Thursday, April 8, 2010

#56 - Cleveland

Back from the Cleve.

Great weather, pretty good food, got away from home, nothing to complain about.

We have become a bit too familiar with Cleveland over the last year and a half, making it feel less like the getaway that we needed. Cheap two-day getaways are sometimes only just that. It was nice nonetheless.  

But it just isn't right to consume this much meat and salt in this short a timeframe. I loves me sum meat but geesh! I need freakin' vegetables now!

And when we do go somewhere, our impression of the place is starting to be influenced by the quality of wine there. Toronto was an example of that with its LCBO weirdness.

In Cleveland, I've never seen so much cabernet, Italian wine and bubbly. Take those out and not much in terms of depth was left in our visits to three of the better wine shops and perusing restaurant wine menus.

But we have a soft spot for Cleveland. Nicest people on the planet and great downtown area. It's nice to see a city in the Rust Belt making such efforts to reinvent itself and largely succeed.

Cleveland's a charming little Michael Symon now has 12,000 restaurants there.

Lola Bistro

The first stop now, always and our third visit to Lola in the last 18 months. It's that good.

The Menu:

Appetizers: Charcuterie Plate, Beef Cheek Pierogi, Veal Sweetbreads & Crispy Bone Marrow

The duck speck on the charcuterie plate might have been the best thinly-sliced meat product we've ever had, rivaling the painfully-thin herbed French salami at Avec. We've had the beef cheek pierogi all three times. This one was a bit of a congealed mess and lacked the dark, funky juiciness that made me crave it out of the blue on a random Tuesday in the months between visits.

The veal sweetbreads were cooked nicely, served on a great chickpea and mushroom bed, but it wasn't anything that made us reconsider sweetbreads. Both of us don't love them but I like them enough to try them once a year.

But I embarrassed myself a bit with the crispy bone marrow, moaning like a hog going to town on a slop bucket, but I didn't care. Four pieces of crisped-up bone marrow served in two-inch by one-inch strips and accompanied with Cyprus sea salt, lemon wedges, pickled shallots, sherried onions and parsley with crispy baguette strips. It was a mix-and match paradise. But with sea salt, lemon and parsley, it became something I'll crave for years. And it was one of those moments where I had strong feelings about even the type of salt used. The Cyprus sea salt, a kind I've never had, was perfect. I can only speculate, but something like gray sea salt probably wouldn't had been as good.

Entrées: Hanger Steak and Lamb

Lamb with cannellini beans, rapini, florina peppers and meyer lemon was a solid representation of a sort of wild, bucking plate Lola typically offers, even if this one was a bit familiar to us. Good. Prepared well.

The hanger steak with pickle sauce, chilies and lola fries with a fried egg on top (my addition - I was in the mood) was something we had the first time we went to the restaurant. Still spectacular. Hint of spice, silky sauce, nice low-level acid.

If we had a complaint about Lola, it would only be that the exact preparation of the entrées haven't really changed in the three times we've been there. Not a problem. It's what they do and have been wildly successful with it. Just that sometimes, a little playfulness and surprise would be welcome in the entrées. I understand why.

But that doesn't take away from the fact that we've always had a ridiculously good meal at Lola and have been treated so wonderfully by everyone that works there. Really. The best restaurant people we've ever encountered.


Solid pairings all around but not much that overwhelmed us.

2007 Flor de Pingus ($125)

Great price! $75 retail on the interwebs. And that speaks to how good Lola's wine menu really is. Plenty of restaurant wine bargains to be had. Called ahead to decant. Got two hours in a stylish but maybe too little surface area decanter. Needed more time and a wider base, I think.

Compared to the 2006, another one that was drunk too early but we didn't care, it was more closed but stood up to the food nicely. Had that sweet smoke and silky sweet tannins that we're coming to identify and love about the second and third bottlings from Pingus. Hints of vanilla in the background. Berry fruit a little muted but I think the 2007 may end up being a bit more smooth than the 2006. Less wildness with a bit less acid. Still dark and earthy but, in the end, I believe we'll end up liking the 2006 better. Who knows? Both aren't there yet.

Three glasses: 2008 Owen Roe Sharecropper Pinot Noir, 2007 Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofi Priorat & 2005 Chateau Rieussec Sauternes

The Owen Roe had a unexpected density to it that made me want to buy more of this one. At $21, it's a bargain. Wet earth first with underlying mix and red and black berries. Good stuff.

The Alvaro Palacios Finca Dofi may have been a mistake. It sold for $13 a glass but goes for upwards of $70 retail. Either way, it was forgettable. All the characteristics of a Priorat without the distinction, acid and wonderfully odd fruit that sometimes kick up with Priorats. Meh.

I want to know more about Sauternes but haven't the wallet to get the good ones. The one was pleasant enough. Sweet but not cloying. Nice light honey and apricot. Smooth finish but a bit short. Decent Sauternes take at least 10 years to be ready and that's probably why. Don't know this one at all.

Great meal. Interesting wines. Lola always was the goods.

Bar Cento

Bar Cento is a solid little bar food restaurant west of downtown Cleveland, near West Side Market (a right and proper farmer's market that's been there forever), specializing in beer from around the world while having a decent (mostly Italian) wine list to boot.

Open only two years, it felt like a college town place that's been there for at least 15. Well-worn in a good way. Hopleaf would be a fair comparison with 200 less beers, a better wine list and the addition of pizzas.

Sort of upscale-ish bar food, nothing revelatory, but we left full and happy.

Food: Salumi with mozzarella di bufala, pommes frites with dipping sauces (the plural of that got us), ramp pizza (it's the season) and bianca with arugula pizza.

Mostly, it's worth mentioning for one wine: 2008 Orin Swift Saldo Zinfandel

We've had and loved this one before but it's been difficult to find in Chicago the last year or so.

Herbal with typical, slightly jammy Zinfandel fruit but not in an over-the-top way. Predominantly blackberry with good balance and a charred meat quality. Hint of tobacco with a pepper finish. Not 100% Zinfandel. A little syrah and petite syrah is mixed in. The syrah really comes through, adding a hint of licorice. Usually in the mid-$20 range, it's a wine we wish were still in town. Went great with the fries. Served too warm (the restaurant itself has an open format to the outside and it was 80 degrees that night) but good stuff anyway.

The 2008 Gini Soave Classico was certainly serviceable. Soave is kinda like Muscadet. They're never going to blow us out of the water with their nuance but they can be damn tasty. We've had better Soave but it served its purpose admirably.

Cleveland, we love ye. But we might be taking a break for a couple of years.

That's a lot of salt and meat.

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