Monday, March 29, 2010

A Cleveland Institution- John Q's

We had a gift certificate to Crop Bistro burning a hole in our pockets from the last Cleveland Independent's gift certificate sale, so we had decided to dine there on Friday night after a downtown work function that I was dragging "R" to. Imagine our surprise when we walked up to the door and saw a sign stating "Closed for Private Party". Really?!? A Friday night?!? I don't even want to think about how much it would cost to shut down this downtown hot spot on a Friday night, or who you had to be to make this happen.

It was creeping up on 10:30PM at this point, so our dining options were quickly becoming limited. We began discussing other West 6th Street options, and then we happened to glance across the parking lot to John Q's Steakhouse. "R" hadn't been there in many years, and I had only sampled tastings at local fundraising events. So we headed in their direction with the hopes that they were still serving. Luckily, they were and we stumbled through their door eager to eat. When you enter the restaurant you are guided down a short hall of almost floor-to-ceiling glass trophy cases, all filled with Cleveland sports memorabilia. Then you arrive at the hostess station and are transported to what I would call an "old boys' club" atmosphere. The ornate, carved, dark wood and dim lighting begged for tables full of businessmen puffing on their cigars and discussing the ways of the world. It was quite different than the many other "new" and "trendy" restaurants that have popped up in this neighborhood since the Cleveland restaurant scene has started to bloom. I found it fun, and surprising, to feel almost taken back in time. This restaurant is clearly a Cleveland institution and has a history behind it.

Now, on to the food...we started out that evening thinking that we were dining off of a pre-paid gift certificate. In other words- not spending additional $$. On the walk over, we agreed to just order two entrees- no appetizers or drinks to help keep the cost reasonable. As we started to peruse the menu, "R" suddenly says "Let's order their stuffed mushrooms. I remember them being good.". Then comes "What are you ordering? You can order the filet if you want to." Then the final statement came out of his mouth. "They have a surf n' turf dish, why don't you get that, I know how much you love lobster." Umm, hands off ladies- he's all mine! So our "cheap" date night suddenly turned into a $45 entree, but I wasn't complaining. The cheese-stuffed mushrooms were tasty, and we happily shared the plate of 5 caps. "R" ordered their burger. While it was a good burger, it was so over-stuffed that there was no way he could fit it into his mouth to easily bite into it. He actually had to remove some of the toppings in order to squish the burger enough to handle it. I appreciate generous portions and the impressive presentation of a tower of ingredients, but when any sandwich or burger becomes hard to eat because it is so big then I end up feeling frustrated and dissatisfied with the meal. Luckily his mouth is bigger than mine and he was able to handle it once a few things were removed. I didn't dare try to take a bite of it, but he was pleased with the flavor.

My surf n' turf included a Cesar salad and choice of potato. The salad was fresh and light with plenty for us to share. I opted for the garlic mashed potatoes, and I was glad that I did. The garlic was prominent without overpowering, and the chunks of potato throughout proved that they were house-made. The 8 oz. lobster tail was huge and succulent- some of the best meat that I've had! I ordered the filet prepared medium, which can be hard to achieve on a small 4 oz. steak, but it was perfectly pink and warm throughout. I am a firm believer that a good steak shines on its own and does not need toppings or sauces, so I did not choose to add on any of these items that were offered on the menu. Sadly, I think this dish may have been a little better with something added. The steak was cooked very well, but the flavor was lacking slightly. It was still a good cut of meat, but overall I was not wowed. I think I expected more from a steakhouse. Next time, I would try one of their sauces or extra toppings for a few dollars more. Some of them certainly sounded tasty!

So, it wasn't the night that we were prepared to have, but it ended up being quite fun and interesting to explore such a unique and historic downtown restaurant. The restaurant clearly has a following. One couple at the table next to us refused menus when seated- they knew what they wanted and it sounded like they dined there frequently! It might not have the hype around it like several of the newer and more "fashionable" restaurants in that area, but if you are looking for something different and traditional then I'd recommend stopping in. I can't say that it was so good that we will be running back for more too soon, but I did enjoy the experience and it was nice to support an independent restaurant that has been such an icon in that area.

John Q's Steakhouse
55 Public Square
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 861-0900

John Q's Steakhouse on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A "Jewel" Of An Evening

"R" and I had the pleasure of attending The Best Cleveland Chefs Cooking to Bring Jewel Home from China on Monday night at the Sight Center to benefit the Jarrett family. Local chef Jeff Jarrett and his family are trying to adopt their second special needs child from China, and the price tag is hefty. Did you know that it can cost over $20,000 to bring an adopted child over from China?

Well for just $25, guests did their part to contribute to this worthy cause. You can help too by making an online donation here.

We dined our way through 19 chef stations and thoroughly enjoyed sampling the dishes from some of our area's best. For photos and descriptions of each, check out my fellow blogger Nancy's post. Our favorites of the evening were Ky-Wai Wong- Lucky's Cafe: Mac & Cheese and Matt Mathlage- Light Bistro: Pork Belly Sandwich. The good news is that the heavenly macaroni and cheese can be found on Lucky's regular menu. This dish seriously made us want to jump in the car and drive there immediately! Also, Nancy discovered that Light Bistro's sandwich is featured on the Happy Hour menu. I know where we are headed next Friday! A close third was Matt Baber from Naya Bistro. Naya was our discovery for the evening. I've never heard of this restaurant, located in Highland Heights, but after trying their jerk pork dish we can't wait to check it out.

Of course the food was fantastic and we really enjoyed almost everything that we tried, but what really struck me about the evening was not necessarily the food. It was so nice to look around the room and see such an eclectic crowd- all there to support the Jarrett family. I saw many of my fellow foodies and bloggers (all tempted by the promise of fabulous samplings), supporters of the Sight Center, and then many extended Jarrett family members and friends. Family members all had on name tags identifying themselves as "Jewel's Aunt", "Jewel's Grandpa", etc. and I thought that it was a sweet touch.

Also, we all know that our area's chefs are fabulous and give so generously throughout the year at local tasting events and charity benefits. But to see them all rally behind one of their own was inspiring. As we made our way through the room and spoke with almost all of the chefs, they commented on what an honor it was to be there and that they were happy to help this family unite. It truly made me proud to be a Clevelander. It was a "jewel" of an evening, and we wish the family the best of luck at reaching their fundraising goal.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Italian Post On An Irish Day- Oops!

Ok, I feel a little weird writing about an Italian restaurant on the most Irish day of the year- but oh well. I'll drink a green beer later and make up for it! Saturday night, "R" and I headed out for a belated birthday celebration at Ponte Vecchio. The restaurant has been on my list to try for quite a while now- it even made my New Year's Resolution list of 10 Restaurants to try in 2010. I guess that I can cross it off now- one down, nine to go.

When we walked in, I was a little surprised at how warm and casual it was. I was under the impression that it was a little more stuffy and formal than it really is. I was instantly pleased. Light wood accents, interesting granite table tops, comfy booths, large windows, and a partially open kitchen welcomed us. Even though it was a rainy night in Cleveland, the view was still fabulous. The restaurant is nestled on the west bank of the flats at bridge-level, and the windows directly face downtown and several of our gorgeous bridges. At night, with all of the buildings lit up- it was truly special to see.

We started with the Crab-stuffed Artichoke Bottoms with prosecco hollandaise sauce ($11)- suggested by our server. The dish arrived slightly cooler than I would have wanted, but this didn't stop us from awarding this antipasti course as our "favorite" of the meal. An artichoke heart supported a large pile of crab pieces, and the rich sauce was poured on top. The combination of flavors was well-balanced. Then we shared a Poached Pear Salad with hazelnuts and gorgonzola ($8). The salad was good, but nothing special. It could have used a little more cheese and balsamic dressing. Selecting an entree was very difficult! Several options jumped out at us, so we finally settled on two that we both wanted to try. This meant that I would get to have at least a few bites of his, because he'd want mine as well!

"R" ordered the Lobster Cioppinno with scallops, clams, mussels, and lobster ravioli ($28). The dish arrived with a heap of fresh seafood- including a small lobster tail. Under the seafood rested two ravioli, which were good but one or two more would have made for a more substantial dish. It was prepared in a traditional marinara sauce. "R" stated that he loved the dish, but I felt that the marinara dominated the flavor. I am such a seafood freak that I don't like it when it is overpowered. I happily ate my Pan Roasted Jumbo Scallops with lobster mashers, saffron butter, and spinach ($23) instead. Three seared scallops accompanied a generous pile of lobster mashers, which included several large pieces of lobster. The saffron butter sauce is what brought the dish together. It was buttery with just a hint of citrus, and I barely left any on the plate.

As if we weren't full enough, we ordered Tiramisu and Chocolate Mousse- both served in a fun martini glass. The tiramisu was interesting and nontraditional, and the mousse included fresh sliced strawberries which was nice. I was so full that I took most of it home with me. The night turned out even better than we had anticipated, and we will certainly be back. The food was very good, but the view alone is worth experiencing at least once. It really makes you realize how beautiful our city truly is...

2100 Superior Viaduct

Cleveland, OH 44113

(216) 556-8200

Ponte Vecchio on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 15, 2010

Tater Tot Love

I've written about Touch Supper Club before, but we just had brunch there yesterday for the first time and I was really impressed. I've heard that they put on a great brunch, and the menu certainly looked extensive online- but it has taken us two years to get there on a Sunday! I'm glad that we finally did, and I think this may be a new Sunday tradition...

First, their brunch hours are 11AM - 5PM- which I think is fantastic. Many brunches end by 2 or 3PM, but this allows late brunchers (such as ourselves on this occasion) sneak in later than we would have been able to anywhere else that we've been. Second, the prices are really reasonable. Dishes ranged from $5-$10, with most of them falling at $6-$8. Almost all of the dishes come with fresh fruit and tater tots. I recommend asking for the house-made (or at least altered) ketchup with the tots. C'mon, who doesn't LOVE tater tots?! I had a serious flash back to my childhood.

"R" and his family members ordered the Stuffed French Toast with berries foster and cream cheese ($6), Touch Burger grilled-to-order angus, fried egg, crispy copa, and touch secret sauce ($7), and the Veggie Omelet with tomato, green pepper, mushroom, onion, and cheese ($6). "R" and I have had Touch's berries foster as a dessert before, and it was just as tasty and sweet for breakfast! The burger looked well-executed, and his brother slurped it down quickly. Honestly, any time an egg is put on top of a burger- my ears perk up! The omelet was huge, and I do mean HUGE. The vegetables were fresh and the omelet's edges were slightly browned- just right.

I had the Steak, Egg & Cheese Bagel with steak, egg, and cheese ($7). The sandwich came on an everything bagel, which added great flavor to the otherwise neutral ingredients. The other thing that brought it all together was the "Touch Secret Sauce", which was generously pooled around the sandwich. I would love to know what was in that sauce! It was creamy and buttery without overpowering the dish. Note- I ordered my egg over-medium instead of the traditional scrambled that it is served with. I will certainly try other menu options when we dine there again, but I'll be back for this sandwich.

P.S. Purse hooks at the bar ladies!

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

Touch Supper Club on Urbanspoon

Saturday, March 13, 2010

One Year Ago Today...

Happy Anniversary Blog! It's been one heck of a first year together, and I'm looking forward to many more. Starting tonight...with a belated birthday dinner at Ponte Vecchio! See you tomorrow for Post #1 of Year #2.

*Yours Truly*

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Burrito Bar Snob

I have been spoiled. Burrito spoiled. I am well aware that this sounds weird, but it is true.

Working on the east side of Cleveland, my first burrito after moving to this fantastic city was from Chili Peppers Fresh Mexican Grill on East 185th Street. It is a popular lunch spot for our staff, and co-workers swore by this little (cash-only) restaurant from the moment that I started. For good reason...

The "build your own" bar contains such a wide selection of toppings and choices that it can be a little overwhelming at first. But then you get the hang of it, and you find your perfect combination that keeps you coming back. For $5.99, you can build your own burrito with selections like: rice, 2 (maybe 3) types of beans, onions two ways, and at least 4 different meat choices and steamed veggies for the non-meat eaters. Then you move on to the toppings. Some of my favorites, and clearly unique options, include: fresh cilantro, a squeeze of fresh lime juice, jalapeno peppers prepared three different ways, corn, house-made chunky guacamole...and I'm not even mentioning your standard toppings such as cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. You can top it all off with two different salsa options and three different sauces! The food is fresh and authentic, and the staff expertly moves you quickly through the line.

We didn't have Chipotle in Upstate NY. In Cleveland, the billboards are hard to miss and I heard a lot of people talk about how great their burritos are. I will never forget my first time at Chipotle. I walked in and took one look at the limited toppings and choices, and shot a look of horror and shock at "R". Before you Chipotle-lovers out there yell at me, I'm not saying that it was a bad burrito. I was just expecting more after getting used to having so many selections available. I know that I shouldn't even compare a chain to a locally owned and operated business, but I think it just goes to prove my point that our local independent restaurants know how to do it right!

Now, here is where I just get picky and I fully admit that I have turned into a burrito snob. We don't live very far from Ohio City, and we dine out there frequently. I've heard nothing but rave reviews of Ohio City Burrito since it opened a few months ago, and we'd been looking forward to trying it. Actually, "R" bugs me on a weekly basis to go. Last night, we were looking for a quick and cheap dinner option so I suggested that we swing by. The restaurant is fun and playful, with lots of vibrant colors and artwork. The staff was chatty and helpful as I built my burrito. They start by swirling house-made guacamole on the tortilla. Any time someone swirls guacamole, heck does anything with guacamole- I'm happy! The price is very reasonable ($6.15 for a burrito), and we did enjoy our meal. I just have two words of wisdom for the restaurant- consider increasing the number of topping and choices (very Chipotle-esque with the options), and don't call your hottest sauce "fiery" if I can barely taste the heat. I want it HOT baby, bring it on! Leave the mild for the faint-hearted. Don't worry, I'll be back- it was good.

So I am happy that I have another good local burrito joint to patron in our area, but I still dream of Chili Peppers cilantro, lime juice, and other fabulous toppings when I am faced with a limited bar of options. Chili Peppers- you've officially spoiled me.

Dining Deals Alert- Almost all of the menu at Chili Peppers and Ohio City Burrito are under the $10 price point.

Chili Peppers Fresh Mexican Grill
869 East 185th Street
Cleveland, OH 44119
(216) 531-2300

Ohio City Burrito
1844 West 25th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 664-0908

Ohio City Burrito on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

"Playing" in the Square

The other night I was invited to meet friends for happy hour at Bricco and then travel across the street to see Xanadu at Playhouse Square, which would be my first time (for both). How have I lived in Cleveland for over two years now and not made it to Playhouse Square before?! It's not that other shows haven't enticed me, but now that I've been- I'll certainly be back.

We started the evening with dinner and drinks at Bricco. I immediately liked the feel of the restaurant, and I luckily got a view of the street lit up by the theatre's twinkling bulbs. I decided on the Iceberg Wedge with a roasted garlic white french dressing, baby tomatoes, crispy prosciutto, hard boiled egg, and crumbled blue cheese. All of Bricco's salads come as a full or 1/2 portion option, which is great if you want to pair a half salad with something else. The 1/2 wedge was $4.5. I also ordered the Goat Cheese dip with spicy marinara and served with fried pita bread ($7). The dip was warm and pleasant, but the dish was called "goat cheese" and the dominant ingredient and flavor was certainly the marinara. I felt a little cheated, because I seriously LOVE goat cheese. At the end of the meal our checks came, and I realized that my glass of wine and two dishes only came to $19- a steal! I even had more than enough of the dip and pita chips left over to take home for lunch the next day.

We then wandered across the street for the show, which ended up being packed with laughs and great characters. The red-headed sister was my favorite! Xanadu is "Taking audiences back to 1980 California, this hilarious new musical follows the beautiful Kira, who travels to earth to inspire a struggling young artist named Sonny, as she helps this aspiring painter to find his voice, discover true love and build the world's first roller disco." I highly recommend checking it out while the show is still in town, and Bricco is a convenient place to dine beforehand!

1438 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115
(216) 862-2889

Playhouse Square
1501 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44115
(216) 771-4444

Bricco on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 8, 2010

C'mon Baby, Light My Fire

We don't venture over to the east side too often with so many great dining options at our fingertips on the west side and downtown, but "R" and I were headed to Orchid Mania at the Cleveland Botanical Garden on Sunday, and we were in the mood for a good brunch. I've heard a lot about fire food & drink's "nationally recognized" brunch, so we decided to head there.

First, valet parking is complimentary- wonderful! It was such a nice perk, and if you hide the cost in the price of my meal- I'm okay with that. Bump it up a couple of bucks and make parking easy for me, and I'm a happy girl.

We didn't have a reservation, but were quickly seated in the bar area. I would have liked to have a little bit longer peak at the main dining room, but it was nice to have no wait. Coffee and juice came out quickly, and our server was very pleasant. He described a few of the dishes that we were deciding between, and helpfully made suggestions.

We started with the housemade sticky buns ($3), which were warm, gooey, and delicious. The frosting was not overpowering, and we thoroughly enjoyed the bun. Although they shouldn't call the dish "buns" because it is only one bun. The meal began on a high note... "R" ordered the bbq beef tacos- housemade tortillas, local gouda, pepper relish, mole, cilantro crema, local egg and black beans stew ($13) after our server suggested this dish over another. Three small tacos arrived on fresh corn tortillas. The meat and toppings had nice flavor, but the egg and black beans stew served with the tacos was a little strange. The poached egg was perched on top of the beans, and when "R" began to dig into the egg he saw the pool of oil that the dish was swimming in. It was a little unsettling to look at. I ordered the breakfast pizza ($10)- pictured above. The pizza was topped with cheddar cheese, home fries, bacon, and fried eggs. Overall, I thought that the pizza tasted "starchy" and bland. The bites that included bacon had the most flavor, but ones that didn't just tasted like crust, dry! fried egg yolk, and potato. Very heavy. The benedict dish that kept going by our table looked great, so maybe we just made the wrong selections. However, I take server's suggestions to heart and he did recommend both dishes.

The two main dishes left us a little disappointed, but overall I liked the modern feel of the restaurant and I'll probably be back at some point to give it a second try. Maybe for dinner next time!

fire food & drink
13220 Shaker Square
Cleveland, OH 44120-2315
(216) 921-3473

Fire Food & Drink on Urbanspoon

Friday, March 5, 2010

19 Chefs for Just $25- All for a good cause!

The BEST Cleveland Chefs Cooking to Bring Jewel Home From China

How often do we get to sample dishes from 19 of Cleveland's best chefs and restaurants for just $25? --- Umm, next to never.

How often can we dine on delicious samples, meet and mingle with some of our area's top chefs, and help a local chef's (Jeff Jarrett from North End in Hudson) family fufill their dream of adopting a second special needs child from China? --- That question, I know the answer to- never. Until now...

Join the Jarrett family and 19 of our top chefs as they cook for a great cause. You can help for only $25! The event is on Monday, March 22nd at the Cleveland Sight Center. You can make a reservation online through their event site (click on the link above), or by calling 330-353-4991.

Unable to attend? You can make an online contribution to support the family.

Hope to see you there!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Martinis, Oh My!

So the Chocolate Bar is certainly making a name for themselves down off of East 4th Street. Strategically located across the street from the House of Blues and the Euclid end of East 4th's strip of fabulous restaurants- they are primed for an after-dinner or post-show crowd. I met with the owner yesterday afternoon, and he told me that they are turning away 50% of the people who walk through their door right now- the wait is that long! For the location only being open for a few months, this is quite an accomplishment. People are certainly curious! Who wouldn't be when you combine food, tasty martini concoctions, and desserts galore?!

After my meeting, I settled in to wait for a co-worker who was joining me for a drink before heading over to CBC Magazine's Connectors Choice Celebration at the House of Blues. The bartender (whoever you are) was fantastic and fun. He was very knowledgeable of the menu and had personally tasted every martini on the list. My kind of guy! He suggested the Key Lime Pie martini, Macaroon Martini, or Banana Cream Pie martini.

Once my friend arrived, I did stray from his suggestions and ordered the basic Chocolate Martini. She opted for the Key Lime Pie, and boy I am glad that she did! Our fabulous bartender expertly created our drinks and even poured a shot glass full of each other's martini so that we could try both. Little things like this make such a difference for a diner! The Chocolate Martini was good, but not great. It was a little strong for my taste, and I think that some of the other playful creations would be a better choice. The Key Lime Pie on the other hand was refreshing and light. The warm foam poured on top mimicked meringue and was kind of fun. See, I guess this just proves that you should always consider listening to your servers! I'll know next time.

We decided to share an appetizer and ordered the Artichoke and Spinach Dip- parmesean artichoke dip served in a bread bowl ($8.49). The dip was served in a toasted bread bowl with pita chips and carrot/celery sticks on the side for dipping. The dip itself was packed with rich flavor and large pieces of artichoke and spinach, and we were quite happy. The pita chips were crisp but still soft on the inside and perfect for dipping. Then we went to break apart the bread bowl and that's where it went downhill. At first I tried to cut into it with my fork- that didn't work. Thankfully I was with a good friend, so I picked it up and tried to tear it apart with my fingers. That didn't work. We gave up and scooped out the rest of the dip, leaving the bread bowl behind. I found out from another co-worker who dined there recently that the same dish was served in a crock when she first had this dish. Maybe they should consider going back to this presentation!

Overall, I liked the place and will probably find myself there again. I don't know if the food will be able to compete with East 4th's great options, but I could certainly see "R" and I popping in there for an after-dinner martini and dessert. I hear that dessert is their specialty, and the lengthy list on the back of the menu supports that claim. Stay tuned...

P.S. They have purse hooks under the bar ladies! And the first foot rest on a bar that has ever actually been the right height for a shortie like me!

Chocolate Bar
347 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 622-2626

Chocolate Bar on Urbanspoon