Thursday, June 28, 2012

I'm back!

I apologize for the unannounced hiatus from the blog. "R" and I just enjoyed a long weekend in NY visiting my family, and I attended the wedding shower/bachelorette party of my high school best friend.

So, please excuse my abcense, but we were spending time at my parents' lake house. This was my view for most of the trip, and I was enjoying being "cut off" from social media for a bit.
Can you blame me?

Since this is a food blog, I did have to share one fun food item from the vacation. Here are the boob and thong cookies from my friend's bachelorette party.
So cute, right?! I loved the idea.

Well, it's back to business today. But having a two-day work week will be amazing. I do love NY, but it's good to be back in Cleveland.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dinner Club Hits Noodlecat

Last night, the CLEDinnerClub hit up Chef Sawyer's downtown Noodlecat. Chef Jen Plank whipped up an excellent four course meal for us, highlighting the restaurant's Japanese-American style. Their standard menu includes noodles (made by Ohio City Pasta), steam buns, appetizers, salads, and desserts. We were treated to a little bit of everything last night. Except for a steam bun, so it looks like I have to make a return trip immediately.

First, out came a little gift from the kitchen- clam shooters (photo courtesy of Noodlecat's Twitter feed).
We shared some pickled vegetables at the table, and then started the four course menu with a chicken liver rice ball.
While the flavors were great, it was a little difficult to eat. The rice was tough to chew through. Next up, a standout course with the orange, avocado, matzuna, and trigger fish crudo with ponzu and toasted hazelnut.
This dish had everyone licking their bowls and wanting more.

The last savory course was just what I wanted- NOODLES! I was ready to get my slurp on. Lemon ginger dashi with a splash of garlic garam with clam and pork sausage dumplings, udon, and kale.
It was everything that I had hoped for, and more. The portion was huge, filling, and so packed with wonderful flavors. The pork sausage dumplings were perfection, but I could have done without the clam dumplings. It was an intense shot of fishy flavor with every bite. Luckily, there were only a couple in each dish.

At Noodlecat, slurping is encouraged. The cat told us so.
The CLEDinnerClub's fearless leader, Joe G., showed us how it was done.

Last course, was dessert from Greenhouse Tavern's pastry chef. Chef Danko created a gluten-free dish for us with all sorts of light and airy summer flavors. My favorite part? The first of the season Ohio strawberries.
Thanks for coordinating the dinner, Joe! And a big thank you to Chef Jen and her team for putting together a memorable meal. I am certainly kicking myself for waiting so long to get over to Noodlecat for the first time, but it won't be long before a return trip to test out their regular menu. The dishes featured last night are, sadly, not on the menu. However, they do offer specials each day.

The club's next outing is most likely going to be at Luxe, to see Chef Brian Okin's changes to the menu. Follow the club on Twitter (@CLEDinnerClub) for updates and to be added to the mailing list. Joe is also planning a more casual summer happy hour. It's such a fun way to explore restaurants, let the chefs have some fun in the kitchen, and meet new people that share your love for good food and good fun.

234 Euclid Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sun Luck Garden

Chef Annie Chiu's Sun Luck Garden has been on my radar for a while now, but I never seemed to make it over to Cleveland Heights to taste what some claim is the "best Chinese food" in the city. So, this year, I made it one of my Top 10 To Dine restaurants for 2012. That would be some motivation to finally make the trip east. Recently, I did just that.
It is nothing to look at from the outside, but there is plenty of free parking in the lot connected to the small strip mall off Taylor Road. There was only a handful of other diners there during our meal, so service was attentive and the atmosphere was quiet and easy for conversation. We all started with an Egg Roll ($1.75) and Wonton Soup.
Their Wonton Soup ($1.75) had a sweetness to it, unlike many others. It was still light in flavor, and the dumplings were delicious and easy to cut into. "R" and I split both of these items, and wanted to share our main course as well. For variety, we went with the Mu Shu Pork with shredded pork sauteed with traditional Chinese vegetables served with four Mandarin thin pancakes with Hoisin sauce ($11.95).
Looks good, right? But, what the heck...
They were served with...tortillas. This was not quite the "Mandarin thin pancakes" that I was expecting. I thought it would be more of a crepe, or thin steam bun texture. Overall, the flavor was only okay and the portion of pork in the dish was minimal. I didn't like it paired with the tortilla, and enjoyed the small serving that I took without one a little bit more.

Per Michelle's suggestion, our other main dish was the Fresh Pineapple Stirfry special. We selected beef as our protein, and it comes with fresh pineapple in a ginger sauce with Adobo pepper. The Adobo and ginger gave this dish a little kick, even at the Medium level that we ordered it at.
I would order this dish again, but at a higher heat level for my personal taste. We scraped this dish clean.

Even though Annie is known for her delicious desserts as well, we were stuffed and had to pass.
Best Chinese in town? I'm not sure. Chinese cuisine is not my favorite, so I can't be the judge, but we did enjoy our meal overall and I'd go back. She is offering a nice variety of dishes, and some of them are quite unusual that you won't find in other restaurants. The prices are also very reasonable for what you receive in portions and quality.
So, I can cross another one off my list! I'm slowly getting there, but I have a lot of ground to cover before January 1st.
Sun Luck Garden
1901 South Taylor Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118

Friday, June 15, 2012

Late Night Bogtrotters

If you are out and about this weekend and in need of some late night eats, look no further than Old Angle's take-out market--- Bogtrotters Doorstep. Located on the Bridge Street side of their building in Ohio City, here's a shot of their menu.
You have your choice of eight sandwiches, and then you select whether or not you want it "Soaked", "Wet", or "Dry". Soaked = submerging the entire sandwich in house jus, Wet = house jus poured over just the meat, and Dry = house jus on the side. Last decision- Add "Crunch" or "No Crunch", which is crushed potato chips that are added to the top of the sandwich.

I went with The Philly with oven roasted roast beef, grilled onions, mushrooms, house cheese sauce, and house jus. I selected Wet and Crunch. Here's the result:
Excuse the poor picture quality. It was late, dark, and I was intoxicated after a night at the casino. First, the sandwiches are massive. This picture doesn't do it justice. I do wish that they would offer a couple of sizes.

Other than the intimidating size, I enjoyed the sandwich. The house cheese sauce was creamy, and the "Crunch" did just that. I would order this again. For just $9, the price was reasonable for the size of the sandwich and quality of the ingredients. Dining Deals Alert!

They have other sandwiches like The Cleveland with oven roasted turkey, The Haight with roasted veggies, and The Bogtrotter with turkey, roast beef, and Italian sausage. Something for everyone.

They are also open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Saturday. Late night munchies are available until 3AM on Friday and Saturday. There is no seating inside, but a couple of small tables outside the front door. Go enjoy an oven-roasted hand-crafted sandwich.

Bogtrotters Doorstep
1848 Bridge Street
Cleveland, OH 44113

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Trust the Chef

I am calling today's post, "Trust the Chef". Several of our area restaurants offer a chef's tasting menu, a multi-course meal where the diner puts their order in the chef's hands and doesn't know what is going to come out of the kitchen. "R" and I had to go to AMP 150 the other night for work, darn. Normally, several of their menu items sound good to me, and I've never been able to give up control and try the Chef's Choice. They offer two options- 4 courses for $35 or 6 courses for $50. The entire table has to participate. We went with the four courses, which was more than enough food.

An amuse bouche of their celery soup came out first (not included in the four courses). It was a little mild for my taste, and could have used a punch of more flavor. Great soups like AMP's mushroom and Hodge's pea are just setting the bar high now. Our first course was a smaller portion of their Black Mussels with lemongrass, plum wine, coconut milk, ginger, and cilantro.
Only thing lacking? Some bread to get at that broth. With traditional Thai flavors, it was right up my alley.

Next came the salad course.
Feta, crispy bacon lardons, fresh spinach, and a citron vinaigrette. Light and refreshing.

The "entree" course was next, and a sirloin came out medium rare over goat cheese polenta and braised spinach.
The meat was tender and seasoned well, but the real star was the goat cheese polenta. I could eat a bowl of that every day, no joke. It was my favorite dish of the meal.

Fully satisfied with our dinner at this point, how could it get any better? This non-sweets lover was skeptical, because I was pretty sure that dessert was coming out next.
Not one, but THREE, small portions arrived for each of us. Each one was very different, highlighting lemon and blue berries (left), strawberries and rhubard (right), and rich panna cotta (middle). With chocolate, peanuts, and salty caramel- the center one was my favorite and a great end to the meal.

I have always enjoyed most of AMP's food, but this meal far exceeded anything that we had put together on our own in the past. So, my message today---Trust the Chef.

Go out and enjoy the surprise of allowing the chef to choose for you. Other area restaurants that offer these tasting menus: Crop Bistro (Chef's Table only, 7 course tasting), Dante (5 course tasting), and The Greenhouse Tavern (4 course tasting).

Do you know of any other restaurants in Cleveland with this option on their menu? After our experience at AMP 150, I know that I will be more trusting when it comes to putting my meal in the chef's hands. I look forward to doing another one.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Guest Post at Eat*Drink*Cleveland

Did you catch my guest post over at Eat*Drink*Cleveland yesterday? I shared my experience with the newly opened Churned in Tremont.
The ladies behind A Cookie and a Cupcake have just opened a gourmet ice cream shop off of Lincoln Park, and it's worth stopping in to try their unique flavors. They are an all organic shop with house-churned ice cream. Head on over to Crystal's blog to read more about my first trip!

Also, rumors are that next up for these sweet treat mavens is a donut shop. Yum.

1112 Kenilworth
Cleveland, OH 44113

Monday, June 11, 2012

Great Food Truck Race Hits Cleveland

What a fun weekend in Cleveland! There were so many great festivals and things to do, the weather was sunny and hot, and "R" and I had a truly fantastic weekend all around. One thing that helped? The Food Network's The Great Food Truck Race Season 3 rolled through our city this weekend. The season premier is on Sunday, August 19th at 10PM.

Spoiler Alert! I'm going to tell you how many, and who, is left by the time they hit Cleveland during the season. So stop reading if you don't want to know.

At this point in filming, they are down to the final three trucks: Seoul Sausage, Nonna's Kitchenette, and Pop-a-Waffle. The "finale" is just next week for these guys, and their competitive spirit was at an all time high. Twitter was blowing up all weekend revealing their whereabouts, and "R" and I were able to track down all three.

First up, we found the only all-girls crew left of Nonna's Kitchenette. They were slinging home-made Italian food at the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo on Saturday afternoon.
We had our choice of a couple of items, and I thought the presentation of the menu was so cute.
"R" and I split the Homemade Italian Riceballs with Meatsauce, and a Nonna's Homemade Meatball Madness Sandwich.
Sorry, no picture of the riceballs because "R" was a hungry boy and dug in before I could snap one. The sauce on both dishes had nice flavor, which marinara can sometimes lack in my opinion. The meat on the sandwich was also nicely seasoned, and the bun was super fresh and held the contents together for very little mess. Always appreciated with street food!

On Sunday Funday, we were bopping around town with the top off the Jeep, and through the graces of Twitter found the other two trucks parked outside Market Garden Brewery in Ohio City. Seoul Sausage and Pop-a-Waffle had just been thrown a curve ball by host Tyler, and they now had to leave their trucks and serve from a hot dog stand only.
They made do with items around them. It was really impressive, but alas slowed them down on service and limited their menu. Luckily, Seoul Sausage was still serving three tasty items and fresh lemonade. We ordered one of everything to share, but the ta-tas (tator tots) weren't holding up well in the new "kitchen", so we received an additional order of kimchee balls with the sauce intended for the tots instead. Also, we had their take on a po' boy.
The meat on the po' boy, and the sauces on the balls, all had a little kick of heat to them. It was the best food we had from the trucks all weekend, and if Cleveland is any representation of how they will do in the finale, then I think I know who will be crowned the Season Three winner. But you never know!

We couldn't leave out Pop-a-Waffle. They were parked right next to Seoul, and were literally begging for customers. They were such a fun, outgoing group of guys that you couldn't help but be drawn to their playfully decorated truck. With the challenge in place, their menu was even more limited. No waffles available, boo. So we had two pieces of their fried chicken.
The chicken was still juicy, and the fried breading had a great crunch. Overall, it was good, but not great. There was something missing in flavor.

The two all-male trucks have clearly teamed up against the girls, and want to see Nonna's gone this round. Even though Seoul had the best food overall, I'd like to see Nonna's in the finale with them and I think Cleveland may have helped make that happen. Crossing my fingers!

Did you make it out to see the food trucks this weekend? Will you tune in to see if you made a cameo? Either way, it was great fun having them here this weekend and I personally can't wait to see our city on the show this season. Best of luck to the final three contenders, and thank you for sharing your food with us this weekend.

Tune in to the Food Network on August 19th!

Friday, June 8, 2012

Guest Posting Today- Why CLE?

Happy Friday! Today, I'm guest posting over on Why CLE? while Jen is away on her honeymoon. I was thrilled to have the chance to share with readers another fun hobby that I enjoy, exploring our city with my camera.

"R" and I enjoy excursions planned around using my camera, and we've found some really fun things to do because of this. Also, my friend "L" and I are taking part in the Cleveland Photographic Society's 125th Anniversary Photo Scavenger Hunt. Learn more about it in my guest post!
Thanks for the opportunity, Jen, to share one of my reasons "Why CLE?"

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Taco Tuesday- Lincoln Park Pub

Taco Tuesday continues, this week at Lincoln Park Pub in Tremont. Known for their taco special on Tuesday, you don't realize that they actually have good deals going on all week like $5 Burger Night and 30 cent Wing Night.

Inside, it's quite dark and a total dive with a cool vibe. But, if you feel like dining al fresco, they do have a fenced-in patio area out back. Free parking is available in the medium-sized lot to the right of Grumpy's Cafe next door.

Lincoln Park Pub offers a couple kinds of taco fillings on Taco Tuesday. The special last night was a Flank Steak taco with all the traditional toppings plus green onions and an avocado sour cream for $3. Other choices included $2 chicken or beef/bean combo tacos, and $1.25 ground beef or black bean tacos. All tacos included free lettuce, cheese, tomato, salsa, and sour cream. Diners get the option of ordering them as "Mild", "Medium", or "Hot". Sriracha is available for additional heat.

Last night, I went with one of the Flank Steak special tacos, and then one beef and one bean.
As you can see, it's hard to tell the difference.

Overall, these are a solid option for cheap tacos. They only come in soft flour tortillas, but they have a slight crisp to them and hold up well to the sometimes juicy contents.

The Taco Tuesday quest continues! Where to next?

Lincoln Park Pub
2609 West 14th Street
Cleveland, OH

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fat Casual BBQ

This past Friday brought my first trip out to Fat Casual BBQ in Macedonia. Known for their traditional BBQ, and famous prime rib on Fridays...I couldn't wait, and I don't know what kept me away for so long.

Sadly, the Friday prime rib special is suspended for now. After three weeks of hardly selling any orders and losing money on the meat, they have decided to stop serving it for a while, with plans to bring it back as we get closer to the fall season. I certainly understand the decision, but man was I disappointed!

Luckily, many of their menu options sounded appealing. I didn't have to think too hard though, because chef/owner Scott informed us that the ribs were about to come out of the smoker. Done deal.
I ordered a half rack, and a couple of side dishes to share.
The sides comes in two sizes, and the regular (small) was enough for us to share. The cole slaw could have used more flavor. It was pretty bland and served a little too room temperature for my taste, but it helped balance the bold flavors of the rib rub and sauce. The mac and cheese was creamy, and reminiscent of Velveeta. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but worth noting. The baked beans was by far my favorite side dish. Smokey with great texture, I was fighting "R" for bites.

Now, on to the ribs. Scott stopped by our table once the food had arrived, and besides a wonderful history lesson on pork and traditional BBQ, he also explained why Fat Casual has had to "teach" Ohio what true BBQ should be. Apparently, Ohioans tend to prefer a sweeter sauce and boiled ribs so that the meat falls right off the bone. This is not what you'll get at Fat Casual, and this New Yorker was just fine with that. Am I still a New Yorker at heart? I'm having a bit of an identity crisis with this one. The rub was my favorite part of the ribs. I wish they packaged and sold it.

So, for a good BBQ meal this summer when you don't feel like cooking it yourself...just head to Fat Casual BBQ. Or, stop by Lion on Lorain on Lorain Avenue in Cleveland because you can find their meats on the menu right now. I'll probably hold out on another trip back to Macedonia until the prime rib appears again!

Fat Casual BBQ
223 Highland Road
Macedonia, OH 44056

Friday, June 1, 2012

Deagan's Beer Dinner- North Coast Brewing Co.

Last night's Deagan's beer dinner with North Coast Brewing Co. is worth writing about right away. This is the second beer dinner that I have attended there, and they seriously are putting on some of the best events like this that I've attended. The price is reasonable at $50 (tax and tip included, so no hidden fees), and you receive five sizable sample pours of some great beers, and five small plates created just for the event. I always enjoy my meals at Deagan's Kitchen & Bar, but the food at these events is even better and the chef's talents really shine.

We started out with a Rock Shrimp, Heirloom Tomato and Corn Salsa served with Crispy Blue Corn Chips and Key Lime Creme Fraiche.
It was light and summery feeling, and I could easily eat a bowl of this. The corn wasn't quite as sweet as great Ohio corn can get, but everything else had nice flavor. It paired well with North Coast's Scrimshaw Pilsner.

Our second course was a Kobe Beef Tri-tip en Croute with Maytag Blue Cheese Fondue and Blackbird Baking Co. Seeded Epi Crouton.
The combination of everything worked so well together, and I seriously wiped my finger on my plate at the end to lick up a little more of the fondue. I'm a sucker for good cheese fondue. It was paired with a hoppy Ruedrich's Red Seal American Amber Ale, the signature beer of North Coast. This iconic beer got its name from the founder experiencing a seal sighting at sunset (say that five time fast), and the seal appeared to be glowing red as the sun set behind it. The brewery representative had all kinds of great stories about their beers.

Next came my favorite dish of the night. A Grilled Local Chicken Lettuce Wrap with Pickled Baby Cucumbers, Spicy Thai Peanut Butter and Micro Cilantro was paired with a Le Merle Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale.
We braved this course and picked it up like a true lettuce wrap should be eaten. The traditional Thai flavors were well balanced with the acidity of the pickled cucumbers and cilantro. Immediately, we demanded that Deagan add this dish to his menu. It would be a perfect fit, and an unusual option, for their Taco Tuesdays. Please, please let me have this again!

Course four was a knockout as well. We enjoyed a Baked Brie with Candied Amarena Cherries and Red Ruffled Mustard Greens. This was paired with an Old Stock Ale Cellar Reserve 2009 from North Coast.
It was my least favorite beer of the night, but easily my second favorite dish. The tart cherries just put the brie in puff pastry over the top. Joe G. stated that he could eat this every day.

Sadly, it was time for our last course of the night. We were served a Chocolate Espresso Torte with Pineapple Mint and Fresno Chile Espuma.
The flourless torte by itself was rich and delicious, but then I got into the espuma and the dish got even better. The chili heat was prominent, and blended well with the chocolate. Trying the pineapple mint leaves was fun too. This course concluded with my favorite beer of the night. We enjoyed a Barrel Aged Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout. Look at me enjoying so many stouts now! This rare beer is the chef's favorite beer, and I can see why. Bottles are hard to come by, so keep your eye out.

Sharing this with you this morning was almost as fun as enjoying it first-hand last night. Almost. I hope that this convinces you to join us at Deagan's next beer dinner. They always post them on their Facebook page and tweet out the event details. "R" and I decided that these are right up there with the L'Albatros cheese dinners, we want to attend every single one.