Friday, June 28, 2013

Lago Moves to the Flats

My favorite part about blogging is when something excites me so much that I just can't wait to share it with you. Recently, that happened at Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen, and now the new and improved Lago.

Lago is one of my first food memories in Cleveland. "R" took me there for my birthday, right before I moved to this fine city five years ago. It's always had a special place in my heart, and I was sad to see it close its doors in the nearby neighborhood of Tremont. Well folks, they are about to reopen their doors on Monday in their new space---located on the east bank of the Flats in the Aloft Hotel. I had the privilege of attending their Friends & Family Night last night for a soft opening, so I'm thrilled that I can give you a sneak peek on what to expect.

Valet parking right in front of the hotel and the restaurant's entrance was quick and easy ($8 for 0-6 hours), so I hope that it's something that will be offered all the time. They do need some outdoor signage, so hopefully that's in the works. Inside, the space is designed to look industrial-chic with a soft glow in the main dining room. There was a lot of excitement in the room, and the vibe was infectious. "R" and I started to look at the drink menu, and it was hard to choose. They have a great list of cocktails and martinis, and I enjoyed a Mirtillio with OYO honey vanilla vodka, simple syrup, blueberry, and lemon first. Then, I dove into a 1987 martini with Hanger 1 Buddha's Hand citron vodka, St. Germain, lemon, and white cranberry.
Both were light, tart, and refreshing.

Our server, Aubrey, was simply fabulous throughout the evening, and she guided us through the menu to make our selections. We started with an order of the Scallops with manchego polenta, pistachio pesto, and crispy kale ($15). The predominant flavor was pesto, so proceed with caution if you're not a fan of heavy pesto flavor. However, the scallops were seared perfectly, and "R" is still scratching his head about how they can get such a perfect crust. Ours at home just never turn out that good. The pesto and scallops on their own were a bit salty, but once you took a bite with the polenta then it helped to balance it out.

Next, we shared the Beet Salad with crimson and golden beets, arugula, goat cheese, pistachio, orange, and citronette ($10).
We were informed that this is one of the "smaller" salads, and that all of them are big enough to share. This salad was more than enough for the two of us, so keep that in mind when ordering. A tad more goat cheese would have taken this up a notch, but overall it was a good beet salad and we both really liked the dressing.

Diners will be happy to see that several of the classic Lago favorites made their way on to the new menu, like the Lobster Gnocchi ($24) and Veal Stuffed Tortelloni ($23). I couldn't resist trying one of these dishes. I wanted to see how they stacked up to the versions previously served at Fabio Salerno's other restaurants (old Lago, Grotto, Gusto).
Served with peas and crispy prosciutto, this dish is rich and hearty. I have to say, this was the best version that I've had from any of his restaurants. Clearly, it's been perfected over time.

Now, the real star of the evening was the 14 oz. Bone-in Filet with prosciutto-wrapped potato, chef's vegetable, and a truffled demiglaze. With a $45 price tag, I expected it to be good, but HOLY MOLY it was outstanding.
The meat itself was splendid, and so tender that it cut like butter. The seasoning was just perfect, complimenting the meat without overpowering. The truffle demiglaze just took it over the top, and we both deemed it "the best steak that we've had in Cleveland." I don't take that declaration lightly, and we've certainly had our fair share of steaks in the area. The potato was certainly unique in presentation, but there were bites that were slightly undercooked. Overall, this dish is worth every penny.

All of these dishes, we selected from the menu. There were a handful that they weren't serving during the soft-opening, including a couple that we'd like to try, like the $56 "burger" (more on that at a later date). But the dessert course was a pre-selected tasting for everyone, and it included a small version of their cheesecake, a glass of their truffle milkshake that will be served with the $56 burger, and an interesting concoction made from banana bread and chocolate (my favorite of the three).

"R" and I were beyond stuffed, glowing from a fabulous meal and seeing friends, and looking forward to a return visit soon. My buddy Lanny Chin is in the kitchen, and I'm thrilled for him. Being down in the flats on a gorgeous summer night, and seeing the progress that they are making down there, is exciting. Good things are ahead for the Flats, Cleveland!

Aloft Hotel
1091 West 10th Street
Cleveland, OH

Disclosure: I was invited to the Friends & Family soft-opening by Chef Lanny Chin. All food was complimentary at the event, and we paid for our own drinks. This in no way influenced my opinion of the restaurant. All thoughts and opinions are 100% my own.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

PIB and My Kitchen

Life has been a little hectic, so please excuse my absence. Last week (and this week), I have work meetings/events every single evening. How does that happen? A couple of evenings, I've even been double or triple booked. I hate the feeling of wanting to be in two places at once. "R" and I are also in the middle of a kitchen remodel. Before and after pictures coming soon! In just a few weeks, we'll have a brand new beautiful kitchen. A far cry from the torn, crappy, ugly, outdated kitchen that we've had. So we've been busy picking cabinets, granite, paint, name it. It's all been a whirlwind, but it will be worth it.

This weekend, we escaped the chaos to spend a four-day weekend in Put-In-Bay with friends.
It was much-needed, and we enjoyed every minute of it.

This included lots of day drinking. FYI- Frosty's makes a GREAT Bloody Mary (we asked for them to be extra spicy).
The weather was hot, but gorgeous. It was a perfect weekend to spend by the water.
Our group of eleven accomplished quite a lot of traditional PIB activities: bar hopping in the evenings, lobster bisque at The Boardwalk, hanging by a bonfire, renting a golf cart to tool around the island, day drinking at bars and the winery, people-watching, shopping, and much more.

Also, PIB is pretty special to me. "R" and I actually met there six years ago. I was in Ohio from New York, celebrating a friend's upcoming nuptials, and we met one drunken night in the Round House bar. This trip was our first time back up there for a weekend together since we met. So, I made sure that we documented our return visit to where the magic happened.
I certainly never thought that I would meet the love of my life in Ohio, but I'm so glad that I did. Cleveland is now home, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to create the life together that we have. Heading back to PIB was incredibly relaxing and fun, and so necessary during these busy few weeks. We had a great time with friends, old and new.

Have you ever been to Put-In-Bay? What are your favorite things to do up there? We're so lucky to have this area just a short drive away from Cleveland. But, now it's back to reality...and living through a kitchen remodel.

Monday, June 17, 2013

Fun in the City

What a crazy last several days! The fun started on Wednesday, with the monthly gathering of the @CLEDinnerClub. This time, the group was at Hodge's in Downtown Cleveland, for probably one of my favorite CDC outings yet. It rivaled the three thrown by Chef Brian Okin (Fountain, Luxe, and Cork & Cleaver). The company was great, and we all had a fantastic time chatting over some interesting and delicious food. These events sometimes push you to try things that maybe you wouldn't normally order off of a restaurant's menu. For example, we had: bone marrow, seared foie gras, smoked quail (a favorite of the night)...
...and puffer fish (I just kept having flashbacks to our recent trip to the Newport Aquarium).
For many members of the group, this was their first time trying some of these items. The meal also included hanky panky, pork belly, deviled eggs, Thai watermelon salad, pork with some amazing cornbread croutons and cherries, and a sweet corn pudding for dessert. This dinner will be one to remember. Thanks Hodge's, and to Joe G. for coordinating!

Thursday night, a friend and I attended a Beer & Canvas event at Press Wine Bar that was being held by Goose Island Brewing while they were in town for their Migration Tour. I was invited to attend, and provided with two complimentary tickets, to check out the event. I've always wanted to learn more about the Wine & Canvas events that I've seen around town. Have you ever been to one?
The event had about 30 attendees, and an artist led us through an almost paint-by-numbers experience to create a piece that highlighted Goose Island's Sofie beer. My canvas started out like this...
...and I was a little skeptical that my non-artistic self could actually create anything that looked like it was supposed to. It took some concentration, and three beers, but here's my finished product...
It won't be hanging in our living room anytime soon, but it turned out much better than I anticipated! Overall, I loved the event and I would certainly attend another one. I also really liked Goose Island's Pepe Nero.

Friday evening, "R" and I headed to Lolita for an early bite to eat before checking out the Cleveland Wine Festival. It's been almost two years since I've been to Lolita, and "R" hasn't been since before we started dating. Yikes! We had an amazing meal. I had the Halibut special, and "R" had the Hanger Steak from the regular menu. I'd order that steak again in a heartbeat. The only thing that I didn't like about the experience was that my fish special was $34, and that was not disclosed. Now, we didn't ask, but the server should have included that in the description since the dish was about $10 more than any other entrée on the menu. Not cool. Then, we headed down to Voinovich Park for the Wine Festival. With the city skyline as the backdrop... was a perfect night to be down by the water sipping on wines. This event is always fun, and I encourage you to check it out next year.

Saturday, "R" took his employees out to an Indians game. It was our first of the season, and even though they couldn't bring home a win for us, it was still fun being at the stadium.
Best part of the night--- they handed out mini foam fingers that fit on one finger. I'm saving mine!

We wrapped up the weekend by searching for new kitchen appliances. The remodel starts this week! Goodbye, ugly crappy kitchen. The evening ended with us just sitting on our patio and relaxing with a beer and a breeze. It was a gorgeous night in Cleveland, one of those rare and perfect weather days. It was a great ending to a whirlwind week of fun. This time of year is just so energizing in Cleveland.

What did you do this weekend?

Disclosure: I was provided with two complimentary tickets to the Goose Island Beer & Canvas event. The Cleveland Wine Festival provided me with four passes to the 2013 event, two for me and two to give away. The opinions stated are 100% my own.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ohio City's New TownHall

TownHall seems like it has been in the works for quite some time. Well, it finally opened its doors and it has appeared to be busy every night since. Including Mr. Captain America himself, which just happened to be the night that we stopped in for some drinks, eye-candy, and a bite to eat.
I like what they did with the location. There's a great secluded back patio, and limited casual seating on the front patio as well. Garage doors open up the front of the restaurant, so even though we were seated inside the main bar area, we had a great view of the Ohio City streets and a breeze left us feeling like we were dining outdoors. The overall look of the place feels similar to some of the other West 25th establishments, so it should be right at home here in this neighborhood.

I was having a lousy day at work, and I needed a pick-me-up. I selected TownHall for our impromptu outing because Willoughby Brewing's Peanut Butter Cup Porter was listed on their menu as one of the "Staple" beers on draft ($5 all the time). Our poor server had the task of informing me that they had run out of it. The horror! But very fitting for how my day had been going.

We were waiting on a friend, so "R" and I decided to munch on some snacks to hold us over. We got an order of the Prosciutto Wrapped Dates with almonds, house chorizo, and goat cheese (six dates for $7.50).
They really just tasted like bacon and dates, with no real hint of goat cheese or the chorizo. They were perfectly acceptable, but Light Bistro's version down the street is much better.

We also shared the Matchstick Truffle Fries with Parmesan, truffle oil, herbs, garlic, and served with BBQ ketchup and rosemary aioli ($6).
In hindsight, I guess "matchstick" should have been a big clue, but we weren't expecting shoestring fries. What does "fries" vs. "frites" mean to you? Frites I associated with thin-cut. We both despise shoestring fries. The aioli was quite good, and it can be found on their burger as well, but overall the fries were only okay.

We settled in with some beers to wait for our friend, and I was beginning to enjoy myself. Sadly, the rest of the meal was even more disappointing.

"R" was torn between a couple of menu items, and decided to go with the Burrito #2 with rotisserie chicken (or tofu), creamy pesto, veggies, cilantro, brown rice, and quinoa. He said it was really dry and pretty bland. From the amount of salsa that he kept dumping on it, I believe him.

I had zeroed in on the Prosciutto and Fig Jam Flatbread ($12) with goat cheese, port reduction, and arugula pizzette. I also added mushrooms from their additional toppings section ($2 each).
This flatbread was very dry and hard, tasted burnt most of the time, and overall it was really lacking. I was so sad. It included some of my favorite ingredients, but this time they just didn't work.

Now, our friend ordered the Grilled Cheese Bars with Tomato Bisque ($10), and she enjoyed it. It looked good too! But only one out of five dishes that we had at the table were anything worth ordering again. Those aren't good odds.

However, several other menu items sound enticing, so I'll certainly give it another try. Maybe this time, they'll have my staple draft too. This, and some other pieces of the evening, can be excused by their newly opened status. Growing pains, every restaurant has them. I just hope that our experience with the food is better next time. I'd love to check out their brunch with the build-your-own crepe station. Welcome to the neighborhood, TownHall.

1909 West 25th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113

Monday, June 10, 2013

Color Run and The Package Tour

This past weekend, I took a "bite" out of Cleveland in a different way. As I've said before, there is just so much going on this time of year. I love it! It was a busy weekend, packed with some fun and unusual activities.

On Saturday, I participated in my very first race...ever. I walked the Color Run 5k Cleveland with friends.
We started off so nice and clean at the Start Line.
Got hit with color along the three-mile course.
And ended up looking like this...
I was so nervous headed into it, and I think I psyched myself out for the first mile. I was scared that I couldn't complete it (after over three years of restricted physical activity from my surgeries), or that I would be LAST. After color station #2, the course took a slight turn and you could see how far back the runners/walkers went behind us. It calmed my nerves, and we just kept trucking along. Finally, we were there at the finish (quicker than I had anticipated), and it was so much fun. I'd do it again in a heartbeat. They're coming back in September, and there is a Run or Dye in August too.

Some tips: wear cheap sunglasses to protect your eyes, don't open your mouth or inhale during the color stations, cover your hair if you're a dyed blonde because it may temporarily stain your hair, and bring baby wipes, a towel for your car seat, and an extra set of clothes for the end.

In September, I'll start training to walk the Walt Disney World Half Marathon with my Liver Life Challenge team. *Gulp* The Color Run gave me the confidence that I could do it, but also proved that I have a long way to go before a half marathon.

Then Sunday brought The Package Tour. What's that, you say? Only the best concert that I've ever been too. And I'm not even embarrassed to admit that. It was pure nostalgia, with thousands of screaming women (not girls, we're all grown up now) for Boys II Men, 98 Degrees, and New Kids on the Block.
Boys II Men wooed us with their opening act. They've still got "it." 98 Degrees was entertaining to watch, but I never really loved them like some other boy bands. At least the Lachey brothers were looking fiiiine on stage. Then, for the main event...a two-hour show from NKOTB.
We were in Section 10 of the floor seats, and I was pretty pleased with our seats throughout the concert. But they became worth EVERY PENNY once the boys men went down into the crowd, and Joey's spot was literally just above our seats.

Best part of the night. The ten-year-old version of me was pretty happy last night.
What did you do this weekend? There were just so many great things happening around town. Weekends like this make me fall in love with our city just a little bit more.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Mezza and a Cleveland Wine Festival Winner

What a dreary let's perk it up with a giveaway winner for the two Adult tickets to the Cleveland Wine Festival. Thank you to everyone that entered! I loved reading what your favorite summer drinks are. selected lucky #29...findmeonline! Email me by Monday to claim your tickets, or another winner will be picked. Congratulations, and enjoy the wine festival.

Now, on to the post for the day. I discovered a new place this week, totally last minute and by recommendation. My parents were in town to help with my last fundraising event, and my mom and I had scheduled a Girls' Day at Spa West to celebrate my spring event season concluding. Some much needed pampering was just what I wanted. I had planned on taking her out to lunch after our appointments, and I just happened to hear one of the manicurists talking about her favorite Greek food up the street. My ears perked up, because I swear that I was already in the mood for some Mediterranean. We weren't too far from Crocker Park Mall, and I had already been dreaming of Aladdin's.

She directed us to Mezza, located in the Kensington Square Plaza. It was a little hard to see from the road, but they have a visible sign on the building once you enter.
The restaurant is incredibly casual, and clearly family-run. There is a counter to order from, with large handwritten menu boards. The menu isn't huge, but there was a nice selection of small plates, salads, gyros, pita creations, and other miscellaneous items. It was kind of hard to choose, as many items sounded good.

My mom and I decided to split a small order of hummus ($3.50), and I ordered six stuffed grape leaves ($4) and falafel ($6.99).
The hummus may still be better at Aladdin's, but the grape leaves left theirs in the dust and I also really enjoyed the fried falafel patties.

It was quick, easy, cheap, and delicious. Only three items on the entire menu are over $10, so I'm calling this a Dining Deals restaurant! Parking was free in the plaza's lot, and we found a spot right outside the door with ease. It is kid-friendly, and we also saw several people pop in for quick takeout. I would definitely go back.

Mezza Mediterranean Cuisine
28743 Center Ridge Road
Westlake, OH 44145

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

A "Taste" of 2013 Cleveland Summer Events

Hello, readers! Well, I'm finally through my spring event planning season, and I can come up for air again. I have two recent dining adventures to share with you, but today I wanted to tell you about a few fun summer events that are coming up.

- Friday, June 7th: Downtown Farmers Market returns to Public Square in Cleveland. Returning for its fourth season, it is a producers-only market. You can find great local goods, enjoy live music and lunch options, and free monthly cooking classes with local chefs (second Friday of the month from 1:30-3:30 at the Old Stone Church). The market will run on Fridays from June 7th through October 25th from 11AM-2PM. I just love farmers market season!

- Sunday, June 9th: Chef Jam at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with proceeds benefitting the Rock Hall's education programs. This event features some of our area's best chefs, and they each create a dish inspired by their favorite band or musician. The tasting booths are scattered throughout the venue, and taking in the exhibits as you enjoy delicious food and drink makes for one fantastic night. There is also great live music, and some guest appearances that you won't want to miss. This is one of my favorite summer events, but sadly I'll be missing it for The Package Tour this weekend. Tickets are $75, and still on sale. Check out my past post on event tips!

- Now until Labor Day Weekend: Fourth Annual Tour de Bruell. To complete the Tour de Bruell, diners must visit each of Zack Bruell's Cleveland restaurants (Parallax, Table 45, L'Albatros, Chinato, and Cowell & Hubbard) from now until Labor Day weekend, picking up a Tour ticket on their first stop. Collect stamps along the way, and you could win some unique culinary prize packages! Turn in your ticket at your final stop by September 2nd to be entered.

- Saturday, June 29th: Taste of Summer Benefit for Verb Ballets. Hosted at the Lakewood home of Tricia and Jim Farley, this inaugural event will feature food from nine prominent chefs and musical talent from Grammy award-winning solo pianist, Angelin Chang. Chefs include: Anna in the Raw, Cork & Cleaver, Deagan's, Dim and Den Sum, Spice, Toast, Town Hall (newly opened), Umami, and Washington Place Bistro. Proceeds benefit Verb Ballet, a professional dance company in Shaker Heights. Tickets are $100, and include open bar. Call 216-397-3757 or visit

- Saturday, August 3rd: "Progressive" Dinner at Progressive Field, hosted by the Cleveland Indians. Guests will experience a four-course meal, with each course taking place at a different location within the baseball stadium. The dinner includes beverage pairings, a tour of the stadium, and a parking pass. Diners will also watch the Indians on the scoreboard as they take on the Miami Marlins. Tickets are $100, and more information can be found at or by calling 216-420-4840.

This is only a small taste of what's to come this summer, and I'll be sharing more with you as the months unfold. What's your favorite summer food event in Cleveland? Personally, I'm also looking forward to Twilight at the Zoo. We've already purchased our tickets!

Disclosure: I was asked by each of these organizations to help promote their event. I was offered a media pass to the Taste of Summer Benefit.