Taste in Cleveland Heights is tasty

I know. It’s a lame and predictable heading for a blog post, but the evening at Taste was simply divine. I met two friends for a spontaneous dinner a while ago (full disclosure: it was December), and we absolutely raved about the evening. We all ordered the prix fixe menu, which features three courses and two glasses of wine (by the glass) for $49. You select an appetizer and an entrée and a dessert from the menu (the choices all sounded so good that it was really to choose!). When you add up the prices individually, the prix fixe menu is an absolute bargain. I’m not a big drinker and I wasn’t in the mood for two glasses of wine that night, so I gave one of my dinner companions my second glass.

I started with the beet salad, which featured roasted red and golden beets accompanied with a salad featuring goat cheese, candied walnuts, sweet balsamic drizzle. I’ve always loved cold beets (my father loves them so I grew up eating them), but even if I didn’t I would be a fan after eating this salad. I loved the pairing of the beets with the sweet balsamic drizzle. The balsamic really complemented the beets. The salad was also tasty, which I attribute to the candied walnuts. I’m a sucker for goat cheese as well, so I couldn’t have been more pleased with my salad.

My second course was a stacked surf & turf entree featuring filet mignon, a portabello mushroom, a tomato slice, and a shrimp with a sherry wine basil sauce. It was a thing to behold – just look at it! As for the taste, well I think I may have actually moaned at the first bite. The filet was perfectly cooked, and the vegetables were tender and not overcooked.

When it came to the dessert I had a very tough time deciding what to order. My friend and I decided to order two different desserts and share them – a chocolate mousse with hazelnut ice cream and a white chocolate and vanilla crème brulee. Both were exceptional and I would be very hard pressed to choose my favorite.

It was the perfect amount of food – not too much and not too little. I also have to say that the service was impeccable from start to finish. We had a lovely table by the window, were quickly greeted by our waitress, and were even visited by either the manager or the owner at some point during our meal. And when I knocked over my ice water they were Johnny on the Spot with extra napkins to wipe away the ice and water (I never claimed to be graceful). We all left very happy campers.

Contact info:

2317 Lee Road
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
(216) 932-9100

Corks & Cupcakes Emerging Chefs dinner

The latest Emerging Chefs dinner was a Corks & Cupcakes tasting event, capitalizing on the cupcakes craze. The event paired a selection of Italian prosecco, whites, and reds from Tuscany Distributors with divine cupcakes by Lilia Lipps of Indulgence Cakes. This event was held at the Shaheen Modern and Contemporary Art in Downtown Cleveland at the corner of W. 9th and Superior Avenue (at the foot of the Detroit-Superior bridge). It was, as promised, “a night of beautiful art, wine and dessert all served with Cleveland flair.”

We started with an amuse bouche course entitled “Lure Me In,” which featured a coconut macaroon with lemon curd and red wine caviar and prosecco (my favorite wine of the night). I’m a huge fan of the bubbly, and this prosecco was light and not too sweet – just how I like it. Most people nibbled on the macaroon and sipped the lemon curd and red wine caviar off the spoon, but I was tacky and poured the lemon curd on the macaroon to enjoy both flavors at once. It was delightful. The coconut macaroon was light and moist, and the lemon curd and red wine caviar was a delicious accompaniment.

The second course was “Take Me on a Picnic.” The cupcake was a cheddar cupcake topped with a candied pecan, honey blue cheese frosting and a crisp cheddar wafer.  I couldn’t really taste the cheddar or the blue cheese, but the honey and candied pecan really shone. My friend M. ate the cheddar wafer separately and said it was deliciously intense. The flavors blended really well together, and the result was a tasty little picnic treat. It paired really well with a Lugana Base white wine, which I enjoyed immensely as well. In fact, I bought two bottles of the prosecco and a bottle of the white at the end of the night.

The third course was “Wine Me, Dine Me…Make Me Sparkle,” which featured a cannoli cupcake and a red wine named Sangue di Giuda (Blood of Judas). The cannoli cupcake is an orange-scented cake with ricotta chocolate chip filling that is dipped in chocolate ganache and topped with almond cream. The cannoli cupcake was deliciously moist and decadent. I’ve recently started to appreciate almond paste and marzipan again after overdosing on it when I lived in Salzburg, Austria for a year back in 1989-1990. The almond flavoring made the cannoli cupcake shine. I will be ordering this one from Indulgence Cakes in the future.

This was also about the time that the service really started slacking. The cupcakes and wine started being served with a time lag, so we could no longer enjoy the wine with the cupcakes. It also seemed as if the servers started deliberately skipping our table, which was in the middle, and serving everyone around us first. Glasses and plates could have been cleared during the lulls between the courses, but instead were cleared by the server when she brought out the cupcake plates. The result was a delay in bringing out the wine and tables that were very cluttered with empty glasses and plates. By the end of the night I was fed up and have to admit I wasn’t very nice about it, but since the servers never cracked a smile I don’t feel too bad about it. As a former server I know how to recognize good and bad service, and no matter what happens you always need to serve with a smile (even if it is insincere). I decided never to attend another stand-up Emerging Chefs event as a result (the lack of chairs didn’t help – by the end of the night my feet and lower back were killing me).

The intermezzo course “Give Me a Break” claimed we would be served sparkling spring water with a sprig of mint and mint julep panna cotta. The mint julep panna cotta was absolutely divine. I had to use the stem of my spoon to enjoy the panna cotta at bottom of the glass. It was so refreshing and delicious that I simply didn’t want to waste any. I was dying of thirst at this point and had been looking forward to the sparkling water and mint. Sadly, we had to accost a waitress to get some water and the water was served with no mint.

The third course was “Butter Me Up, Buttercup,” which featured a salted caramel cupcake and a Pinot Nero Rose. I became a fan of salted caramel thanks to Jeni’s Ice Cream, and this cupcake more than did the flavor justice. The cupcake was moist and caramelly – not to mention beautiful to look at with the crystallized sugar garnish. I’m not a fan of sweet wines (and had had two cocktails at a happy hour at Myxx beforehand), so I stopped drinking the wines at this point. I had a sip of the Pinot Nero Rose and it was good, but I left my half-finished glass on the table.

The final course was the one I had most anticipated – “Marry Me at Breakfast” featuring a decadent dark chocolate and bacon cupcake with an espresso butter cream frosting. I would marry anyone who gave me this cupcake for breakfast! At this point the room had cleared out, so I was able to enjoy two of these bad boys. I will be buying this one again too! It was heavenly – pairing dark chocolate, bacon and espresso. The Giome cabernet-merlot blend was a bit peppery, so when paired with my second cupcake it really made the course shine. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.

Overall I enjoyed myself. The cupcakes were delicious, and the gallery setting was very enjoyable. I had a lot of fun chatting with the girls from Scene Magazine, Crystal from Eat*Drink*Cleveland and several other people at our table, including our baker Lilia and her husband and Kimberly of Smitten in Cleveland and her husband.

Amish dinner at the Red Maple Inn in Burton

redmapleinnThe Red Maple Inn is a quaint bed and breakfast in Burton, Ohio, which is about 45-60 minutes from downtown Cleveland. It features cozy rooms and a breathtaking view of the valley.

The inn offers an Amish style dinner every 1st and 3rd Friday of each month at 7:00pm. I took a small group thredmapleinn2ere recently, and we enjoyed a lovely meal together. There were lots of different sized tables, ranging from dinner for one to a large family gathering that took up two whole tables, which seat 6-7 each.

Jo Ann Kauffman and her family are local Mennonites who prepare and serve this feast.  The menu includes foods that are typically served at an Amish wedding, including a redmapleinn3salad and fresh baked rolls, breaded chicken, roast beef, mashed potatoes with gravy, stuffing, seasonal vegetables (we enjoyed corn), and dessert (which can be anything Jo Ann chooses, but this night we had the date & nut pudding). The dinner includes coffee and iced tea. No alcoholic beverages were served, but honestly we didn’t miss them.

redmapleinn5The food is served family style, which means the food is served in bowls at the table which you then pass around the table. The meal was absolutely delicious. The baked chicken was moist, the roast beef was tender, the rolls were soft and fresh, and the mashed potatoes were smooth, creamy and delicious. But the big hit at our table was the stuffing. Fresh stuffing studded with chunks of celery, so you could tell it was homemade. We couldn’t get enough of it!

redmapleinn6After dinner we were served coffee (both decaf and regular) and the aforementioned date & nut pudding. As you can see, the pudding was the consistency of a British pudding rather than the creamy pudding we usually associate with the word ‘pudding.’ The vanilla sauce was almost too sweet and I found myself working around it and just eating the pudding and the whipped cream. But it was delicious, just like everything we were served that night. Simple, yet delicious.

The price of dinner was quite reasonable considering all the food we were served. Guests of the inn pay $40.00 for two dinners, and public guests pay $24.00 per person plus tax and gratuity. The service was a little slow, but they were overwhelmed by having to serve so many tables. They told us they typically serve about twelve to twenty people a night. Our table alone accounted for 7 and there were at least 7 other tables if memory serves me correctly. Advanced reservations are required and you have to give them your credit card number to reserve your spot, but they had no problems ringing us each up individually at the inn’s check-in desk and my credit card was not charged.

We said goodbye and drove into the night sated and happy – and kept an eye peeled for horse and buggies in case one was out on the road after dark. I can’t wait to go back soon, perhaps sometime this winter and enjoy a roaring fire as the snow falls outside the window.

Contact info:

14707 S Cheshire Street
Burton, OH 44021

Everybody loves a good clambake

100_1088Clam bakes (or as we in Cleveland spell it – “clambakes”) originated in New England, but Cleveland has taken the clambake and embraced it as its own fall tradition. Many restaurants advertise their clambakes in the Plain Dealer and online, but if you ask me the best clambakes are the ones thrown in someone’s backyard. A clambake is a traditional method of cooking seafood over an open fire pit on the beach. The seafood is often supplemented by sausages, chicken, potatoes, onions, carrots, corn on the cob, etc. The food is layered, with lots of vegetables like celery, parsnips, onions, peppers, corn husks, etc. and herbs as flavoring.

As Wikipedia states:

Clam bakes are more popular in Northeast Ohio than any other region of the United States outside of New England. (Source: October 2008). Visit Cleveland“. Cleveland Convention and Visitors Bureau.) A typical clam bake in Northeast Ohio includes a dozen clams with a half chicken, sweet potatoes, corn, and other side dishes. Seaweed is not used and the clams, chicken, and sweet potatoes are all steamed together in a large pot.

100_1089My best friend and her family have a clambake every year, and my parents and I really look forward to it. Invitations go out in early September, and payment is due about a week ahead of the clambake (so that they can order the right amount from one of the many Cleveland catering companies that sell clambakes). The company they use is Quality Halls Meat Market in Olmsted Falls, but I have had good experience with Euclid Fish in Mentor as well.

The family works hard the day before rinsing the sand out of the clams and prepare them. Also, the seasoning and vegetables they use really add to the bake.

My friends assign everyone something to bring in the invitation, so it isn’t a financial hardship for them. I usually get asked to bring some German beer, but I was assigned appetizers this year. I made Trader Joe’s Parmesan Pastry Pups, which are essentially pigs in a blanket sprinkled with Parmesan cheese. They were a total hit. My mom made Barefoot Contessa’s Ham and Cheese in Puff Pastry, which were also delicious. My pastry pups disappeared, and Mom only had a few puff pastry pieces left over. Most of the salads and side dishes, on the other hand, went untouched because the clambakes were so filling.

100_1091They also offer a “chicken bake” alternative, because several people don’t like the taste of clams and two of the attendees are extremely allergic to shellfish. Since everything is boiled together in a pot, that means everything might be potentially life-threatening. As a result, they grill chicken breasts and make separate corn and sweet potatoes for the “chicken bakes.” It’s a lot more work, but it does work out in the end. They also try hard to keep the chicken bakes and clambakes separate.

100_1092Once it was determined that the pot contents were ready, the pot was removed from the burner and deconstructed. First, the seasoning vegetables were removed and set aside. Then the chickens were removed and browned in a large skillet over the same burner. In the meantime, the sweet potatoes and corn were transferred to serving platters and the clams were kept in the pot to stay warm. Everyone was encouraged to line up and help themselves.

100_0041There is always a bonfire roaring in the backyard, and folks congregate around the fire. There are also rousing games of corn hole and baseball in the backyard – and some years they blow off a cannon.

The family was sick this year, so the rest of us did our best to help and pull everything together. It takes a bit of work to put it all together, but when everyone gets together to enjoy the food and the company, it’s totally worth it. I deliberately selected the smallest chicken and sweet potato and only took a pat of potato salad, leaving the other sides alone, but was still completely stuffed afterward. No one went home hungry, and my dad left with a gallon of clam bouillon, which is his favorite part of the clambake.