Shabu-shabu at Ushabu

November 30, 2016

img_0478I love any and all forms of Asian cuisine, so I was excited to hear that Cleveland was getting a shabu-shabu restaurant. Shabu-shabu is a Japanese hotpot dish of thinly sliced meat and vegetables boiled in water or broth. The meats are cooked piece by piece by the diner at the table, by submerging it in the broth and stirring it. The cooked meat and vegetables are then usually dipped in sauce before eating and served with a bowl of steamed white rice. Once the meat and vegetables have img_0476been eaten, leftover broth from the pot is combined with the remaining rice (and in this case the udon noodles, which are at the bottom of the vegetable bowl), and the resulting soup is eaten last.

Ushabu opened recently in Tremont, and several of my friends and I went there to check it out. It is located on Professor in a storefront that I could swear used to be an art gallery next to the old Cookie and a Cupcake store. So the place is very small, and reservations are a must. There are about four or five img_0477booths and counter seating. The tiny restaurant seats 25 people, and they were turning folks without reservations away on a Sunday night. Edsel made a reservation for 4 at 6 PM, which was perfect because we finished at 8 when they closed. If there are two of you, you might be seated with some strangers in one of the larger booths, which is okay with me since that’s a fun way to meet people. Dante was seated two booths over from us. His restaurant has been serving shabu-shabu to diners for a while now, so if he was here eating on a Sunday I can’t think of img_0479higher praise. As it was, we had a cozy little booth up against the window. The windows steamed up from the steaming broth once things started cooking.

We started out ordering appetizers. I gave in to the peer pressure and ordered the scallop appetizer. It had a gorgeous presentation, but I honestly wasn’t too jazzed about the taste of the scallop. I normally love scallops, but didn’t love this. The scallop was cut in half and topped with a quail egg and tobiko and garnished with a couple bites of pork belly. I liked the pork belly part the best. I might try the chawanmushi next time, because it looked delicious. Kind of a img_0482savory custard with a shrimp in it. My other dining companions enjoyed their clam appetizer, although the edible sand took a little adjusting to.

After poring over the menu and Yelp photos beforehand, I started getting excited about the ginger chicken soup base and tried to figure out what to order first. I ended up going with the seafood combo, since ginger and seafood is just about the perfect combination  for this sushi and ginger addict.

Since I was new to shabu-shabu it took some adjusting to figure out how things work and how img_0480long to cook everything. I think my next time will be more successful. In addition to three different dipping sauces (a ponzu, a sesame and a soy), they bring out the soup base, a separate bowl of vegetables to cook in and flavor the broth, and a bowl of white rice sprinkled with black sesame seeds. Each diner gets their own, although our dining companions split one and were given an extra bowl of rice and their own dipping sauces. That was a nice touch. With their appetizer and splitting a beef and pork combo with a fish add-on, they found it was just enough food for them.

Onto how things work! Once the soup base gets up to a boil in the induction img_0481burner cubbyholes built into the table, it’s time to get cooking. They suggest you put in the more sturdy vegetables like the carrot, corn, cabbage, bok choy, onion and radish first, then move on to the more delicate mushrooms, tomato and tofu. After a few minutes of cooking the meats are then swirled in the broth and dipped in a sauce and eaten with rice. I enjoyed the sesame dip the best, but all three were very good.

The seafood combo came with 3 clams, 1 scallop (cut into several thin slices), 3 tiger shrimp and what I think was salmon and flounder. I was told to start with the clams first and then branch out to the other seafood on my plate. It took a while to figure out how long to cook my seafood. It took longer than what they img_0484said. For instance, it took a little while for the clams to finally open, and my first tiger shrimp was raw and cold in the middle. I put it back in to cook up a little more. It wasn’t a big problem for me since, like I’ve said, I’m a big sushi fan and don’t mind raw seafood or a raw sear. Once I got the hang of it I very much enjoyed it. I will say that I won’t boil my broth as much next time, because the end broth was too salty to eat. I ended up taking it home and cutting it with water the next day.

I finished the meal with a nice scoop of Sesame ice cream made by Mason’s Creamery. It was a nice creamy finish to the meal.

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In short, I enjoyed myself and look forward to going back. I can’t wait to try the wagyu beef. The restaurant is also vegetarian friendly, as they offer a vegetarian option with the veggies and broth. Two of the three soup bases – the spicy miso and kombu dashi – are vegetarian-friendly.

Contact info:

Ushabu
2173 Professor Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113


Bonchon

November 12, 2016

imag0150I had no idea what Bonchon was, but one of the people I follow on Instagram checked in here on its opening night. It looked delicious so I googled it.

Several of us met there (on Broadview Road in Seven Hills) a few days later to check it out. It is an Asian fusion restaurant with a wide variety of menu options, imag0157but they specialize in Korean fried chicken and wings.

The parking lot was packed, but they offered complementary valet. I’m not sure if it will continue, but it was nice to drop off the car and run in since I was running late due to traffic. It was the night of Game 3 of the World Series, so the TVs were going and once the game started it got pretty loud.

Let’s talk about what they do best – the fried chicken. The chicken is dipped in corn starch and double fried. They are super crispy andimag0156 packed with flavor. We ordered a ton off the menu and shared a lot of it. The chicken is delicious. A++ Would order again. We ordered a medium half and half combo – half spicy and half soy garlic. The spicy was a nice pleasant heat that wasn’t overwhelming. It is served with a small bowl of pickled radishes that help extinguish the heat.

The “drums” are full-sized drum sticks. My friends who ordered this in a combo had the drums brought out first since they were finished already. They enjoyed them just as much as the wings.

My imag0159friend and I also split an order of potstickers. The potstickers also come in the spicy and soy garlic flavor offerings. Once again we ordered half and half. The wrappers were a little thicker than I like, but the filling itself was flavorful and firm. You could tell they were made in-house due to the lack of uniformity. I always like to see that.

I was less impressed with the Japchae (more like a teriyaki noodle bowl – I think it was a bit overcooked last night) and shu mai (I’ll try them fried next time, they were too delicate steamed). Others at the table ordered sliders, bulgogi, and tteokbokki. I’ll definitely be back. Our waitress was super competent and deftly handled a table of 8. They are still in “soft opening” mode and will be gradually adding things to the menu. Be sure to check it out. I may head there again tomorrow for some more wings. They are that good.

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Contact info:

Bonchon
7581 Broadview Road
Seven Hills, OH 44131


Citizen Pie

October 28, 2016

imag3197Sorry for the lack of posts here. I have not been going out very much lately, and when I have I have been going to places I have already posted about. Money has been somewhat tight with some travel and a very expensive vet bill. I’ll try to be better, but I can’t promise anything.

I have been a fan of Vytauras Sasnaukas’ pizza for a while. I had been hearing about his pizzas back when my friends would gather on the patio at Americano for pizza night. When Americano closed and before Citizen Pie was born, he did some pop-up pizza nights in a gas-fired pizza oven at The Velvet Tango Room, where he started conceiving plans with Claudia Young and Paulius Nasvytis. He got his start making pizzas when he was growing up in Lithuania (his story is really interesting and worth a read) and has been experimenting with various fermented doughs for a while now. His dough really makes his pizzas stand out from the crowd! He bought a wood-fired brick oven and opened Citizen Pie in the Waterloo District across from the Beachland Ballroom. Citizen Pie makes napolitano pizzas and is definitely one of the best pizza places in Cleveland. The pizzas come out fast and hot. They aren’t laden with toppings. There is just the perfect balance for a taste explosion.

I recently met some folks at Citizen Pie to try their Summer pizza special, which featured sweet Ohio corn and poblano cream, Andouille sausage, cherry tomatoes, and green onion finished with a spicy honey drizzle. This pizza was absolutely out of this world. The thing I like most about the pie was the corn cream balanced with the honey drizzle. It was just a great pizza.

My second favorite was the Cacio e Pepe pizza, which is topped with mozzarella, pecorino and straciatella cheese, garlic, black pepper and basil. It is a very simple pizza, but it explodes with flavor. I can’t wait to have it again.

I had been wanting to try the Americano pizza for a while as well. Named after V’s Bratenahl restaurant Americano, the Americano features mozzarella, pistachio cream, Italian sausage, red and green onion and Calabrian chiles. It has a bit of a kick to it, but I love the idea of pistachio cream and it goes really well with the sausage.

The mushroom pizza is also a crowd-pleasure. It is topped with mozzarella, brie, porcini duxelles, bacon, red onion and truffle oil. I love mushrooms and brie, and the truffle oil was not as off-putting as I usually find it. Again, it is just a well-balanced pie. I took a piece of this one home to enjoy later that night.

One of the group ordered a Tartufo, which I was familiar with from the Italian restaurants in Germany. It is a ball of frozen dark chocolate with rum and amarena cherry. As you can imagine, it is delicious. We passed it around the table, and everyone swooned. Claudia is also known for her Migliaccio, which is a ricotta cheesecake with lemon, orange and vanilla. She worked hard to come up with the perfect cheesecake, which Michael Ruhlman has raved about.

I was also extremely excited to see that they serve Stiegl beer here. Stiegl is brewed in Salzburg, Austria and the monks have been brewing it there since 1492. It is a nice smooth lager and goes very nicely with the pizza. I was also pleased to see San Pellegrino, Illy espresso drinks and cane sugar Coca Cola. It’s the little touches like that that just impress me.

Chef V is constantly coming up with new and exciting pizza ideas, like a recent eggs benedict pizza. So if you like good pizza be sure to make a trip to Citizen Pie. They will be opening a second location in Ohio City in the near future – bringing Pizza to the People.

Contact info:

Citizen Pie
15710 Waterloo Road
Cleveland, OH 44110


Seven Roses in Slavic Village

September 18, 2016

There is no better deal in Cleveland than the lunch buffet at Seven Roses in Slavic Village. For a price ranging from $8.99-14.99 you can eat your fill of hearty Polish food. I had eaten at the Seven Roses in Beachwood back in the day, and always try to hit their stand at local Oktoberfests because the food is good.

Photo from Yelp user Stephen H.

Photo from Yelp user Stephen H.

My friend Kat’s summary best describes our experience, so I’ll start you off with that:

Had I not read some of comments on Yelp, I would have been totally confused. We sat ourselves and waited a short time for someone to come out of the kitchen. An elderly lady came out and asked if we were having soup. Sure. She brought out 2 flavorful cups of cabbage soup and then asked “Pepsi?” Sure. A bit later she brought out small plates of very creamy potato pierogi and a crisp potato pancake for each of us. (Ask for sour cream if you go, btw) We then helped ourselves to the buffet…because both this [Cleveland.com] review and Yelp told us they had one. Very good, as mentioned. When through, we were each brought a couple of pastries. I had a short conversation with the owner when I asked if there was vinegar in her soup. She asked if I’d ever had dill pickle soup. I hadn’t. When we went to the counter to get the bill, she had a quart container of some ready and gave it to me. Very sweet of her. We enjoyed lunch very much and for sure will be returning. Now you know the drill. Just nod, say “sure”, and enjoy.

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Now for the particulars of our visit. The cabbage soup was the absolute highlight for me. It was simple, but had a great flavor to it. I definitely could have eaten a bowl of it. I wasn’t too keen on the choice of Pepsi, especially because I was so thirsty and there was no air conditioning (only fans). Next time I’ll ask for water as well.

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The potato pierogi were indeed creamy, almost slippery in texture. They were obviously homemade and were very light. They weren’t as good as Sokolowski’s, but whose is? The potato pancake was delicious as well, and I didn’t really need the requested sour cream.

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The food that is served varies, but the kielbasa and stuffed cabbage appear to be a constant. The buffet was in a little corner and featured some small stuffed cabbage, some meatballs of some sort, what I think were broasted chicken thigh, kielbasa and sauerkraut, mashed potatoes, spaetzel, and super-dried-out mixed vegetables. I particularly enjoyed the chicken, stuffed cabbage and kielbasa. I had filled my plate and my eyes were actually larger than my stomach. I did not go back for a second round and could barely finish the first one.

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After we were finished they brought us a small plate of Polish pastry, which I wrapped up and took home for later. I particularly enjoyed the poppyseed cake.

Like I said, pricing is hit or miss. It’s cash only, and you pay at the register when you are done. We paid $14.99 while others have reported paying $8.99 for the same experience. It’s a mystery. That said, it’s still a steal with the amount of food you get for the low price.

Contact info:

Seven Roses
6301 Fleet Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44105


Porco Lounge and Tiki Room

September 8, 2016

2016-08-05-05_43_25I love a good cocktail, and I tried to get here for several years. Plans would be made and then fall through. Finally I got a chance to go there for happy hour with some friends, and I fell in love with the place. The drinks are strong, the music is from the 1980s and the ambiance is top notch. The ambiance is also dark, so I had to use the flash to get the photos to be halfway decent.

We ventured our way right before the Republican National Convention hit Cleveland because we heard the “Love Trumps Hate” billboard was nearby. IMAG6356In fact, it was on the left side of the bridge heading south just before you reach Porco. As far as I know it is still there. Whether Mr. Trump or his campaign staff saw it is doubtful.

All of the drinks here are hand-crafted and incredibly tasty. My first choice was the Planet of the Apes, which features banana, pineapple and orange flavors and three rums. I loved it. I’m all about fruity drinks, and if they are garnished with a plastic mermaid all the IMAG6348better! My friend ordered a Gin Mai Tai off the happy hour menu. We all loved it so much we ordered it for our second round. It was super refreshing. Since the drinks are so potent and I was driving I ordered a non-alcoholic tiki drink for my third drink. The waitress had them make up some kind of fruity drink that was heavy on coconut and pineapple flavors. I left a very happy camper.

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Photo by my friend Edsel because mine was too dark

I was hungry, so I wanted to order something to nibble on. I decided to order the Closing Time Nachos, which are advertised as having pretty much everything in the kitchen on them. This includes tortilla chips, black beans, jalapenos, pork rinds, melted cheese, BBQ sauce, chorizo, salsa and pulled pork. I ordered them with “no meat” and they came without the chorizo and pulled pork, but with those lovely pork rinds. Our vegetarian just didn’t eat those. More for us! The nachos were IMAG6353absolutely magical. I loved the addition of BBQ sauce, which gave it a hint of sweetness. I was craving them the next day.

We soon went back for another happy hour at Porco a few weeks later. The nachos weren’t as magical because I ordered them “vegetarian” this time. Everyone agreed that something wasn’t the same. I think it was the lack of pork rinds and the light hand with the BBQ sauce. They also appear to have added pico de gallo. We weren’t as hungry as we were IMAG6543the first time, and there were only two of us. Luckily my friend’s boyfriend showed up and was drunk and hungry, so he ate half of them for us.

This time I ordered Heart of Darkness, which features passion fruit, honey and citrus with some alcohol. I love me some passion fruit. My second drink was a Limon Dee, which they bill as tasting like a key lime pie. It did not disappoint and came in a fake coconut, which I was particularly thrilled about.

I can’t wait to try the Fogg Cutter, complete with dry ice.

Pro tip: go early, if you can. We try to arrive between 4:30 and 5:00 and have managed to park in their small parking lot and get seats in the air-conditioned main room. It has been too hot to enjoy the patio, but once the weather cooled we enjoyed a lovely night on the patio as well.

This has quickly become my favorite bar in Cleveland.

Contact info:

Porco Lounge and Tiki Room
2527 W 25th Street
Cleveland, OH 44113


Lunch buffet on the Nautica Queen

August 28, 2016

When the weather is beautiful there is nothing better than taking a river or lake cruise in Cleveland. Whether it’s the Goodtime III or the Nautica Queen it is definitely something special that always makes me happy.

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I recently went on an afternoon cruise on the Nautica Queen with my local translators group. The dock is located next to the Powerhouse and Cleveland Aquarium. We shared the boat with several groups, including a wedding party and a family reunion. For $24.95 we were treated to some great views of the Flats, the lake and the Cleveland skyline as well as a buffet lunch and gratuity. Tea, coffee and iced tea were included with the price. Soft drinks and alcoholic beverages were extra. They did not have any bottled water.

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The food isn’t going to win any awards, but it was pretty good. We were ushered to the buffet by table and after filling our salad plates with some rather fresh salad fixings the plates were taken from us and deposited at our seats, freeing our hands up for the larger plate. The salad bar was actually pretty good. I managed to make a very nice salad from the mixed greens and side salads, including a pasta salad and an antipasta salad. The dressing choices included ranch, poppyseed and I believe a vinaigrette of some sort.

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The choices that day included roast beef, chicken breast, fish and a rigatoni pasta with tomato sauce as well as mixed vegetables and mashed potatoes. I’m told the entrees and sides can vary. I particularly enjoyed the fish and the mashed potatoes. The roast beef was a little fatty, but it was moist and tender. The pasta and chicken breast were a little dry, but I don’t expect anything less from a buffet like this.

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After clearing our plates the waitress brought us a lemon cake with raspberry drizzle. It was a little dry but palatable.

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After we ate we watched the newlyweds dance their first dance (she sang to him the whole time – it was very touching), and then went up a level to the roof to enjoy the skyline and the sunshine. We left the dock at 11 and returned at 1. It was an enjoyable two hours spent on the lake. If you are looking for a fun thing to do with guests I can recommend this. The price doesn’t break the bank, and it is a relaxing couple of hours spent on our beautiful waterways. They also offer a dinner buffet, which I have been told is better than the lunch buffet, as well as a brunch buffet.

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They also cater wedding receptions, because I attended a wedding reception on the Nautica Queen about 12 or 13 years ago. I remember enjoying the dancing and the nighttime view of the Cleveland skyline.

Contact info:

Nautica Queen
1153 Main Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 696-8888


The summer of ice cream

August 17, 2016

bananaIt’s been a while since I’ve posted here. Money has been tight, and I have been eating at home a lot. However, there is always room for ice cream. I’ve spent the summer exploring some of Cleveland’s oldest and most popular ice cream establishments. I was on a mission to find old-fashioned ice cream stands.

It all started out with a stop at Strickland’s of Streetsboro on Route 14 about a mile from the intersection with Route 43. I ordered their Banana Bowl ($4.25 including tip), which features one scoop of vanilla custard, 1/2 a banana, one topping (I chose butterscotch), peanuts and a cherry. TPhotoGrid_1471467709431he flavor combination was awesome, and I decided I needed many butterscotch sundaes in my life this summer. Unfortunately I have never managed to scrape up the nerve to ask them to add a banana to the butterscotch sundaes.

My next stop was Dairy King on Mayfield Road in South Euclid. I’m not sure if it is associated with the Dairy King in North Olmsted I used to visit as a high schooler, but it is awesome no matter what. I ordered a medium butterscotch PhotoGrid_1471467618514sundae for $2.75 and got a large because she “accidentally made a large.” It was huge, and I couldn’t finish it. But I kept coming back all summer. I also really like their peanut butter cup parfait ($4.75) – and where else can you buy a “mini” banana split for $1.35? They also sell hot dogs and fries.

Sandy’s Frozen Whip on Lake Shore Boulevard in Euclid also managed to get on my radar. I made a special trip there, and since I was craving a root beer float that is what IPhotoGrid_1471467568141 ordered. A root beer float and a foot-long chili dog with everything definitely brightened my day. The person working the counter (I think it might have been Sandy herself) was extremely friendly and helpful. She made a strawberry shortcake sundae while I was waiting for my chili dog that looked tempting for next time (sub ice cream for whipped cream on top).

I then went to the Apple Cart, one of Cleveland’s oldest ice cream stands on Superior Road. I ordered a butterscotch sundae for $2.50 (keep the change). The woman behind the counter asked if I wanted whipped cream and nutsIMAG6495 – of course. It definitely hit the spot. I had to chuckle driving home and seeing all the workers walking back to work with their ice cream cones. I’m going back soon for a cherry-dipped cone.

Two outliers I wanted to talk about are Snow Brothers Shavery and Koko Bakery’s shaved ice. They aren’t ice cream per se, but they are a cold treat on a hot day. Snow IMAG3132Brothers is a food truck that you can find at Night Market and various other festivals around the area. They shave their flavored ice to make “snow” and top it with condensed milk and various toppings. I chose the milk-flavored snow and topped it with blueberries and strawberries, but you can also choose mochi, red bean paste, Captain Crunch and a few other toppings. Koko Bakery also sells shaved ice. They sell Korean and Taiwanese shaved ice. I prefer the Taiwanese shaved ice. The price includes 3 toppings IMAG6162of your choice, and you can add additional toppings for an additional $0.90. I am a creature of habit and always choose lychee, kiwi and mango.

And of course no Cleveland ice cream post is complete without mention of Mitchell’s. Mitchell’s fresh strawberry ice cream was a divine pleasure when the strawberries were in season. I hear fresh peach ice cream is in season right now. Mitchell’s is always a treat, but this scoop of strawberry really stands out in my memory this summer. They unveiled a few flavors for the RNC and Cavs championship win. You’ve got to love a hometown favorite that is just as passionate about their hometown as well.

What’s your favorite old-fashioned local ice cream stand?

Contact info:

Strickland’s of Streetsboro
9070 Cleveland – East Liverpool Road (Route 14)
Streetsboro, OH 44241

Dairy King
4325 Mayfield Road
South Euclid, OH 44121

Sandy’s Frozen Whip
17635 Lakeshore Blvd
Cleveland, OH 44119

Apple Cart
4313 Superior Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44103

Mitchell’s Ice Cream
Various locations

Koko Bakery
3710 Payne Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44114