in lemon juice before serving.
The rub had great heat to it, and overall the flavor just developed as you ate more. The apricots were a nice touch, adding some sweetness and enhancing the spices. We wished that the broth had thickened a bit more, but overall the dish was great. It reheated well the next day too.

This recipe came from Issue 72 of Cuisine at Home.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Morton's The Steakhouse

Remember the night of the recent Beer Fest that I told you about? Well, we found ourselves buzzed and starving at 9PM, and you don't always make the best decisions when drinking. We hailed a cab, and headed to Morton's The Steakhouse in Downtown. "R" is always on the quest to find a great steak. A bone-in filet in Chicago at Michael Jordan's restaurant blew him away once, and he's always trying to find a comparable experience in Cleveland. Not yet. 

Now, Morton's is an international chain, so I normally wouldn't write about it. However, it's a high-end steakhouse, with only one location in the Greater Cleveland area, so I'll let it slide.

As we hungrily started to look at the menu, "R" quickly set his sights on the Baked Escargot.
Topped with puff pastry, these actually weren't as good as we had hoped. The puff pastry hadn't absorbed any of the butter and juices from the snails underneath, so they were just bland and a tad dry. The snails themselves were fine, but nothing memorable. I'd pass on this appetizer.

Then, it was time for the steak. Ah, the steak. 

We actually both ordered the bone-in Porcini-crusted Filet Mignon with roasted garlic ($60).
I may have been under the influence of alcohol, but the steak was delicious. Cooked to a perfect medium-rare, it was tender and seasoned well. It had a great seared crust on it, and the roasted garlic cloves spread like butter on the steak.

We also shared the Sauteed Spinach and Button Mushrooms and Chicago-style Horseradish Mashed Potatoes.
The sides are large enough for two people to share. Both sides were only okay, but they served their purpose. I wish that the horseradish flavor in the mashed potatoes had been stronger. It was barely there.

So, the appetizer was a disappointment and the sides were nothing special, but the real star of the meal was the steak. I guess that's what I'd hope for in a steakhouse.

Be aware, this was a crazy expensive meal. Stick to their bar menu and their "Power Hour" if you are trying to dine there on the cheap. Drink specials and $6-$7 Bar Bites make that possible.

Being located in Tower City, there are a few parking options available. Including valet at the restaurant. The atmosphere of the restaurant is what you'd expect from a typical steakhouse- dark, swanky, and many power business deals taking place. I wouldn't say that this restaurant is family-friendly.

"R" continues his hunt for the best steak in Cleveland. What restaurant has the best steak that you've ever had?

Morton's The Steakhouse
Tower City
1600 West 2nd Street
Cleveland, OH 44113
216-621-7745

Morton's The Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Thursday, February 6, 2014

John's Diner in Lakewood

"R" and I attended the first Cleveland Winter Beerfest, held at the new Convention Center in Downtown, last Friday evening. Half of the draw was seeing the new space, and I was lucky enough to win two VIP tickets through a random giveaway hosted on Twitter by Great Lakes Brewing Company.

There were over 90 breweries, and more than 300 beers being poured at the event. While it wasn't the best large beer event that I've attended in our area, we enjoyed ourselves and were able to sample some good beers. I stuck to the stouts, and started the evening off with a Barrel-aged Blackout Stout from Great Lakes and a Peanut Butter Cup Porter from Willoughby Brewing (one of my top 3 favorite beers). VIP started at 6:30pm, so we hadn't eaten dinner prior to the event. BIG mistake! The beers were hitting us quickly, and there was basically no food or water available at the event. A tip to the organizers- change this for next year. So, we were feeling quite good, and decided to leave around 9:00pm to go grab dinner downtown. We were taking a cab, so don't worry! More on this meal later, but for now, I want to talk about the next morning...

I may drink small amounts of alcohol often, but "R" and I rarely really drink. Now, in our 30's, the appeal of a hangover is very low, and recovery time has doubled. I woke up on Saturday morning with quite the hangover. Greasy diner food sounded amazing, and we debated on whether or not to head to one of our favorites close to home, or to go check out a new one in Lakewood that "R" had heard about at work. Always up for a dining adventure, we rose to the occasion and drove over to Lakewood to John's Diner.
There were small parking lots on the front and left side of the building. A visible sign on the building itself, and a road-side sign as well, made the diner very easy to find.

The diner is very long and narrow, with a huge counter greeting you as you enter. There are some wooden booths and tables beyond the counter, but we chose to grab a front-row seat at the counter to view the action in the kitchen.
Service was warm and welcoming, and always attentive to our food and beverage needs. Once we ordered, it wasn't long before the piping hot food arrived.

I don't order it often (okay, never), but Texas French Toast caught my eye right away. Some fluffy, syrupy goodness with eggs and greasy meat sounded like the perfect hangover cure.
And it did. Everything was done as it should be, and it tasted amazing at the time. Several Foursquare tips were comments on the great bacon. It was slightly thicken than your average-cut bacon, and super crispy. Just the way that I like it! 

While it may not have kicked my hangover entirely, my meal was worth the drive, and it totally hit the spot that morning. "R" tried their Corned Beef Hash, and it was only okay. Ah, you win some, you lose some.

Have you been to John's Diner? What's your best hangover cure?

John's Diner
18260 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44107
216-228-0871

John's Diner on Urbanspoon

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Rail

"R" and I found ourselves in the North Olmsted area last weekend around lunchtime. We discussed a few restaurant options, but then suddenly The Rail popped into my head. It was one of the restaurants that you, readers, had suggested for the 2014 To Dine Challenge that just hadn't quite made the list. I've heard that they have a good burger, so I was interested to try it. The Akron-based restaurant just opened a new location in the Great Northern Mall, so it made our lunch decision pretty easy.
It was easy to find, with big signage on the side of the mall, and plenty of free parking in the mall lot. There was ample seating available between the bar area, small lower dining room, and upper level. We were seated right away, and left with the decision on what burger to order.

A couple of the burgers sounded really good, so I had a hard time choosing. I finally went with the Greenwich Pig ($9.50) with sauteed onions, bleu cheese, spinach, and rail mayo. I also added a side of the red onion jam.
This was hands-down the sloppiest burger that I've ever eaten. Things were just oozing out of the buttered bun, running all over my hands. It's one of those burgers that once you pick it up, you don't put it down. But, man, was it good.

"R" got the Crouching Burger (Hidden Bacon) burger ($10.50) with thick-cut Ohio bacon and pulled pork on top of it, so it was a meat-lovers dream. I didn't dare take a bite.

We also shared an order of the Sweet Potato Fries ($3.25) with a side of chipotle mayo (50 cents).
They were very crispy, not too greasy, and I enjoyed the dipping sauce. Worth the extra money.

Overall, I liked the look and feel of the restaurant/bar. It reminds me of B-Spot. A little "chainy" feeling, but they try to show their Ohio pride and farm-feel with the decor.
They also have a decent beer list, both bottle and draft. It seems like a great spot to pop into for a good burger and beer.

They will be opening a third location in Canton in March.

The Rail
4954 Great Northern Boulevard
North Olmsted, OH 44070

3265 W. Market Street
Akron, OH 44333

The Rail on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Standard

First things first...a winner of the two admission passes to The Great Big Home & Garden Show. Using random.org, the winner is comment #11- Patty Conlon. Congratulations! You have until Wednesday to claim your tickets, or I will select another winner. Thank you to all that entered the giveaway. It's not too late to purchase tickets. If you purchase them in advance online, you can save $3 per adult ticket. You can also save an additional $1 if you use the code "BITEBUFF" at checkout.

A lunch meeting brought me to the east side this week. One of the suggested restaurant options was the newly opened The Standard on East 185th Street. I jumped at the chance to check it out.

Finding it without my GPS was near impossible. They were literally installing signage on the side of the building as we were dining, but when I pulled up to the brick building, there wasn't a stitch of signage. Now, you can look for a small, white banner on the corner of the building. From the looks of their Facebook page, more signage is coming. Free one-hour street parking was available.

The chef is Tim Bando, who left Deagan's not too long ago. They've crafted a menu of "snacks", and then entrée options broken down into categories like "vegetables" and "meat". They don't have a separate lunch menu, so it can be a pricier lunch option, but I think that the entrée prices are very reasonable ($10 - $15).

I hadn't eaten yet, so I was quite hungry. I went for the Chicken Paprikash with spatzel and shaved Brussels Sprouts ($12).
The chicken was very tender and moist, and pulled right off of the bone. A little more sauce would have gone a long way to give it that classic Chicken Paprikash flavor, but overall I enjoyed the dish. For lunch, it was a good sized portion. A tip left on Foursquare recommended getting a starter or salad to accompany your meal, because the portions are relatively small. I agree, for dinner, you'd want something else with it. I can say the same for the portion of Mac and Cheese that my lunch companion had.

The restaurant has potential, so I hope that it does well in that neighborhood. It could be a great addition to 185th Street.

The Standard
779 East 185th Street
Cleveland, OH 44119
216-531-9643

The Standard on Urbanspoon