Saigon Grille on Superior Avenue East

March 29, 2012

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I’m going to take a controversial stand – I prefer Saigon Grille over Superior Pho. I seem to crave pho on Mondays, when Minh Anh and Superior Pho are closed. A few weeks ago I was craving a banh mi, so I hit Google and searched for a restaurant that offered them. Number 1 Pho was open, but they only serve pho – not banh mi. The restaurant one door over from it did and was open all day from 10 a.m. to midnight, which was great because I was eating a late lunch at 2 p.m. After eating at Superior Pho today and ordering a similar pho and banh mi meal I can unequivocally say that I prefer the banh mi at Saigon Grille over Superior Pho (although the meal at Superior Pho was about $5 cheaper). Both restaurants serve outstanding pho, but if you want an outstanding banh mi I suggest you try Saigon Grille’s and see if you agree.

Saigon Grille is a small unassuming storefront right near Superior Pho and Number 1 Pho. Parking is available in the back off E. 31st street (caution: one way street), but I parallel parked on E. 31st and walked down to the cheerful door. I’m glad I did, because they have a little shrine right inside the door with incense, candles and a roll on a plate. It lent some major atmosphere to the place.

I was quickly seated, and the waitress quickly brought me a glass of water. I ordered my banh mi (A7) and P22 (Pho Tai Nam, which is rice noodle soup with eye round steak and well done flank steak). Since Saigon Grille serves Vietnamese and Thai cuisine, I ordered one of my favorite beverages (a Thai ice tea) to drink and was surprised to see that they served it as a bubble tea.

The banh mi was heavenly. You can choose between pork, chicken or ham, but if you don’t specify you get pork. Unless you are Jewish I don’t know why anyone would order anything but the pork. The grilled, charred smokiness combined really well with the bright and fresh vegetables. The bread was crusty without being difficult to bite into. It was, frankly, a little bit of heaven. I prefer the roll at Superior Pho, but since the sandwich contents themselves are so delicious I’ll happily eat it.

The pho was also delicious. I dressed it with the Thai basil, bean sprouts and squirt of fresh lime wedge that accompanies pho at any restaurant you order it. The soup was perfectly prepared. The noodles weren’t overcooked, and there was just enough meat to enjoy with every bite. I can still taste the lime. The serving was plentiful and I ended up taking over half of it home with me to enjoy that evening.

Contact info:

Saigon Grille
3142 Superior Avenue East
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 589-9300

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Babushka’s Kitchen in Independence

March 14, 2012

in-memoriam-graphicMy dining out group recently ate at Babushka’s Kitchen in Independence. The restaurant in Northfield was closed for renovations at the time, so we decided to check out the newest location in Independence. It is worth mentioning that it is impossible to see from the street. It is tucked in the middle of the Independence Square shopping plaza. Look for the shopping plaza with the Independence water tower on the periphery, and you’ll know you are in the right place. Thank heavens for GPS, because I never would have found it otherwise.

The restaurant is a “casual quick-service style cafe” featuring pierogi, stuffed cabbage, kielbasi, roast pork, dumplings and all those Eastern European favorites. You order at the register in the front of the restaurant, you are given a number, and the kitchen staff brings your order out to you from the kitchen in the back. This isn’t fancy dining by any stretch of the imagination, but if you want comfort food your grandmother (well, okay, *my* Ukrainian grandmother) used to make you will be very pleased.

The pierogi are to die for! They are advertised as jumbo pierogi, and boy are they. The night we were there they had several flavors on offer – potato, potato and cheddar cheese, mushroom and Swiss, and sauerkraut. There was one other flavor, but I don’t remember what it was and I can’t read it on the dry erase board in the photo.

They offer several platters to allow new customers to try a variety of their entrees. The platters come with your choice of one or two side dishes, which include soup, green beans, kraut & noodles, mashed potatoes & gravy (red or brown), and cinnamon applesauce. There may be one or two that I can’t remember. The tables were practically groaning from all the food that was brought out. No one went home hungry – that is for sure!

I chose Grandma Olga’s Favorite, which features two of the jumbo pierogi with grilled onions and sour cream, two side dishes and a slice of rye bread and butter. I also ordered a cabbage roll on the side. It was HUGE! One of these and a side would have completely sufficed. For my side dishes I chose the applesauce and green beans and bacon. The beans were canned not fresh, but I am a huge fan of canned beans and prefer them over fresh (I blame my school lunch indoctrination). The cinnamon apple sauce was perfectly seasoned and was the perfect accompaniment to the heavy entrees. I wasn’t that thrilled with the cabbage roll, but I have high standards. It was simply too sweet for my tastes. I prefer Sokolowski’s cabbage roll because it is more savory than sweet. Other people loved it. I absolutely adored the jumbo pierogi. I chose a mushroom and Swiss and a potato and cheddar. Both were delicious. One of my fellow diners also gave me his side of kraut and dumplings, which was also quite tasty (although the kraut was slightly overcooked). I had so much food that I took most of it home.

I am intrigued by The Warsaw, which is a large potato pancake layered with grilled onions, sliced pork loin, sauerkraut, pork gravy, then topped with another potato pancake and a dollop of sour cream, served with any side dish or cup of chicken noodle soup. I will probably get this next time. No one ordered this that night, but my friend M. ordered a potato pancake as a side (see above photo of the pierogi platter) and several people had the roasted pork with their meal and loved them.

If you can’t decide what to order, I suggest getting the Hunter’s Feast, which features one stuffed cabbage, a link of smoked kielbasa, roasted pork with sauerkraut & dumplings, one jumbo potato & cheese pierogi with grilled onion and sour cream and your choice of two side dishes, or the Gatherer’s Platter (photo above on the beige platter), which features one stuffed cabbage, one jumbo potato & cheddar cheese pierogi with grilled onions & sour cream plus your choice of one side dish. You will be stuffed!

I bought two dozen kolachky, which were just as good (if not better!) than my grandmother used to make, to share among my fellow diners and took the leftover kolachky home. I need to go back for more soon! The kolachky were flaky and melted in our mouths. The only flavor left by the time I bought them was raspberry, but that was fine with me because that happens to be my favorite. Apricot would be a close second.

Contact info:

Babushka’s Kitchen

6531 Brecksville Rd
Independence, OH
(216) 447-9275

9199 Olde 8 Road
Northfield Center, OH
(330) 468-0402


Frank & Pauly’s is now in Mentor – and is sublime

February 29, 2012

in-memoriam-graphicFrank and Pauly’s opened its first restaurant in 1993 on Public Square in the BP Building. I remember eating there and being impressed by the food. We ordered several family style entrees that night, and I remember going back to my room at the Ritz Carlton a very happy translator. The restaurant closed shortly after that. It reopened briefly in Independence, and I ate there once with the executive board of my local translators group.

Frank and Pauly’s is now open in Mentor at The Sawyer House, which is on the National Register of Historic places as one of the only Stone Homes in Lake County. Owner Dennis Koury is using his brother Wayne Koury’s (founder of Frank and Pauly’s) recipes. They take care to use fresh ingredients and import quality pasta and cheese from Italy. When I heard the news that Frank and Pauly’s was now in Mentor I knew this would be the perfect venue for my new dining out group and quickly scheduled a dinner. I apologize for the darkness of the photos, but I didn’t want to detract from the other diners’ enjoyment by turning on my flash.

The Sawyer House is a gorgeous venue. We were immediately blown away by the sumptuous woodwork and cozy dining room. We were seated at a round table, which pleased us to no end because it allowed us all to talk with everyone in the group. We started the evening off with cocktails. I am a sucker for dreamsicles, so when I saw the Orange Dreamsicle on the menu I was thrilled. It was a delicious cocktail. I then switched to red wine with dinner, but a cocktail was the perfect way to take the edge off the day.

The group ordered several appetizers for the table to share. The bruschetta was delicious (unfortunately I wasn’t able to photograph it). The Roma tomatoes were plump and luscious, the crostini bread was soft and had a good bite to it, and the balsamic dressing was really delicious. I can’t wait to go back and order it again. We also split several grilled flatbreads, featuring arugula, Ohio Creamery goat cheese, lemon, garlic and oil. The arugula was a bit dry for my taste (being grilled), but the goat cheese paired really well with the arugula and the lemon and garlic kicked it up a notch.

We also ordered two family style salads to share. The Frank & Pauly’s salad with mixed greens, crispy prosciutto, crumbled gorgonzola and red onions did not disappoint. It was very flavorful and just as good as I remembered it. The second salad, the cranberry walnut salad, was my favorite of the two though. It featured mixed greens, dried cranberries, candied walnuts, croutons, green onions, and creamy goat cheese and was topped with a delicious raspberry vinaigrette.

I ordered the spaghetti and meat sauce. The pasta was al dente, and the meat sauce was very flavorful. I liked it, but I wasn’t thrilled with it. I love a good Bolognese, but I have very high standards. No meat sauce measures up to the Bolognese I had at a little hole-in-the-wall Italian place down in Cincinnati. It probably isn’t fair to compare, but that’s what diners do all the time. Don’t get me wrong, this was a very tasty meat sauce of fresh ground beef, veal, pork and is definitely worth ordering. That said, the addition of hunks of crispy prosciutto might kick this meat sauce up a notch.

When I go back to Frank & Pauly’s I will definitely order the lasagna, because both people at our table adored their meal. Everyone else was very pleased with their entrees, from the fuscilli vegetable ricotta sauce, mostaccioli eggplant marinara, eggplant parmesan (R. ate the entire entree so it must have been good), veal piccata, and the stuffed shrimp scampi, which were the special that night.

The service at Frank & Pauly’s was impeccable. Our waitress was very attentive and had no problems with separate checks for our table of ten. The timing of the food was perfect, and she even waited to put our entree orders in to allow one of our latecomers to eat with the group (we had just finished ordering when she arrived). Our water glasses were topped up several times, and everyone was very friendly. I can’t wait to go back to this little gem in Lake County. It is well worth the drive! Everyone at my table agreed.

Contact info:

Frank & Pauly’s
at “The Sawyer House”
9470 Mentor Ave, Mentor Ohio
(440) 392-9500


Istanbul Grill

January 19, 2012

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If you are looking for a good Mediterranean restaurant, you can’t go wrong with the Istanbul Grill in Tremont. The Istanbul Grill was established in 2010 in the historic Tremont neighborhood at the south end of Professor, near the St. Teodosious Church and Lucky’s Cafe. The food is fresh and very flavorful.

As we walked in the door we were greeted enthusiastically and shown to our tables. Our group of 20 was seated at three separate tables, one of which was in an alcove on the upper floor, but no one cared after the food came out. The service was attentive, and the food was delicious. The atmosphere in the restaurant was simple, clean, and modern yet warm. I have heard wonderful things about the patio, although I haven’t had a chance to check it out.

I like to start my meal off with a beverage (in the case of Turkish cuisine I like to enjoy an apple tea), and the Istanbul Grill didn’t disappoint. This fruity flavored delight is much more popular in the Turkish culture than traditional tea and coffee. In fact it is regarded as the national soft drink of Turkey.

My friend is a vegetarian, so we ordered several vegetarian appetizers. I wasn’t quick enough to photograph the baba gannush (chargrilled eggplant pureed with olive oil, lemon and garlic) before she dug in. The baba was fresh and delicious. You could taste that it was freshly prepared on site. The other appetizer – the soslu patlican (pictured to the left) – featured chopped eggplant cooked in a moderately spicy sauce of fresh tomato, green pepper, garlic, onions and parsley) was also quite fresh. Of the two I preferred the baba, but I am not a huge eggplant fan.

When it comes to Turkish food, my entree of choice is usually the Chicken Adana, although Doner Kebab is a close second. I ordered the Adana kebab (ground chicken and beef grilled on skewers), which was flavorful, and the meat was perfectly cooked – crispy on the outside, yet juicy from the inside, seasoned to perfection. The rice was flaky and a nice complement to the meat. Since I have a dairy allergy I did not order the yogurt kebabs, although several people did and raved about them.

My friend ordered the Sigara Börek on Mediterranean Salad. The “cigars” filled with feta cheese and parsley were artfully placed over the bed of greens, and she loved her choice.

No meal is complete without dessert, and the Istanbul Grill didn’t disappoint. Our group tends to order several desserts and shares them. In this case, the baklava was fresh and tender, and the Kadayif (shredded pastry dough stuffed with walnuts, baked, and topped with
chopped pistachios) was a delight. And of course no meal is complete without a Turkish coffee.

The members of my dining out group couldn’t wait to go back, and have mentioned it several times since our meal. The vegetarians in the group were especially pleased with their meals. If you are looking for an affordable yet tasty meal, you can’t go wrong with the Istanbul Grill in Tremont.

Contact info:

Istanbul Grill
2505 Professor Avenue
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 298-4450


Mekong River

January 10, 2012

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One of my New Year’s resolutions is to stop ignoring this blog, so I intend to post at least one post a month. Let’s see if I can do better than last time. If I don’t, feel free to get on my case.

Tangerine Tilapia

I have been hearing about Mekong River for several years now and finally got a chance to check them out. I initially stopped by on a whim because I was craving fish, so I whipped out my smartphone, googled them while in the Beachwood library parking lot and called my carryout order in. I was surprised to find this place practically empty when I got there, although there was another woman waiting for her carryout order as well. She told me she and her husband get take-out from Mekong every week and recommended I try the Crystal Noodle Soup.

Crystal Noodle Soup

I was not disappointed. I had ordered the Cambodian eggrolls and Tangerine Tilapia and liked it so much that I brought my mother there the next night to try the tilapia as well. She has dietary restrictions and I knew it would be perfect for her. She loved it too. It is bright and fresh and served with steamed broccoli. The fish is lightly fried and flaky and tender, and the tangerine is served in slices on top of the fish. I have noted that the in-house servings are larger than the carryout servings, so if you are hungry try to eat there.

I also tried the Crystal Noodle Soup the second night, and it was delicious. The broth was light, and the cabbage was not overcooked and had a good bite to it. The pork was cooked perfectly, and the fresh cilantro on top really made the soup excel.

Thai Curry Puffs

Several tips on Foursquare recommend the Thai Curry Puffs, and they are not wrong! The curry puffs are amazingly light and flavorful. I could easily eat these and the tilapia for the rest of my life and be blissfully happy.

Cambodian Crepe

One thing to note about Mekong River is that the food is outstanding, but the service is lacking. I have heard several stories of bad service here, and witnessed it myself when my dining out group met there last week. One of my members may or may not have ordered the Tangerine Duck instead of the tilapia. I didn’t hear him order, so I don’t know if he made the mistake or the waiter did. However, the waiter’s response was unbelievably rude. He got upset with us, gave the tilapia to my friend, and then no longer came out to serve us. I was left sitting there with no meal for about five minutes. The owner then came out asking which of us had ordered the duck and I responded that none of us had. The kitchen then proceeded to cook another tilapia for me, which I was given shortly before everyone was finished with their meals. Luckily everyone in our group shares their meals, so I did not go hungry and ended up boxing almost the entire entree to take home.

Red Tom Kha Kai

We also had to ask for the Cambodian crepe after a while, because I was not the only person without her meal. I tried the crepe as well. The crepe is an egg crepe, but it could have been more flavorful. I took a Viking Cooking School class on Vietnamese cooking, and the crepe we cooked there was much more flavorful. The crepe here seemed more like an omelette than a crepe.

One thing I should note is that the place is freezing (especially the bathroom), so dress warmly in the winter. Or order tea and a soup to start to warm yourself up! The temperature of the restaurant and the service aren’t going to stop me from frequenting there, but I certainly won’t go there if I am in a hurry! Nor will I go there again with a large group.

Contact info:

Mekong River
1918 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118-2125
(216) 371-9575


Romanini’s in Aurora

August 22, 2009

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I’ve heard good things about Romanini’s in Aurora and figured I should see for myself. The original plan was to meet friends there for dinner to carb up the night before the Cleveland 3-Day a few weeks ago, but life got in the way and we agreed on a raincheck. The night we were there was probably one of the best nights to sit outside we’ve had all year. Not too hot, not too cool – but just right.

First of all, valet parking is mandatory and complementary. It is also a necessity, because Romanini’s does not have many parking spaces and there aren’t many parking options in the immediate area. Be sure to plan accordingly to have money to tip the valet after your meal.

Romanini’s menu reflects the wide range of cuisines – the small plates and entree sections are broken down into Asian, Southwestern and Italian. It was hard to decide from such diverse choices. I’m going to have to try the mussels the next time I’m there. I just have to decide which ones to try. There are three options…

100_0969My friends were seated at the bar, enjoying a stemless glass of wine, when I arrived. Since the evening was so beautiful we chose to sit on the outside patio. The patio overlooks a body of water, and there were kayakers cruising back and forth on the water that night. It was very peaceful.

The first order of business for me was a cocktail. I tried the Romaninitini and then followed it with the New Age Martini, which the table next to us was enjoying, and it very refreshing. Both cocktails were very light and fruity. The New Age Martini relied on sparking white wine and fruit, but it was not too sweet. It was quite nice.

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Romaninintini

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New Age Martini

Gretchen and I split the vegetable tempura and sushi appetizer. I’m not a fan of tempura (I find it generally too greasy and not very savory), but the sushi 100_0970was delicious. I only wish there were several more pieces of it. The tempura was batter-dipped vegetable slices of eggplant, carrot, and zucchini and a shrimp, which we divided in two to try each one.

One of the servers suggested ordering several small plates, but we decided to order entrees. The entrees come with a choice of three salads and the vegetable of the day. Jon and I chose the Caesar salad with roasted red peppers, which was delicious, while Gretchen ordered the house salad.

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Caesar salad with roasted red peppers

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House garden salad

100_0974I had chosen Romanini’s for the spaghetti and meatballs, but once I saw trout on the menu I had to order it. This trout was rainbow trout stuffed with crab and wrapped with pancetta. It was served with sauteed yellow and green zucchini. It was delicious – and just as good the next day.

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Jon ordered the Meza Rigatoni Bolognese and offered me a taste, which was good. However, it isn’t like any Bolognese I’ve ever seen/enjoyed. It features beef short ribs and hot Italian sausage in the sauce, but most Bolognese I have enjoyed are usually piled with meat. But I’m not ripping on this version, because it was delicious. The fresh chopped basil was a nice touch.

100_0976Gretchen wanted the halibut, but they were out. She ordered another fish (I think it was haddock?) with a sweet mushroom sauce. She was surprised by the sweetness of the sauce, but said it complemented the fish very nicely.

We were too full for dessert, but the choices were so tempting that Gretchen ordered a cannoli for the three of us. It was a nice way to round out the evening, but I would have probably ordered the Derby Pie.

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Contact info:

Romanini’s
238 Garfield Route 82
Aurora, OH 44202
330-562-1205


Henry’s at the Barn in Avon

June 4, 2009

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The dining room and patio are both very inviting

The dining room and patio are both very inviting

I enjoyed the most wonderful meal last night at Henry’s at the Barn in Avon. As Henry’s website explains: “Located in Avon’s Olde Avon Village, Henry’s is constructed from an 1830’s stone-and-wood barn that was moved to the site last spring. The eminently comfortable restaurant features a cozy barroom with fireplace, a 60-seat dining room that shares the same see-through fireplace, and a cocktail lounge tucked into an upstairs loft.”

Fried green tomatoes and smoked scallop appetizers

Fried green tomatoes and smoked scallop appetizers

Henry’s features Southern, specifically Carolina Low Country, cuisine. It was an enjoyable evening from start to finish. I had made a reservation for 18. Unfortunately only 11 people showed up, but the restaurant could not have been more gracious. They also had no problems giving us separate checks, which is always appreciated. There is nothing worse than fighting over what everyone owes at the end of a lovely evening.

The dining room and patio are both very inviting. We congregated at the bar until our table was ready. The bar features knotty driftwood and rough-hewn beams. It was extremely cozy. Henry’s serves pimiento cheese and crackers instead of the usual bar snacks.

She-crab soup

She-crab soup

We shared two tables in the dining room since it was a little too cold to sit on the patio. Two brave souls did sit on the patio, and the staff lit the fire pit for them. I look forward to going back soon this summer and enjoying drinks on that patio. The dining room features wood beams with Spanish moss, flowers and twinkle lights. It was extremely cozy and romantic. I can imagine the fireplace roaring in the winter.

Bacon wrapped walleye with corn & tomato, sweet potato praline bread pudding and Carolina BBQ sauce

Bacon wrapped walleye with corn & tomato, sweet potato praline bread pudding and Carolina BBQ sauce

Our dinners were impeccably seasoned – from start to finish. The horseradish sauce for the peel and eat shrimp had quite the kick. One of my fellow diners enjoyed the sauce with his fried oysters as well.

Henry’s is known for its she-crab soup, which was perfectly seasoned, and its South Carolina shrimp with stone ground grits, Andouille sausage and peppers and onions in cream.

Buttermilk fried chicken with tomato & onion stewed collards, black eye peas, corn & hot pepper hushpuppies

Buttermilk fried chicken with tomato & onion stewed collards, black eye peas, corn & hot pepper hushpuppies

I could still taste the bacon on my bacon-wrapped walleye this morning. The walleye was served with corn and tomato, a savory sweet potato bread pudding, and barbecue sauce. My fellow diners all raved about their meals – from the NY strip with butter garlic mushrooms, smoked bleu cheese, melted leek and sweet & Yukon potato gratin (which I was told melted in your mouth), the buttermilk fried chicken with collards, black eye peas and corn & hot pepper hushpuppies to the Frogmore stew (clams, mussels, oysters, shrimp, sausage, sweet & hot peppers, Vidalia onions, potatoes, corn and spiced broth). One of my friends remarked that the scallops and tiramisu were the best she had ever eaten – and she had eaten them a lot.

Frogmore stew

Frogmore stew

Henry’s offered three different desserts, which we all tasted: flourless chocolate cake, pineapple upside down cake, and the aforementioned tiramisu. I’m not normally a fan of tiramisu, but this one has definitely won me over. As my friend commented, it was “Not too sweet, not too creamy, not too rummy. Just a perfect balance.”

Tiramisu

Tiramisu

Henry’s was pricey, but worth every dollar. It is the perfect place for celebrating a special occasion or getting together with some girlfriends for a bottle of wine. It was truly a magical night. I can’t wait to go back – and it’s a 45 minute drive for me.

Contact info:

Henry’s at the Barn
36840 Detroit Rd
Avon, OH 44011-1570
(440) 934-6636