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.