Thursday, September 20, 2018

Chicago Eats: Alinea

We're still doing a Chicago takeover on the blog, and today I'm sharing a highly anticipated culinary experience...dining at Alinea.

Michelin Star restaurant, World's 50 Best Restaurants, James Beard Foundation winner, and many other noteworthy recognition nationally and internationally. You must pre-purchase tickets in advance, and it's known for selling out a date within minutes of being released. I can confirm, because we were online the minute our desired date went on sale, and we lost out on the type of ticket we wanted (The Galley). So we purchased a reservation for The Salon, which offers a 10-14 course tasting menu for parties of 1, 2, 4, or 6. Wine pairings can be added (which we chose to do).

Expectations were set high, but were they met? Read on...

There was fire!
There was ice!
They even moved our room of 7 tables down to the kitchen for one course!
Each course came out, and you often wondered how to eat it or didn't want to dig in because it was beautifully plated. This was course Terrarium with Iceburg, Avocado, and Herbs.
From the plates and bowls used, to the thoughtful placement of each ingredient, it certainly was a feast for the eyes as soon as anything hit the table. This course was Smoke with Osetra, Sunflower, Onion, and Lemon.
Crunch with Rouille and Nori.
Wood with Hoja Santa, Tamarind, and Chocolate. These stunning plates were custom made by hand overseas, and I wanted to sneak one in my bag.
Heirloom with Peach, Begonia, and Nasturtium.
There was almost always an interactive element to each course, which certainly made the evening entertaining.
The embers from one course then smoked some fresh lavender under steamed buns, leaving the table filled with the soothing aroma.
There were often courses that required you to do something special (with ALL eyes in the room watching). The pressure!
Including the last and final course, a green apple flavored helium-filled balloon that you sucked open and ate. There was a trick to doing it without the balloon exploding all over your face and hands, and it was certainly fun watching others in the room do it too. Some not so gracefully! 
Here's the bottom line. I hate to burst your bubble (pun intended). It was certainly a memorable and unique dining experience. The techniques and plating are truly something special. Each course was so complicated that it comes with instructions, and there were many words on the menu that I have never seen before and still don't know what they are. But, the food itself just wasn't that remarkable.

Also, the small room of seven tables we were in was uncomfortably quiet. No background music or noise from other rooms/floors helped ease the painful silence in the room. Our tables whispered, and everyone just sat around and stared at the other tables as they received each course. Which really sucks when you are all getting the same coursed meal and you see every dish and hear all of the presentation/instructions prior to it being your turn.

At the insane price point that we paid for this experience, I just expected to enjoy it more and walk out satisfied. It was fun. It was cool. But the food didn't have a whole lot of flavor, just show. And I felt awkward for most of the night in that particular room. Now, wine and service were both fantastic, and the restaurant itself is beautiful. For me, it just wasn't worth the expensive price tag. Glad we did it, but don't need to again.

Now, stay tuned for the real culinary highlight of the trip!

Alinea
1723 N Halsted Street
Chicago, IL 60614

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Chicago Eats: Girl and the Goat, Au Cheval, The Gage, Eataly, Longman and Eagle

Hold on to your stretchy pants, folks. It's a Chicago take-over on the blog for the next three posts, because Mr. H and I just traveled for an epic culinary adventure that just has to be shared.

We shopped, took in the sights, did a couple of the classic Chicago tourist attractions (hello, Shedd Aquarium and River Architecture Tour), and ate our faces off at some of the city's best restaurants. Way too much to pack into just one blog post, so I'm breaking out two of the biggest food adventures into separate posts. Today, you're getting a rundown of the "other" food stops we enjoyed on this trip.

It will start with the famous Girl and The Goat, from Top Chef fame chef Stephanie Izard.
I watched her on the show, have heard nothing but rave reviews of her restaurants, and boy did it live up to expectations. It's small-plate style, intending for you to select 2-3 shareable dishes per person.

We had a group of four at this meal, and dug in to dishes like the Wood Grilled Broccoli with rogue smokey bleu and spiced crispies (probably the BEST broccoli I've ever had), Sweet Corn Pierogies with charred scallion sour cream, sweet corn-tomato, and chimichurri, and the Squash Blossom Crab Rangoon (pictured below) with almonds and chive yogurt.
Mr. H and I took a walk on the "wild" side of the menu and enjoyed the Goat Belly and the Duck Tongues (pictured below) with tuna and black bean poke, crispy wontons, and piri piri.
Overall, the atmosphere, drinks, and food all lived up to the hype and I'd happily dine there again. Maybe the best food of our trip?

The burger at Au Cheval is called "best in the country" by many, so we had to check it out for lunch one day. Located right across the street from Girl and The Goat!
Even for a weekday early lunch, the wait was just over an hour (very small and VERY popular restaurant), and it was about two hours after putting our name in before we had our food. But, once we were in, we did have prime seating at the bar with a bird's eye view of all the burger makings!
We started with an order of the Roasted Marrow Bones ($18.50) with beef cheek marmalade and toast. I'm sure that slowed down the burger process, but it was worth it.
Ok, now someone please explain to me why a "Double" on the menu is actually THREE patties? The patties aren't big and thick, so we thought we were fine ordering the Double Cheeseburger ($14.95), but it was three patties instead of two and I had to remove one to really enjoy the proportions of the toppings. Newbies, like us, need some education before ordering.
Look, it was a darn good burger, and I'd eat it again in a heartbeat. But do I think it was the best burger I've ever had and worth the hype and wait? Not really. But go check it out for yourself, because yes, it is a really good burger and cute spot.

Saturday brunch was a stop at The Gage (right across the street from Millennium Park and "The Bean"). Mr. H and I split the Scotch Egg ($9) with whole grain and dijon mustards. A little softer outer layer than I'd like, but overall good.
Mr. H then ordered the Spicy Fried Chicken Sandwich ($17). We had planned on doing some sharing, but it was huge, the chicken was too thick for my personal taste, and it was kind of a sloppy mess. But, my Eggs Benedict ($15) was quite good and saved the day for me. Does that hollandaise look like Velveeta or nacho cheese, or is it just me?
Saturday shopping took us to our first trip to Eataly! This Italian eatery and food market is just jaw-dropping and drool-worthy. I wanted to take it all home. Check out their list of locations, and do yourself a favor and stop in if you visit a city with one.
I know this post it loooong, but I didn't want to do too many posts about Chicago and bore you to death. The two upcoming ones deserved their own posts, so you'll have to wait for those. But there's one more stop to talk about.

Longman and Eagle came highly recommended by many. This hipster spot with modern farm-to-table fare and nose-to-tail eats (plus whiskey and craft cocktails) reminded me of Cleveland's (and our favorite) The Black Pig.
We waited for a table on the outdoor patio, and it was an absolutely gorgeous, cool summer night that was worth clinging onto as the season winds down.

This restaurant also is all about small plate sharing, and we ordered a couple of things at a time to build a meal as we went. One of the first to come out were the Broiled Oysters (pictured below) with crab butter, chive, and lemon pepper pearls ($4 each). That crab butter was to die for.
We also snacked on the Crispy Octopus, Heirloom Tomato with Ricotta and Ham, Sweet Corn Tortelloni, and the Smoked Trout Brandade (pictured below) with Brie, pickles and baguette ($16).
It was an absolutely heavenly meal, and competed with Girl and The Goat for best food of the trip. It's in an off-the-beaten-path neighborhood, they serve food until 1AM, the whiskey list is longer than I've ever seen, the craft cocktails are delicious, there is a popular tiki bar within walking distance called Lost Lake, and I highly recommend checking it out if you find yourself in Chicago.

Phew, that was a LOT. But soooo worth sharing. Stay tuned for two of the most memorable and epic food experiences, ever.

Girl and The Goat
809 W Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60607

Au Cheval
800 W Randolph Street
Chicago, IL 60607

The Gage
24 S Michigan Avenue
Chicago, IL 60603

Eataly Chicago
43 E Ohio Street
Chicago, IL 60611

Longman and Eagle
2657 N Kedzie Avenue
Chicago, IL 60647

Friday, September 7, 2018

Honey Hut

How have I never written a full post about Cleveland's own Honey Hut ice cream?
Started in Cleveland in 1974 (original location right in my neighborhood of Old Brooklyn!), Honey Hut has remained a family-owned business for more than 40 years.

With summer winding down, Mr. H and I made our first stop in this season for some ice cream the other night. The sun was setting, the warm summer air still kissing our skin, and the picnic benches outside the ice cream stand were just packed with customers. We were hanging on to what felt like some of the last bits of summer.
With 13 regular homemade flavors, seasonal flavors, and all kinds of other treats like sundaes and malts, there is something for everyone.

It was unusual for me, but I had a huge craving for something super rich. I headed right to the Hot Brownie Sundae. Topped with homemade vanilla ice cream, hot fudge, and whipped cream, it's a real splurge.
Now, it was so big that I could only eat about half of it. They offer a Regular (pictured) and a Large. But Mr. H didn't mind digging in for several bites after I was done!

For now, I'm going to continue to cling to summer activities and foods. I see some more ice cream in my future. What's your favorite local spot?

Honey Hut Brecksville
7304 Chippewa Road
Brecksville, OH 44141
440.526.0606

Honey Hut Brunswick
922 Pearl Road
Brunswick, OH 44212
330.220.5050

Honey Hut Old Brooklyn
4674 State Road
Cleveland, OH 44109
216.749.7077

Honey Hut Parma
6250 State Road
Cleveland, OH 44134
440.885.5055

Honey Hut Solon
28300 Miles Road
440.394.8388

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Ticket Giveaway: Taste of the Browns 2018

September is here! That means that cooler temperatures, sweaters, boots, hearty home cooked meals, and all things Fall are just ahead.

That also means that one of Cleveland's best food events is right around the corner, Taste of the Browns to benefit the Greater Cleveland Food Bank.
The 20th Annual event will take place on September 24, 2018 at FirstEnergy Stadium, featuring the opportunity to mingle with Cleveland Browns players and alumni while sampling dishes from Cleveland’s best restaurants and chefs.

Some highlights from the Restaurant List are:
- Barrio
- Blue Point Grille
- Corleone's
- Deagan's
- EDWINS
- El Carnicero
- Fahrenheit
- Johnny's Downtown
- Lago
- Momocho
- Parker's Downtown
- Pier W
- Zack Bruell Restaurant Group

The event also features some incredible auctions and raffles. If you're unable to attend the event, you can also bid on fabulous auction packages here. Cleveland Browns experiences and autographed memorabilia, dining packages, event tickets, and more!

Tickets for Taste of the Browns are currently on sale for $177 for general admission and $252 for VIP admission. You can purchase tickets online.

Or, you can win two General Admission tickets here. You can enter multiple times and use more than one method. A random winner will be drawn on Monday, September 10th.

1. Leave a comment here telling me which participating restaurant station you'd stop at first.

2. Follow @BiteBuff on Instagram and leave a comment on the Taste of the Browns giveaway post.

3. Tweet the following phrase: I want to win tickets to @CleFoodBank #TasteoftheBrowns at @festadium thanks to @BiteBuff.

Good luck!

Disclosure: I was provided with four General Admission tickets in exchange for promotion of the event and a ticket giveaway. I am a former employee of the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. All opinions stated are 100% my own.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Poca Preview

There's an innovative food hall coming to Cleveland's Ohio City neighborhood, featuring a large space with a bar, communal seating, and multiple restaurant concepts for diners to choose from. The initial lineup was recently announced for Ohio City Galley, and I was thrilled to see one of my favorite restaurants, The Black Pig, included on that list of four. They are opening a new Oaxacan cuisine spot, with a focus on Mexican food that you won't see anywhere else in Cleveland. At a preview dinner, I got to see (and taste!) some of what to expect from Poca Casual Mexican.
We started with some housemade Tostadas with Salsa Verde and Roasted Tomato Salsa. Then, moved on to Mole Crusted Beef with Purslane, Peanuts, and Cilantro Vinaigrette.
Next up was probably my favorite course of the night, an Octopus Taco with hoja santa tortilla, Ohio knot weed, and poblano.
The savory courses ended with Pork Mole, a braised pork collar with mole verde, black bean puree, and carrot.
We finished the meal with a Blackberry Mezcal Sorbet with coconut foam and coconut granola, probably my second favorite course of the night.

They are still playing with recipes and techniques and tweaking sauces and salsas, but this preview gave us a sneak peek of what's ahead, and it's going to be good.

Ohio City Galley is slated to open in October in the former Massimo Da Milano Italian restaurant space on West 25th.

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Gunselman's Tavern

We found ourselves in the Fairview Park area around dinner time, so I headed to Twitter to ask for recommendations nearby. Gunselman's Tavern was quickly suggested, and after a peek at their menu online, we headed right over.
We snagged a table on the patio, some beers, and started to look over the menu.
This tavern has traditional American bar food, kicked up a notch. They were awarded Best Burger by cleveland.com in 2018, so there are plenty of interesting and standard burger options. We knew we had to try one, but we also wanted to share something else. We settled on the Maine-style Lobster Roll ($14). You have your choice of side from fresh-cut fries, mac n' cheese, brussels, side house salad, or side Cesar salad. As you can see, we went for the mac n' cheese!
The lobster roll bun was phenomenal. The sandwich was heavily seasoned with Old Bay, which dominated a bit too much for our taste, but it was a good sized portion and held together well in that glorious bun. The mac n' cheese was creamy without being soupy, and there was just enough crunch from the light dusting of toasted breadcrumbs on top.

We also shared the Hawaiian Style burger ($12) with grilled pineapple, SPAM, and provolone topped with garlic zing and cilantro.
Again, a great bun. I wonder where they source their bread products from. The burger patty itself was pretty good too, and we enjoyed the burger overall but felt that it needed more of the garlic sauce. It was just missing a little flavor, and the sauce had been completely absorbed by the bun. A good heavy schmear of it probably would have been just what it needed. But, this burger definitely left us wanting to try another version. The fries were also very good, and served with a side of cheese sauce (surprise!).

They were out of their Alligator Tacos that evening, or that may have been our non-burger selection! I'd love to try them.

We aren't overly familiar with that area of town, so it was great to find a place that we want to go back to.

Gunselman's Tavern
21490 Lorain Road
Cleveland, OH 44126
(440) 331-5719

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Foyer at Beauty Shoppe

Foyer is a cafe that recently opened in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. The cafe is connected to Beauty Shoppe, a network of neighborhood-based co-working spaces originating in Pittsburgh.

Foyer was inspired by the desire to bring beautiful, social, and communal spaces — previously limited to Beauty Shoppe membership — to the general public. Cafe patrons have access to the beautiful coffee shop, and the adjoining lounge that serves as an entry for the members-only private meeting/work spaces.

The colors and design are simply stunning, and I could curl up for hours in this lounge.
Parterning with Parlor Coffee and Chamellia Tea, the cafe menu is a thoughtfully-curated selection of espresso and tea. Their signature beverages are a crisp and refreshing Kaffe Tonic and $1 To-Go Drip Coffee. Their daily pastries are supplied by Tommy’s Pastries in Lakewood.
But, on Fridays only, they are doing a Pop Up Lunch menu curated by Ohio City's The Plum. This includes a small selection of creative, and often locally-sourced items, like the Tomato Sandwich ($11) with Ohio heirloom tomatoes, cucumber, gruyere cheese, lettuce, and brown butter mayo.
And, the House Salad ($9) with arugula, romaine, feta, curried orange, spiced pumpkin seeds, and chili vinaigrette.
It is days later, and I'm still dreaming of this salad. No joke. I need to have it again, and again. The citrus from the candied orange peel with the spice of the chili vinaigrette is pure heaven.

Serving 11AM - 2PM on Fridays, first come first served, this is a new lunch and meeting spot that you don't want to miss.

Foyer at Beauty Shoppe
2529 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 273-4470

Monday, August 20, 2018

Brooklyn BBQ

I'm not sure how long Brooklyn BBQ on Memphis has been in our neighborhood, but when the owner was dealing with a health issue and had to temporarily close its doors, residents were upset. So, when we drove by the other night and saw the lit "OPEN" sign, we decided to stop in and grab takeout to bring home.
It took about 20 minutes, and we walked out of there with a big pile of food for under $40.

Mr. H and I split a full rack of Ribs ($21.99, We each ate a good portion and there was still about 1/3 left!), a Polish Girl ($6, I had to look up what it was. A Cleveland classic- a Polish Boy with the addition of pulled pork.), a medium side of Baked Beans ($5.95), and Mozzarella Sticks (5 for $4).

The ribs had a good smokey flavor to them, but the sauce was a little thin for my personal taste. I prefer a thicker, sticky sauce on ribs. Overall, the food didn't blow me away but it certainly was decent BBQ. I could make a meal out of those classic Southern sides. They also have several other sandwiches, meat platters, and fried seafood options.

But, the real gem of this spot are the owners. They could not have been sweeter, and I can see why the neighborhood was sad to see them temporarily close their doors. I'll probably stop back in, just because it feels good to support such nice people!

Brooklyn BBQ
6102 Memphis Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44144
(216) 862-2183

Monday, August 13, 2018

Cocktail Party

I have a post-weekend glow on this Monday morning, thanks to a fabulous evening on Saturday. A year ago, Mr. H and I won a silent auction package at the Silver Spoon Awards charity fundraiser for an in-home cocktail party for 25 guests catered by Toast.

We finally got a date on the calendar, invites out, and we opened our home to just over 20 neighbors.

Thanks to Old Brooklyn Cheese Co. and Heinen's, I put together quite an impressive cheese and charcuterie board for our guests! They say...practice makes perfect. And I finally got to use my Brass Porcupine Toothpick Holder.
Toast rolled in to our house and whipped up quite the spread of food and drink. Five different hors d'oeuvres, wine, beer, and a dangerous delicious punch. They stayed through most of the evening, refreshing the food and serving beverages.

Now, our neighborhood was affected by the power outage on Saturday. We were only about a half hour into the party before BOOM...no lights, oven, or power to the fridge. Have no fear, Toast kept the food and drinks flowing and we partied by candlelight into the wee hours of the morning. I knew I liked my neighborhood for a reason! 

It sounds fancy schmancy to have a cocktail party in your home catered, but it's not as expensive as you would think and there are a ton of Cleveland companies and restaurants that will do it. They do all the heavy lifting, and you get to sit back and just enjoy your guests (hence no additional pictures of the party or food). Very little work for you, no stress, delicious food and drink, and most of the party clean-up is taken care of too! We had such a wonderful evening with our neighbors. It exceeded all expectations.

I'm just going to sit here in the post-party glow for a while. Thanks, Toast!

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

New Look!

Welcome to the new, fresh look of Bite Buff! I've been blogging for nine years about the Cleveland restaurant scene, events, and local products, and it was time for a little reboot. You'll still see all of the same content, with just a new look and feel.

Check out the About Me section to learn more about the blogger behind the name, and what brought me to Ohio a decade ago.

You'll notice that the right-hand column of restaurant names and neighborhoods/cities is no longer there. It's been moved over to its own page, and you'll be able to search them a little easier under Restaurant Reviews. Just be patient with me as I build out the content for this page. Almost 1,000 blog posts later, it's going to take me a few weeks to update! But I love the cute new headers for this page.

You will also still see Upcoming Events taking place around town that feature our area's chefs and food/wine, and links to my social media accounts. I suggest giving me a follow on these platforms, if you don't already, because I share a lot more food pictures, our adventures around town, and more of my life on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

I want to thank Ashley from Little Leaf Design for working with me again to freshen up my blog's look and feel, and redesigning the Bite Buff logo and graphics. She takes the ideas and thoughts from my head to real life in a way that I could never do on my own.

I hope that you enjoy the new look and format changes. Let's keep exploring the Cleveland dining scene together for many more years to come!

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Georgetown Happy Hour

I recently popped in to Georgetown in Lakewood for happy hour with a friend. Formally Three Birds, they have a wonderful front garden patio with two tiers, huge trees, and twinkling lights. And apparently one heck of a happy hour!

There are drink specials, like the $5 glass of wine I enjoyed, and then most of their appetizers (+ two salads, which you rarely see) all have special happy hour pricing. If you see a double price listed next to an item, that means the lower price is the happy hour price. We enjoyed a Friday happy hour through 7:00pm, and had three shared plates and three drinks for $36!

We split the Pear and Gorgonzola Salad...
...Crispy Calamari...
...and Georgetown Mini Sliders.
The food was all good, service was good even though they had a busy restaurant and a private wedding rehearsal party happening, and we got quite a lot of food and drink for those happy hour prices. I don't think this will be the last time I take advantage of that happy hour!

Complimentary valet parking is available in the lot behind the building, and there is a convenient back door.

Georgetown
18515 Detroit Road
Lakewood, OH 44107
(216) 221-3500

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

LJ Shanghai

I finally got my butt to LJ Shanghai to try these soup dumplings they've been known for since they opened on Superior Avenue in AsiaTown (next to #1 Pho).
A small menu, but filled with pictures to help you decide what to order. I settled on the Shredded Pork and Pickle Noodle Soup ($8). The bowl was huge for the price, the noodles were a perfect texture, but the broth was a little too mild for my taste. So I just kicked it up with some spicy chili oil that was provided on the table. Easy fix!
But, let's be honest...we were there to try the Soup Dumplings ($5 for six).
From what I've read online, there is a trick to eating them properly. They are filled with a piping hot broth, so you poke a hole in the wrapper or bite the top of it off to let the broth out onto the spoon. It's suggested to dip in soy sauce and vinegar prior to opening the dumpling, and both were provided on the table.

Now, maybe we made a mistake by not eating them immediately, but the dumplings we got did not have "broth" inside of them. The meat filling was moist, but certainly no significant juices came out. Is this normal? 

Either way, they were delicious little nuggets, and that vinegar sauce provided was amazing. I could pour that on just about anything. Eating these just wasn't quite the experience I thought we were in for. Was this exactly what it should have been, was this batch just off a bit, or did we do something wrong in how/when we ate them? Educate me if you know more about these famous soup dumplings!

LJ Shanghai
3142 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 400-6936

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Trio

I've only been to One Eleven Bistro in Medina twice, but both meals were very good. So, when I heard that the same guys behind that restaurant were going to open Trio in Tremont, it became one of the most anticipated openings ever for me.
Located in the former Bac space on West 14th Street, Chef Anthony Scolaro and his team went in and did a quick face-lift. The space is brightened up with lots of cool gray hues, modern sleek lighting, wood feature wall, and great new artwork and logo features. I particularly love the cityscape piece in the bar area, check it out.

The main dining room is tucked around a big wall, with lots of natural light coming in from their main street patio.
It's always a good sign when so much of the menu is calling out to you.
We decided to share the Carbonara ($9) Black garlic pasta, botarga yolk, pecorino pepato, guanciale, black pepper, and chive. It was a little over-sauced, but otherwise we did like it. I think the flavor of it could be punched up just a bit though for this to be a home run.
We also split the Crispy Head to Tail Pork ($12) with crispy pig ear, crispy belly, and crispy tail. I wasn't sure what this dish would look like when it came out, but the pork was prepared three ways and each was quite different. A few small tweaks are needed to perfect this dish, but it was still pretty good.
The entrees were executed a bit better, and we enjoyed both! We did some 50/50 sharing, which is always the way to go if you can agree on dishes.

We ordered the Wagyu ($37) with potato salad, dijonaise, demi, and espelette. The beef was soooooo tender, and the demi was thick and decadent.
We also shared the Duck Two Ways ($20) as a roulade, breast, stone fruit, porridge, nectarine, lavender, and cherry duck jus. The demi from the first dish appeared on the second plate too, and it paired just as well with the duck. But the porridge was the surprise favorite on the plate. The texture and flavor paired so well with the duck.
It was really like having two dishes in one, which was great!
Our serve was attentive and friendly. He came from One Eleven Bistro, and you could tell he was proud of the new place.

A few small tweaks to make here and there as they are getting their feet wet. It's literally been like only a month. But, I think this has the potential to be another go-to for us, and they are certainly going to produce the food and experience that Tremont diners expect.

Trio
2661 W 14th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 952-7035