Saturday, August 28, 2010

BYODDD Blogger Dinner

Last night our monthly blogger dinner took on a new twist: BYODDD. "Bring your own Drink, Dish, or Dog". Hosted by the lovely Alicia over at Poise In Parma and her dog Grady (see below), we gathered for dinner, drinks, and of course...dogs on her back deck. It was an amazing evening to be outside. Fall is knocking on the door and even though it was more than warm enough to be outside, there is a crisp in the air that wasn't there a week ago. My favorite season is just around the corner!

I wish that I could even begin to list all of the fantastic dishes that Alicia (and her wonderful mom, who I swear is a dog whisperer) prepared for us. The spread was long and tasty, with something for everyone. After a busy week at work, I was looking forward to a cold drink on the deck. Apparently so were the dogs, as you can see from above! The pups wandered around all evening, and I think that they had more fun than we did. My dog, Lizzie, was a bit overwhelmed by the other 5 but she started to warm up by the end. Maybe she'll be a little more receptive to Bacon's forward advances next time! Bacon is Suzanne's little black Boston Terrier pictured above- and our source of entertainment all night. That boy has got some ENERGY.

It was a fun Friday evening, and just what I needed during this busy time at work. The evening ended with lots of sweet treats, prepared by some of the other amazing blog ladies. We all know that I can not cook, so my contribution was wine. I can always be counted on for that. Trust me- you don't want me to bring a dish to pass at any party you are hosting. It was great to see old blends (blogger friends) and new. I love that there is always at least one new face at our dinners. It's wonderful to see the girls that I am getting to know well, but the chance to meet new Cleveland bloggers is fun. I always leave our monthly gatherings looking forward to the next one! Thanks again for hosting, Alicia (and Grady, of course!).

Friday, August 27, 2010

Taste of the Browns

The Cleveland Browns and the Cleveland Foodbank are partnering up for the 12th Annual Taste of the Browns event on Monday, September 13th at Browns Stadium from 6-9PM. This event is a football fan's and foodie's dream. The event features 25 of Cleveland's top high-end restaurants, all cooking up a signature dish for guests to enjoy while they mix and mingle with current and former Browns players. Does it get any better than that for our city that loves both our football team and fabulous food from our independent restaurants?

This foodie is drooling over the fantastic menu:
Sans Souci- Provencal Chicken with Farce, Tomato, Gastrique, and Foccacia
Don’s Lighthouse/Don’s Pomeroy House- Baked Crab Cake, Maine Lobster Corn Relish, Smoked Tomato Beurre Blanc
Bar Cento- Ohio Sweet Corn Veloute with Black Truffle and Duck Confit
Johnny’s Downtown- Applewood Smoked Veal Short Ribs with Autumn Squash Risotto and Crisp Mushrooms
Sushi Rock- Sushi Rock Surf & Turf: Sushi Maki Roll and Beef Tenderloin Skewer
Crop Bistro- Balsamic Popcorn and Buffalo Popcorn
Fahrenheit- Ultimate Gameday Hotdogs: Mini Kobe Hot Dogs, Ketchup, Mustard, Crisp Cucumbers, Diced Heirloom Tomato, Crunchy Bacon, Soft Rolls, Scallions
Lago Restaurant & Wine Bar/Grotto Wine Bar- Veal Tortellini and Lobster Gnocchi
Momocho- Adobo Braised Wild Boar Tacos with Pickled Jalapeno Mustard
Blue Point Grille- Lobster Bisque
Light Bistro- House-made Chicken Confit with Herb Polenta and Lake Erie Creamery Goat Cheese
Melange- "Dirty Chips": House-made Chips, Sonduel Bleu Cheese Fondue, Tomato, Scallions
Lucky’s CafĂ©- Mac and Cheese with Bacon; Gingerbread Roasted Peach Triffles
Hyde Park Restaurant Group- Slow Roasted Pepper and Herb Crusted Tenderloin, Sweet Potato Au Gratin, Bite-sized Beet and Goat Cheese Napoleons with Balsamic Syrup
Zack Bruell Restaurants: Parallax, Table 45, L'Albatros, Chinato- Parallax Sushi Selection; Indian Chicken Tikka Marinated in Yogurt and Spices; Brasserie Chop Salad; Pasticcio with Raddichio
John Q’s Steakhouse- Cognac, Mustard and Peppercorn Crusted and Roasted Tenderloin
Downtown 140- Phyllo Spring Roll with Forest Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Goat Cheese Fondue
Three Birds- Creamy Lump Crab Salad with Chipotle Spiced Corn Bread

The best part about this event is that all proceeds benefit the Foodbank, which provides food and support to over 600 local hunger programs in Northeast Ohio. For every $1 donated to the Cleveland Foodbank, it can provide 4 meals in a hunger center. So for the $150 Taste of the Browns ticket price, that's 600 MEALS! You get to enjoy amazing food prepared by our area's best chefs, meet Browns celebrities, listen to live music, win fantastic auction and raffle packages...and provide meals to those in need. It's a great event, and one that you shouldn't miss.

For more information, visit Hope to see you there!

Monday, August 23, 2010

A "Crabby" Morning

"R" and I didn't get to spend much time together this weekend, so we woke up on Sunday morning and both had a craving for a good brunch. He had plans that afternoon with friends, so brunch was a great way to start the day together. We quickly and easily decided to use a gift certificate to Latitude 41. On our last visit, and first visit ever, I really didn't enjoy my meal. But "R" had loved his pizza and has been talking about it ever since. I was ready to give them another shot, and I've heard nothing but good things about their Sunday Brunch.

Fall was in the air yesterday, and after settling into a comfortable booth we helped ourselves to steaming mugs of their Cinnamon Coffee- very unique. After my required sugar and creamer were added- it was perfect, and the coffee warmed me from the inside out. Did I mention that we had taken the motorcycle there? Yeah, not the best decision ever.

Several items sounded good on the brunch menu, but one kept jumping out at me: Chesapeake Stuffed Omelet ($8.5)- lump crab meat & artichoke cream cheese mix (pictured above). All omelets are served with Lat 41°n breakfast potatoes and toast. When the dish arrived, there was a surprise- hollandaise sauce! As you can see, the omelet was completely smothered with the creamy, rich sauce. Even though it was broken and had started to separate, it was a welcomed component and enhanced the flavor of the omelet. The omelet was light and fluffy, crab meat was flavorful without being fishy, and the artichoke cream cheese mix was smooth with a great punch of artichoke flavor from time to time. I was lovin' this omelet! The breakfast potatoes were also very good and clearly made in-house. The only component that wasn't a shining star was the toast. Some homemade bread, not the standard pre-sliced grocery store version included, would have just pushed this dish over the edge. Even though I don't eat jelly or jam very often, I did appreciate the chunky homemade jelly that accompanied the plate.

"R" was craving that Southern BBQ pizza that he had the first time, but decided to go for a breakfast version instead. He ordered the Pizza for Benedict-pizza dough layered with spinach, mozzarella cheese and choice of protein topped with poached eggs and hollandaise sauce; served with a side of Lat 41°n breakfast potatoes. Diners have the choice of five protein toppings, and "R" went with the Maryland Crab Cake ($10.5). See, it was a crab-filled morning for us! His pizza was very good (they really know how to make a good crust!), and a great portion size for breakfast. I would happily order this dish as well.

At the end of the meal, I can more than say that Latitude 41 redeemed themselves in my eyes. Now that I've witnessed first-hand their famous Sunday Brunch- we'll be back, and soon.

Did I forget to mention that it started raining just as we left the restaurant? It made for a cold, and wet, ride home!

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

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I've Found The Best Fry!

So every restaurant has an "off" night from time to time. Every restaurant makes poor decisions every once in a while. All staff members of any restaurant team sometimes don't perform to the best of their ability. It's only when these nights, these decisions, these performances happen often that it becomes a problem.

Last night, Reddstone had one of these rare nights in my opinion. Thankfully, we've been there before and I could easily recognize that it was just a bad night. There were some things that were just plain wrong about our meal and overall experience there last night, and I'll only touch on them a little because we all know that it happens. I wouldn't even bother to write about this dining experience if it hadn't been for a major discovery worth telling you about.

To touch on the bad...We were seated directly in front of the live band and told that "if it was too loud, let them know and we could change tables". Well we quickly realized that it was and made mention to our server, but by the time a table was free we had been served our meal and felt it wasn't worth moving. Thankfully, the band was good. But I watched as several of the tables seated after us moved away. It was just too loud to talk, let alone enjoy your meal. The band was playing from 6-9PM- peak dining hours on a Friday evening. I think if the band had come on around 9, it would have more appropriate.

The second fail of the evening has a little to do with the band and a little to do with the food. I ordered the Reddstone Burger ($9)- grilled sirloin, smoked bacon, cheddar, and a fried egg. Having had an amazing burger there during our first visit, I was craving one and my decision was easy. During our blogger tasting event, we had tried a version of the All American Burger which came with the Reddstone Special Sauce. I had enjoyed the spicy mayo, so when I ordered my Reddstone Burger I requested a side of the special sauce. When my burger arrived, the side of sauce was clearly not the special sauce I had been looking for. The band had been too loud, and our server hadn't understood my request. I did appreciate her quick response, and the special sauce arrived shortly at our table. The issue is that when I received the bill I saw that I was charged for the side of special sauce, and I was charged for the first sauce as well. Not cool. The biggest fail of the evening happened once I took my first bite of the burger. The hearty bun was dried out and hard- beyond what toasting it should have done. It was pretty obvious that it was an old bun, and even the juicy meat and ample amount of sauce that I used couldn't save the bites from being dry and unappealing.

Alright, I hate writing about the short comings of a meal or dining experience so here is my big discovery of the evening- SWEET POTATO FRIES. Holy moly, Reddstone has THE most AMAZING sweet potato fries that I have ever tasted. And I've tasted many. The fries were much thicker than a standard-cut sweet potato fry. They had a great crisp to the outside and were all soft and gooey on the inside. The real winning point of this preparation was the seasoning on the outside of the fries. It was a blend of sweet brown sugar and salt. Both ingredients worked in harmony without overpowering the other- a perfect marriage of salty and sweet. The portion was perfect too, because I think too many of these would overwhelm you with the bold flavor. "R" devoured his and began to eye my plate. You can order these fries for an additional charge instead of the house shoestring rosemary french fries. They were out of the sweet potato version during our first visit, and now I understand why. Reddstone should seriously consider making the sweet potato fries their house specialty instead of the only so-so shoestring fries we had previously. These fries are outstanding.

So there's my tip for you. Thanks for sticking through my negative comments about the experience last night, but once you try these fries you'll know that it was worth it. So go forth and dine!

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

Monday, August 16, 2010

The Feast!

Well yesterday I made it to my very first Feast of the Assumption in Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood. I've spent three summers living in Cleveland (hard to believe time flies that fast), and we finally made it there after all of the hype. Was it worth it? The jury is still out...

Late last week I sent a tweet out asking when the best time to go was. We were looking to experience the festival in its glory, but avoid the "peak" times and crushing crowds that I had heard so much about. Some of you mocked my question, but several of you offered key advice. So we headed out early Sunday evening, and while I didn't see the rest of the four-day-long festival- I thought we were there at a perfect time. The streets and patios were full, but it was easy to navigate up the main street and the lines weren't terribly long at the food stands. If there was a line at all, you knew that whatever they were serving was popular! Like the stromboli line.

Parking was a bit of a pain, and expensive in my opinion since you are about to head into a street festival and drop a bunch of money on trying different food samples and supporting the stands filled with apparel, jewelry, artwork, and other goods. At first, we headed to the outskirts of the festival trying to find free or cheap street parking- it was a No Go. So then we investigated parking lots and garages several streets away- only to discover that they were charging the exact same $10 that the lots right next to the festival were charging. We headed back up to a garage close by and grumpily paid the $10. If we knew the neighborhood a little better, then I am sure we could have found cheaper parking. Any suggestions for next year are welcomed!

It was once again very hot and humid in Cleveland yesterday, but when we arrived around 5:30PM it was starting to break. We wound our way through the street festival sampling gnocchi from Gusto!, ciabatta pizza from Orlando Baking Company, pesto pasta from La Dolce Vita, a fresh meatball stromboli (the line was worth the wait), and we ended with a cold tiramisu from Presti Bakery. With our bellies full and people-watching quota complete, we headed home.

All in all, it was a fun summer Sunday evening and The Feast was worth experiencing even just once. Now will we be back next year? We'll have to wait and see...

Friday, August 13, 2010

A "WISE" Evening Out

It has been an event industry networking-filled week for me! After the event at AMP 150 on Tuesday with ISES, I gathered with the other organization that I belong to- WISE (Women in Sports and Events)- for our Summer Networking social last night. About 15 women working in the sports, events, media, and public relations industries in Cleveland gathered for appetizers and cocktails at Bonefish Grill in Independence.

I always enjoy our WISE outings and educational programming, and this event did not disappoint once again. Both members and non-members attended (a few of us pictured above), and I had the chance to catch up with old friends and meet several new faces. If you are a woman working in these industries, don't miss our September event called "Financially and Physically Fit". Look for updates on the website and join the mailing list if you are interested. I can't say enough wonderful things about this organization and what I've gotten out of being a member- especially being new to Cleveland 2 years ago!

Ok, my plug for the organization is over. This being a food blog, I do have to comment on the appetizers we dined on. Being a chain restaurant, Bonefish is not a place that I would frequent. I choose to support our local independent restaurants when I can. However, the few times that I have been in there ("R's" mom loves it there and drags us out from time to time) I haven't been disappointed. Their food is decent, and a few dishes are above average. I actually really enjoy their mussels, and the four different appetizers that were served last night satisfied everyone at our table. We sampled the Bang Bang Shrimp, Singapore Calamari, Cajun Chicken Egg Roll, and Ahi Tuna Sashimi. The tuna was my favorite, and I would order it if I was there on my own. The manager and our two servers were very gracious hosts, and we all enjoyed a great evening out. The night left me looking forward to our next WISE event!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Tour of Chef Cooley's Garden

Last night, the local chapter of ISES (International Society of Event Specialists) hosted an event at the Cleveland Airport Marriott featuring Chef Ellis Cooley from AMP 150. The event was titled "Culinary Trends: From the Garden to the Table". It included a cooking demonstration and tastings from Chef Cooley, and a tour of the 1/4 acre garden that he and his team installed this spring just past the parking lot on an unused piece of overgrown land owned by the hotel. Other people saw weeds and asphalte- Cooley saw corn, cucumbers, peppers, herbs, and more!

The evening started with the cooking demo and samples of the dishes that Chef was using to highlight his definition of farm-to-table. We tried a beet salad with Ohio-made goat cheese, a scallop perched on top of Ohio-grown corn "pudding", sliced heirloom tomato on toasted bread, and a sausage-stuffed pepper. Cooley had literally picked the peppers from their garden at 2PM. It doesn't get any fresher than that!

The second portion of the event included a detailed tour of the garden by Chef Cooley himself. As he walked through the cucumbers, squash, and peppers you could tell that his own blood, sweat, and tears are in that garden. He is pretty proud of their first attempt- and he should be!

It was a fun evening- filled with tasty samplings, networking, cold cocktails in the courtyard, and the chance to finally see Chef's vision of a garden come to life.

AMp 150

4277 West 150th Street

Cleveland, OH 44135

(216) 252-5333

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Twilight Recap

As you know, I attended the annual Twilight at the Zoo event last Friday evening to benefit the Cleveland Zoological Society. It was our third year in a row attending, and it didn't disappoint once again. It really has become one of my favorite events of the year, and "R" and I purchase our tickets when they go on sale in May. Which is very crafty of us because they are offered at a discounted rate. Since we are also members of the zoo, we received an additional $5 off each ticket purchase this year. So we walked away spending only $60 a ticket instead of the usual $75 general admission price. If you are planning on going next year, which you should, then keep an eye out for when tickets go on sale in May!

This year's event was very similar (why fix something that isn't broken!), but I did notice two things. Finding a wine station upon entering the main gate proved to be difficult. We hiked past two beer tents and wound our way to the back side of the Australian Outback section before we found our first wine stand. It was a lot of work for that first drink! Clearly we should have headed in the opposite direction, but for the past two years a wine station has been located just up and over to the left by the koala bears. We thought that we knew where we were going. It's just a minor complaint, but it didn't start my night off as well as the experience had in the past. Secondly, attendance seemed to be down slightly this year. It could have been traffic flow or another number of issues, but we weren't the only ones who commented that it felt that way so I have to wonder. If attendance was down, I hope that it picks back up next year because this event is fantastic!

One new discovery (due to the initial wine hunt) was a grilled foods buffet over by the petting zoo area. Burgers, hot dogs, baked beans, and veggie trays were a nice change from the all-fried foods we feasted on later.

Again, a highlight of the event was wandering around the grounds and seeing the different animals. We had the chance to pet two armadillos (Ken, and then Monty pictured above) and a hedgehog named Thistle. I love learning the names of the zoo's animals! The bands did not disappoint once again, and as the night wore on I started to dance a little more freely.

Here's a tip for wine drinkers attending the event: Grab an empty beer cup (they are larger) and pour your wine into the cup. The wine cups are so small and thin that they spill easily when you are walking around. Go for the larger, sturdier cup.

All in all, a great event. Saw new friends and old, stuffed my belly, enjoyed wine, danced to a variety of tunes, and left knowing a few more of the animals' names. We'll be back to visit soon!

View some pictures, courtesy of MetroMix.

Monday, August 9, 2010

This Spot Is "Divine"

One of my favorite Cleveland spots downtown is D'Vine Wine Bar on St. Clair in between West 6th and West 9th. The wine flights, small plates, curb-side patio, and excellent people-watching help rank this place towards the top of my list. A good cheese plate doesn't hurt either!

The second half of our anniversary celebration on the 31st was an after-dinner stop at D'Vine for a bottle of wine (we splurged on a bottle of Conundrum- our favorite dry white blend) and a cheese plate for dessert. None of Bruell's dessert options at Table 45 sounded quite as good as the D'Vine cheese plate. Plus we knew that we weren't ready to end the night quite yet, so this was a great post-dinner option.

While the cheese selections included have changed since the last time we had this, the presentation and accompaniments haven't- and for that I am grateful. The fresh fruit, Ohio honey, course-ground mustard spread, and the roasted garlic cloves (Ooooooh, the roasted garlic cloves) are what make this cheese plate stand out in my mind. Of course, excellent cheese selections are the core of the dish, but it's the added treats that make this plate special.

Cheese Plate- a selection of four cheeses with mustardo, Ohio honey, and roasted garlic bulb ($15):
D'Auvergne (Cow, France) pasteurized, spicy, pungent, moist, meaty, "King of Blues"
Cantalet (Cow, France) raw, buttery, nutty, one of the oldest cheeses from France
Fleur Verte (Goat, France) pasteurized, soft, creamy, fresh herbs, slight sweetness
Farmstead Gouda (Cow, Ohio) raw, semi-firm, Dutch style, biodynamic, made from company owned cows

So we happily sipped away, argued over the roasted garlic cloves, remarked on the odd outfits (and characters) walking by, and ended our evening on a good note.

D'Vine Wine Bar
836 W. Saint Clair Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 241-8463

D'Vine Wine Bar on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Twilight At The Zoo

This weekend is one of my favorite events of the year...Twilight at the Zoo. Look to your left and meet Ken. Ken, the Armadillo. That's who (what?) I got to meet at last year's event. What I cropped out of the picture was me holding a cup of wine in one hand and pointing at Ken with the other- with the look of pure joy on my face that a five-year-old has on Christmas morning. Yup, that's how happy I was.

This fabulous event combines three of my favorite things: food, wine, and the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo. By no stretch of the imagination is this a "foodie" event. The options include entire buffet lines dedicated to fried foods, with the occasional Carrabba's pasta bar or Bob Evans stand tossed in. The food is not the highlight of the event, but it does help line your stomach for the beer and wine that you inevitably consume.

What really draws guests in from year to year is the opportunity to spend an "adult-only" evening wandering through the zoo's grounds enjoying an assortment of live music, while sipping on your cocktail of choice. The 14 bands are scattered throughout the zoo, featuring Motown, rock, salsa, swing, country and blues (something for everyone!). My personal favorites are 1988 and Disco Inferno, and I look forward to their performances every year. "R", of course, refuses to dance (rock out?) with me- so if you see me sashaying to the beat by myself, feel free to join!

I really do think that this event is a "Must Do" in Cleveland. Experiencing the zoo at night and in an adult-friendly zone is fun and memorable. Tickets are still on sale here. For $75, that benefits the Cleveland Zoological Society, it's a steal. All you can eat, all you can drink, live music, and experiencing the animals up close and personal- how can you resist? I know I can't! Hope to see you there.

Twilight at the Zoo
Friday, August 6th
7PM - Midnight

Monday, August 2, 2010

Tour de Bruell Makes Another Stop

As "R" and I continue on our Tour de Bruell (having already tried Parallax and L'Albatros), we decided to spend our anniversary dinner at Table 45 in the Intercontinental Hotel this past Saturday. In order to properly celebrate our glorious three years together (dating, not married- we live in sin *gasp*), we wanted to kick it up a notch from our normal dining out. Table 45 was a good choice, as the atmosphere is quite different than the comfortable, warm, and more casual setting that we gravitate towards on a regular basis. I have never dined in another restaurant that so accurately fits the description of "modern"- clean lines, stainless steel, a color scheme of white/black/red, light wood accents, glass, and sleek furniture. It creates an impressive visual, but it is certainly not an atmosphere that most people would find comfortable or inviting to dine in. Setting aside, the service was good but not great. I'm not sure if it was just our server or if he was trained to be this way, but he was a little stiff. Now on to the food...

We had a $50 gift certificate to spend, so we decided to share an appetizer and ordered the Crab Cakes ($12)- rice paper wrapped crab cakes served with a spicy Asian remoulade. Two medium sized cakes arrived with a side of remoulade. Tasted by itself, the remoulade didn't strike either of us as anything special. But, once paired with the crab cake the sauce added texture and flavor that enhanced the overall dish. The cakes were lightly wrapped in rice paper and fried- giving it a nice crunch to each bite. The filling contained mostly fresh crab, which was the dominant flavor of the dish without tasting fishy. "R" considers himself a crab cake connoisseur (crab cakes and gyros- he's so varied), and he ranked these cakes up there among the top.

For his main course, "R" ordered the Hanger Steak ($22)- Latin marinated steak with boniato root mash, plantain chips, and tomatillo salsa. Our server warned him that this dish was packed with flavor, but aside from the slight heat in the salsa I didn't see where he was coming from. The steak itself didn't have a whole lot of flavor, and it was slightly over done. The boniato root (in the sweet potato family) mash was creamy with a hint of sweetness, and I think it was the best thing on the plate. Unfortunately, "R" was a little disappointed with his selection and slightly jealous of mine. Based on our server's recommendation, I ordered the Braised Short Ribs ($26) (pictured above)- Cabernet braised short ribs with spring pea risotto and natural sauce reduction. The meat was so tender that it literally fell apart as I took each bite. The knife was left clean! I also really enjoyed the spring pea risotto, which was soft and creamy with the occasional whole pea included that added texture and brought out the pea flavor. The lightly shaved parmesan cheese also helped. The only, tiny, criticism that I have about this dish is the sauce. It was missing that "something special", so the flavor was pretty basic. Overall, I did enjoy the dish but it didn't wow me as other Bruell creations have in the past.

It was another successful stop on "the Tour", but I doubt that we will be dining there again when Bruell's other restaurants have a slightly more comfortable atmosphere and have delivered better dishes in our opinion. Next (and last) stop- Chinato! Who's with me?

Table 45
9801 Carnegie Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44106
(216) 707-4045

Table 45 on Urbanspoon