Friday, June 28, 2019

Russo's Restaurant

For the next stop on my 2019 To Dine Challenge list, I headed to Peninsula to Russo's Restaurant.
Known for the eclectic menu of Italian and Cajun, I was interested to see how this mash-up worked.

I leaned towards the Cajun side, as you can't find that just anywhere in Northeast Ohio. I started with the Southern-Fried Green Tomatoes ($12) with Creole boiled shrimp and jalapeño remoulade sauces.
I felt the shrimp were really unnecessary and the texture wasn't pleasant, but the tomatoes were fried nicely and I enjoyed the two sauces.

My friend headed to the Italian portion of the menu. They do make their pasta in-house. The Wild Mushroom Pasta ($22) over pappardelle had sounded good to both of us, so I was happy to see her order it. It looked great, and she said she enjoyed it.
Again, I leaned on the Cajun side for my entrée and ordered the Corn-Fried Perch and Maine Diver Scallops ($28) with smokey baked mac-n-cheese, assorted grilled vegetables and chipotle pepper tartare sauce.
The scallops seemed out of place on this plate, and were under-seasoned and not cooked to my liking. I also had pictured them corn-fried as well based on the menu description. The vegetables were good, and I liked the zing to the tartare sauce. But the fish wasn't crispy as it should be. Soggy fried fish is just never appealing. The sauce on the mac-n-cheese definitely had a nice smoke flavor, but the mushy pasta and thick creamy texture of the sauce really reminded me of Velveeta shells and cheese. I could have passed on this entire dish.

So I walked away not really a fan of this spot, but I think the menu items could be really hit or miss based on what we had. They certainly have a loyal following and the restaurant and separate patio restaurant were packed on a Tuesday night. For me? It just wouldn't be worth the drive again. 

4895 State Road
Peninsula, OH 44264
(330) 923-2665

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

The Lobster Pot

The New England style Lobster Pot Restaurant has a long history in the area, dating back to 1972. Eventually, the business was sold to the owner's son. When it closed in 2005, he had every intention of re-opening some day. Time slipped away and suddenly over a decade had passed, but The Lobster Pot opened in August 2017 and has since built a reputation again for its seafood.

I'm always on the hunt for a hint of our fond Maine memories, so I had no problem driving out to Willoughby Hills to check it out for myself recently. It was a gorgeous night (finally!) so we sat on the patio.
We may have been overexcited to have access to such a seafood-focused menu, because we ordered quite a round of appetizers to kick off the meal. I had some Raw Oysters ($2.75 each), Grilled Oysters ($3 each)...
...and Oysters Rockefeller ($3.75 each). They were all large, plump and briney. Just the way I like them. I tend to lean towards East Coast oysters. I really enjoyed the raw, and the Rockefeller were one of the better versions I've had. But I thought the grilled oysters lacked the grill char flavor I had hoped for and I wouldn't order them again.
On special that night were Crab Stuffed Mushrooms with an alfredo sauce, so those couldn't be missed. Good thing, because it was probably one of my favorite bites of the night.
Lastly, we ordered the Ahi-Tuna ($13) that is pan-seared rare and served with a homemade sriracha aioli sauce, capers, diced red onion and seaweed salad. It had all of the fixin's of an everything bagel and lox, and with everything combined in one bite it was ok, but really this dish was underwhelming in my opinion and I wouldn't recommend it.
While getting quite full, we couldn't overlook the real reason we had driven all the way to Lake County...the Naked Lobster Roll (1 roll $14, 2 rolls $23) served with fries. Since we didn't want two sides, we ordered the double roll plate. They aren't too big, so it was a perfect end to the meal for us. Buttered and toasted bun, warm lobster, and a squeeze of fresh lemon was definitely the best version I've had locally. Just a hint more of the warm butter on the lobster, and it would be near perfect in my opinion. I'd ask for a side of drawn butter next time to liberally add my own.
If you've never had a Connecticut-style lobster roll like this and are only used to the Maine-style with chilled lobster, celery and mayo, then give this type a try. You won't want to go back! Trust me.

Look, it's no Maine, but this was absolutely the closest thing we've had in Northeast Ohio. Warmed me right up for our August trip.

I know there are a couple of other spots in the area that are rumored to have a good lobster roll on the menu. Hit me with those suggestions! 

2749 Som Center Road
Willoughby Hills, OH 44094
(440) 569-1634

Saturday, June 22, 2019

Quintana's Barber Speakeasy

Ever since I heard about the "secret" speakeasy above Quintana's Barber and Dream Spa in Cleveland Heights, I've been wanting to go. Craft cocktails, a secret back door buzzer, and a bookcase passage? I'm in!
Some of the spa services have moved to the building next door as the business has expanded, so two floors above the barber shop have been converted into a swanky speakeasy bar that seats about 20-25 guests.

Lucky for newbies like us, there's a small sign at the front door that provides you with directions on how to enter the speakeasy.
Once we were inside, it was a little harder to find, but someone took pity on us and cracked open the bookcase door after we all fumbled around a bit.

We were greeted with a small swanky bar, low lighting, comfortable seating, and a great list of craft cocktails (and other adult beverages). Even some mocktails. They also serve a handful of Small Plates for those that need a nibble.
They have some cool events hosted there too, such as Tarot Card Readings, Hands-on Craft Cocktail Classes, and live music nights.

This may have been my first visit, but certainly won't be my last. 

2200 S Taylor Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118
(216) 321-7889

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Daisy's Ice Cream

Just about a year ago, chef Walter Hyde (of Fat Casual BBQ fame) took over the iconic walk-up Daisy's Ice Cream in Slavic Village.
While he's still slinging ice cream (and some cool ones at that), he's also added savory items like BBQ beef, mac n' cheese, hot dogs, and specials like smoked meats and pierogi.
I'll have to head back to get my BBQ fix another day, because the sun was shining and for a brief moment it actually felt like summer wasn't far away in Cleveland. So we dove into the ice cream. I had the Strawberry Shortcake Cone (only one size available).
While messy, it was quite delicious.

Mr. H ordered the Oreo My God Milkshake, and it was a sight to be seen!
Join them for their First Birthday Party tomorrow, June 21st to celebrate the business, and the official start to Summer. 

5614 Fleet Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44105
(216) 441-3426

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Cincinnati Eats: Sotto

I saved the best for last, of our Cincinnati dining excursions. It happened to be the first meal we had during this trip, and nothing else quite lived up to Sotto.

First, it's really fun to find, as it's tucked away down a flight of stairs off the street level in Downtown.
You then take two more flights of stairs down into the underbelly of the city, and are greeted with dark rooms, warm low lighting, rustic and industrial elements, and candlelight. It is one of the only restaurants in my life that immediate just struck me as SEXY.
The service was top notch, with a very detailed verbal walk through of the menu and helpful suggestions along the way.

We started with a house favorite, the goat cheese, hazelnut honey, and grilled bread ($9). The secret is that the goat cheese is whipped with ricotta, and it was silky smooth.
Next up was the grilled octopus with white bean shishito ragu, and breadcrumbs ($21). Holy crap was this dish beyond delicious. The octopus was cooked perfectly, but not the star of the show as the dish read on the menu. That bean and pepper ragu was to die for, and we could have eaten another bowl.
A friend had raved about their cacio e pepe with tonnarelli, black pepper, and pecorino ($17), and boy did it live up to the hype. Rich, decadent, and the pasta was cooked perfectly.
But Mr. H's tagliatelle con funghi with morels, spring onion, and parmigiano ($28) stole this course. The ramps featured gave it such a beautiful flavor.
This restaurant falls within the top three meals I've had in Cincinnati, and we'll be revisiting this one for sure. Maybe even on our next trip there...

118 E 6th Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 977-6886

Monday, June 17, 2019

Cincinnati Eats: Mita's

Next up on our culinary adventures in Cincinnati is dinner at Mita's Restaurant and Bar. With multiple nods from the James Beard Foundation and the same operators as one of our favorite spots, Salazar, I had high expectations.

While the restaurant space felt a little sterile and much like a hotel lobby restaurant (I can't pinpoint why, but we both felt it.), the floor to ceiling street views of Downtown, food and drink did not disappoint. I enjoyed one too many of their El Luchador craft cocktail with blanco tequila, ginger, citrus, jalapeño, and triple sec.
The Modern Mexican food reminded me a lot of Cleveland's beloved Momocho. The menu is built with small plates options to build a meal or for sharing.

We kicked off the meal with fantastic Tostones y Guacamole ($11) with twice fried plantains tossed in garlic butter and served with crushed avocado dip. Seriously, we need to recreate this at home so where can we buy good plantains in Cleveland?
We also ordered the Ceviche of the Day ($17). It was a good ceviche, but for the steep price I'd probably stick with ordering other menu items.
The Tacos De Calamares (2 for $10) of fried calamari tacos, pickled fresno peppers, cilantro, onion, corn tortillas, and harissa aioli were also awesome.
My least favorite dish was the Arepa Con Queso Fresco Y Chorizo ($10) of a cornmeal cake, farmers cheese and pork sausage. The flavors were good, but it was a tad dry and really needed some sauce.
We ended the meal with a light and sweet Pastel de Tres Leches ($9) of sponge cake, three milks, and dulce de leche caramel.

While I didn't love the vibe of the restaurant, everything else was very good and I'll happily dine there again during my Cincinnati travels. 

Mita's Restaurant and Bar
501 Race Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 421-6482

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Cincinnati Eats: Postmark

Our dining adventures in Cincinnati continue with today's post. We headed to Postmark, a new American restaurant in a renovated post office building with a menu intended to be ordered as a tasting menu.
They embrace the building's history, and it was quite comfortable but yet felt special.
All of the menu items are available to order à la carte, so we did order some Oysters to start as we dove into the rest of the menu.
They source locally and seasonally, so the menu is changing often. For the Introduction course, we ordered the Pork Belly (one of our favorites of the meal).
And the Lobster with corn and mushrooms. This one didn't live up to my expectations.
The First Paragraph course brought Tuna Tartare. We loved the presentation, and the addition of watermelon and flavored ice.
And Foie Gras on toasted brioche with a chilled soup. Again, not as good as I had hoped.

The Second Paragraph brought another favorite dish of the night, the Gnocchi. I could have eaten a huge bowl of that and been as happy as a clam!
We both didn't care for the Lobster Risotto in this course.

The finale was Third Paragraph, and Mr. H had the Coulette Steak with a mole sauce and truffles.
I had ordered the Duck Breast, which we both preferred. But both were good dishes.
Overall, we enjoyed the meal and restaurant's atmosphere. But there were a few misses with the food, and we've had better meals in the Cincinnati area. So it was a good experience, but not one that I'd suggest over a few others if you're traveling there.

3410 Telford Street
Cincinnati, OH 45220
(513) 281-3663

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Cincinnati Eats: The Eagle

The travel takeover is continuing, but now we head to Cincinnati, Ohio. Work takes me there a handful of times a year, and early June is one of the annual trips. Luckily, Mr. H was also with me for this trip, so we squeezed in some wonderful meals between work obligations. So hang on, we're in Cincinnati for the next four posts!

With locations now in Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis and Louisville, The Eagle is getting a reputation for their fried chicken. This "food and beer hall" is popular and there can be a wait if you don't have a reservation, even at 1:00 p.m. on a Friday like when we went in for lunch.

The Sides are generous, and can easily be shared. So we dove into the Homemade Biscuits with blackberry jam and honey butter. No complaints here!
We also couldn't resist the Mac & Cheese with five cheeses and garlic breadcrumbs.
It was uber creamy, rich, and the best part of the meal.

For us, it went a little downhill with the 1/2 Chicken we split (4 pieces).
While very moist, the breading wasn't crispy and it was too mildly flavored for my personal taste. I had initially been very pumped for the Hot Honey that is served with all of the chicken. But it had a funk to it that just didn't compare to our beloved Mike's Hot Honey. I stopped using it by the second piece.

Maybe it's because we recently had good fried chicken at V's Gourmet in Cleveland, but it just didn't live up to the hype and I wouldn't go out of my way to dine there again.

1342 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 802-5007

Friday, June 7, 2019

Indianapolis Eats: Vida

For our last dinner in Indianapolis, we headed to Vida, which is part of the Cunningham Restaurant Group that we've started to look out for in Indiana, Kentucky, and Ohio. Mesh, Union 50, and Bru Burger Bar have all been some of the best meals we've had while traveling in IN.

Would Vida live up to our expectations? It is the first, and only, restaurant in Indiana to earn the AAA Four Diamond award since opening in 2016.
First, they have Indianapolis’ only in-house hydroponic wall of greens. Which left me wondering how we could do one at home. Can you even dream of how amazing that would be?! #KITCHENGOALS
They offer a seasonal à la carte menu which you can also build into your own four-course meal ($65), or a rotating, six-course chef's tastings menu ($85, $155 with wine pairings) that is preset.
Since you did get to see the chef's tasting menu in advance, we found the dishes on the seasonal menu actually appealed to us more. So we each built our own four-course dinner and did some sharing of plates. Prices listed below are if you were to order à la carte.

The kitchen sent out an extra amuse-bouche to start, which is always a nice touch.
For my first course, I had the Beef Tartare ($18) with quail egg, caper berry, bone marrow, and baguette. Pretty true to a classic tartare preparation, it was good but nothing special. I did save the bone marrow until the end and ate it separately, which was decadent as always. Maybe I should have mixed it into the tartare, but it just didn't feel right to me.
Then I headed to the Foie Gras ($18) on brioche with rhubarb, plum jam, fennel, ramp, and marcona almond crumble for my second course. Again, good but nothing noteworthy.
I ordered the Halibut ($36) pea "pistou", guanciale, trumpet mushroom, preserved lemon potato, and charred ramp for my third course. It was a pretty plate of food, and certainly prepared well. But it just didn't compare to the amazing halibut from the night before at Bluebeard.
But I enjoyed Mr. H's Wagyu Ribeye ($52) maitake mushroom, robuchon potato, broccolini, ginger béarnaise, and black garlic-veal demi ($10 upcharge) more.
While he was also kind enough to offer me a bite of his Key Lime Pudding Cake ($11) with Greek yogurt mousse, caramelized pineapple, graham crumble, macadamia, and roasted white chocolate, neither of us really cared for this dessert.
I had ordered the Ricotta Doughnuts ($11) with bourbon maple glaze, candied bacon, maple cream, and brown butter ice cream that were doughy and delicious but didn't photograph well.

This is definitely a fine-dining establishment and should be reserved for splurge meals. I loved their large leather chairs and lots of natural light at the front of the restaurant. No outdoor dining offered. Overall, the meal was good but not great, and it didn't live up to a few of our other experiences within the restaurant group.

601 E New York Street
Indianapolis, IN 46202
(317) 420-2323

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Indianapolis Eats: Bluebeard

A little blog takeover for the rest of the week, because Mr. H and I headed to Indianapolis for a work trip over the weekend. Luckily, we had the opportunity to squeeze in two fun dinners out.

I knew the first stop had to be Bluebeard on Friday. With nods from the James Beard Foundation, and a tempting menu online, I thought this would be a spot right up our alley.
It did not disappoint! They don't take reservations, so we settled in at the bar while we waited for outdoor patio seating (about 35 minutes). Immediately, I loved the vibe. And the rosé flight option on the bar menu. And this little sign perched on a shelf behind the bar.
The menu has plenty of options to build a meal from, and most are small enough so that you can try several. The "Medium" menu section is your standard entrée for one size, and the "Large" format dishes are intended to be shared by two people.
We stuck to mostly Snacks and Small plates so we could do a lot of sharing and sampling of the menu. That started with Salmon Ceviche ($16) with salmon, corn, cucumber, salsa roja, avocado mousse, fried corn tortillas, cilantro, and jalapeño...
...Tartine ($22) crab, blackberry, basil, shallot, watercress, yuzu vinaigrette, semolina toast, and mascarpone...
...and Rockefeller ($16) oysters, jowl bacon, arugula, parmesan, pedro ximenez, and bread crumbs. The Rockefeller was the standout of the three, and I think we could try and recreate this take on a classic Oysters Rockefeller at home. The tartine was our least favorite, as it just didn't have a whole lot of flavor.
Then we split the Wild Halibut ($28) with vichy kohlrabi, mushrooms, green beans, smoked almonds, and cilantro in a brown butter miso sauce. This dish was heavenly. The fish was cooked perfectly, and the textures and flavors were delightful.
We also shared a Side of the Spaghetti ($12) with creme fraiche, parmesan, evoo, and gremolata. Apparently it's a staple on their menu and will never leave. The heat from red pepper flakes with the brightness of the lemon and salty parmesan was just the perfect trio of flavors in your mouth. Our server was kind enough to explain how it's made, and we'll be trying this one at home soon! If you don't care for spice, don't order it. Otherwise, it's a don't-miss item.
We had watched one particular dessert dish pass by our table several times, so we couldn't walk out without trying it. The Vanilla Bean Chess Pie ($9) with caramel sauce, candied walnuts, and whipped cream was unlike any pie texture I've had before. Not overly sweet and with an excellent crust, this was a great end to the meal.
I don't find myself in Indianapolis very often, but I can say that this restaurant will stay towards the top of the list on places I'll keep on rotation.

Any Indianapolis restaurant recommendations for me? Stay tuned later this week to see where we had our second meal.

653 Virginia Avenue
Indianapolis, IN 46203
(317) 686-1580