Fish Fry Friday 2022 #2 – Greater Sokol Cleveland

Sokol Greater Cleveland hosted two fish fries this year – on March 4 and March 11. The dinners are served in the basement of the historic Bohemian National Hall. Park in the parking lot in the back, walk down the hall and follow the voices to the ticket table. After you have your ticket and number stand, walk down the hall to the stairs or take the elevator to the basement. I took the elevator down with the evening’s musical entertainment, Anthony Culkar. Nice guy. He started playing at 5:30.

Reservations are recommended for big groups, but I was only one person. They were serving from 5-8 and I got there at 5:10. It was easy to find a seat at a table that didn’t have the chairs up indicating they were reserved. They serve fried or baked fish dinners, shrimp dinners, and pierogi dinners, either dine-in or take-out. The fish, shrimp and combo dinners are $12. The half fish and pierogi dinners are $8. The dinners come with tater tots, cole slaw, a slice of bread, coffee and dessert. I also got a small serving of apple sauce. It might have come with the pierogi. You also pay a $1 temporary membership at the door for the Full Cash Bar. My total came to $17 – $12 plus $4 for two pierogi and the membership.

I chose my seat and shared the table with a nice group of three. I sat for a bit to get my bearings and as I decided to get up to go to the bar my food arrived. My tablemates weren’t as lucky. They were served shortly before I left. There was an advantage to only being one person. Anyway, I hit the cash bar and ordered a Primator Premium Lager (a Czech beer) and a ginger ale ($6 total).

I arranged my meal and drinks and enjoyed m Combination Dinner, which had fried fish and fried shrimp, and two add-on pierogi with sauteed onions. I somehow got two pieces of fish instead of one. It was palatable, but I especially enjoyed the fried shrimp. If I had known butter and ketchup were available if I asked I would have probably enjoyed the tater tots and slice of bread more. In the end, I just left them unfinished. The cole slaw and apple sauce were a nice little treat, and the pierogi were delectable. I took my dessert (choice of yellow or chocolate cake) home in a small to-go box and hobbled back into the snowy night with a full belly. I was going to go grocery shopping, but decided to do it tomorrow instead. I just wanted to go home, put on some comfy pajamas and cuddle up with a book and a cup of tea in this weather.

BTW, they also serve a Sunday Supper from 1-2:30 on the last Sunday of every other month. The next one is chicken paprikash and dumplings on April 24th. Reservations are required by the Wednesday beforehand. The dumplings are usually the flat Czech dumplings, so it’s a total treat. Happy Lent, everyone! Where did you go?

Contact info:

Sokol Greater Cleveland
(at Bohemian National Hall)
4939 Broadway Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44127
(216) 883-0675

Fish Fry Friday 2022 #1 – Twisted Taino

Photo by Twisted Taino from Yelp

It’s Lent season in Cleveland, and we all know what that means—fish fries and pancake breakfasts. And 40 days of sandwiches (or as close as I can get to it). Twisted Taino has been advertising on All Things Food in Cleveland. My friend S. ate here recently and raved about the Cubano. So when they posted two photos of their fish that are only available on Fridays during Lent I knew we had to go. Twisted Taino originally opened in Ohio City, but recently moved to Parma.

I figured all of the Ukrainian fish fries would be packed, so this was a good first choice. It’s located down the street from Das Schnitzel Haus – directly across from Chuppa’s Market – in an old Lawson’s location. One of my friends got there early and grabbed a table for us. There were six of us, but there are only five tables inside. They have a patio set up outside that looks promising for nicer weather. We stood in line to place our order and were given a little buzzer that went off when it was ready.

My friend K. ordered the Escabeche Fish Fry, and it was finished first. Escabeche consists of marinated fish, meat or vegetables, cooked in an acidic sauce (usually with vinegar), and colored with paprika, citrus, and other spices. This version featured king fish on a bed of (cerviche-like) seafood salad topped with pickled onions served with coconut shrimp & tostones. She used to live in Japan and loves the pickledness of the fish. She makes it herself, so was looking forward to it. She enjoyed it a lot, particularly the coconut shrimp. She lamented that it wasn’t on the regular menu. I tried a bite of the fish and seafood salad and enjoyed both of them. The fish was very dense and heavy, but the pickling made it a little lighter.

I ordered the Chillo Frito (Caribbean Red Snapper). This thing was a thing of beauty. It was so large it filled a whole foil container that is usually used for family-sized mac n cheese or something like that. The fish was fried perfectly. I carefully opened it up at the filet line and removed the backbone and just pulled the meat off with my hands. I only had a few tiny bones, but for the most part, they lifted clean out with the backbone. I comes with a side salad with a lovely dressing and ordered the arroz mampostea’ (Puerto Rican dish of rice and stewed red beans, sweet plantains, and bacon – a vegan version is also available) as my side dish. I almost ordered the yuca fries, but the arroz was calling me. It was delicious. My friend D. finished his snapper, but I ended up taking it home to eat as leftovers.

I have to rave about the beverages as well – not something I usually do. I tend to be really thirsty when I’m out to dinner. Drinking a couple glasses of water is normal for me, because I don’t drink enough fluids during the day. Well, that is not a problem here. I was able to order a 32 oz. ginger ale and a 32 oz. passionfruit lemonade. They were the perfect amount of liquid for me – and the passionfruit lemonade was divine!! Twisted Taino is very proud of its lemonades, frappes, and frappucinos. There offer five lemonades in a 32 oz “tub” in original lemonade, tamarind, strawberry, mango, and passionfruit. The frappes (but not the toppings) are lactose- and gluten-free and completely over the top with cookies and other toppings.

One of my friends ordered the Beef Empanada Trio and enjoyed it (photo missing one of the empanadas and picturing one of the tostones). Her partner enjoyed the escabeche. One of my other friends ordered the pork tacos (pernil) and a pound of seafood salad (which she took home with her). I think she will be going back regularly for it. I can’t wait to go back and try one of the many Mofongo choices.

Contact info:

Twisted Taino
5633 Pearl Road
Parma, OH 44129
(216) 310-5880

Zhug

Zhug is a new concept by chef Douglas Katz that offers “Middle Eastern Mezze” in a casual, high energy urban space at Cedar Fairmount. Low tables with pillows surround the space filled with tables. There is no hint of its past as a Liquid Planet. The kitchen is tucked in the back right corner. Esquire magazine named it one of 23 Best New Restaurants in America in 2020. Michael Symon visited town a few months ago for the birth of his new grandson and praised it on Instagram as insanely good .. one of the best and most thoughtful restaurants in the country right now IMHO. The praise, combined with a serious lack of parking and the fact that they don’t take reservations, made the restaurant pretty difficult to visit (even though I live very close).

The pandemic changed that for me. Doug wanted to keep the restaurant operating, so he decided to switch to takeout – with curbside pickup and delivery. Doug himself delivered the meals and waved to me on his way back for the next delivery order as I sat in my car waiting for my order. This allowed me to try the delicious choices in the comfort of my own home. I went a little crazy that night – as you can see in the photo below. I ordered the hummus, curry fried chicken, buttered shrimp, crispy brussels sprouts, grilled asparagus, and a cocktail to go (in that cute little jam jar). The cocktail was a lot of fun, and I have reused the jam jar several times to store leftovers. I must have a type of favorite cocktail, because I ordered it when we sat down to eat in the restaurant.

The location doesn’t have the best parking or wait-for-a-table options, but Parnell’s Pub, Starbucks, and Appletree Books are neighbors and allow folks to chill and wait for a table. The dining area is somewhat austere and industrial, with benches piled with pillows lining the walls. The servers are super friendly and knowledgeable, and Doug tends to make the rounds in his restaurants, greeting diners and making them feel like friends.

I adore the Yemenite curry fried chicken (gluten-free). I could eat it every day. Hunks of tender chicken are coated in a curry fried chicken batter and drizzled with harissa honey. It is super flavorful and one of the best chicken dishes in Cleveland at the moment if you ask me. The dipping sauce is also ridiculously delicious.

I also ordered the butter roasted shrimp (see above). I was less impressed with that one. Don’t get me wrong – it was very tasty. It is made with garlic and pil biber chili and is served with toast points. I think I got 5 shrimp for the $18 price tag. Yes, that is fairly normal, but I can just as easily roast shrimp in butter and spices myself. There is no way I could recreate the blissfulness of the fried chicken.

Zhug is also known for its hummus. It serves two kinds of hummus – curried lamb and apricot hummus and nigella seed and burnt onion hummus. I chose the curried lamb and apricot for my first venture and loved it. The hummus is creamy, the curried lamb was fork-tender and I loved the pairing of lamb and apricot. When I met some girlfriends at zhug when things opened up this spring we ordered both. I still preferred the lamb and apricot hummus, but the nigella seed and burnt onion hummus was also a very interesting choice and some of my girlfriends preferred it over the lamb hummus.

One mezze that we went nuts for was the leeks and feta. It is such a simple dish, but is executed so well that I adore it. The leeks are prepared in a scallion-pistachio pistou with roasted shallots and drizzled over a block of feta. I love, love, love it, as did my other friends.

We also very much enjoyed the smoked octopus. It was made with purple potatoes and olives in a tomato-based sauce and decorated with dabs of saffron aioli. My friends and I also chose a simple tomato salad as well. It featured cherry tomatoes cut in half and served with shaved parmesan and torn basil. I’m sure Doug put his own spin to it somehow, but it came across as simple yet delicious.

We ordered all of the desserts and shared them. They were all fantastic. I was skeptical about the tahini sundae, but the flavor blew me away. Topped with pistachios and chocolate sauce, the ice cream itself tasted like a mix between vanilla and chocolate ice cream. The mango sorbet just tasted like a fresh mango, which was so refreshing after our big meal. And although the spiced apples looked kind of dry, it was like spiced apple crisp and was not dry at all. It is made with lebnah, oat streusel, orange blossom and citrus zest. I’d be very hard pressed to pick a favorite; they were all really, really delicious. A really tasty end to a delicious meal.

zhug went back to curbside service during the Omnicron surge, but reopened for in-house dining again on the 1st. I’m really proud of how Doug responded to the pandemic. He was one of the first restaurant owners to go to curbside service, because he was already doing pop-ups and running a ghost kitchen (Chimi) from the diner on Lee. He ended up closing Fire on Shaker Square, which I miss, but he seemed to be keeping his head above water during the pandemic with a second ghost kitchen, Amba, which will soon be turned into a brick and mortar  Indian-fusion restaurant in Hingetown. For now, he is focusing on zhug and Amba.

Contact info:

zhug
12413 Cedar Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44106
(216) 862-2508

Poké Fresh

Poké Fresh is a small local chain with locations in Akron (N. Hawkins Ave.), Cuyahoga Falls (Portage Trail), and Highland Heights (Wilson Mills near the entrance to I-271). I fell in love with poké in Hawaii a few years ago and love sushi, so I was excited to find this place. I discovered it when I was picking up my peaches from The Peach Truck. I’ve been back several times already.

My friends and I enjoyed the poké at the 2nd and High Poke House + Bar, but the volcano started erupting on Hawaii and the chef had to fly home to help his family and it closed. We also ate at Corner 11 Bowl & Wrap in Tremont, but as much as I enjoyed it I never think to eat there. This is the first poké that is in my neck of the woods.

​The word Poké (pronounced “PO-kay”) is Hawaiian for “to slice or cut”. Having been served on the islands since the early 1970’s, this delicious dish has finally made its way to the mainland! It is set up like a Chipotle, Piada, or any other fast casual food place. You can order one of their suggested bowls (there’s a vegan one and a cooked chicken one) or you can make your own. You start by choosing your rice base (white jasmine and brown available) or a bed of Ohio grown organic greens. Then you pick your protein. The choices include ahi tuna*, salmon*, shrimp, chicken, tofu, crabstick and more (*raw). You then choose your toppings. You can choose from edamame, furikake, corn, cucumber, pickled ginger, sweet onion, and more. I really like the pineapple. Seaweed salad, avocado, and masago are a dollar more. Lastly, load up with one of their signature sauces and top it off with something a little crunchy! Halé sauce is their house sauce, similar to a soy sauce.

The first time I went I ordered the ahi tuna and have them put every topping on it but jalapeno, edamame, and masago. I topped it with the Halé sauce and citrus ponzu and toasted sesame seeds. I enjoyed the cucumber, seaweed salad, pineapple, cilantro and avocado a lot. The portion was very large, and I ended up quitting with just a couple bites to go.

I loved it and was back two days later with a friend to whom I had raved about it. The guy behind the counter remembered me and suggested I get a loyalty card (and gave me two punches). The second time I asked for half ahi tuna and half spicy salmon. I once again had the same toppings on it and topped it with just Halé sauce. We sat inside and there was only one other table occupied. She enjoyed it a lot and took the menu since she lives in the Akron area.

The last time I was there I ordered for curbside pickup and discovered the popping boba in their bubble tea. I was a little more discerning with the toppings this time. I went with ahi tuna and added crabstick. I left out the seaweed salad and pickled ginger as well and only had the green onions, carrots, cilantro, sweet onion, cucumber, pineapple, fire roasted corn, and avocado. My sauces were the Halé sauce, citrus ponzu and wasabi aioli with sesame seeds and furikake as toppings. I especially liked the kick of the wasabi aioli. I was finally able to finish the entire portion.

I ordered the Honeydew Boba Tea with popping blueberry boba. The blueberry added a nice flavor kick, but after a little while they just deflated and moldered at the bottom of the cup. That said, the honeydew boba tea was very refreshing.

Contact info:

Poké Fresh
6319 Wilson Mills Road
Highland Heights, OH 44143
(440) 421-9121

Los Arcos Mexican Restaurant Bar and Grill

I never would have thought a great little gem of a Mexican restaurant would be hidden in a strip mall on Green Road. Los Arcos Mexican Restaurant Bar and Grill was recommended to me by my massage therapist. He told me many of his clients enjoyed eating there.

Authentic Mexican is hard to find, and I’m certainly not someone who can tell. However, one southern California transplant is a fan and that’s enough for me. She recommends the cheese enchiladas (and several people suggest getting the verde sauce) and fish tacos. And they have tacos and gorditos de lengua (tongue) on special on Saturdays (click on the Specials on the website). You don’t see too many restaurants here that serve tongue. They also serve pozole on Saturdays and menudo on Sundays as well as cheap street tacos (hard shelled for $1, soft shelled for $2) on Taco Tuesday.

I met a girlfriend there for lunch after her massage for our first foray there. I ordered what is probably the most Instagrammable item on the menu, but it is as delicious as it is beautiful. I ordered the pineapple fajitas. I love fajitas because they are hard to screw up, but these fajitas come in a pineapple half on top of the searing hot plate. The chips are fresh and warm, and I enjoyed the salsa. The margarita was great. I ordered a frozen peach margarita the first time, but over time I have determined that I love the fresh margarita the best.

This became my go to place to order from during the coronavirus crisis, because they starting serving their margaritas to go. I got a little emotional when I had a sip of margarita for the first time in months. They serve peach, raspberry, blue raspberry, strawberry, watermelon, mango, pineapple and lime on the rocks or frozen. They are available in glasses, jumbo glasses, half pitchers, and pitchers. I love the raspberry, watermelon and – when I really want to splurge – fresh lime margaritas. They are $14.99 ($18.99 for top shelf). They also have a nice happy hour every day.

My go to order here is the Pollo Adobo. It features grilled, seasoned and marinated chicken strips with grilled mushrooms, spinach, tomatoes, bell peppers and onions covered in queso. It comes served with rice, beans and tortillas. This is my favorite thing in a Mexican restaurant. It isn’t available at every restaurant, so when it is I order it. I love the cheesy dip mixed with the savory chicken and veggies.

My dad likes chile rellenos, so I like to try them when I see them on the menu. I was able to order it in a combination with a spinach enchilada and bean burrito (Vegetarian Combo #7). I thought it was a little bland, and I loved the spinach enchilada the most out of the three. The best thing about it was the cost – $9.99. You can’t beat that when you are pinching pennies during a pandemic.

Growing up we had Chi-Chis, and everyone ordered their fried ice cream. The fried ice cream here actually comes kind of close to the Chi-Chis fried ice cream. My photo doesn’t look very appealing, because it was in a to go container during COVID (and on Cinco de Mayo to boot). They got overwhelmed with orders and I was afraid my ice cream would melt, but it came out perfect and was still cold when I got it home. I highly recommend it if you like the combination of cinnamon and ice cream.

Contact info:

Los Arcos
2175 S Green Road
University Hts, OH 44121
(216) 862-6623

Gas station hummus and more

A few years ago all the foodies in town started talking about a gas station that started making outstanding hummus. Five years ago, Muntaha “Mama Mary” Dari started making a few varieties of hummus to sell out of the family’s Sunoco gas station on the corner of Sprague and Columbia Roads in Olmsted Township. The raving about the hummus got so out of hand that it has become a running gag on the local food forums. Well, the food itself is no joke. I had it for the first time at a friend’s game night a few years ago. Some friends brought the Everything Bagel and the Garlic hummus. The flavors were outstanding, and I couldn’t stop eating it. Some of the available flavors include Original, Everything Bagel, Roasted Garlic, Roasted Red Pepper, Spicy, Sun-Dried Tomato, Jalapeno, Bacon, Dill Pickle, Cranberry and Pomegranate (at $3.99 a tub, add $1 for pita). Chocolate hummus will be available for Valentine’s Day and other romantic holidays. Popular flavors sell out quickly, and not every flavor is served every day. You can special order hummus in party trays as well. I bought a tub of Everything Bagel and Kalamata Olive hummus for Easter last year. Hummus is always a good choice for my gluten-free/dairy-free family members. My niece, who is gluten-free, decided she would suffer the consequences and ate almost all of the warm pita that had come with it all by herself. It is grilled and seasoned and absolutely delicious. Mama Mary’s Hummus is now available at several other gas stations (that belong to family members), but I have been frequenting the original location regularly since I started teaching German on Saturday mornings in Olmsted Falls.

The gas station serves more than hummus. They have lamb on a spit for lamb gyros and also serve chicken gyros and falafel in addition to subs and various fried side dishes. I adore the gyros. I get them “with everything” – so lettuce, tomato, onions, tzatziki, and seasoning. They are a little pricey at $6.99 or super sized at $9.99, but they are sizable enough to be filling. And are delicious to boot. I’m hooked on the chicken gyro. I’ve ordered it more than once.

The falafel is a good falafel. It’s not Ehab’s falafel from Cafe Falafel in Fairview Hospital, but it is a nice falafel sandwich. Most falafel are too dry for my tastes, but the falafel in the sandwich have enough moisture to satisfy me. The falafel wrap is $5.99 or you can buy 12 falafel for a few dollars more.

They were making party subs one day when I stopped by for a gyro. I remember back in the day when party subs were a must-serve for a football game. Footlongs and multi-footlongs are available, but they make big subs that are cored out and stuffed with filling. I don’t know how much the party subs are, but a regular sub is $7.99 or $8.99 depending on the choice. They are available hot or cold. There is even a corned beef sub available as well as several hot Philly subs and a Buffalo Chicken sub. As a proud Bulldog alum, I wanted to order the Bulldog when I was there, but ended up saying Raider instead. Total brain fart. The Bulldog features turkey and roast beef, and the Raider is roast beef, ham and turkey. It was still great – even if it was two subs in one! I ate one for lunch and the other one later that day for dinner.

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They also serve sides like tabbouli, stuffed grape leaves, macaroni salad, potato salad and banana pudding. I love the stuffed grape leaves. They come five to a container, but they are so munchable I end up eating them all in the care on the way home. The macaroni salad is also creamy and delicious and not as heavily spiced as it looks. I think it is just perfect. I haven’t tried the other sides yet.

Contact info:

Mama Mary’s Hummus
Sunoco Cafe
9796 Columbia Road
Olmsted Falls, Ohio 44138
440-235-0351

Ramen at Mason’s Creamery

Mason’s Creamery opened in 2015 on the corner of Bridge Avenue and W. 44th Street in Ohio City, and serves high-quality ice cream in all kinds of adventurous flavors in the warmer months. They started serving ramen a couple times a year as pop-up events, which proved popular. They would run out within an hour or two. Last winter they decided to covert to a ramen shop, and they started serving three kinds of ramen, delicious tea, and soft serve ice cream. They put a sturdy tent around the overhang above, creating temporary seating. There are also about 12 seats available inside along the “bar.”

I stopped several times last winter and tried both the pork tonkatsu and chicken shio. Both were very flavorful. I am not a huge fan of pork belly or fat, so the pork wasn’t my favorite. I enjoyed the chicken a lot. However, I was there recently and had the vegetarian ramen, featuring several kinds of mushrooms and found my favorite. The bowls of ramen are $13 and come loaded with noodles and garnished with assorted toppings like seaweed, corn, mushrooms and a soft-boiled, soy-cured egg. There are vegan and gluten-free options, too. I remembered to ask them to not add the egg to my vegetarian ramen (I’m allergic). I really loved the broth and toppings in the vegetarian ramen. The broth had a really rich, umami taste to it. The other broths are also flavorful, but the veggie/mushroom broth is truly outstanding. I’ll be back for it.

As much as I love the ramen, I love the fruit-based tea they serve here more. It is a generous 1 liter serving, and you can get a lid to take the bottle home with you. In fact, they do not reuse the bottles. I’ve enjoyed a pineapple, passion fruit and raspberry tea, mandaquat (mandarin orange and kumquat), and the latest version was passion fruit and guava.

They also serve two flavors of soft serve every day. I couldn’t resist getting the matcha and chocolate swirl. The chocolate had a deep chocolate flavor, and the matcha was perfect – green tea flavor and not too sweet. The two flavors really complemented each other.

Starting in early December, Mason’s is open Wednesdays, Thursdays and Sundays from 4-9 p.m., and Fridays and Saturdays from 4-10 p.m. for ramen. The plan is to convert back to an ice cream shop in late March or early April.

We were a larger group than they can normally accommodate. They won’t allow groups to sit until everyone is there. Initially there were four of us. If one of your friends is pokey or running late you’re out of luck. I thought we were going to be five and then two more of my friends showed up at the last minute without warning, making us 6. We waited for one of the two tables of four to clear, while the cashier kept taking other orders from walk-ins. Once a table finally cleared, I sent my friend there to reserve it, only to get chastised by the cashier that you can’t sit until you’ve ordered and paid. I ordered for both of us and headed out into the tent. That did not leave a warm feeling in my heart. We had been standing there waiting for ten minutes already. The seventh person walked in just as we all sat down and were being served. The seven of us managed to cram around a table for four, but luckily ramen doesn’t take up a lot of room. We gladly doled out cups of water to the other diners since we were in the way. Three of my friends had never had ramen before. It was fun teaching them how to eat it – taste the broth with the spoon, slurp the noodles from the chopsticks, it’s okay to drink the broth from the bowl. Everyone enjoyed themselves in the end, so I must have been the only one stressing out. The joys of being an organizer.

Do yourself a favor and do not come with a group. But definitely check it out. Come with a friend or two or be like me and come alone and enjoy the ramen while you can. I truly think it’s the best ramen in Cleveland and worth the aggravation.

Contact info:

Mason’s Creamery
4401 Bridge Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
216) 245-8942

Omizu Sushi

Omizu Sushi on Ridge Road – not to be confused with Mizu Sushi on Brookpark Road – has earned its spot on my short list of favorite sushi places in Cleveland. It is tucked away in an unassuming strip mall with a Save-A-Lot and a Master Pizza. This place should be more packed than it is. It seems people flock to Mizu on Brookpark Road for their happy hour, but they are seriously missing out on some artistic and delicious sushi at Omizu. Omizu has a happy hour too. It just isn’t as well known.

I stumbled on it when I was looking for a place close to the Parma-Snow library to grab a bite after an author book talk and signing. I love the wall of water and fake fish that divides the dining area from the bar and sushi bar. I saw a lychee martini on the menu and haven’t looked back. The lychee martini is really nice and refreshing, with a lychee garnish.

I decided to order a miso soup and a couple of sushi rolls. The miso soup was decent. It’s nothing to write home about, but the broth is flavorful and they don’t cheap out on the tofu chunks. I just wish there was more seaweed in it.

I ordered two specialty rolls and a couple nigiri. The salmon and tuna nigiri were a delight. The fish was fresh, and the rice was perfect. It didn’t fall apart and had a nice flavor to it. I was not all that impressed with the “Yummy Roll.” It was supposed to have mango in it, but there wasn’t enough to notice. On the other hand, the Monkey Roll was out of this world. The Monkey Roll is topped with tempura banana. I was a little nervous ordering it, but it ended up being my favorite thing. The sweetness of the banana played off the fish and eel sauce nicely. It may not sound that great, but if you like banana trust me. You will love it. I suggest ordering it closer to the end of the meal as a dessert roll.

The next time I went I met a group of people for dinner. We all ordered a roll or two and passed them around, so we got to try a little of everything. Some of us also ordered some appetizers. I ordered the sushi appetizer, and my friend ordered the soft shell crab. Another friend ordered the pickled mackerel, which pairs well with a martini. I loved the soft shell crab the best and would order it again. My friends make fun of me for my unintentionally phallic photos. They ribbed me once again for the sushi appetizer. My friend had posted a photo to Facebook, and they automatically asked if that appetizer was mine. No fair! I chose the Snow Mountain Roll that night in addition to the Monkey Roll. I loved the Snow Mountain Roll, so keep that in mind if you are trying to choose. But the entree that blew us all away that time was the sushimi boat for two. Since one of my friends is diabetic he tends to stay away from rice if he can. The sushimi boat was absolutely stunning. They really do a great job with presentation here.

The third time it was just me and a book. I was craving sushi and made a special drive to Omizu. I changed things up a bit and ordered the Mango Martini, which was also light and refreshing. Usually mango drinks can taste too unnatural. Not this one. I loved it. I was really hungry, so I ordered a vegetable tempura appetizer and a sushi and sashimi platter. The tempura vegetables were not too greasy and actually had a nice taste to them.  I usually find tempura to be too bland. The sashimi and nigiri were pristine, and the California roll was rolled tightly. I took half of everything home and had a nice breakfast the next day.

I hope Omizu is around for a long time so we can keep enjoying its delicious offerings. They have a ton of interesting-sounding rolls to choose from as well as tempura, hibachi and other Japanese entrees. I also look forward to trying their ramen. They have a huge range of choices.

Contact info:

Omizu Japanese Restaurant
6843 Ridge Road
Parma, OH 44129
(440) 340-0888

Astoria

Photo from Yelp user Norton W.

Astoria Cafe and Market opened back in December 2016 and has been receiving rave reviews ever since. Astoria is located in a 5,000-square-foot space in Gordon Square across from Minh Ahn. Parking is available along the street, but there is also a lot down the side street next to Astoria. The lot is well-lit. I was still somewhat nervous walking back to my car by myself until I realized the parking lot had a guard sitting in his car and keeping watch.

Astoria is a hot brunch location, but is also known for its octopus and tapas. One of my friends swears by the octopus and the mussels. Brunch is served from 10 a.m. to 2:45 p.m. on Saturdays and from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Sundays. The menu changes frequently with the season.  There is a bar-restaurant on one side and a market that specializes in cheeses, meats and Mediterranean imports on the other. Anything you purchase in the market can be eaten in the restaurant, which is why they are also known for their charcuterie and cheese boards. I was finally prompted to check it out when I learned that one of my friends is one of the co-owners’ sister, and he serves the family recipe Dolmades or stuffed grape leaves (spoiler alert: they are amazing).

I knew we had to order the octopus (Octopus alla Karvouna) as an appetizer since it is so popular. It features Spanish octopus poached in white wine, lemon and garlic, then charcoal grilled and topped with extra virgin olive oil, cracked black pepper and fresh oregano.  It is indeed as good as everyone says. Maybe even better than I expected it to be. It was a single tentacle that was perfectly grilled, and everyone loved it. So much so that we went back a couple of months later to enjoy it again. We also couldn’t get enough of the complementary fresh bread and probably went through three refills of bread and one refill of the dipping oil.

Our first visit was in the winter right before Christmas, and it was a cold, wet and slushy day. I started my meal off with a bowl of Chicken Avgolemono soup. Avgolemono soup is a Greek specialty using egg yolk and lemon juice. This version features poached free-range chicken in a broth featuring dill, parsley, lemon and golden rice. The lemon and fresh herbs gave it a nice bright flavor, and the chicken was nicely shredded. It was hearty yet light enough to whet my appetite for more.

When I saw Quattro Stagioni pizza on the menu I almost started crying. It is rare to find this Italian staple pizza on menus here in the U.S. and when they do they tend to just put all the toppings on the pizza in a jumble. A true Italian Quattro Stagioni features four sections with diverse ingredients, with each section representing one season of the year —traditionally Parma ham or olives (winter), artichoke hearts (spring), tomato & basil (summer), and mushrooms (fall). This pizza was done the right way, even if it was missing the tomato & basil and featured both Prosciutto di Parma and Kalamata olives. At least they tried. I just found the dough a little too thick for my liking.

Another friend ordered the Quattro Formaggi (four cheese) pizza with mozzarella, pecorino romano, herbed ricotta and asiago cheese. He liked it a lot. Since he is a man of few words that is all I can say about that.

He shared that with his wife, who ordered the Veal, Lamb & Ricotta Meatballs. In fact, two of my friends ordered it that visit and both raved about it. The meatballs are served over fusilli pasta. I had a bite and the sauce was a very flavorful sauce. The meatballs were not overpowering. I apologize for the blurry photo.

One of my friends, who is a notoriously picky eater, ordered the duck confit and mac n cheese. She originally ordered it for the mac n cheese, but fell in love with the whole dish. So much so that when we went back to celebrate some friends’ birthdays she ordered it again.

I finished off the night with a slice of Greek cake (Milopita). It was an apply/custardy slice of goodness. Almost like an apple bread pudding. It was really, really nice.

When we went back a few months later I decided to order a bunch of smaller plates for my meal. I started with the dolmades, which were as amazing as I thought they would be. The rice was tender and flavorful, and the grape leaf was not tough and chewy like some others I have had from a Greek restaurant near me. They were also vegetarian with no meat, which I really enjoyed. I love these dolmades and would probably go back just to get them again. We shared the octopus again, but I also ordered a grilled octopus and lump crab meat salad. It was lightly dressed in a mayo and lots of lemon. It was very refreshing. I also ordered a side of herbed golden rice, because I wanted something small but warm to balance my cold plates.

I was lucky enough to try a bit of the chicken souvlaki, which was really great too. It was served over a bed of greens that were lightly dressed in a nice sauce and accompanied by some hummus, tzatziki and pita bread. My friend loved this.

I finished off the night that time with a trio of cannoli. I am not normally a fan of cannoli, but I would order Astoria’s cannoli again. The mini-cannoli were filled with a pistachio filling a chocolate filling, and a Luxardo cherry filling. They had me at Luxardo, but the other two were amazing as well. I shared them with my dining companions, and they also enjoyed them.

Contact info:

Astoria Cafe & Market
5417 Detroit Ave
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 266-0834

Blue Habanero

Blue Habanero opened in the old Arcadian location on Detroit Road in the heart of Gordon Square. My friends and I decided to check it out to lift our spirits from this dismal, rainy “spring” weather. Since we were going to be a larger group, I made a reservation even though it was a Monday. I’m glad I did, because the place was pretty full. They did a good job accommodating everyone though. In addition to the first floor, it appears they also have seating on the second floor as well, as numerous patrons were led upstairs.

My friend who was driving and I recognized one of our friends in the public parking lot by the Capitol Theater despite her huddling under the hood of her raincoat, and we walked to Blue Habanero together. After being greeted as we walked in, the first order of business was ordering a beverage. I couldn’t decide between a margarita and a sangria, so I ordered one of their featured drinks that contains both, the Octopus. It was stunning to look at as well as delicious and deadly. I was glad I wasn’t driving, because I happily ordered a second one. I probably wouldn’t have if I had been driving, because I was already feeling the effects after one. My friends also enjoyed their margaritas—one ginger (be sure to stir it up) and the Cadillac. We then took some time to look over the menu.

Once we realized three of our party weren’t coming we apologized and notified the staff to take one of the tables away in case they needed it and then ordered. I decided I needed to come here when I saw a photo of the queso. I ordered a sampler for the table, which features queso, guacamole and salsa. The salsa had a nice kick to it, and the queso and guac were fresh and creamy. One of our friends ordered an order of queso with chorizo, and I have to say it was my favorite thing on our table all night. I couldn’t get enough of the flavorful creaminess. I am now a fan of chorizo too, which wasn’t the case before. The queso with chorizo was like a warm hug, which was welcome that chilly, dreary evening.

The tuna ceviche appetizer was also a nice choice. It wasn’t the traditional tuna chopped into smaller pieces of tuna and mixed with avocado and onion, but rather nice slabs of sushi grade tuna plated interspersed with slices of avocado and drizzled with the lime dressing that causes the chemical reaction to “cook” the fish. We all enjoyed sharing it around the table, and my friend who was craving avocado was quite pleased with the generous slices.

I ordered the Pollo a la Crema y Espinaca, which is grilled chicken breast with sauteed spinach and corn and roasted peppers in a lightly spicy cream sauce. It was delicious. It was served with cilantro white rice. I would definitely order this again. It hit all the right notes. I am a big fan of spinach and chicken, and didn’t find the cream sauce spicy at all. The leftovers also heated up well the next day.

One of my friends wanted to try mine, so I got to try a bite of her dish as well. We would normally split the entrees, but neither of us wanted to part with what we ordered. She ordered the Seafood al Ajillo, which is a shrimp and scallop dish that roasts the shrimp and scallops with onion, garlic and serves it with avocado, pico de gallo and cilantro white rice. It was light with a bright flavor of roasted/grilled seafood. She liked it so much that she finished the whole thing. I could also see myself ordering it next time we go – because there will definitely be a next time.

My other friends were very pleased with their tacos and rice bowls. The waitress had recommend the Tacos al Pastor, which are spice rubbed pork, pineapple, cilantro and onions in a tomatillo sauce, so two of my friends chose that. One with the Mexican rice and one with the black beans as their side dish. My other friends ordered rice bowls – one with steak and one with shrimp. The rice bowls have a mix of greens, black beans, avocado, pico de gallo and sour cream. One chose the cilantro white rice and the other asked to swap the white rice for Mexican rice, which was easily accommodated. They both finished their bowls.

I saved room for dessert and ordered fried ice cream. Save your money. It was not only visually unappealing, the cornflake crust tasted mostly of fry oil and had a weird consistency. Most of my friends had one bite and passed it on. No one wanted a second bite. I ended up eating the ice cream around the crust and left a lot of it on the plate. I keep hoping to find a fried ice cream that is as delicious as the old Chi-Chi’s version, but it seems I may have to just stop ordering it to avoid being disappointed. I’ve learned the secret is the cinnamon sugar mixture, so maybe I’ll try to make them myself one day. If you do order dessert, be sure to order the Tres Leches cake. It was moist and delicious. Everyone at the table thoroughly enjoyed it.

Contact info:

Blue Habanero Street Tacos and Tequila
6416 Detroit Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44102
(216) 465-1818