Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Bon Voyage

This will be my view for the next (well after work on Thursday) 10 days...the gorgeous Canadian wilderness. No computer, no cell phone, no TV...did I mention no conventional toilet? There had to be one negative, right?!

To look forward to: swimming, reading by the lake, hiking, boating, fishing (as long as someone else touches my worm and fish), camp fires, great food, stiff drinks, board games, getting a tan (hopefully), falling asleep to the sounds of nature...and my family joining "R" and I on the trip all the way from NY.

It doesn't get much better than that...........

Monday, June 28, 2010

Sushi, and Sake, and Scallops- Oh My!

At a recent fundraising event, "R" and I purchased a 5-course wine, sake, and dinner package for six guests at Shinto Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar in Strongsville. With high hopes and excitement, we found two other couples to share the package with and we set a date. I took care of making all of the arrangements with their General Manager, Brittany Swan, who was fabulous to work with.

We arrived a few minutes early and grabbed a drink at the small bar while we waited for the others. As we finally got situated around the hibachi table, we realized that the first course was already waiting for us: Tako Salad ($4.5)- thin sliced octopus in a sweet marinated soy sauce. The salad was light with just a subtle sweetness, and we were off to a great start. Next came their infamous Lobster Roll ($15)- South African cold water lobster deep fried in crunchy tempura batter, rolled in soy paper and stuffed with cucumber and daikon radish and served with a side of Jimmy’s famous lemon sauce. The manager, who was our lovely guide for the evening, told us that the roll has won several titles and awards in Cleveland. It was easy to see why. By deep frying the roll, it gave the outer layer a slight crisp. I have never seen this done before with a sushi roll, and I loved it! During this second course, we were also served a large portion of their Calamari Tempura ($7)- strips of calamari with assorted vegetables in a crispy tempura batter served with a savory tempura sauce. The calamari was lightly breaded, and the sauce was sweet with a kick of heat behind it. Everyone at the table really liked this dish.

The third course was the traditional House Onion Soup ($2)- a light chicken and beef broth home-stewed with crispy onions and sliced mushrooms and a House Salad ($2.5)- fresh salad with homemade ginger dressing. Both were very basic, but a great lead into the main course- Hibachi! We had our choice of protein, and most of us at the table went with scallops and a side of shrimp flambé. Our chef quickly prepared our meals right in front of us, with a show complete with fire and tricks of course (see above). Again, the third and fourth courses were very standard, but good.

Our final course was a great way to end the evening: Ice Cream Tempura ($4.5)- vanilla ice cream wrapped in thin pound cake with a light tempura batter and quick fried. For those of you that have never tried fried ice cream, I highly recommend it. The sweet, warm batter paired with the ice cream makes for a tasty bite!

Each course was expertly paired with sake or wine, with our hostess walking us through the history of the restaurant and Japanese culture. The atmosphere of the space is exactly what you would expect from a hibachi restaurant, but it was nicely decorated and they have a small patio for outdoor seating. Overall, it was a fun experience with a few of the dishes that were outstanding. They also told us about sushi rolling classes that are hosted once a week, and my ears perked up at that point. There may be some rolling in my future. Can I count that as "cooking"?

Shinto Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar
17070 Pearl Road
Strongsville, OH 44136
(440) 878-3868

Shinto Japanese Steakhouse & Sushi Bar on Urbanspoon

Friday, June 25, 2010

Something to Get "AMP"ed About

Chef Ellis Cooley has been making a splash over at AMP 150 in the Airport Marriott since arriving in Cleveland- not only in the dining scene and among foodies but on the social media network as well. Utilizing Twitter, Facebook, and most recently Foursquare- Cooley is communicating with and engaging his customers and potential diners very well (in my opinion). Asking diners about their experience, offering deals and freebies to patrons, listing specials and events, and even hosting a "Tweet-up" and earning everyone a swarm badge through's all working for him. People have certainly been buzzing about AMP since its opening, and I finally got the chance to have dinner there last night at our monthly Blogger Dinner.

For full disclosure, this is not my first time dining there. "R" and I took my parents there for Mother's Day Brunch, but we left feeling very underwhelmed by the food and atmosphere. I swore to not judge based on a buffet (they are hard to do well), but I think my expectations were a little higher than usual based on the reputation they were building for themselves. I will say that the desserts were amazing, and I'm dying to know if they made that cheesecake in-house. In the end, my mom enjoyed brunch and being in Cleveland on Mother's Day so that's all that matters. Moving on to my meal last night...

The dinner started with Chef Cooley greeting our table and talking to us for quite some time about everything that they have coming up this season. I knew that he was trying to use local product and stay seasonal as much as possible, but I had no idea that they actually change the menu on a weekly basis- swapping at least two or three items each week. I love that! They are building an outdoor dining area, and Cooley hopes to feature family-style "Sunday Dinners" out there this summer. He also told us that the garden is thriving and the bees are busy making honey on the roof. It's exciting to see his plans come to life.

I knew that I wanted to try at least two things from the menu in order to get a better sense of the style and quality. Something to note is that nothing on the menu is over $20, by design. After some recommendations from the chef and our server, I decided to try the Apricot Gnocchi ($8)- shaved asparagus, parmesan, and apricots (pictured above) and the Rabbit Spaetzle ($8)- peas, speck ham, and tarragon. Both dishes are from the Small Plates section of the menu, which are designed to give you a tasting and allow you to pair them with other dishes to create a full meal. Two was a perfect decision, and I left feeling full. I won't go in to a lot of detail, but both dishes were very good. You can tell that Chef Cooley puts a lot of thought into pairing his ingredients, and each dish was well-balanced in flavor and texture. He did tell us prior to the meal that the rabbit dish was about to change for the season and would be a much lighter version, which is a thoughtful decision because I did feel that it was a little heavy for a warm summer evening. I just hope that it reappears next winter!

I still can't get over facing the hotel lobby while I dine, so I think that I need to request a table in the back next time- but overall Cooley's talent shines through on the menu and the food will keep you coming back. I look forward to dining there again soon, and keeping an eye out for what he has planned next.

AMP 150
4277 West 150th Street
Cleveland, OH 44135
(216) 252-5333

Amp 150 on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Take the Challenge!

This is a good time to tell you that I will be taking a small break from the blog. "R" and I are doing the most un-patriotic thing possible over the 4th of July holiday, and we are headed out of the country. Just Canada, don't get too excited for me. I do feel a little guilty about leaving the USA, but that one extra paid holiday day allows me to spend 10 whole days at a water-access-only cottage on a gorgeous lake set in the rolling evergreen mountains of the Canadian wilderness. No TV, no radio, no straightening iron (well maybe once or twice), no computer (gasp), no cell phone reception (double gasp)...just complete and total relaxation. It may not appeal to everyone, but once a year it sounds like heaven to me!

But, while I am gone there is something really cool happening in Cleveland called Buy Local Week. COSE and I Buy NEO are asking people all over Northeast Ohio to make a pledge to redirect $100 of existing spending to locally owned and operated businesses in our area during the week of July 3rd through the 10th. If everyone in Northeast Ohio pledged just $100- $48 million could be kept right here. Not only are there great benefits involved for our local businesses and the area's economy- but you receive a discount card valid at over 40 area businesses and attractions during the month of August!

Just click on the link above and pledge your participation in this fabulous challenge. They even provide a list of over 100 ways to spend money locally. Personally, I suggest dining out at one (or several) of Cleveland's great independent restaurants.

If I was going to be in town, or the country, I would be participating. With no computer access or cell reception- it would be near impossible to complete or even contribute to. So "do as I say, and not as I do"! I may just take on a personal challenge once I return.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Bistro on Lincoln Park

A very impromptu Happy Hour trip led us to Bistro on Lincoln Park in Tremont last night. Since former Blue Point Grille chef Pete Joyce and his wife opened the restaurant, it has been on my radar but we hadn't gotten over there yet. It even made my 2010 New Year's Resolution list of restaurants to try this year. So when a friend suggested grabbing dinner and drinks there, I immediately jumped at the chance. I took a peek at their Happy Hour menu online and realized that they had some great deals. All menu items are $5, signature drinks and house wine $5, and draft beer only $3. Tuesday through Thursday these prices are offered from 4:30-Close, which is almost unheard of.

Five of us gathered on the small sidewalk patio (only about 7 tables) facing Lincoln Park. With the sun shining, flowers blooming, chilled white wine flowing, and the Tremont foot traffic for people watching- it made for a relaxing and fun atmosphere.

"R" and I decided to share several of the small plates on the $5 Happy Hour menu:
Lamb Sliders- peppered aioli, micro fennel, homemade slider buns
Bruschetta- ohio chevre, roasted tomatoes, fresh basil (pictured above)
Mozzarella en Carozza- house made mozzarella and pesto, grilled cheese style, tomato coulis
Truffle Mac & Cheese- traditional elbows, creamy cheese sauce and truffled bread crumbs
Country Sausage Ragout- Italian sausage, mushrooms, creamy polenta

The lamb sliders were some of the most flavorful lamb meat that I have tasted. The blend of spices did this patty justice. The bruschetta was my favorite of the five, but that probably had a lot to do with the creamy chevre cheese. There was a perfect hint of summer in this dish. Both the mozzarella sandwich and the sausage ragout were strong dishes with a nice balance of flavor and textures. The only dish that I wasn't thrilled about was the mac & cheese. It almost took on a fishy flavor in my opinion. But this was the only selection that I would not order again.

When I went to use the restroom, I took a peek around the main dining room. I was a little put off that it was completely empty on a gorgeous Thursday evening, but I later realized that there were additional diners in the bar area. The restaurant is broken into several different areas, with stairs, walls, and hallways diving the sections- which can be deceiving. At a glance through the window, the bar area looked casual yet modern with soft earth tones, grays, light wood, and stainless steel.

Overall, I think we enjoyed it more than I had anticipated and I look forward to coming back. The regular menu looked a little pricey. As I wasn't blown away by any of the food, I don't think that we'd be as likely to dine there from their dinner menu. But it does look like we found a new Happy Hour spot!

Bistro on Lincoln Park
2391 West 11th
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 862-2969

Bistro on Lincoln Park on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

It's All Longitude To Me

Last Friday brought an excursion to the west side for dinner at Latitude 41°N and some Made In The 216 action. The Gordon Square Arts District was hoppin', but we easily scored parking in Latitude's parking lot- which was appreciated. It was my first time dining there, and immediately I liked the comfortable atmosphere. Plush couches, bookcases, and the "do-it-yourself" ordering method all create a casual setting for a meal with good friends.

Six of us settled into a long table and started to look at the menu. I think that everyone had been there before, except for "R" and I, so they quickly made their selections. I spied a dish that reminded me of a Panini's sandwich, burger-style: “Wait Until Next Year” ($8.95)- half a pound of ground chuck or chicken breast BBQ’d and grilled with sharp cheddar, cole slaw, and Lat 41°n Fries all smashed under a toasted sandwich roll and served with a knife and fork. I was sold. "R" and I both decided to start with a cup of their signature Tomato Bisque ($3.5)- topped with crumbled bleu cheese and homemade croutons. The soup arrived first, and I stirred in the blue cheese before taking a spoonful. This was a mistake. Once blended, the soup lost any hint of blue cheese flavor. The soup was decent, and clearly homemade, but I felt underwhelmed and began looking forward to my entree. Again, I think I made a poor menu choice on the burger. The tower of food arrived just as described, and it was clear that I really was going to need a knife and fork for this dish. I dug in and quickly realized that my "medium" burger was very well done and dried out. The slaw was almost non-existent. With this being the only "wet" component, it left the entire burger dry and flavorless. As if this wasn't bad enough, the french fries were extremely salty and I could barely eat any. This is coming from a self-proclaimed salt lover. And french fries are one of my top five favorite foods! It pained me to leave them behind.

On a lighter note- the Southern BBQ pizza with BBQ chicken, bleu cheese, shredded mozzarella and provolone cheeses, red onion and snipped cilantro atop the savory/sweet BBQ sauce that "R" ordered was very good. It was even good the next day as leftovers! I also had a bite of one of their famous pasta bakes, which left me wishing that I had ordered one of their rich and creamy creations.

While my soup and entree choices left me very disappointed (and literally a bad taste in my mouth), I'd love to go back and try their brunch. I'd even venture to say that I'd go back for dinner. I am always open to giving second chances. I'll just have to be a little smarter with my selections!

Latitude 41°N
5712 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 961-0000

Latitude 41°n on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 14, 2010

Chef Jam Highlights

Last night, 1,000 guests (+ me and two friends) were lucky enough to nab tickets and attend the Chef Jam 2010: Cleveland Food Rocks event before it sold out. 25 amazing chefs with artist-inspired dishes, live music from bands made up of restaurant representatives, free beer and wine, and was the best event that I've been to this year. Aside from needing more seating and trash cans, the event was well-executed and the layout seemed to work. Restaurants were scattered on two levels, with the stage on the main floor entertaining guests throughout the Rock Hall. Partnering with the Rock Hall this year was genius. It was a perfect backdrop for this event.

Although I did not get to try all of the dishes (but I did try most!), of course there were some standouts:
Zach Bruell Restaurants: TP’s Smoked Pork Butt with beer-braised collard greens, hoppin’ john, and black pepper cornbread. The pork butt was moist, tender, and well-seasoned. I loved the Southern-inspired sides, including a refreshing cucumber salad.

Bar Cento: Mushroom Grilled Cheese. The cheese and mushroom filling in this dish was rich and gooey, and the grilled bread had a great crunch to it.

Melange: Watermelon “Bad to the Bone” Ribs, Effervescent Chicken Wings. I've had these ribs before, but they were spot-on last night. Fell right off of the bone and had a nice subtle heat to them. The chicken wings were incredibly crispy (in a good way) and quite spicy. Being the spice lover that I am- I enjoyed them, but they were a little too hot for my friends.

fire: assorted chocolate truffles. Enough said. My favorite was the dark chocolate coconut.

Menu6: Wild Mushroom Rice Paper Rolls. Light and fresh rolled greens and mushrooms with a great soy dipping sauce.

Sushi Rock: Sushi Surf & Turf. A fresh lobster California roll served with a side of skewered beef tenderloin. I'm not sure what the sauce was on the beef, but it was very good.

Not only was most of the food great, but the bands were really impressive. The Rare Birds from Greenhouse Tavern, Evil Eye from Happy Dog (pictured above), Melange from Melange, and Cream of the Crop featuring special guest Todd Rundgren topped off the night. Completely stuffed and rocked out, I finally headed home with a happy belly and still tapping my toes. As soon as tickets are on sale next year, they can count on my purchase!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

I've Gone "Loco" For Taco

"R" has three bar menu items that you can count on him ordering if he spies them on a menu: Chicken Quesadilla, Fish Tacos, and a Gyro. I rarely eat chicken, so he usually can't count on me for the first. I've been spoiled by Fergie's in Parma, and have yet to find a gyro that doesn't leave me wishing that it was Fergie's. But the fish taco is always my least favorite of his top three choices. Until last night...

We headed out to the Loco Leprechaun in Westlake last night to celebrate a friend's 30th birthday. I had never been there, but "R" swore by their fish tacos. The Loco is an interesting establishment with a Mexican-Irish blend of atmosphere and menu selections. Burritos, chicken paprikash, tacos, Reuben sandwich, and more. Nothing was really jumping out at me, so I decided to let "R" get us two orders of the fish tacos that he so loves. Fish Tacos ($7.95)- 3 served in hard or soft shells with shredded cabbage, fresh salsa, cheddar jack cheese, and cilantro lime dressing. It also comes with a choice of side (we went for the french fries at the bartender's suggestion- and it was a wise choice). The tacos were generous in portion, with a great balance of the ingredients. In almost every bite, you could get a little of each component. The battered cod was light and crispy, but the real highlight of the dish was the cilantro lime dressing. The bartender called it a "vinaigrette". I called it "tasty".

I won't say that I've crossed over to the dark side of loving fish tacos as much as "R", but these were hands down the best that I've tried- and I would have them again in a heartbeat.

Loco Leprechaun
24545 Center Ridge Road
Westlake, OH 44145-5616
(440) 250-5626

Loco Leprechaun on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Summer Menu At Reddstone

If you are a social media junkie like myself, you have probably been hearing about Reddstone all over Twitter lately. They are one restaurant that clearly understands how to engage their followers. It is one thing to post your special events, send out tonight's menu special (which I do enjoy seeing both)...but when I see local restaurants actually TALK to their audience and ENGAGE their audience, my little social media heart shines. So kudos to Reddstone.

Last night, Reddstone took the bull by the horns. They invited local food bloggers to come for an exclusive (and free) tasting of their new summer menu that they will unveil on June 15th. About 15 of us gathered for the tasting, some that I knew by face and all that I knew by name. It was great to see fellow bloggers that I consider friends, and wonderful to meet some for the first time in person. Poor Tom, over at Exploring Food My Way, was such a good sport sitting at a table with all women and putting up with our in-depth conversation about Reddstone's ladies room! Three and half hours seem to fly by, and our fun was over before I knew it. On to the food...

We were supplied with a menu listing of our five courses:
1st Course- Rare Salmon Lettuce Rolls with salmon carpaccio, radish sprout, sweet soy, chili-miso dipping sauce

2nd Course
- BBQ'd Duck Confit Sliders with daikon slaw and poblano creme fraiche

3rd Course
- "Slice of America" All American Burger with grilled sirloin, American cheese, pickle slices, and Reddstone special sauce

4th Course
- Shrimp & Soba Noodles with mixed veggies, creamy peanut sauce and pickled napa cabbage

5th Course
- Braised 5 Spice Short Ribs with kim chee potato latke, plum sauce and crispy leeks

I was immediately looking forward to several of the courses, but my first reaction was to be happy that the salmon lettuce rolls were first so that I could get them out of the way. For 27 years, I have lived my life believing and claiming that I HATE salmon. Last night, that all changed. The refreshing and slightly sweet roll, dipped in the flavor-packed chili-miso sauce, was my favorite of the evening. At the end of the night, the chef did explain that he made the rolls prior to our arrival so that we could be served the first course quickly (appreciated!) but that when it hits the summer menu they will be made-to-order, therefore allowing the lettuce to remain crisp and fresh. The soy sauce had softened the lettuce slightly in our version. The soba noodles took second in my opinion (very good), but someone at our table correctly made the point that the flavors were nothing that we haven't tasted before. Both the duck slider and the burger were moist and enjoyable. They are what you would expect for high-end bar food. The poblano creme fraiche on the sliders was something different, and balanced nicely with the sweet BBQ sauce. The only clunker of the evening was the 5th and final course- the short ribs. When tasted alone, I did like the plum sauce and the crispy leeks. However, the short rib itself and the potato latke were over salted and left us all a little disappointed. This dish needs some work before it makes its debut on the menu. Salt aside, it was a very difficult dish to taste cohesively. When you cut into the meat, it crumbled the shredded latke pancake underneath.

But I don't like to dwell on the bad, so I will walk away from the evening remembering the delicious dishes that we were so fortunate to preview. Their cozy patio is also fantastic and really enhanced our experience. I can already picture "R" and I settled in there for an evening of dinner and drinks. This much is certain- I will be back, and soon. Thank you again to Josh Kabat and his staff for hosting us. The service and communication was amazing. I will happily be your guinea pig anytime!


1261 West 76th Street
Cleveland, OH 44107
(216) 651-6969

Reddstone on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Where Will You Be On Sunday?

Have plans for this Sunday evening? If so, you should cancel them. If not, you should join me at Chef Jam 2010: Cleveland Food Rocks. This Sunday, June 13th, 25 of our area's best restaurants (just take a look at the amazing list below) will gather at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to dish up samplings inspired by a famous artist or group. The event will also feature live performances from bands made up solely of local restaurant employees: The Rare Birds from Greenhouse Tavern, Evil Eye from Happy Dog and Melange from Melange. How fun, right?!

Tickets are just $50, which I think is an incredible deal. Admission includes samples of all the dishes offered at each food station during the event, beer, wine, and you can stroll through the Museum’s exhibits. Proceeds from the event will benefit the Rock Hall’s education programs, and Cleveland Food Rocks will be awarding a scholarship to an outstanding Culinary Arts student at Cuyahoga Community College.

From the Rock Hall's website, here is a list of the restaurants and their dishes:
Zach Bruell Restaurants: Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes; TP’s Smoked Pork Butt with beer-braised collard greens, hoppin’ john, and black pepper cornbread
Bistro on Lincoln Park: Allman Brothers; Grilled “Eat a Peach” peaches with cracked black pepper ice cream and balsamic reduction.
Greenhouse Tavern: Black Keys; Grilled pork ribs with “thick freakiness” BBQ sauce
Blue Canyon: Burning Spear; Curried Goat
AMP 150: Rolling Stones; Beef Tongue with Cabbage Salad
Moxie: Pink Floyd; “Dark Side of the Moon” pies
Dante: LSD (Lemon-Scented Doughnuts)
Bar Cento: Phish; “Bathtub Gin” Gumbo with Mushroom Grilled Cheese and “Goo Balls”
Melange: George Thoroughgood and the Destroyers: Watermelon “Bad to the Bone” Ribs, Effervescent Chicken Wings, Dill Pickle Popcorn
Blue Point Grille: Ramones; Oysters Vindaloo
Caruso’s Coffee: Eric Clapton; Black Coffee “After Midnight”
ABC Tavern: Meatloaf; meatloaf
Flying Fig: Delta Blues; an assortment of Southern-inspired tidbits
fire: Beatles; “Savoy Truffle” (assorted chocolate truffles)
Menu6: Psychedelia; Wild Mushroom Rice Paper Rolls and “Strawberry Fields Forever”
Crop Bistro: Grateful Dead; “Backpack Rollups”
Prosperity Social Club: Hank Williams ; Jambalaya on the Bayou
Happy Dog: Elvis; “Ain’t Nothin’ but a Hound” dogs
Johnny’s: Frank Zappa; “Yellow Snow”
Momocho: Beck; Wild Boar “Satan Gave Me a Taco” Tacos
Executive Caterers: The Allman Brothers; roasted white asparagus with crawfish, green goddess, and crispy country ham
Lago: Bob Marley; Marley Meatballs
Bar Symon: Van Halen; Ice Cream Sandwiches w/Cabo Wabo Ice Cream, Bacon-Apple Caramel Sauce
SASA: ZZ Top; “ZZ Top” Sirloin
Sushi Rock: U2; “Even Better than the Real Thing” Sushi Surf & Turf
Grovewood Tavern: Iggy Pop; gourmet dogs

I don't know about you, but my mouth is watering already. Hope to see you there!

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

It Was "Yumm"y

I was the lucky winner of two tickets to Stove Monkey's Yumm 2.0 event last night, thanks to Dave over at Live to Cook...At Home. Held at Mercury Lounge on West 6th Street in downtown Cleveland, the event featured molecular cocktails, courtesy of Mike Gulley, in addition to four crowd-pleasing molecular gastronomy-inspired dishes. This would be my first real experience with molecular gastronomy, and I was looking forward to it. Guests crowded around the three food stations as representatives crafted unique, bite-sized bursts of flavor and fun. The anticipation in the air was so thick that you could cut it with a knife. "R" and I were pretty pleased that my luck had turned and that I had won tickets to such a different event.

The four samplings were:
Liquid Nitrogen Poached Ice Cream – instantly flash-frozen in liquid nitrogen (think Dippin' Dots). This was probably my favorite of the evening (process pictured above).

Coconut Bubbles – (literally) bubbles that tasted like coconut, but then surprised you with a sweet and spicy finish.

Liquid Baked Potato – a frozen liquid that tasted just like a Baked Potato, infused with white truffle oil and rosemary, coated in flour, then tempura-fried and served with scallion aioli. The line was very long for this concoction!

Inside Out Deviled Egg – reversed Deviled Egg. This liquid version tasted just like the real thing!

It was an interesting and fun event to attend. Thanks Dave! Normally, just $10- it's a steal. Included with our ticket was a free taco from Cleveland's very own traveling food truck- Dim and Den Sum! The "fried chicken" taco was tasty, but the chicken gizzards (yes, gizzards) were a little too chewy for my taste. Dave- In response to your original blog post: This is now officially the weirdest thing that I've eaten! Keep your eyes peeled for another event- it's worth checking out.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Cleveland Is "Lucky"

As Clevelanders, we know that we are fortunate to have such an amazing dining scene in our fair city. Over the past few years, the rest of the nation has started to catch on as well. Chefs like Symon and Sawyer are helping put Cleveland on the map (as others before them). I consider myself, a self-proclaimed foodie, very lucky to live here.

One of the restaurants that makes me feel "lucky" is Tremont's own Lucky's Cafe. I previously wrote about them here, but I had to pay tribute again after dining there last weekend. Several months ago, "R" and I attended a tasting event held at the Sight Center. Chef Heather Haviland and her team were there serving two amazing dishes- one of which took home the coveted title of "Guest Favorite". This would be their Baked Mac-N-Cheese: cheddar, brie, parmesan, and mozzarella cheeses baked with pasta and cream topped with brioche bread crumbs and served with house-made apple sauce. You can also add bacon for a small fee. At the event, I think we both ran back to their station for seconds (and thirds if I'm truly being honest). After talking to the chef, we discovered that the mac & cheese was served on their brunch menu. We knew a visit was in our future.

Several months passed, but we finally made it over to Lucky's last Saturday. I resisted several tempting breakfast dishes (and even my favorite side- the pecan crusted bacon), and chose the heavenly mac & cheese. It was even better than our first tasting of the dish at the event. The crisp crust and addition of bacon added a whole new dimension to the plate. As you can see from the picture above, I dove right in and took two bites before I even remembered to take a picture. Oops, sorry! The side of grapes and house-made apple sauce was appreciated. The dish was extremely rich, as you can imagine, so it was nice to have something fresh to cleanse my palate in between bites. By the time I was getting to the end of the dish, I was a little overwhelmed by the rich, heavy flavor but I knew what I was getting myself in to when I ordered. I have to say that it is one of the best macaroni and cheese dishes that I've ever had- sorry Grandma!

I do have to quickly mention the daily special that "R" ordered, because Lucky's should honestly consider adding this dish to their menu! Their corned beef hash, eggs, and hollandaise sauce was outstanding. If this is ever a special when you are dining there- you MUST get it.

Of course, the atmosphere of Lucky's always enhances your dining experience. Guests gather at brightly colored picnic tables outside amongst Haviland's vegetable and herb gardens. Talk about fresh. The staff is always pleasant, helpful, and quick. I am truly thankful that we have such amazing restaurants as Lucky's Cafe here in Cleveland. They make me feel "lucky" to live here.

Lucky's Cafe
777 Starkweather Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 622-7773

Lucky's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Grovewood Tavern

The Grovewood Tavern in the Collinwood neighborhood is a place that my co-workers and I frequent for happy hour. It is tucked away in a residential neighborhood off of East 152nd Street. As you drive down Grovewood Avenue on your first visit to this establishment, you start to wonder if you are lost. "Am I going the right way?" "Is there really a restaurant around here? One worth going to?" All of these thoughts certainly crossed my mind the first time I followed someone over there after work. The answer to all of these questions is...Yes.

With drink specials and $5 superb bar menu items, it is one of our favorite destinations from 5-6:30PM on weeknights. (I have several suggestions for dishes on their bar menu if you ever want them!)

After two years of sporadic happy hours spent at this restaurant, I finally had dinner there for the first time last weekend. Two of my close friends from college are from Cleveland, and we gathered with our significant others at Grovewood Tavern on Saturday night. I had called ahead for reservations, and they generously offered to save us seating on the patio as well as the dining room so that we could have our choice based on the unpredictable Cleveland weather lately. I thought this was a wonderful gesture. We were in luck! The weather was great and we all settled into patio seating and ordered a glass of wine to sip on as we searched the menu.

"R" and I had a card from the Cleveland Independents' deck for a free appetizer or dessert. We decided on sharing the Potstickers ($10)- shrimp and pork-filled dumplings with Thai chili butter sauce and seaweed salad. The potstickers themselves were good, but nothing special. However the sweet, but yet slightly spicy, sauce they came in was flavorful and well-balanced. I found myself dipping my bread in the leftover sauce. Two of us at the table, including myself, ordered the Blackened Diver Scallops ($28)- poached in ancho-honey cream with chorizo-cheddar-scallion-mashed potatoes and sautéed seasonal vegetables. There were several ingredients in this dish that peaked my interest. The large diver scallops were cooked perfectly, and I was really happy with the overall flavor and heat of the sauce. This isn't a dish for the faint-hearted! The potatoes were a unique twist on traditional mashed. The small, ground chorizo bits and melted cheddar cheese created a high-end version of one of my favorite comfort foods. The side of seasonal vegetables was good, but forgettable. My only complaint about the dish is that it was swimming in the sauce (see above). Since it had some heat to it (and I love heat), I craved bites in between to cleanse my palate. There were only so many bites of the mashed potatoes that I could skim off the top that hadn't been taken over by the pool of sauce. It is really only a minor complaint, since I did love the flavor of the dish, but the chef could stand to go a little lighter next time when plating.

As usual, the wine selections were top notch. We had a great night sitting on the patio, enjoying the food, and catching up. There was some interesting people-watching taking place as well! While I'll stick to their $5 bar menu items for now (I though the bill was a little high for the two of us), I could see us dining there again. Maybe to try their signature lamb dish with a spicy plum glaze!

Grovewood Tavern
17105 Grovewood Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44110-1574
(216) 531-4900

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