Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Here's wishing for holidays filled with friends, family, fun, and food and to a fantastic 2011!

Happy Holidays to you and yours.
From Katrina and "R"

Monday, December 20, 2010

Lilly Handmade Chocolates in Tremont

I really have to thank Twitter for my recent discovery. Many, many months ago I saw chatter on Twitter (and then Foursquare) about Lilly Handmade Chocolates in Tremont. I discovered that owner, Amanda Montague, was on Twitter herself and I quickly added her to my list. And the curiosity began...

From the social media postings, I felt that I had a good sense of what to expect: delicious, homemade chocolates and a good selection of beer and wine to pair with them. This is exactly what we got when we finally found our way there on Friday night. What took me so long?!

The shop instantly put a smile on my face when I saw their playful, pink window display for the holidays. I am sucker for window displays- I've been known to wander down 5th Avenue in NYC for hours staring into the detailed holiday displays. But Lilly's display helped set the mood for our first time shopping there.The next thing that my eye was drawn to was the wall of bottles- beer, wine, and champagne. It was a little overwhelming for a first-time shopper. "R" quickly found his way to the stouts and ended up purchasing several (both old and new favorites). Finding a white wine was a little more difficult (since they don't pair as well with chocolate), but we eventually found a clean, crisp Chardonnay to do the trick. Note that the picture included here is only a portion of the wall- there is more.Now, on to the chocolate...
Shoppers can walk right up to the display and hand-pick their chocolates. There are a few different options, but we settled on the 12 chocolate box for $22 so that we could each select 6. Let me just say that picking 6 was difficult! I was able to easily choose my top 5, but committing to the final 6th chocolate was hard. There were still several of the chocolates that sounded creative and delicious.

But here were my picks:
Pistachio- bittersweet pistachio ganache, milk chocolate
After Midnight- bitter stout, dark chocolate
Cinnabunny- Vietnamese cinnamon, ground ginger, clover honey, dark chocolate
PB Monsters- milk chocolate, all natural peanut butter, clover honey, feuilletine crunch, himalayan pink salt
The Black Diamond- black perigord truffle infused honey, dark chocolate
Sweet Cheeks- burnt salted caramel, dark chocolate

For a full list, and close up (gorgeous) shots of the chocolates, go visit their website. They were all very good, but my favorite two were the Pistachio and After Midnight.

So we walked out of there very happy with our new Tremont find, and I can guarantee that we'll be back. I do have to mention that the prices on the alcohol are a little steeper than you would find for the same bottle at the grocery store, but I'll happily pay a few dollars more to support a local business. Take a look at our loot:We walked away with six stouts, a bottle of wine, 12 chocolates, and a gift bag of four different chocolate bars that will be my holiday present for my boss this week. Quite a nice haul, if I do say so myself. So thanks, Twitter!

Lilly Handmade Chocolates
761 Starkweather Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 771-3333

Lilly Handmade Chocolates on Urbanspoon

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Dinner in the Snow...uh, Dark.

You may remember a few months ago when I blogged about a new dining concept coming to Cleveland- Dinner in the Dark. The brainchild of local chefs Brian Okin (formally of Verve), Ellis Cooley (AMP150), and Jeff Jarrett (formally of North End Wine Bar, and opening his own restaurant Palate, in Strongsville, very soon) just executed the third installment of their creative dinners. The concept is simple: area chefs come together to have some fun in the kitchen, challenge diners to push themselves out of their comfort zone by not knowing what will be served that evening, and all proceeds benefit that month's charity of choice. I've read some great reviews of the first two dinners, and this month's was no exception.

I finally had the opportunity to attend, and this was one foodie who was really excited to "dine in the dark", and put my trust in the hands of some of our area's most capable chefs by having no clue what was to be served that night. The dinner was held at AMP150 on Monday night in the middle of a snow storm, but the drive was worth it for everyone that attended. I was not disappointed...

After a tasty shrimp amuse-bouche and the cocktail of the evening- 12th Night Punch, we started the main meal with Buttermilk Fried Chicken Livers with Cheesy Polenta, Green Onion Salsa, and Spiced Honey* from Chef Jeff Jarrett.I was a little leery after hearing the word "livers", but the dish surprised me and it ended up being one of my favorites of the evening. The crispy buttermilk breading masked the texture of the liver without taking away from the flavor, and I absolutely loved the creamy polenta. The bites that included the salsa and a hint of honey just pushed this dish towards the top of my list.

Then we moved on to the vegetable course, from Chef Brian Okin. He introduced us to a member of the mint family- chrosne (honestly, none of the diners at my table had heard of this). Okin had prepared them three ways: raw, pickled, and bacon-flavored.Our table agreed that we enjoyed the pickled and bacon-flavored versions the most. Duh, everything is better with bacon! We actually tried to play a game of thinking of items that wouldn't be better with bacon. Can you?

Course three came from Chef Kimberly McCune: Panatone French Toast with Seared Foie Gras and Blackberry Caviar. Sorry no photo- I dug right in. In my opinion, the dish was good but not great (However, the two men at our table did disagree with the women and they loved this course). The "french toast" was flavored and prepared well, but I think the foie gras was lost in the dish.

A shot of warm lemonade and a frozen basil ice cube was served to help cleanse our palate before moving on to the fish course. This little drink was fantastic, and truly helped clear the way for the next three courses.

The fourth course was prepared by Chef Okin, and it was a flaky striped bass wrapped in crispy bacon with cranberries. I didn't catch the full description, but this dish was beautifully cooked and well-balanced in flavor. I may wrap my white fish in bacon from now on! See, everything IS better with bacon. This course was my second favorite of the meal.I always like to end on a high note, and Chef Adam Bostwick from Melange certainly delivered. The highlight of the meal was his take on a winter-inspired cheeseburger. This was interpreted into Braised Short Ribs in a Tomato Broth served with Aged Cheddar, a Crispy Onion Ring, and Cucumber-Tomato Salsa.
Umm, wow. I barely touched the short rib and the tender meat instantly fell apart- the true sign of a perfectly cooked short rib. The meat was so flavorful, and all of the components were paired very well together. We didn't quite get the sensation of eating a cheeseburger, but who cares- the dish was phenomenal. Kudos to one of my favorite chefs in the city!

If you know me well enough by now, you know that I will always choose savory over sweet. So I was a little hesitant to end with the dessert course after having such an amazing dish from Chef Adam. On its own, I don't think I would have been disappointed in Pastry Chef Lauren Stephenson's Lemon Chiffon Cake with Pomegranate Ice Cream. It was light and airy, and the other diners at our table were very pleased. It was good, but I would have taken another bite of short rib or Chef Jarrett's polenta over dessert any day!

Phew, thanks for sticking with me. It was an amazing meal, and I couldn't possibly leave out any of the wonderful dishes that our chefs prepared. One thing is for sure- our area's chefs are true masters of their craft. For just $65, this six-course meal was well worth the price tag, and diners can feel good knowing that the proceeds go to a very worthy local cause. This month's charity was the Cleveland Foodbank. The dinner also featured a wine pairing with each course, expertly chosen by a representative from 55 degrees. Diners have the option to purchase these wines by the bottle at the end of the event. With small raffle and auction items as well, this really is an enjoyable evening out and one that you should consider if you have not yet attended a Dinner in the Dark. Follow them on Facebook to stay updated on upcoming events.

Thank you to all of the chefs who contributed their time and talent to this fun event. I will gladly "dine in the dark" knowing that you are in the kitchen. We had a great time sampling dishes that we may have not ordered on our own, and getting to know the wonderful couple that was seated with us. Isn't it always refreshing to meet people that you enjoy talking to? I think it only proved to enhance our overall experience. "R" and I don't have too many other foodies in our lives, so dining with other food-lovers is always fantastic. And this is the right town to be a foodie in...I'm already looking forward to attending another Dinner in the Dark. Bravo, chefs!

*All descriptions of the dishes are my own. I tried to catch everything that the chefs said when they presented the courses, but I may have missed some things.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Minh Anh in a Snowstorm

Since moving to Cleveland almost three years ago, I have tackled almost all of the restaurants that "R" grew up with and raved about...and another one was checked off the list on Wednesday night (Yes, we voluntarily went out to dinner in the snow storm on Wednesday. That's what close to two months of being house-bound will do to you!).

I really like Vietnamese cuisine, and frequent #1 Pho for lunch, but I had yet to try Minh Anh ("R's" favorite) in the Detroit Shoreway neighborhood. My dad was in town visiting this week, so "R's" mom suggested that the four of us get together for a casual bite to eat. Without any discussion needed, Minh Anh was selected.

After a treacherous trek down West 25th Street, we turned onto Detroit Avenue and soon came upon the restaurant. The decor and atmosphere are what you would expect from a standard "American" Asian restaurant, but they did have comfortable booths- which has been key for me since the surgery. Since it was the first snowy evening of the season, the restaurant was empty except for a few other brave diners. But this did lead to attentive service and our food arriving fresh and quickly.

At "R's" mom's suggestion, we all started with a Shrimp Spring Roll served with peanut sauce ($2.95). This light, fresh, and large spring roll was one of the best that I've had. The peanut sauce was slightly sweet, and a great accompaniment to the flavors of the other components. We all thoroughly enjoyed the spring rolls, and my dad even jokingly stated that he would be happy ordering 4 of them for an entree. But he did end up with the Seafood Curry with scallops, shrimp, squid, okra and tomato in a yellow curry sauce ($14.50). The flavor was okay (not great), but the seafood and vegetables were overcooked and very soft. The entire dish sort of turned to mush in his opinion. "R" ordered the Seafood Szechwan with squid, scallops, shrimp, red peppers, pineapple and asparagus ($14.50). He was happy with it, but I just don't really enjoy szechwan so I wasn't a fan of the dish. "R's" mom swears by the Deluxe Singapore Noodles with curry-flavored shrimp, pork, chicken, egg, bean sprouts, green beans, carrots, and mushrooms ($11.50), so we both ordered the same dish.She wasn't kidding when she told us that the portion was large, but that just meant that I had delicious leftovers to bring home with me! After digging in, I realized just how many vegetables were included in the dish and they created great texture and flavor. I did add a little siracha for heat, but other than that I was happy with the subtle curry flavor. Overall, the dish was good but it didn't blow me away. I would probably try another dish off of their extensive menu on our next visit. But one thing is for sure- I'll be ordering my own spring roll. Hands off, no sharing!

Minh Anh
5428 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 961-9671

Minh Anh on Urbanspoon