Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Flavors of Northeast Ohio

Last night I attended the American Liver Foundation's Flavors of Northeast Ohio event at the InterContinental Hotel. 21 of our area's best chefs wowed guests by preparing a 5-course meal tableside, complete with wine pairings and creative table decor.

The evening began with a cocktail hour featuring passed hors d'oeuvres from each of the restaurants. Since guests are only dining at one table that evening, it was a great opportunity to sample a small (and delicious) bite of what the other chefs will be featuring at their station. I was seated at Chef Ben Bebenroth's table from Spice of Life Catering. Spice of Life highlighted a Bison Tartar served with Dijon mustard, capers, Sriracha, and finely diced red onion during the cocktail hour. This bite represented the theme of our table - fall, rustic, and local - and was reminiscent of our main course: Seared Bison Filet.

Each chef was encouraged to decorate their table with a theme and present a menu to the guests outlining what lie ahead that evening. I was attending last night not only as a guest, but also as one of five Table Presentation and Menu Planning judges. I was honored to be selected, and enjoyed cruising by each of the tables before the event began. Several stood out. Dante's table creatively highlighted his passion for music, and the decorations and menu theme reflected his love for the Beatles by displaying records and naming each course after a song title. I was also impressed with Melange's menu theme. They were presenting their guests with an upscale fall clambake. I know this is one foodie who can't wait for my first clambake, so my mouth was watering!

But the standout of the evening was Chef Ben and his team from Spice of Life- my very own table! They took home the top prize and bragging rights for next year. As we approached our beautifully decorated table (see left), we instantly knew that the theme of the evening was going to be rustic, feature fall flavors, and highlight local product. Our menu (see above) was actually a map. The map led us on a journey of discovering where our meal was coming from that night. Ben had used product from 11 different local farms, including: Muddy Fork Farm, Killbuck Valley Mushroom Farm, Heritage Lane Bison Farm, Schultz Fruit Farm, and several others. Each farm was given an icon. The icons were featured under the description of each course if product was used from that location, and then guests could take a look at the corresponding map and find out exactly where that farm was located in our area. It was quite a learning experience, and it really hit home for me on what an amazing agricultural area we live in.

Our table's meal began with a Curried Autumn Bisque with apple chestnut relish. This soup screamed "FALL" to me, and the hearty texture and subtle heat warmed me from the inside out. This might have been my favorite course, but honestly it was hard to pick a winner from their outstanding menu. Each course was also paired with a wine, and we started off with a 2008 Jean-Lue Colombo, La Violette. This dry white had a clean, crisp finish and was right up my alley. We were off to a great start!

Our second course was a Pumpkin Panzanella Salad with fresh greens, shaved pecorino, and balsamic. I have not had pumpkin in a salad before, but I really enjoyed this preparation. The salad was a little tart, which I tend to lean towards over sweet, but it could have used a touch of sweetness to cut the flavor every so often. However, I saved the best bite for last, which included a small wedge of brie. This course was paired with a 2007 Jordan, Chardonnay which happens to be one of my favorite dry white wines. "R" and I often order it when dining out, so you can imagine how happy I was to see it featured on their menu!

Our third course included pheasant from the Plum Creek Poultry Farm. We enjoyed a Crispy Pheasant Breast with sweet potato puree, mizuna sauté, and a Madeira mushroom sauce. The breading was light and nicely seasoned, meat juicy and well cooked, and the potato puree was sweet and heavenly. I am always a sucker for anything that includes sweet potato. We switched over to red wine during this course, and enjoyed a 2006 Perrin & Fils, Les Christins.

Course four was a Seared Bison Filet, fresh from Heritage Lane Bison Farm, with a potato and turnip cake, tri-colored cauliflower, and a cider chili gastrique. Bison meat is very lean and can be difficult to execute well, but once again Spice of Life's chefs hit the nail on the head. The filet was expertly cooked to a perfect medium rare. The flavor of the bison meat on its own was very good, but I truly enjoyed the bites that also included a piece of the crispy potato and turnip cake. It was an excellent pairing. This course featured another red- 2006 Foley, Syrah.

Our final course of the amazing 5-course meal was an Apple Flambé featuring a puff pastry, burnt caramel ice cream, and buckwheat honey. I am not usually a fan of apple pie, apple crisp, etc. (gasp- I know), but this dish was a perfect end to our "fall" meal. The burnt caramel ice cream was my favorite component of this dish. We also rounded out the evening with a sparkling 2007 King Estate, Pinot Gris.

Thank you for hanging in there through this very long post, but I just couldn't stand to leave anything out. Event coordinator Rachael Stentz-Baugher, the staff and volunteers of the American Liver Foundation, and of course our city's talented chefs simply outdid themselves last night. The evening not only included a fabulous meal and cocktails, but offered guests the chance to bid on fantastic auction prizes, hear a touching story of one woman's battle with liver disease, and the opportunity to pledge critical dollars in support of a very worthy organization. It was a great event, and one that I plan to attend next year! With a $200 price tag for an individual it can seem steep, but I have to say that it is worth every penny (and more).

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Don't Miss Ingenuity Today

If you haven't gotten down to Cleveland's annual Ingenuity Festival yet, then don't miss your last chance today. This weekend-long festival features hundreds of live performances (of all kinds), exhibits, interactive displays, and a new addition this year- the man-made waterfall. The festival is free (a $5 donation is suggested), and is held in the depths of the Detroit Superior Bridge. As you literally wander through the bridge, artists and performers will trigger all of your senses. It can be a bit overwhelming at times, but it is quite a sight to be seen. The view is really one of a kind- our city makes a gorgeous backdrop. There is still quite a lot going on this afternoon, so get your butt down there if you haven't already!

I also wanted to apologize for the brief hiatus from the blog. I've been having some trouble with my lower back, and have been horizontal on the couch for 8 days. It makes it very hard to type, or really do anything for that matter. Surgery will be coming up in a few weeks. Blech. But I'm back to work tomorrow, and I've got several fun things on the horizon for you. I'm attending the Flavors of Northeast Ohio event tomorrow evening. The event benefits the American Liver Foundation, and 21 local chefs are creating a 5-course meal table-side. I have the pleasure of sitting at Chef Ben Bebenroth of Spice of Life Catering's table (Mmmm, he's a fantastic chef), and acting as a Table and Menu Judge to decide which chef will win an award for their outstanding table presentation and overall menu planning. I can't wait!

Also, Cleveland Beer Week is just around the corner, and I've got two tickets to their signature Brewzilla event to give away. Keep your eyes peeled- the contest will be coming soon.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Want to Become The Next Food Network Star?

I am a terrible cook. My "cooking" consists of boxed pasta, jarred sauce, 1-minute rice, steamed vegetables, over-medium eggs, and....yup, that's basically it. That is why I dine out so much and rely on the talents of our city's fabulous chefs. But are YOU an amazing home cook? Dare to test your culinary skills on national TV?

Then this is for you:

The Next Food Network Star, the Food Network’s hugely successful culinary reality series, is holding an open casting call in Cleveland on Monday, September 20, 2010. This is the first time they are coming to Cleveland! They are looking for "people who are full of life, passionate about cooking, and knowledgeable about food". Are you interested in becoming the host of your own cooking show on Food Network? Then you should head on down to the casting call.

Monday, September 20, 2010
Hyatt Regency Cleveland at The Arcade
420 Superior Avenue East, Cleveland, OH 44114

What to Bring:
1. Two recent photos
2. A copy of your resume
3. A completed application (found at www.FoodNetwork.com/star)

For more information or questions, e-mail nfns7cleveland@gmail.com or visit www.nfns7casting.com.

Now if you go on to win the whole darn thing, I'm going to expect a meal out of it! Good luck to anyone that heads down. Go show 'em how it's done in Cleveland!

Friday, September 10, 2010

Dinner In The Dark

If you haven't caught it on Twitter or Facebook yet- Chefs Ellis Cooley (AMP 150), Jeff Jarrett (North End Wine Bar), and Brian Okin (Verve) have come up with a new culinary concept for Cleveland- Dinner in the Dark. I for one think that it is a fascinating idea, and one that I can't wait to try out. So here's the idea, how it works, and when the first dinner is taking place:

An impromptu dinner designed to stimulate your palate and surprise your taste buds by offering you no idea of what you will eat or drink or who will be cooking for you.

Imagine allowing yourself to let go of your inhibitions and enjoy great food and wine from some of Cleveland's best chefs, by allowing them to indulge in their most inner creativeness and challenge your senses.

Guests will make reservations for selected dates. Participating Chefs will create dishes of their whim. No rules, no secret ingredients --- just food straight from their heart and soul, however they see the beauty of food through their own eyes. Libations will be paired with each course.

The first one is being held on October 11th from 7-8 p.m. in the newly opened Verve in downtown Cleveland. The cost is $50 a person for the six-course meal with wine pairings. Each event will benefit a charity of choice, and the first organization selected is Veggie U. Guests need to contact Verve at (216) 664-5500 to make a reservation.

Since announcing the concept, fellow chefs Adam Bostwick (Melange), Matthew Mathlage (Light Bistro), and the Dim and Den Sum boys have joined forces to support this new series of events coming to Cleveland. I have no doubt that others will join the list of fantastic chefs getting involved with this fun dining concept. I would suggest becoming a "Fan" of Dinner in the Dark on Facebook to stay on top of what to expect next from this crew.

I just want to give kudos to these three chefs for taking the initiative to start this series, and I encourage you to attend one. I know that I will be!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Labor Day Weekend Recap

I think that everyone in Cleveland was out and about this past weekend- trying to cram every last little bit of summer into one action packed weekend. I kept thinking that "R" and I were laying low and sticking close to home for a quiet Labor Day weekend. Until I took a look at the pictures that I snapped with my camera phone. For a weekend "spent at home", my camera told a different story.

On Saturday, we were out running errands and decided to swing down Fulton Road to see the 96th Street Rocco Festival. This annual street festival is hosted by the Saint Rocco Church and School, and it spills over into the streets of this eclectic neighborhood. "R" had heard about the famous Greasy Pole Climb that takes place on Labor Day, and he finally persuaded me on Monday to actually attend the festival. Needless to say, we missed the pole climb by minutes. Just minutes. I'd like to pretend that it wasn't my fault, but I admit that I took too long getting ready and therefore we only saw the aftermath of the competition. From what we did see- it looked like it would have been quite the sight!

As we walked back to the car, we did see the gem pictured to the left. It was seriously the MOST FLOWERS that I have ever seen on one house. Another festival goer that was walking down the sidewalk commented to the owner (who happened to be sitting on the porch) that it was "very eye-catching". I love flowers, but come on. How many hours a day do you have to spend watering all of those hanging baskets and flower boxes?! Impressive. At least they were all looking healthy and fresh, which is more than I can say for my own. This brutal humidity and end-of-summer heat has driven me inside to the air conditioning, and I've been a neglectful plant owner.

During our excursions this past weekend, we also swung through one of our favorite hole-in-the-wall bars in Parma for the best gyro in Cleveland. Fergie's seriously has the best in town, and it had been a long time since I've had one- so both "R" and I were craving a good gyro. It's all in the sauce. That, coupled with a tall cold beer, was a great addition to our weekend. Monday was the busiest day- filled with a two hour motorcycle ride, watching the Air Show, lunch at Edgewater Park, and board games at home with a glass of wine on our patio. It was a perfect end to the long weekend, and overall a great Labor Day holiday! It was just what I needed before heading into a crazy week at work. What did you do over the weekend? Any last minute summer plans while the weather is still nice? I'm still clinging to the hope that we have a few nice days left for us in Cleveland before fall entirely sets in.

The $2.99 Special

I am a sucker for a good diner breakfast. Who isn't from time to time?! The eggs, buttered toast, sticky booth seats, never-ending coffee, and the people watching -Oooohhh the people watching- it's always a fun experience. "R" and I are very lucky to have a great little hole-in-the-wall diner close by. We can often be found there on Saturday morning before our refrigerator has been filled for the upcoming week. While the owner is grouchy (I think it's part of the restaurant's charm), the place is nothing to look at twice from the outside, and the crowd eclectic- I've decided that I love this diner. So I decided to share it with you...Gabe's Family Restaurant.

By no means is it worth any sort of drive. We all (should) have a version of a diner in our own neighborhood, and I am sure that there are much better out there. However, I am pretty over-the-moon that we ended up with a good one that is so conveniently located close to home. I just love the Saturday or Sunday morning experience of a diner. And, the greasy food and hearty helpings are always welcomed after a night out or before a long day of weekend activities.

While your diner might be better, I am here to tell you about the $2.99 special- my dish of choice absolutely every single time that I am there. Every. Single. Time. I don't deviate. Why bother when you have found a good dish for a great price? The $2.99 3-egg Special includes three eggs cooked any way that you like 'em (I prefer over-medium), two pieces of toast, a decent-sized portion of crispy home fries, and a choice of two strips of bacon or two sausage links. For just under $3- I think this is quite a deal! Add in unlimited coffee, and "R" and I walk away with a bill (and our bellies quite full) for just $9.68. I double-checked this weekend.

I just wanted to pay homage to my favorite local diner, and perhaps inspire you to check out yours next weekend. If you have any suggestions- pass them on. "R" and I love a good breakfast!

Dining Deals Alert- Most of the menu can be found under the $10 price point.

Gabe's Family Restaurant (no website, sorry)
2044 Broadview Road
Cleveland, OH 44109
(216) 741-4466

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Having "Fun" in Tremont

A few weeks ago, Suzanne totally called me out. There was a gaping hole in my list of visited Tremont restaurants- Ty Fun Thai Bistro. Thai is absolutely one of my favorite cuisines, and "R" and I have been planning on trying Ty Fun for quite some time. We even had a reservation once, and then canceled because the weather was nice and we were craving a patio. But after she pointed out that it was missing from my review list, it lit a fire under my bottom. I needed to get there ASAP. Luckily, it wasn't hard to find some friends to happily join me.

I tweeted that I was headed there, and several people chimed in with menu suggestions (which I always love!). My friend Christina responded with "Try the Crispy Cups", and so I did. Crispy Cup ($7) (pictured above)- 6 homemade daily golden pastry cups filled with ground chicken, shrimp, corn and curry powder served with cucumber salad. These light little cups were packed with a great mix of texture and flavor. They were good, but became even better when I topped one with the vinegar-based cucumber salad served with it. You might be able to see it in the picture, but the details of the cut of the carrots and shape of the pastry cups were really creative. I was also happily sipping on a glass of Pinot Grigio as we started our meal. The wine list was small, but right up my alley. I love a nice dry white wine with notes of apple, melon, pear and a clean, crisp finish. Three selections immediately jumped out at me off their short list.

One of my favorite classic Thai sauces is the spicy peanut curry. So I am always drawn to it on a menu, and last night was no different. I found it under their "Original Thai Curry" section of the menu- Chicken Massaman Curry ($13)- sliced chicken breast cooked in Massaman curry, coconut milk, roasted peanuts, peanut sauce and potato. Now I am a seafood lover and will rarely ever order chicken out, so I requested that the dish be served with shrimp instead of chicken. They were more than willing to make the change for me. The dish arrived with the shrimp, potatoes, sliced red bell peppers, and peanuts floating in a pool of the curry sauce with a side of white rice. This was no ordinary side of white rice. It was presented in the shape of a heart- a nice touch. The dish was a very good version of the Thai classic, and I thoroughly enjoyed my meal. While the curry sauce was nothing unique, where I think Ty Fun really stands out is in their presentation.

All of the dishes are presented very thoughtfully and creatively. Tiny details are paid attention to, and the craftsmanship of the kitchen staff is noticeable. Shaved carrot and toothpicks are transformed into flowers, vegetables are cut into starburst shapes, and of course the heart rice. It really is the little things that make diners happy, and Ty Fun's details certainly enhanced my overall experience here.

The restaurant is small and cozy, with the smells of Thai curry and sweet coconut wafting from the kitchen. I was pleasantly surprised to find out that they did have a few tables outside for dining al fresco. I have driven by there many times and never saw the tables tucked away on the side of the restaurant. Our servers were attentive, and our water (and wine) glasses were never empty. I thought that it was reasonably priced for the quality of food that was served, and "R" and I will soon be back. I can't believe that we hadn't been there yet. Thanks, Suzanne- I can now add it to my Tremont reviews and cross another restaurant off of my "To Do" (or is it "To Dine"?) list.

Ty Fun Thai Bistro
815 Jefferson Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 664-1000

Ty Fun Thai Bistro on Urbanspoon