Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A River Full of Fire

For those not in the know, Cleveland might be known as "that place where the lake caught fire" or even more recently as the most miserable city . To them I say, don't knock us until you've tried us.

There is however, a river in Cleveland that is full of fire from time to time. Just like our city, it might not be much to look at from the outside to the untrained eye. If you didn't have a reason to do so, you might pass it by without a second glance.

Mekong River in Cleveland Heights offers diners a wide selection of Cambodian and Thai dishes, ranging from mild and sweet, to a those that provide a lip-tingling burn. Their "heat index" ranges from Level 1 all the way up to 15 - a level many of the servers there have told me is usually enjoyed by staff, or their regular Cambodian and Thai customers. On my last visit the server reminded me that heat can always be added on, but cannot be taken out!

Both the exterior and interior of the restaurant are sparse, with little more than a few neon signs on the outside, and only a few paintings and plants on the inside. I've learned through experience however that a pretty restaurant (and even pretty food) do not always equal good food. Seating is abundant, both in the main dining area and around the bar - where there's almost always a Thai or Cambodian television show playing.

Mekong River offers a full bar, as well as beer and wine. The bubble tea is not to be missed, with its thick and slushy texture that differs from the thin, milky bubble teas you find elsewhere. They also offer Jasmine tea as well as black iced tea. I tried the Jasmine tea on this visit and was not impressed - mostly because the hair product I love from Lush Cosmetics contains Jasmine. They were far too similar for me.

We order the Tom Kha Kai (red) soup every time we go. The slightly spicy, coconut milk and galangal infused broth is luxurious. The soup also contains chicken, button mushrooms and cilantro. One bowl is usually split between my husband and I, but the serving size is certainly not overwhelming if you wanted one all to yourself.

My husband's favorite dish is their Cambodian Curry, which contains beef, yams, green peppers, potatoes, and onions, cooked in a curry sauce. He normally orders it with a heat level of 3 (remember, out of 15) which is plenty spicy for the both of us.

I ordered the Tangerine Tilapia, which was a generously sized tilapia filet that had been lightly breaded and fried. The breading was so crisp and light with no trace of oil. It was topped with a sweet tangerine ginger sauce, which I spiced up to a level 2 (it was not intended to be spicy at all(. It came with a small side of steamed broccoli and whole tangerine slices. The flavor combinations were phenomenal, and there was enough to spare. We always take home leftovers. It's not unusual to see diners eating family-style - it might even be the ideal way to experience Mekong River's food when dining with a group of several people. The menu is so vast that you can eat there several times and not even make a dent in the selections they offer.

There are many vegetarian/vegan options - and I'm sure that most meat dishes could be made vegetarian with a request to your server. If you still happen to be hungry after your soup, tea and entree - there are always a few dessert selections, including a housemade coconut ice cream and sticky rice cake with mango.

Mekong River is our traditional stop the night before my husband heads off to a neuroscience conference that takes place annually. It is truly a hidden gem that you cannot judge based on appearance alone.

Friday, November 11, 2011

When It Rains, It Pours...

And when it snows, you eat ice cream.

At least, that seemed to be the modus operandi of many people on Lee Road tonight. Tonight we had dinner at Mekong River, but I'm going to leave that for another post. After dinner, we headed over to Sweetie Fry - which isn't very far from the Cedar-Lee Theater. We'd driven past the storefront a few times, and had seen a Sweetie Fry cart in Coventry during the summer, so it was time to stop in.

Sweetie Fry was busier than I thought an ice cream shop would be on a frigid night in Cleveland. There were two families seated in the dining area, and another couple who had just left before we ordered. Sweetie Fry serves up ice cream made on site (you can actually watch them making it) and if you're not quite in the mood for something cold, they've also got fries of the potato, sweet potato, and funnel cake variety.

There were samples of the funnel cake fries on the counter, which we gladly sampled. These too, were made on site and so soft and yummy that I took a second sample. They also had a cup full of their salted caramel sauce for tasting, complete with sample spoons (no fingers, naturally). I should have dipped the funnel cake fry in the caramel, but didn't.

Sweetie Fry had several flavors on hand (Mango Sorbet, Goat Cheese with Honey and Pecans and a Strawberry Sour Cream, to name a few) so it was very hard to decide what to get. My husband got the Peanut Butter and Fudge (not surprised, personally) and I had initially asked for the Butter Pecan. The man at the counter thought they were out, when another employee said "We made some just last night!" which was nice to hear. Even though they had fresh Butter Pecan, I went with the Vanilla Bean and some of the salted caramel sauce. I was offered a "Sweetie Scoop" - which is a small, two-bite sized scoop they will put on top of your regular sized ($3.35) scoop. The Sweetie Scoop is free, and ended up being a fantastic way to try something else - and to see what I was missing!

My husband's ice cream was very rich, and very good. The slightly gritty texture reminded me that yes, I was definitely eating ice cream made with actual peanut butter and not something pretending to be such. The peanut butter was also a bit salty, but complimentary to the other flavors in the scoop. The fudge was dark and slightly bitter. If you're expecting the equivalent of a Reese's Cup, prepare to be disappointed. The flavor is more of a jazzed up, exciting version.

The vanilla was smooth and genuinely flavored as well. Flecks of vanilla bean dotted the scoop, which swam in a little pool of thin, salted caramel sauce. The little scoop of Butter Pecan was amazing as well. The abundant pecans went very well with the classically flavored ice cream.

Since we had just eaten dinner, we did not get to sample the non-dessert fries. The Parmesan-Truffle fries caught my eye... Maybe I'll have those next time, when it's too cold for ice cream.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Going on a Date with Felice

The first day of Autumn may have been last week, but I watched the seasons change firsthand last night, at Felice Urban Cafe.

A server at the beloved Michangelo's was the one to suggest the restaurant a couple months back. We looked at the menu online and immediately knew we had to pay them a visit. It was one of the top choices for my birthday dinner, but we ended up doing Siam Cafe with friends, family-style. On that note, Li-Wah may have Cleveland's best dim sum, but nobody holds a candle to Siam Cafe's authentic Chinese offerings for dinner.

My husband and I both worked all day yesterday, and thought that the cold, blustery evening that followed was a perfect time to go on a date (read: not cook). We had selected Felice a few days prior, and had made a reservation for 7:30. I'm glad we did, because they were packed! When we drove up to the restaurant, which is situated in a large, brightly painted house on Larchmere - I was already impressed. There's an art installation on the corner made of vinyl siding, and the house itself was brightly lit with red lights in the patio windows. It felt like we were going to someone's house, in a way! The structure is impressive, and Felice makes wonderful use of the space. We were promptly greeted in the foyer and told that they had a very special table for us. "That's great!" I thought to myself, wondering if they said that to everyone who came in. It didn't seem possible for there to be a bad seat in the house. The host took us past every table and ventured into the kitchen area. My pulse started to quicken a bit. I wondered, were we going to be seated at the Chef's table? As we were guided into a booth nestled in the wall, decorated with a small chandelier I knew it was true - we were sitting at the Chef's table.

"Did you plan this?" I asked my husband, thinking he'd asked for the special table. He insisted that he didn't. I became slightly giddy, and still didn't fully believe him. If I weren't already married, I would have been expecting a ring box to appear from his pocket at some point in the evening!

The host returned with water and menus. Another surprise of the evening was an additional menu that you don't actually see on the website. It contained several other starters and entrees. Their wine, beer and cocktail list was extensive. I settled on a Summer Sangria, even though the wind outside almost seemed to intently proclaim that Winter was around the corner. It was a white sangria, with house-made cherry vodka, brandy, fresh grapefruit and a Sauvignon Blanc. It was amazing, and was enjoyed right down to the vodka-soaked cherry at the end. I ate nearly all of the ice cubes after the drink was gone, you could still taste the boozy goodness. A pitcher of this sangria would be great company for a table full of friends.

We ordered a mixed greens salad and some chorizo and potato empanadas to start, but were surprised with a treat from the kitchen before they arrived. Since we were at the Chef's Table, we each received a small plate with a potato pancake, grape jam, smoked salmon, chevre, preserved lemon and crispy sage. Getting everything on one forkful was a slight challenged, but the amuse was splendid. At first glance, I wondered where the jam was. I had thought that little cherry tomatoes had found their way to our plates until I tasted one. They were whole grapes! This isn't something you'll find in a store, believe me. You could genuinely taste every component in its purest form. Together, they were magical.

Our salad (shared) and empanadas arrived a little later. The salad was made of various greens, and decorated with button-like smoked almonds, granny smith apples, and Manchego cheese. I'm not sure what the dressing ingredients were, but there was a perfect amount coating the lettuces. Once again, the individual ingredients were allowed to shine through, but went well together. There were four empanadas on the plate, small enough for two or three bites each. If you had a lot of other things going on, it would be fine for a party of four. We each took two of the flaky, buttery pastries filled with chorizo and potato for ourselves, and dipped them in the (once again) house-made tomato jam. The jam was slightly spicy and had great flavor.

For dinner, I ordered the Steak Frites from their regular menu. My husband ordered a Duck entree from the special menu, with orange sauce, greens, and potato pancakes.

The steak was cooked medium-rare and was placed on a wonderfully peppery jus with melted onions and black pepper. There was a light and lemony aioli on top of the frites - and a small side of 4 or 5 asparagus spears. The meat was perfectly seared and crisp on the outside, but wonderfully (and truly, might I add) cooked medium-rare. I briefly thought about requesting the tomato jam for the frites, but that would have been a textbook example of 'gilding the lily' which I ended up doing later in the evening anyway. More on that later!

Jeff's duck came out a little overdone, but he was not the one to point it out. Our server was very up front, and said that she'd be glad to take it back if it was not cooked as he requested. She promised to come back in a moment to see how he felt. After a taste he did decide it was a little overdone, and requested it to be re-done. We were both immediately impressed that the issue (which quickly became a non-issue) was handled so professionally and honestly. The new dish with medium-rare duck came out quickly and perfectly. It was obvious that the cooks and staff at Felice really cared about their food, and that it meant a lot for the diners to enjoy as they intended. Our love for this restaurant was quickly growing. The duck breast was tender and seared beautifully, and the orange sauce was lovely. It had wondeful flavor but did not steal away any dynamic of the duck's natural flavor. We'd already had the potato pancakes at the start, but did not mind a re-visit of the crisp cakes, which did not have the salmon this time. (Gilding. Lily.)

Already completely enamored with the food, drinks, and the surroundings (seriously, sitting at the Chef's table was so great), we decided to get dessert. I had eyed the pumpkin bread pudding earlier in the evening, so I decided on that. We'd normally split a dessert, but my husband isn't normally a fan of pumpkin - so he opted for an apple cobbler with ice cream. His came with ice cream, and I became jealous. A new rule is that I will not have ice cream in the house, but can enjoy it while out to dinner, or traveling (Jeni's time!). They had no problem adding it to my bread pudding. This is where I gilded the lily. The bread pudding comes with whipped cream, which they put on the side (it would normally be on top) - the whipped cream was spiced with cinnamon and cardamom, at the very least. We noticed the cardamom immediately, as it was very prominent. A large scoop of vanilla bean ice cream sat awkwardly atop a generous square of bread pudding. With the whipped cream being as awesome as it was, there was absolutely no need for the ice cream. Though my husband isn't normally a pumpkin fan, he conceded that my dessert was really good. He remarked that it "tasted like Fall" and he was right - it tasted exactly like Fall. I'm considering a reasonable facsimile for our Thanksgiving dinner.

Our server suggested that we exit from the back, so that we could see their outdoor patio and bar. While it was too cold to sit out there last night, I can definitely see us going there in the summer. Before we left, we also looked at their happy hour menu. Several menu items are $6 or less. Felice also has a special on Wednesdays where you can get any appetizer, entree, and dessert for $22. We're very glad we went to Felice last night, but Wednesday might be a good time to experiment if you've never been!

Our date was a night we'll truly remember for years to come. If you're looking for a romantic spot for dinner, I would definitely suggest you give Felice a try. If you're down with the hustle and bustle of the kitchen (which was a living machine, let me tell you), you should ask to reserve the Chef's table. We were seated there at random, and felt extremely lucky. It made quite an impression on us both! Our only regret was not bringing a camera. If you want to see pictures of some great food and read another review of Felice, check out fellow Cleveland blogger Cleveland Food and Brews review!

Happy Autumn and happy eating!

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Carbs, Luxurious Carbs

Living in Little Italy, I am no stranger to Italian food. My favorite on Mayfield is Etna, but La Dolce Vita's Pasta Fellini is a Fall/Winter favorite of mine. The bartenders at Maxi's are wonderful, and I really like the staff at Presti's - many of the people there have been working there (at least) as long as I've lived here, and it's kind of nice to get my pepperoni bread and iced coffee from the same folks, three years in a row.

When I first moved here, I really didn't know too much about the area. I picked my apartment online, and actually had my (then) boyfriend check it out for me. I didn't see it for the first time until I drove a U-Haul to Cleveland with everything I owned in tow. It should come as no surprise then, that I didn't really know that there were some amazing things on Murray Hill, which intersects with Mayfield. When Jeff and I were dating, the Cornell Rd. bridge was closed and he lived closer to The Triangle, so we rarely went in that direction. The street has evolved quite a bit since I moved here, with the more recent additions of the Murray Hill Market, La Pizzeria, and Washington Place Bistro.

My first stop as I was getting my sea legs on Cleveland's culinary waters, was Cleveland Foodie - a blog that I consider quintessential to navigating the diverse food culture of Cleveland. I remembered seeing her talk about Michaelangelo's in Little Italy, but I didn't really know where that was. It's been a while, but I may have discovered it while on a walk down Murray Hill. You can't see the restaurant too well from the street or sidewalk unless you're really trying, so Michaelangelo's remained shrouded in mystery for me until about a year ago.

As of last week, I have now been there a total of three times. On the first and most recent visits, my husband and I ordered multiple pasta dishes to share. It's not advertised on the menu for dinner, but you can get half orders of any of the pasta dishes (or the risotto), so we got three half orders of pasta and shared them. Last week we tried the Sacchetti (A ricotta and black truffle stuffed pasta in a black truffle cream sauce), the Raviolini (Lobster ravioli, rock shrimp and a vodka-tomato cream sauce), and the Gnocchi (Potato gnocchi with hazelnut pesto). I should also add that this was our pre-time trial "carb-up" - we participated in a (bicycle) time trial the following morning!

The half order of Sacchetti comes with 7 "purses" of pasta/stuffing, and this was the one I would have wanted all for myself. I tried it on my first visit, and the only reason I didn't get it on my second visit was because they were out. This pasta is the whole reason I love truffles. The flavors are balanced well, and the sauce is velvety and luxurious without being too heavy, something that seems nearly impossible for a cream sauce.

Lobster ravioli is something I've had elsewhere, and it's never really been a favorite of mine. That's not to say that Michangelo's version isn't amazing - it's just not really my sort of thing. The experience of eating this pasta is without a doubt, oceanic. The taste of the lobster and rock shrimp are left untouched, and speak for themselves. There is a brininess to the meat that brings back fond memories of sandy beaches and salty air.

I really loved the Gnocchi. I'd thought about it on my previous two visits, but it never made the cut. The basil is not overpowering, and the parmigiano really makes it tart and creamy. The hazelnuts were not obvious to me, aside from a textural thing. It was fun to eat, and really enjoyable.

The staff at Michaelangelo's has always been wonderful, from the moment we walk in the door. I've never been disappointed with a single thing on any of our visits, and I look forward to going again in the future. I'm almost considering it for my birthday dinner (I have it narrowed down to four restaurants - honest!)!! I hope that you consider them for your next special dinner (or lunch) if you haven't already.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Dining As A Tourist: Do First Impressions Count More In Tourist Towns?

My husband's family has visited Lake Placid, NY for the past twenty years or so, according to my Father-in-Law - though not consecutively. This is my fourth year in Lake Placid. We stay in a condo on Mirror Lake for about a week, while we hike and bike our ways through the Adirondack region. It is no surprise of course, that we also happen to eat while we're here.

If you read Yelp or Tripadvisor, it would seem that eating in Lake Placid is hit-or-miss. We went to a restaurant here last year that is fairly well known, and we happened to have the blandest steaks known to man. Our server told us that the natural light (we were seated outdoors) made the steaks look more done than they were - when the reality was that the strip steak didn't look pink because it WASN'T pink... They had cooked it to death and didn't salt it, at all.

Did we catch the kitchen on a bad night? Maybe. The danger of inconsistency in a restaurant in a tourist area is that a large part of your business, and even repeat business is based on the impression you give your diners on what may be their first (and only) visit to your establishment. Frankly, I'd like to go back - I want another pint glass (you get to keep it when you order a beverage) - but I'm hesitant because of the experience I had last year. I only got to try them on once, and it wasn't a good fit. Alternately we had an amazing time with a restaurant in Costa Rica - it was so good that we ate there three times in our two day stay in Tamarindo. Good food made us go back a second time, and when we were asked to go back for a third we didn't hesitate, considering the food was amazing on both previous visits.

I am not saying that a bad night at a restaurant will permanently ruin its reputation, but if someone's on vacay and they may have only one night, potentially of their entire lives to try your food? It should be a priority to give your customers a memory they'll treasure almost as much as the photos they take. If there's a problem, fix it. Apologize, and don't lie to them (bad lighting made your steak taste like nothing? Come on.).
Tonight we went to a place we'd been before - Liquids and Solids at the Handlebar. They were quite new last year, and had a few kinks. The servers didn't really have a groove, and we pined for our beers as they sat languidly on the bar in plain view. The food and beer selection was so impressive, it was enough to give them another shot. We figured that any kinks would be worked out, and that the experience would be much better this time. Before we left for the restaurant my FIL read reviews that did not speak too fondly of the service. One person wrote, "Is this a joke?" and another complained that their server was overly emotional.

One does get the feeling that you're having dinner served to you by a staff that seems to be more colloquial than customer service oriented. In a way, I really like that sort of feel. To be frank, I don't really want someone to brown-nose me when I'm sitting down to dinner. I don't like it when I am thirsty or hungry however, and I can understand how the service could be off-putting to some. I did not regret my visit tonight, and as long as they are around I will be back!

We sat down around 7:00 and ordered our drinks. I started out with a Dogfish Head Festina Peche, a seasonal BerlinerWeisse-esque beer. The style lends the Festina Peche its sourness/tartness. I liked it, but probably wouldn't get it again unless it was totally ice-cold (it was barely cold when I received it). The five of us each got something different, so I got to try most everything - except for my Brother-in-Law's and that was mainly because I hate blue cheese. Plates at L&S are categorized into "large" and "small" plates, or bigs and smalls.

My Father-in-Law ordered a "large" plate of BBQ beef brisket, cheddar grits, spicy chard, cucumbers, shallots, ranch ($18). The brisket was amazingly tender and well spiced/sauced. The grits were exactly as grits should be, and had a touch of cheese and cracked pepper. The spicy chard was meant to mimic collard greens, and they did this very well. The chard was slightly sour, and had a nice kick to it. The cucumber/shallot/ranch was absent from my tasting, so I can't really comment on it.

My Mother-in-Law ordered a very generous "small" plate of Tuna, tomatoes, coriander and fennel slaw, lemon basil aioli. ($12) The tuna was well seared and well seasoned. I'm pretty crazy about fennel, so the slaw and aioli was nice to have.

Jeff got the night's special, which was a soft-shell crab with wilted spinach and a lime gherkin remoulade. What I tasted was actually quite good, but I don't feel comfortable reviewing it because I don't think I tried enough to properly assess it.

I ordered a Dogfish Head Indian Brown Ale, which was/is the first "hoppy" beer I've ever liked. It went very well with what I ordered, smoked sausage, foie gras, mashed potato, and mustard braised cabbage, with a maple gastrique. ($22) The sausage by itself was actually fairly bland. I had wished for some garlic or a little more seasoning, but it was still good. The foie was seared, buttery and flavorful. The cabbage was tart and had a subtle mustard flavor. The potatoes also had little to no seasoning but this was fine, because it tasted like a potato and that's exactly what was needed. All of the components of my dish worked together wonderfully.

Jeff and I also split two sides, a decently-sized bowl of fried brussels sprouts ($2!!!) and fries ($2). The fries come in a small pot, and this presentation tends to make the fries on the bottom go cold and greasy, at least this time. Their housemade ketchup is well spiced and has a great flavor. The sprouts almost rivaled Michael Symon's - they were seasoned in a similar fashion. They were a total steal, and a treasure.

While eating dinner, I mentioned to our server that we'd had similar brussels sprouts in Michael Symon's restaurant, she told us that the bartender's brother is actually opening up a restaurant in Cleveland, none other than SoHo in Ohio City!

I love traveling, but still get homesick from time to time. At dinner tonight, I felt a little closer to home thanks to good food and a Cleveland connection!

Liquids and Solids is an amazing restaurant. They've really fallen into a better pattern (drinks could come out a little faster) and the food is spectacular. If you want a unique dining experience and just happen to be in the Adirondacks/Lake Placid, please give these guys your business.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Quick Bite: Lunch at the Hodge Podge Truck!

After I slept in a bit too much this morning, Jeff asked if I'd want to head out to the North Union Farmer's Market at Shaker to look around and grab something to eat. I noticed that Dim and Den Sum posted:

Curry duck frites tomorrow and oh so much more at shaker square farmers market 8am-12pm
Later on in the afternoon, I got a message from Jeff mentioning the very same frites. When I woke up this morning, I was more than happy to seek them out, and I was glad that I did. Once we ordered (Duck Frites and the Surf and Turf Tacos) I headed out to look for a beverage. The trucks aren't allowed to sell drinks (Can someone please explain why?) and Dewey's normal post, selling lemonade was nowhere to be found. I ended up walking to Dave's to get a soda.

As I walked behind the Hodge Podge truck, all I could smell was scallops. Seared, briny, ocean-y smelling scallops. Yum. I couldn't wait.

When I returned from Dave's, I found Jeff already sitting on the grass beneath a shady tree nearby. I could smell the curry on the fries from 10 feet away, and it was amazing. We put a little bit of Sriracha on the fries but didn't augment the tacos in any way. Starting with the fries - they were perfectly cooked, wonderfully crisp and salty with the aroma of curry. The curry flavor wasn't too strong, but I liked it. The curry was definitely there, but I noticed and adored the aroma as we ate them. These were some of the best fries I've ever had, and that's saying something... Considering my undying love for the fries at Bar Cento and Sasa Matsu!

The tacos were very messy - so I opted to eat mine with a fork. It was great watching Jeff eat the other one as I'm sure it was meant to be eaten! The scallops were cooked perfectly, and the meat was incredibly tender. I am also a lover of anything and everything that has to do with Kimchi - so that was an added bonus!

Can't wait to visit the Hodge Podge truck again soon, and you should definitely check them out!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Girl About Central America

Ardent spirits sent from heaven,
Whoa! You batter me and thrill me

Knock me to my knees and kill me
I don't care! It's you I'm drinking.

The above are translated lyrics from a song they sing in Costa Rica called "De la Caña se Hace El guaro" which loosely translates to "From the cane, they make the moonshine". The name "Guaro" came from Costa Rica, and was adopted by the rest of Central America and the South. Colombia calls it Aguardiente. Sometimes guaro is referred to as a "soft vodka" because it has a lower alcohol content than vodka. In Costa Rica, the government nationalized its manufacture in an effort to quell the clandestine production of liquor. The "Fabrica Nacional de Licores" (National Liquor Factory) was founded for this reason, and currently produces the only legal brand, Cacique Guaro. (via Wikipedia)

Jeff and I booked a 10-day tour of Costa Rica for our honeymoon. We ended up booking it through AAA, but the agency that ran the tour was Trafalgar. I will start this entry out by saying that I am NOT posting this with any endorsement/compensation coming from any of the companies I happen to mention.

There were far too many great things that we did/saw for me to chronicle here, but my main point of this particular entry is to share with all of you how absolutely awesome it was to take a tour like this. We jokingly wondered if we'd get stuck on a bus with 50 people too old or infirmed to want to do much more than while away the days in a rocking chair overlooking the ocean. What actually happened, is that we saw many aspects of Costa Rica, experienced local food, culture and activities, AND made about 50 new friends of all ages.

We went rafting with all sorts of people in Sarapiqui!

We slept close to an active volcano, in Arenal.

We ate rice and beans (gallo pinto) a LOT.

We got to play in the ocean.

If you're curious about the rest of our photos, check out my Flickr page as well as Jeff's.
We experienced Costa Rica the way I think everyone should - we saw the city, the countryside, the hot and humid rainforests, and the cool and misty mountains. Taking a tour like we did was ideal - we did not have to plan anything and were only responsible for a few meals on our own. Tamarindo (pictured above) was the only time we were on our own, with no guides at all, and we did just fine.

And we also drank guaro. Interestingly enough the label on the Cacique Guaro tells you to destroy the label immediately after drinking - presumably so someone doesn't fill up the bottle with the illegal kind of guaro and sell it under the guise of the legit stuff. It essentially is moonshine. Cheap in Costa Rica, you can order this stuff online for 7 times the price if you're missing it that much. It's like driving to KY for Everclear, but less interesting/intoxicating.

The food in Costa Rica was simple. Strangely enough, I had the best pineapple and ham pizza while I was there. I also had a nice roasted sweet potato and plantain soup that I am itching to re-create. Gallo pinto was everywhere of course, and I admittedly was a little tired of it by week's end. I would informally like to issue a challenge to any of the Cleveland food trucks to do their own take on gallo pinto - it'd be cool to see what some of them could do with this everyday Costa Rican dish... It turns out you can even buy gallo pinto at Wendy's in Costa Rica.

If you're curious, check out Trafalgar's site for 2012's itinerary - the main difference between this one and the one we did, was that ours had a two day extension in Tamarindo sans tour guides. And if you're seriously considering this tour (which I highly suggest you do) then please ask for Daniel as a tour guide - and try to plan your trip when he's working it. It was his humor and personality that helped make the trip so memorable.

And with that, things are returning to normal in our household. Cleveland is actually hotter and more humid than Costa Rica was, but we were getting a little homesick anyway. I start a new job (in a new career field, thank god) pretty soon - I've been bored out of my mind lately staying at home so much. We did get to see The Decemberists a couple of days ago, head over to my husband's blog to read about that!

Pura Vida!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Pearl Diving in NE Ohio: A Trip to Barroco Grill in Lakewood

Johann Sebastian Bach was one of the most influential composers in the Baroque period. He played an integral part in the use of counterpoint in music of the era, which means that he made two or more different melodies/themes/rhythms work together. I mention this because the Baroque period took its name from the Portuguese word "barroco" which means "misshapen pearl". We set out on Saturday to find out if Lakewood's new Barroco Grill is a precious pearl that will accompany many of Cleveland's other precious culinary gems!

Barroco Grill specializes in arepas. An arepa is a bread made of corn originating from the northeast of Venezuela. Arepas are a staple of Colombian street food, the pillowy pockets of bread often being stuffed with veggies, cheese and/or meat. Barroco stuffs theirs with steak, chicken, pork, chorizo or ham, with veggies such as mushrooms, onions and peppers and cheese. They also offer fries (both potato and those made of arepas) as well as hamburgers and sandwiches not made with an arepa for the bread.

My husband got a chorizo arepa ($6), stuffed with mozzarella cheese, onions and the compulsory chorizo. I loved the texture of the arepa, and the chorizo had a bit of spice to it. I got a Hawaiian sandwich ($8), with ham, pineapple, lettuce, tomato and mozzarella cheese. Our server did not know the type of bread with the sandwich, or even where it came from but it was amazing. The sandwich was nearly twice the size of the arepa - so it could easily be shared between two people. The sandwich was sweet tasting, and had both fresh pineapple and a pineapple sauce. I would have loved a little heat to this sandwich, and will ask for chorizo instead of ham if I have that particular sandwich again. Both sandwiches had good flavor, and make me excited to try some of the other ones they offer (They have a Cubano that sounded like it would be very good).

The arepa fries looked just like regular fries, to the point that I wondered at first if we'd been given the wrong item. They were crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, but didn't have much flavor to them by themselves. The five sauces Barroco offers came in handy, for this reason! The sauces were explained as being chimichurri, garlic, pineapple, ranchero, and spicy peanut. The pineapple, chimichurri and garlic were the stars, to me. The ranchero almost tasted like plain ketchup, and the spicy peanut had absolutely nothing to do with peanuts. We both tasted the "spicy peanut" and remarked that it simply tasted like buffalo (hot wing) sauce.

My wish would be to see a Colombian-style beverage on the menu (salpicón de frutas, perhaps?) someday, but their standard offerings of soda (non and diet) are just fine.

The restaurant was packed, which means that word is getting out! The small space really does feel like you've been whisked away to another place. There are 8-9 tables as well as three stools for counter service. There is local art all over the walls that is for sale, its styles seemed appropriate for the space.

Overall, I'd say that Barroco Grill is pretty good, amazing if you take into account that they opened fairly recently and may be going through some occasional mis-steps. I'll definitely be back - I want to try the cheesy corn, which Metromix says is amazing!

Have you been to Barroco yet? Tell me about your experience. If you haven't been there yet, you should definitely go. There's something for everyone!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

To Consume and Be Consumed...

Considering this is a food blog, I don't really like to bring up much of my non-food life on it. My non-food life has been mostly about my upcoming wedding, and I find that nobody likes to hear about wedding minutia except... Other brides. So instead of dishing about how many loops are in my multi-tiered French bustle (it is just oh-so-LOVERLY by the way), I've mostly kept to myself in my spare time, and that means not really writing as much as I'd like.

I have been out and about in good ol' CLE however, and have had some culinary adventures along the way. The weather seems to have inconsistently gotten warmer, and April showers have brought May showers... But I've managed to get out and visit the Shaker Square Farmer's Market a couple of times.

On one visit, I discovered Blaze Gourmet. Their booth at the market is not to be missed. Dressed to the nines with flavorful hot sauces and salsas, there were many samples to be had. I tried the Dirty Taco Hot Sauce ($6.95 on the website) and the Mango Hot Sauce ($8.95). Both had a lot of flavor and didn't punch you in the mouth with vinegar and flavorless heat. The sauces have heat, but also a depth of character I can't say I've found in any other hot sauces I've tried. We ended up buying a Raspberry Chipotle salsa on the first trip, and the mango sauce on another. Both were well worth it (the salsa has been vanquished) and will undoubtedly purchased again.

More recently, the mango sauce ended up in an enchilada casserole that contained chicken, pineapple, black beans, cheese, and some of the wonderful ginger-tinged mango hot sauce from Blaze. The flavor profile was unique, and the meal will be made again. It was an incredibly easy dish that doesn't actually have a recipe - I had pineapple from the West Side Market left over from the previous weekend, and figured it might work in the enchiladas. I was correct! I had learned from a restaurant in Columbus that pineapple works VERY well in certain Mexican dishes.

I've also been to the West Side Market recently, to pick up things for an Italian submarine sandwich at my very favorite deli stand - Nonno Joe's. We usually pick up some sopressata, genoa salami, and some kind of shaved ham, and their prices are incredibly reasonable. The owners are always pleasant and kind, and that also keeps me coming back.

While waiting for our deli order, I spotted some margherita pepperoni in the case. It was a hard, dry-cured pepperoni that immediately piqued my curiosity. I wondered if it would curl and crisp up when sliced thinly on a pizza, and it totally does! The pepperoni is salty, but perfectly so. If you're used to the pre-sliced, softer pepperonis - this may be a little shock to your system. We use a pizza stone when baking, and buy the cheese and dough at Whole Foods. Lately I've been using the San Marzano tomato puree for sauce, with nothing else in it. Frankly, it doesn't need it. If I were to augment it in any way, I'd add some tomato paste to thicken it a bit.

Since this portion of the blog has an Italian flavor, I'd like to also show my love for the Murray Hill Neighborhood Market, on Murray Hill and Paul Rd. in Little Italy. The market has a bit of your day-to-day needs, but also has some exotic teas, oils and vinegars. I haven't sampled anything from the deli yet, but plan to as soon as the weather decides to clear up on a semi-permanent basis. They have a rotisserie, and seem to cook chicken and standing rib roasts. They also have freshly baked bread, soups, and pastries. The store owners and staff are amazingly friendly people who are genuinely passionate about their business, your satisfaction, and the beautiful neighborhood it is in. If you're in the neighborhood, you should definitely stop by. As if you needed any additional incentive, they also carry Jeni's ice cream if you're not up for the trip to Chagrin Falls. I bet a pint of her Cherry Lambic sorbet would be just the thing for a sunny afternoon on the swings in Brush Park.

There are a lot of things on my horizon, one of them being the most significant event in my life (to date). There are also some new restaurant reviews, one of them hopefully posting sometime next week (Grovewood Tavern). There are also a lot of places I plan on visiting for the first time in the near future (Lolita and Table 45 to name a couple) and I'll be sure to tell you about them all!

This weekend is the Hessler Street Fair. Jeff and I didn't get to go last year because it was the weekend that he broke his hip, but I managed to get him some of the wonderful lemonade that always seems to be there. Even if drum circles and damning "the man" aren't your sort of thing, it's a great place for awesome street food, people-watching, and free hugs.

As if you didn't have enough to do already, there's also the Old Brooklyn Pedal for Prizes. Seeing as the Hessler Street Fair is all weekend, I'm sure time can be made for both. Pedal for Prizes is a great way to see Old Brooklyn and possibly win some really awesome prizes (check out the website, go go go!).

As a parting thought, I will tell you one more thing: Snowville Creamery's chocolate milk is AWESOME.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Dinner by Design Event Review (Part II): Getting Inked At Dinner

In my last post, I left you with a review of Adam Bostwick's intermezzo - a BRILLIANT lime gelatin wedge. Now, anyone who knows me will tell you that I'm no stranger to getting inked... But thanks to Chef Ellis Cooley and Emerging Chefs, last Wednesday was the first time it's ever happened during dinner.

Course Four

Course four was titled "Black and White" and was comprised of bay scallops, farro, and squid ink. Before my full-on foray into the foodie world, squid ink was something I only saw on Iron Chef Japan - and even then it was something I was half intrigued, and half horrified about. Chef Cooley's scallops were sweet and cooked magnificently - they had a buttery, pillowy texture. The farro was toothsome and almost fun to eat, while the squid ink provided an indescribable (but pleasant!) briny-ness. I really liked this one and felt the portion was just right.

Course Five

By the fifth course I was blissed out on the wine pairings, while visions of spiced lime jellies wiggled in my head. Still, we carried on! This was a lamb loin with a cipollini soubise (a soubise is a thickened, bearnaise-style sauce made with onions and cream, sometimes potato), a spice brittle and fava beans. The soubise was my favorite part of this dish, to be honest! I could have eaten that with some mashed yukons and collapsed into a carb-induced coma. The brittle was also very good, and the lamb had a lot of great flavor. The loin seemed a little tough to me, but it was worth the extra effort in my opinion. It was cooked perfectly. I was not crazy about the fava beans, but that had nothing to do with Chef Cooley's take on them - I am just not a fan of favas. The favas added a strident, earthy and bitter flavor to the dish, which was complimentary to the rest of the plate.

Course Six

Would you eat a bacon cookie? Of course you would, especially if it was made by Amp 150's Chef Ellis Cooley. The sixth and final course is what I affectionately refer to as the pièce de résistance, a dessert so busy it almost needs a traffic cop. While we're on the topic of law enforcement, this was also so fun and decadent, it should be illegal (only not really). I ate this in an "around the world" style, trying to come back to everything more than once. Starting at the bottom right and moving clockwise, we have:

- A dark chocolate truffle with sour apple. This was a very simple treat, but lovely. The sour apple balanced perfectly with the chocolate. I tried my best to make this three bites.

- Dehydrated honey. This was honey, nothing more. The flavor once again evoked nostalgic memories, this time of being six, shoulder-tied sundresses and freckled shoulders in the summer breeze. I really loved this.

- Chocolate pannacotta with "fizzy" and a bacon cookie. The "fizzy" was a powder that reminded me of the Ramune soda flavored hard candies I used to buy at an Asian grocery in Columbus. The idea was to make the flavor like that of an egg cream. The bacon cookie was spectacular, I found myself wishing for another one. The flavor of this cookie would make Michael Symon blush, it was so good. It went perfectly with the pannacotta.

- Beet jelly with citric acid (To make it tart, like a Sour Patch Kid). This was really good, and initially hard to believe it was made of beet. After the second bite I could tell. I liked this, though it was very sour!!

- The middle was a chocolate foam, which was nice but not my favorite. It seemed to be the most subdued of all of the aspects of this dessert, but I believe this was probably the idea. It was nice to come back to, especially after the sour jelly!

The Dinner by Design event was truly a night never to be forgotten. The music was fantastic (I really loved the remix of "Home" by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros) and the atmosphere was charged with the curiosity and enthusiasm of of other foodies like myself. It was great to be a part of a group who may never meet again, but were for one night, kindred spirits in the name of good food.

Thank you for reading!

Monday, April 18, 2011

When Life Gives You Limes, You Cleanse Your Palate With Them (Part 1 of 2)

Emerging Chefs has hosted several events in Cleveland that feature many of Cleveland's greatest culinary marvels who expand the minds of the attendees and push the boundaries of creativity and innovation to create spectacular edibles. This is my review of their most recent event, Dinner by Design. I will be posting this in two parts.

My upcoming wedding has taken a lot of free time (and my sanity), so Dinner by Design was my first EC event. As Jeff and I rode the elevator to the top floor of what used to be the Tyler Elevator Company, neither of us really knew what to expect. Walking down the hallway, it felt like I was walking towards a room full of presents and all I wanted to do was find out what they were!

The dining area was transformed from a raw space in the historic building to something truly wonderful to behold - and the sights got even better as the sun went down, thanks to Rock The House and Event Source. Before long, it was time for two of Cleveland's culinary innovators to reclaim the transformed space and elevate the palates of about 100 lucky Clevelanders to a whole new level.

Adam Bostwick's Amuse consisted of bocconcini, tomato "leather", chorizo oil, spring pea paper/paste and micro arugula and mozzarella cheese. Accompanying the Amuse was a champagne cocktail made with lavender elixir and fresh lavender.

Amuse by Chef Adam Bostwick

The Amuse seemed like a playful take on a caprese salad. The tomato leather had a bold flavor, lending a bit of acidity and saltiness to the bocconcini. The portion size was quite generous (more than one bite, easily). I could see this being a small plate at a Mediterranean tapas restaurant.

Chef Ellis Cooley of Amp 150 Cleveland

Course One
Chef Ellis Cooley came out to greet the crowd and explain his first offering, a yellowtail and hamachi "crudo" with an apple/dill puree and celery juice "roe". Sesame was listed as a component on the menu, but it was quite subtle and went unnoticed by me. The fish was rolled and sliced thinly, and had a wonderful flavor. The dill/apple puree had a grassy flavor that I was extremely fond of. The "roe" appears on the plate with a dewy, green color. Its flavor reminded me of a rainstorm, cool and earthy. Both accompaniments complimented the raw fish, heart and soul.

Course Two

Our second course was a torchon (a method of cooking by which the foie is placed in a towel and poached - "torchon" is also French for towel!) of foie gras with ice and snow. The ice was a jelly made with ice wine and the "snow" was a powder made with the fat from the foie gras. This was accompanied by micro greens and a brioche funnel cake. The components were all great, but the magic happened when you put them all on the fork at once. Doing this resulted in a flavor that I can best describe as a savory ice cream cone, and that was a wonderful thing.

Course Three

The third course was a visually striking square bowl of pea and coconut soup with marshmallow (yes, marshmallow!) and carrot. This course was served just at sunset, hence the darker picture. When the sun went down, the room totally transformed.

View from my table

Reflection from the skylight

The soup was velvety in texture, and the accent of carrot puree added a subtle bitterness, while the marshmallow contributed some sweetness. Unfortunately, this is the only course I didn't finish. Halfway through the bowl, a man at my table asked everyone, "Does this taste burnt to you?". Perhaps it was the power of suggestion, but I did notice a scorched aftertaste. Intended or not, it was off-putting to me and once the marshmallow was gone, I stopped eating. I really want to give this course a second chance, perhaps in my own kitchen. The concept and design of the soup were both phenomenal.

Intermezzo by Chef Adam Bostwick

The intermezzo was one of the most inventive and brilliant things I've ever eaten. As the servers brought this out, I could only spy from a distance what appeared to be a slice of lime. I thought it was plausible, to cleanse your palate with a lime, but I had secretly hoped I didn't have to! It turns out the lime was actually a lime flavored agar agar gel in an actual lime peel. It was accented with agave nectar and jalapeño. This was meant to mimic a tequila shot. With the wine pairings, we definitely didn't need any more booze!

The initial flavor was lime with the pure, green flavor of a jalapeño pepper. Seconds later, the heat kicked in and put a slow, gentle burn in the back of your throat. This was a fantastic palate cleanser. Jeff remarked that he'd buy this if it was sold in stores (in a cup) or in a restaurant. I would agree with that!

This concludes the first part of my review. I've been so involved with wedding related activities (my shower and bachelorette parties were this past weekend) that I've had little time to write. I will post the second half of this review on Wednesday!

I was invited as a guest of Emerging Chefs to this event. The views and opinions in this post are my own.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Tuesday Night Recipe: Cuckoo for Cocoa-Rubbed Carnitas!

I joked to someone on Twitter that I'm trying to space out my blogs about L'Albatros because it seems like I post about them a lot. Maybe when I go to Lolita in a bit, that'll give me something to talk about that doesn't involve my love for what Chef Bruell does with a Bearnaise sauce and some frites. I digress.

I normally train after work for at least an hour, so it's nice to be able to rely on our slow-cooker at times. You could easily do this in the oven if you want, just be sure you're home to watch it or trust your oven!

You can eyeball a lot of this stuff, and adjust spices to taste or number of servings.

Cocoa-Rubbed Carnitas

3-4 pounds of pork shoulder, or "country style" ribs
1/4 c cocoa powder
3 T. cumin
1 T. smoked sea salt (regular is fine)
1 t. black pepper
1 T. chili powder
1 bay leaf
3 cloves of garlic, chopped finely
1/2 sweet onion, sliced (optional)
Chicken broth/stock (enough to go up about 1" in the pan/pot). Water is okay.
1 lime cut up for garnish/finishing

Mix the spices together and rub over the shoulder roast or ribs. Place the meat in a slow cooker or dutch oven with a little olive oil and cooking liquid (water or broth). Toss in a bay leaf and three cloves of chopped garlic (Penzey's dehydrated garlic works well too. Smother the meat with onions (if you want). Put the slow cooker on low and cover. If you're doing this in the oven, cover the pot you're using and keep at a low temperature, around 250-300 degrees.

Using the oven requires a little more attention, and I don't have an exact cooking time. The last time I did this one in the oven I just cooked it for several hours until the house smelled amazing and the meat was falling apart. It's nice in a slow cooker because it requires zero maintenance.

When you're ready to serve, you can choose to remove the onions if you used them. There's also nothing wrong with keeping them in. If your roast has bones, be sure to remove them all before serving (do this while you're shredding the pork). Finish the carnitas with a quick squirt of lime juice. You can do this all at once or when you're just about to eat them. With an average sized roast, you will definitely have leftovers if you're only serving two or three people.

You can eat the carnitas in several ways. I personally had it on tortillas with Greek yogurt (in lieu of sour cream). You can put them on nachos, or just eat the carnitas by itself with some beans and rice on the side. If you're feeling particularly fancy, you can make some mole sauce to go with it. The recipe I used (below) makes enough mole to feed a small army, so you can half this recipe or just save it in your freezer for another festive night.


4 1/2 cups chicken broth
4 T. olive oil
1 c. finely chopped onion
3 T. chopped garlic
1 t. dried oregano (Ironically Greek works better than Mexican)
1 t. ground cumin
1/4 t. ground cinnamon
4 T. chili powder
3 T. all-purpose flour
2 T. honey

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over med.
2. Reduce the heat.
3. Add onion, garlic, oregano, cumin and cinnamon.
4. Cover and cook until onion is almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.
5. Mix in chili powder and flour, stir for 3 minutes.
6. Gradually whisk in chicken broth.
7. Increase heat to medium-high.
8. Boil until reduced, about 35 minutes, stirring occasionally.
9. Remove from heat.
10. Whisk in cocoa powder and honey; season with salt and pepper, if desired.

You can substitute your favorite dark chocolate (2 oz.) for the cocoa powder. I would not suggest milk chocolate. If you want, you can also add a couple of tablespoons of your favorite fruit preserves to give this a different taste.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


Soon, the waves will once again crash upon the shores of Lake Erie. Over the Winter months, there are no breaking waves, no sunbathers, and no fully-clothed people chest deep in water, sweeping the floor of the lake with their metal detectors - only thick ice that groans with each passing ship in the distance. Cleveland is experiencing the first thaw of 2011.

With the thaw comes the reality that my wedding day is fast approaching. Thankfully I have not become a Bridezilla - as far as I know. I tried to make a bouquet entirely out of handmade cardstock pinwheels and it ended up looking like a crumpled ball of frustration. Fail. Okay, no big deal. I'm doing a lot of DIY stuff and am also super-excited to be working with Cleveland's own Terra Verde Soap Co. for our wedding favors.

As a foodie, I am far more concerned with what people will be eating than I am with the dresses of my Bridesmaids matching exactly. We had the chance to get a cake for a ridiculously low price and ended up choosing a well-known baker in Columbus whose buttercream icing tastes like it's made of happy little clouds.

After we attended a catered event on Friday, I began to fear the mediocrity of mass-produced food. Fortunately and unfortunately, the caterer is included in our reception venue, so it's not like we can bring anyone in. In all honesty, I have never been to a wedding where I was wowed by the food. The event on Friday had a significantly smaller guestlist than our wedding will have, but even then it still seemed that the caterer, given the financial and culinary limitations involved in cooking for a large number of people had seemed to go about their cooking half-heartedly. The Pad Thai had no heat to it, and an over-abundance of what I assume was paprika, for color(?). The spices within also seemed to be old. I envisioned an old tin Durkee box full of paprika from WWII. It tasted how a freshly sharpened #2 pencil smells. I am aware this is a completely bizarre comparison! I wonder if this is beyond the control of the caterer. It is, very obviously more expensive to use fresher and higher quality ingredients. Secondly, I suppose not everyone wants spicy Pad Thai. The rest of the dishes were not as bad, but suffered the same mediocrity. Perhaps I am actually a Foodzilla...

Because I have a limited budget due to a larger guestlist - am I doomed to the same characterless cuisine? Here's hoping the next Chef Mathlage/Symon/Bruell is hiding out at an obscure reception hall in Columbus Ohio!

There are a lot of people who feel this is a truly miserable place, and it breaks my heart to hear it. I also know that Cleveland probably is a miserable place for a lot of people, and I wish that those people could see the city through my eyes, or someone else's who absolutely adores this place for even just an afternoon. We have a lot of bright and talented people here, who could easily have taken their talents to someplace sunnier, someplace with less snow and more jobs - but they stayed, and many of us get to reap the benefits of that. I truly feel that in this way, I am very, very fortunate. This is not just limited to our restaurateurs.

Last week I hesitated on a plastic toboggan and contemplated the meaning of life for a moment as I sat atop a gigantic sled hill in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. We went sledding at Kendall Hills two weeks in a row - the first week better than the last. As I climbed the hill again and again, my legs burned and the cold air stung my face. Jeff remarked that if we lived somewhere else, we wouldn't have this. Hills and snow aren't unique to Northeast Ohio or many other parts of the country this time of year, but he was right. If we moved away, we wouldn't have this park.

Whether we stay here or move elsewhere will be a very real decision to make for both of us in the next couple of years. Jeff is working toward his PhD and after its completion, it could mean our relocation. We will be starting a family before too much longer and have enjoyed asking each other things like, "Wouldn't it be nice to take our kids here?". I asked Jeff that after going to L'Albatros on Monday night. As I've said on here and on Twitter that the restaurant has become a local haunt for us. I hope that some, if not many places I/we love to frequent will still be around for years to come.

If you live in Cleveland, what places make it home for you? There are so many places for me that feel so familiar, like a favorite sweater. The first place that comes to mind for me is the West Side Market. I find such solace in its chaotic weekends, and can't wait to go again so I can bring home something good to eat. If you read this blog and don't live in Cleveland, what places make your home "home" to you?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Light Bistro: For Old Time's Sake (Auld Lang Syne)

We two have paddled in the stream,
from morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
since auld lang syne.

Wikipedia tells me that Auld Lang Syne is a poem written in 1788 by Robert Burns, and that the title's literal translation is "old long since". Millions of people clumsily mumbled through the lyrics of the first verse or so last night at their respective strokes of midnight. The above is actually the fourth verse, one of many I didn't know existed until today.

Now, it hasn't really been all that long since I went to Light Bistro, but like just about anything we revisit and reminisce upon, it's because we have fond memories of it. Chef Matthew Mathlage created two prix fixe menus for New Year's Eve, one consisting of four courses and the other, seven. Wanting to be able to leave the restaurant under my own power, I opted for the four course menu, as did my date.

Course One

Foie Gras Mousse
Red wine Reduction, Diced Apple

Served as an amusé, this came with a tiny little pillow of puff pastry next to a bit of creamy foie gras mousse topped with what I thought of as "nonchalant" diced apples. The apple was mentioned in the menue, but was a complete and welcome surprise on the tongue. The texture of the apples was impossibly soft but not gummy at all. The reduction complimented the mousse and apple perfectly.

Course Two
Black Truffle Risotto
Braised Greens, Crispy Mushrooms

After having truffles for the very first time at Michaelangelos last month, I was very excited to see this as an option and resolved to get it before we'd even made our reservation. The risotto came with collard greens and oyster mushrooms. I enjoyed the truffle flavor and the greens were spot-on; but the stems of the oyster mushrooms were a little daunting. I passed my last mushroom onto my fiance for this reason. The rice itself was unfortunately not cooked all the way through. I finished the course because while the rice was undercooked, it was still put together well.

My dining cohort got the Gnocchi with Lamb Sausage and a Fennel Beurre Blanc. I was so jealous over his selection and so impressed, I tweeted about it the minute Dick Clark went off the air. The nice thing about dining out with someone you like or love is that it really ended up being seven courses after all - since we shared everything after the amusé. The gnocchi is probably on my list of all time favorite things I've ever eaten. I have said I will attempt to recreate the sauce with some of Cleveland's own Ohio City Pasta but I know it will pale in comparison to what I had last night!

Course Three
Braised Short Ribs
Thai flavors, Cilantro, Whipped Root Vegetables

This course was nostalgic to me, in a way. It was like Sunday dinner at home, but in high definition. The two pieces of short rib were tender and subtly Thai inspired. I mostly caught a cinnamon flavor. The jus and the whipped root vegetables were fantastic. The whipped veggies are not your mother's mashed potatoes; they've got a more distinctive flavor - one I don't know that I would have liked when I was eating Grandma's pot roast but I would like to think so!

Jeff had the Cider-Glazed Pork with Candied Yams. I liked his course, but liked mine better. Both entrees had a holiday feel to them, like something you'd have for old time's sake. I don't know if that was Chef Matt's intention, but we were quite impressed.

Course Four

Mini Chocolate Cake (Gâteaux)
Berry Compote, Whipped Cream

I am beginning to embrace my love of chocolate. Good chocolate, anyway - and this molten chocolate cake definitely falls into that category. The cake itself was placed on a cloud of whipped cream, and was topped with a strawberry compote. The compote itself tasted more like orange than strawberry and was a bit cloying. I put it to the side and enjoyed the rest of the dessert, however.

Jeff had the Apple Crisp and opted for vanilla ice cream. I love to bake apple crisps but don't really enjoy eating them. The puff pastry enveloped pillowy apples and a perfectly sweetened sauce. The scoop of ice cream perfectly complimented the rest of the flavors. This again was something that took me back to my childhood, I remembered the house filling with the smell of cooked apples and cinnamon crumb topping.

The restaurant was packed, and I think the kitchen was a little backed up as a result. Light Bistro has gone through some cosmetic changes and expansions, and I was very glad to see that business was good last night. It will always be one of my favorite restaurants, without question. Chef Matt had me at the Sweet Potato Ravioli back in 2008. While I secretly wished that would have stayed on the menu forever, their seasonally changing menu with locally-sourced (when possible) ingredients keeps me guessing, and will undoubtedly keep me coming back again and again.

And there’s a hand my trusty friend!
And give us a hand o’ thine!
And we’ll take a right good-will draught,
for auld lang syne.