Tuesday, December 31, 2019

The Best Things I Ate in 2019

I thought it would be fun to do a look back through the year, at my favorite bites and some newly discovered places of 2019. Here we go...

Cheesy Brisket Crunches from Service Bar in Columbus
Shish Tawook with garlic sauce from Joe's Deli
Arancini from Molto Bene Italian Eatery
Scallops St. Jacques from Blu the Restaurant
Our entire meal at Central Provisions in Portland, ME
Grilled Octopus with white bean shishito ragu and breadcrumbs from Sotto in Cincinnati
Spaghetti from Bluebeard in Indianapolis
Spinach and Meatball Dip from Polpetta
Diavolo Pie (Pro Tip: add Hot Honey) from Il Rione
Well, I guess it was a good one then!

How about you...favorite bites or new restaurant you tried this year? 

Monday, December 30, 2019

La Plaza

There is a short list of places around Northeast Ohio that I haven't, or hadn't, dined at that make me hang my head in foodie shame. La Plaza Taqueria was one of them. If you ask around for the "most authentic Mexican" in the area, 9 times out of 10 you'll hear "La Plaza" as the answer. The grocery store's small takeout counter of prepared foods had gotten so popular, in fact, that they expanded to a full café (still connected to the grocery store) in 2018 with seating for around 40.

Yet, I still hadn't gotten there over the years. Well I knew that had to change, so I added it to the 2019 To Dine Challenge list and I saved the best for last. I gathered a small group and we headed there for dinner recently.

Mr. H and I did some sharing, starting with two different Tamalaes. They were a perfect temperature and texture. We dipped in some sauces from the serve-yourself toppings bar.
A Chile Relleno was on special that evening, and that's one of my all-time favorite Mexican dishes, so we couldn't resist. The spicy flavors were great, but it was way too oily for me. I'd either take it home and remove it from the container, or stick with other dishes on the menu.
But, we were really there for the Tacos! You can choose from 12 fillings served on house-made corn tortillas, and then you can top them from the bar with whatever you choose. I have no idea what I even added onto them, but it was a little of a lot and man was it good. We had the Carnitas, Barbacoa, Chorizo, and Pastor. The carnitas was our least favorite, as it didn't have as much flavor as the others.
The tacos aren't very big so you can mix and match a few. We saw several Grand Burritos go by, and they were HUGE.

You order at the counter and then wait for your order number to be called from the kitchen line. There is casual seating available, but it does get busy. Plenty of free parking in the grocery store lot. It also gives you a chance to pick up some groceries after dinner, and we found some great items to take home. I'm still drooling over their fresh Pico de Gallo, which packed more heat than most.

This may have been our first time, but it won't be our last. Why the heck did it take me so long to get there? But don't kill me, I'm still a flour tortilla kinda gal. However, I can confirm that their food is very good and the closest to authentic Mexican that I've personally had in the area.

That's it. The 2019 To Dine Challenge is a wrap. It's always so satisfying when I can complete them all, because sometimes it hasn't happened. This year was a good one, but I do think the best was saved for last. Now, what does 2020 have in store? You'll just have to wait until January 1 to find out!

13609 Lakewood Heights Blvd.
Cleveland, OH 44107
(216) 476-8000

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Restaurant Takeover Series at Opal Kicks Off

One of our very favorite spots in the neighborhood is the wine bar Opal on Pearl. Starting in January, the first Monday of every month through July will feature a Restaurant Takeover event with a special menu for the evening from a local chef.

The first event is brought to you by two Old Brooklyn residents themselves, Amanda and Josh of the famous Lilly Chocolates & Confections.
There will be two seatings of the event, and you'll get 5 courses of savory dishes highlighting chocolate. It's not just for dessert, people!

Reservations and a $30 deposit are required. Check out the event's page for the full menu preview. Will I see you there?

Friday, December 27, 2019

Gervasi Vineyards

Since it was our five-year wedding anniversary this month, I wanted to do something a little extra special. We always go out to a nice dinner, but the milestone gave us an opportunity to kick it up a notch and visit somewhere that's been on my local travel "bucket list" for quite some time...Gervasi Vineyards in Canton.
In May of this year, they opened their boutique hotel, The Casa.
Featuring 24 individual suites with courtyard views, king-size beds, and luxury amenities, it was perfect for a romantic one-night getaway. You're really pampered in your room with the complimentary continental breakfast (in an adorable wooden box personalized for your room), in-suite fireplace, heated tile floors, and a walk-in shower.
After getting checked in, we headed for lunch at their more casual restaurant, The Crush House Winery, Wine Bar and Eatery.
The food was hit or miss. While we enjoyed the Provolone Carrozza ($8) of hand-rolled Italian-style cheese sticks and served with marinara sauce (pictured below) and the side of Roasted Carrots, the Wedding Soup ($4.50/cup) and Bruschetta Trio ($8) with marinated tomatoes, artichoke and roasted peppers, and smoked eggplant and ricotta left a lot to be desired.
Then we popped into their gift shop, The Marketplace, where we picked up a candle and ornament to commemorate our trip. Their home goods, particularly the holiday décor, were right up my alley and I could have walked out of there with a lot more!
The winery is open for public tours three times a day on Saturdays only, but you can upgrade your experience by purchasing tickets to the private tour that ends with four wine and small bites pairings (which we did).
Our last adventure for the day was dinner at The Bistro, their upscale, rustic Italian restaurant in the historic renovated barn on the property. Luckily, after 4PM they are currently provided a shuttle service around the property.
It was beautifully decorated for the holidays.
The meal started and ended a little rough. It was a busy Saturday night in December, so I'm really understanding and can be patient, but service was just atrocious. We sat, and sat, and sat without being acknowledged or provided menus or offered drinks, and it didn't get much better from there. Also, never any apology offered, which can go a long way in making things right.

We then had a wonderful Meatballs Arrabiata ($9) appetizer with soft polenta, whipped ricotta, and spicy, sliced peppers smothered in marinara, so I had high hopes for the food. But, sadly, our entrees were only average at best.

Mr. H had the Miele Maiale ($28) of a Grilled Pork Chop, Fingerling Potatoes, Arugula, Wild Mushroom Medley, Cherry Tomatoes, and Caramel Apple Pancetta Sauce. While his was better than mine, it still was nothing memorable. I ordered the special, a Lobster, Mussels, and Roasted (ummm, looks steamed to me) Broccoli over Saffron Risotto. Zero flavor, zero. The risotto was also super watery. I should have stuck with one of the pasta dishes as I had originally planned before hearing the specials.
We packed up the rest of our bottle of wine and headed back to the room.

Luckily, the stay ended on a real high note when I treated myself to a massage by the fireplace in our room (yay for spa services that come to you!) while Mr. H settled in with a great cup of pour-over coffee at The Still House. The Still House is a coffee house by day and cocktail bar by night. We had also enjoyed a flight of wine and a cocktail there the night before, and they often have live music.

For us, the food was lacking and didn't live up to the rest of the experience on property. But overall, it was a wonderful stay and we kept busy with all of the activities on-site. I would head there again in a heartbeat.

Gervasi Vineyards
1700 55th Street NE
Canton, OH 44721

Friday, December 20, 2019

Weekend Bites: Anniversary Edition

Well, it's Friday, but I'm still going to fill you in on our past weekend because it was a good one! Mr. H and I celebrated our five-year wedding anniversary, and there was no shortage of celebratory moments.

On Friday evening (our actual anniversary), I surprised him by picking up Salted Caramel cupcakes (our wedding cake) from A Cookie and a Cupcake in Tremont. I topped them with our original cake topper (a joke about how he made me wait almost 8 years before we "finally" married). And I arrived home to a surprise of my own, a floral arrangement made to mimic my wedding bouquet from Urban Orchid. Mr. H is incredibly thoughtful. I'll keep him.
Then we headed out the door to the Cleveland Metroparks Zoo for their new Wild Winter Lights event.
Not only is the zoo the site of our "first date" in Cleveland the first weekend I visited him from NY...
...but we also got engaged there. So it's a special place for us, and this new event was a perfect way to celebrate. The lights were beautiful, there were a lot of activities, and the weather was great that evening.
However, we were ready to warm up and fill our bellies after walking around outside. So we headed to Urban Farmer Cleveland in downtown. We hosted our rehearsal dinner there five years ago, and that experience is still one of my favorite moments of the wedding weekend.

Any meal at Urban Farmer must start with their signature Cornbread cooked in a tin can. It's some of the best I've had.
We also shared their Calamari before Mr. H enjoyed their Trout and I dove into a 21-day dry-aged Filet with tallow butter and blue cheese. It was a really lovely meal.
The celebrating wasn't over, and we jumped in the car the next morning to head to Gervasi Vineyard in Canton. More on that later!
After a wonderful night away, it was great to get back home and have Mr. H back in the kitchen whipping up amazing meals like these Pork Chops from Saucisson and a roasted butternut squash, brussels sprouts, pecans, and dried cherries mix that makes a great side dish for these colder months.
Having an anniversary smack in the middle of holiday season can sometimes feel overwhelming or not ideal, but I always appreciate taking the time to slow down and focus on celebrating with each other. This year was special--- our first big milestone, so we did it up!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

New Year's Eve Events in Cleveland

The holidays are rushing in this year, and New Year's Eve will be here before we know it. The end of a decade.
If you're still looking for something to do in the Greater Cleveland area, here are some restaurant events to choose from.

Sawyer's Restaurant (Van Aken District, Shaker Heights)
Six-course ($90) or Eleven-course ($150) Tasting Menu
Featuring celebratory + aphrodisiac classics including wagyu, oysters, lobster, caviar, truffles, + ‘sexy pasta’ (vegan option available). Complimentary champagne sabering at midnight. Reservations starting at 5PM.

Table 45 (Cleveland)
Four-course Prix Fixe Dinner ($75)
Upgrade your experience and stay overnight at the Intercontinental Hotel Cleveland.

Flying Fig (Ohio City)
Party Like It's 1999 ($150)
Join the Flying Fig to celebrate 20 years of service with an eight-course tasting menu of popular dishes of the past. Live music, champagne toast, and gratuity included.

The Black Pig (Ohio City)
Special à la carte menu offered for that evening only.

100th Bomb Group (Cleveland)
Roaring 20s Party: $80 per person / $90 at the door
To celebrate the holiday, 100th Bomb Group is throwing a Roaring 20s NYE party from 8PM to 1AM featuring: Live DJ Gary Pearl, Hor d’Oeuvres, Grand Dinner Buffet, Open Bar, and Balloon Drop. $300 package includes 2 tickets plus one-night stay at the Hilton Garden Inn.

Lago East Bank (Downtown)
7th Annual New Year's Eve Cirque du Soirée: The Greatest Show ($150 - $300)
Lavish food, drinks, entertainment and dancing including: Dynamic Carving Stations, Show Stopping Antipasti, Mouth Watering Seafood Display, Delicious Hot Buffet, Luscious Dessert Display, Premium Bar, and Champagne Toast at Midnight. Late night admission or VIP Package with hotel stay available.

How will you be ringing in the New Year? You can catch Mr. H and I at The Black Pig, per tradition. If you're aware of other great events happening around town, leave them in the comments.

Don't forget to help me with my blog's "New Year's resolution" of the To Dine Challenge! Submit your restaurant suggestions for places I should dine in 2020, and I'll publish the final list of 10 on January 1st.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Empanadas Latin Street Food

As 2019 winds down, so does my To Dine Challenge for the year. Unfortunately, one of the restaurants selected did not end up opening their doors yet, Half Moon Bakery. I've had their tasty empanadas catered at a meeting, so I was anxious for their restaurant to open on West 25th Street. Fingers crossed it's still in the works!

So I decided that I wouldn't feel satisfied if I didn't replace it with a comparable option. Enter, the new Empanadas Latin Street Food in Parma.
There are a handful of small tables there, but it's mostly a takeout joint. On a Tuesday night, the place was busy with a line of folks waiting for their orders.

We got a side of Fried Plantains (with or without garlic), but they have Ripened Plantains as well. The garlic was potent and a nice addition, but overall they were very dry and needed a sauce. I don't think I'd bother with these again. We've been making them at home and eating them with guacamole. Highly recommend!
Their empanadas range in price from $2 - $4 each, and there's quite a variety. You can get classics like chicken, beef, or four cheese. But they have all kinds of Americanized playful versions like Pizza, Hot Dog and Cheese, Polish, Cheeseburger, Buffalo, and Mac & Cheese.

We ordered the Cheeseburger (my favorite), Meat Lovers (our cashier's favorite and one I'd recommend), and Mac & Cheese (too dry and not worth it).
They are good-sized and reasonably priced. Overall, I'd rate this spot as decent. But there are better empanadas in town. Won't stop us from swinging by there again though.

Parking is difficult. There is a small lot behind the building, but most of the spots belong to another restaurant and they are out there with a watchful eye. Certainly this casual place is kid-friendly, and with the fun fillings that could appeal to little ones, it may be a good chance to introduce them to empanadas.

My last stop on the To Dine Challenge is coming up later this week with a fun group outing to La Plaza Taqueria. If you'd like to join, just message me!

5543 Ridge Road
Parma, OH 44129
(440) 340-5618

Friday, December 6, 2019

Local Foodie Gift Guide 2019

It's that time of year...shopping for gifts for the loved ones in your life or a quick hostess gift as you head to a holiday gathering. Here's my 2019 Gift Guide for the local "foodie" in your life.

J.Lees Knife (price varies)
These locally-made knives are hand crafted and custom with steel blades and reclaimed wood handles with materials obtained from custom bass guitar builders. I was turned on to them this fall, thanks to a local chef friend. We gifted them at a charity event, and they were a big hit. Even a good home cook desires quality and unique knives, and you're supporting a local craftsman with these.

Fix It with Food Cookbook ($18.97)
The latest cookbook from Cleveland celebrity chef Michael Symon was just released, with more than 125 recipes to address autoimmune issues and inflammation. The book is co-authored by Cleveland Scene dining editor Doug Trattner.

Gift Certificate for a Cooking Class at Architectural Justice Gallery and Café (any amount)
Like the French Pastry Workshop ($55) coming up on December 29th. Mr. H isn't on social media and never reads my blog, so I can share that I purchased one for our upcoming anniversary, and we'll enjoy cooking together (ok, ok, mostly me watching) at a class in 2020. Shhhh! It's always a thoughtful gift to give an "experience" and even better if it's something you can do together.

Cheese Grotto ($85 - $135) purchased at Old Brooklyn Cheese Co.
Taking after age-old European traditions, this can be stored on the countertop for effective short-term cheese storage, or it can be stored in the fridge for long-term storage. Mr. H bought me one last year, and it has been life-changing for this cheese lover! Our soft cheeses are room temperature and spreadable at all times, and it's easy to just nip off a bite at any time instead of getting into an entire cheese/charcuterie spread and consuming way more than you need.

Vintage Serveware or Entertaining Items from Helm Collective
Seriously, I am obsessed with her adorable shop on Lorain Avenue. You can pick up stunning platters, bowls, candlesticks, vases, stemware, and more to please any hostess or home cook in your life. Also, giving new life to vintage items just feels good.

Stocking Stuffers or Hostess Gifts:
- locally sourced sauces, dry goods, and canned goods from Ohio City Provisions
- gift certificate for a Sausage-making Class at Saucisson
- Pope's Bloody Mary Mix (or sauces, jams, and more)
- Crepe Mix from Crepes de Luxe at the West Side Market (going in Mr. H's this year, shhhh)
- City Hippie Granola in a variety of kick-ass flavors
- locally-made olive oils, vinegars, pasta sauces, hot sauces, or spice blends from chefs like Dante, Zack Bruell, Doug Katz, or Jonathon Sawyer (many of which you can pick up at Heinen's Grocery Store)

None of these are affiliate links or sponsored content. They are products or services that I've personally purchased or would like to be gifted. I encourage you to shop local this season, as there are so many fantastic vendors right out your doorstep that can sell you that perfect gift for the foodie or home cook in your life. Share your additional ideas in the blog comments. Happy Holidays!

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

Michael's Genuine Food + Drink

Situated in the Van Aken District in Shaker Heights, Michael's Genuine Food + Drink had been on my list to check out since it opened. The restaurant concept comes from James Beard Award-winning chef/owner Michael Schwartz of Miami.
The dining room is casual, with booths and tables positioned for a view of the wood-fired oven. There's also a good-sized bar, and you can enjoy 1/2 off snacks, cocktails, wine by the glass, and beer during their Happy Hour on Monday - Friday from 4-6PM.
We popped in for a large lunch, because dinner wasn't going to be until very late that evening. We shared three smaller plates from their snacks and appetizers sections, and split a lunch-portion salad.

That started with an order of Classic Deviled Eggs ($6). Can't go wrong there.
We also shared the Wood Roasted Octopus ($19) with crema, smoked chile, radish, and cilantro. The flavors of this dish were overall very good, but it ended up a real "miss" for us because it was over-roasted and the texture became tough and it tasted too bitter. Also, for the price, the portion was very small. It cut down to four bite-sized pieces.
They offer two sizes for each of their salads, which is a nice option. We shared the smaller portion of the Butter Lettuce ($8) with orange, hazelnut, avocado, and shallot-hazelnut vinaigrette. It was a simple and refreshing salad that I'd eat again, but I kept thinking that it was missing a little something. I personally would add crumbled goat cheese, and more orange and avocado.
So far, the meal had been pleasant but nothing had "wowed us" quite yet. Well the best was saved for last. We ended with the Crispy Pork Belly ($15) with kimchi, crushed peanuts, and cilantro. The portion was pretty generous for an appetizer, the flavors and textures were great, and I'd get this again and again.
There was a whole lot more on the menu that I'd like to try. Including daily oysters and specials. The menu is labeled for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten-free.

Pop in for a meal, then stop in at any of the great shops at the Van Aken District, and top off the experience with ice cream from Mitchell's. I just love dining destinations where you can walk around and make a whole excursion out of it.

3427 Tuttle Road
Shaker Heights, OH 44122
(216) 230-8022

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Time to Submit for the To Dine Challenge!

Wow, where did 2019 go? But it's that time of year again...to submit your restaurant suggestions for my annual To Dine Challenge.

Each December, I have you send in favorite newly opened restaurants, hidden neighborhood gems that don't get the recognition they deserve, hole-in-the-wall spots you frequent, and maybe even some restaurants on the verge of opening.

Then on January 1, I announce a list of 10 restaurants selected from the submissions that I'll challenge myself to dine at and blog about over the next 12 months. It has become a New Year's resolution of sorts.

I took a look back, and I've been doing the To Dine Challenge since 2010. Wow! I did take a year off in 2018, so 2020 will have to mark 10 years of lists.

You can use the Search function on my homepage to search the keywords "To Dine Challenge" to see the past lists and some of the associated posts. If you're not sure that I've visited a restaurant you're thinking of suggesting, check out my Restaurant Reviews page for a full list.

So start sending in those restaurant suggestions by commenting on this blog post or messaging me on social media (@BiteBuff). Then keep your eyes peeled on New Year's Day for the 2020 announcement!

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Good Company

I've been meaning to get to Good Company since it opened in the Battery Park area, since the concept comes from the same crew behind The Plum. The Plum's food is pretty fantastic, so I had high hopes.

They have daily specials (check out the website) and we happened to land on their $2 Burger Thursdays.
While I was anxious to try their standard The Good Boi burger, I was more interested in trying other things on the menu that night so we didn't build-our-own burger. But I'd love to go back and do so, because there was quite a list of fabulous toppings to choose from.

Instead, we shared the House Made Soft Pretzel n' Cheese ($9) with Bertman's mustard, white American cheese sauce, and pimento cheese dip. Unfortunately, the pretzel itself was really dry and not overly enjoyable. But the three dips were all good!
We also split the Twice Baked Potato Skins ($5) with white American cheese sauce, caramelized cabbage, griddled onion, and crumbled house bratwurst. Probably our favorite dish of the evening, but it came out a little cold.
Lastly, we did split the single patty The Good Boi ($6). The one 4 oz. patty wasn't quite enough meat for the bun ratio in our opinion, so I'd suggest adding another patty for $2. Overall, a solid burger and I'd like to head back in to build my own on another Thursday.
Now the place is sparsely decorated and there's a laid back and casual vibe happening, so you can pop in for a quick bite at very reasonable price-points for the quality of products they are using. There's a Mikey Likey kids' menu, and everything on the menu is easily labeled for vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free. For parking, you can park in the small lot on the side of the building, try your chance at snagging one of the limited spots in front, or there's free street parking down several of the side streets.

While none of the food blew us away as much as our past meals at The Plum, it was solid and I'd like to go back and try more. Definitely for a boozy shake too!

Good Company
1200 W 76th Street
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 331-0318