An evening at Blossom with the Orchestra

100_0733Probably the thing I was most looking forward to when I moved back to Cleveland after living in Germany for six years was spending the evening at Blossom Music Center listening to the world famous Cleveland Orchestra or the Blossom Festival Orchestra.

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Appetizers - crab dip, whole grain crackers and soppressata

There is simply nothing like listening to the world-renowned orchestra while listening to birds chirp under a blue – and later starry – sky. Unlike other concerts at Blossom, chairs, umbrellas, blankets and alcohol are allowed.

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Lobster roll, cole slaw and sea salt potato chips

I grew up enjoying the Cleveland Orchestra with my parents, and they taught me how to do it right. Mom would make some elaborate picnic dinner involving some kind of shellfish or other picnic-friendly meal. We would lay out a blanket, grab a glass of wine, and enjoy an orchestra that is consistently ranked one of the top ten in the world. Now I have a wheeled cooler packed and ready to go with plates, silverware, cloth napkins, plastic wine glasses, wine stakes, binoculars, a cutting board and knife, Off, and a citronella candle and lighter.

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KFC 2 piece grilled chicken dinner with mashed potatoes and green beans

Everything goes on the lawn. You can high-brow it or low-brow it. You see folks with tables, candles, and elaborate spreads to buckets of KFC and family servings of mashed potatoes, cole slaw and green beans. No one will judge you, but if you have something especially yummy you may see folks coveting your food.

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Wine stakes in action - both the bottle and the glass stakes

We usually have a three course meal – with appetizers and the main meal before the performance and then dessert at intermission. The photos here are our meals last weekend. My mother and father had the lobster rolls, chips and cole slaw served on paper plates, while I purchased KFC on the way to Blossom and ate off my melamine plate.

One must-have are wine stakes. Since the lawn is sloped wine stakes allow you to keep your wine glass and wine bottle upright while sitting next to you. Most people use blankets or lawn chairs (people with tall lawn chairs have to sit closer to the back). The most popular chairs are beach chairs or sand chairs. They allow you to sit close to the ground and yet not impair the view of those on blankets behind you.

Lawn tickets will only set you back $19-21 depending on the show. Individual pavilion tickets range from $19 to $42 a piece. You can also buy a book of tickets for the season. However, if there isn’t a chance of rain I suggest you try sitting on the lawn for a little ambiance. If you choose to sit in the pavilion you will have to leave your picnic dinner and wine at the entrance to the pavilion for the concert. Contact the ticket office at 216.231.1111 or just visit http://www.clevelandorchestra.com.

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The Cleveland Orchestra viewed from the lawn
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Balaton at Shaker Square

Balaton is a Hungarian restaurant on Shaker Square. It has been in business since 1964 and is known for its Wiener Schnitzel and Chicken Paprikash. For 000_0008those who are not familiar with Austro-Hungarian cuisine, Wiener Schnitzel is a veal cutlet pounded flat and battered and fried to a golden brown. It is traditionally served with spaetzel (delicate dumplings made of flour, eggs and water) and applesauce.

My German group met there recently and enjoyed a delightful dinner on a Friday 000_0010night. We were a fairly large group and the restaurant was full, but we had no problems with the service. They seated us at an L-shaped table by the window.

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Wiener Schnitzel with spaetzel

The salad was swimming in dressing, but it was a light European oil and vinegar blend. It was just your typical iceberg lettuce salad, but it was good – as was the bread, which I unfortunately did not take a picture of.

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Hungarian Platter with spaetzel

I had the Wiener Schnitzel and spaetzel, which was delicious. The first time I was there I ordered the Hungarian platter, which features the schnitzel, chicken paprikash and stuffed cabbage. I enjoyed it too, but the stuffed cabbage was not like my grandmother’s. But then again, her stuffed cabbage was Ukrainian and tough to beat. If you are there for the first time though I highly recommend getting the Hungarian platter to try all three of their specialties.

Everyone there really enjoyed their meals. We ordered just about everything off the menu, from the Hungarian Lecso (a summer stew of

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Chicken paprikash and mashed potatoes

yellow bell pepper and tomato) to the various combinations of paprikash (veal or chicken) and goulash (beef or pork).

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Hungarian Lecso

Most of us were too full for dessert, but I can highly recommend the strudel and (my personal favorite here) the Napoleon. I am also a sucker for Palacsinta, which are crepes with apricot, walnut, sweet cottage cheese, or poppy seed fillings, but I haven’t had Balaton’s yet. I remember a delicious Eispalatschicken in Austria, which was a crepe filled with vanilla ice cream and drizzled with chocolate sauce and Grand Marnier that was then lit on fire. I remember it like it was yesterday, but it was twenty years ago. It was that divine. If Balaton were to add that to the menu I would eat here at least once a month.

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Napoleon
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Cherry strudel

Contact info:

Balaton Restaurant
13133 Shaker Square
Cleveland, Ohio 44120
216-921-9691

Akira Hibachi in Solon

I just enjoyed a very pleasant meal tonight at Akira Hibachi in Solon. When I was younger the idea of eating “raw fish” was not appealing, but I became hooked on it while living in Germany of all places. Did you know that Düsseldorf has a very large Japanese population? I had the best green tea ice cream there and have never been able to find a comparable green tea ice cream since.

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The hibachi chef keeps everyone entertained

I have eaten at a lot of sushi places in Cleveland, and I have to say Akira Hibachi is at the top of my list for sushi as well as hibachi. Sure, it is within walking distance of my home (lucky me), but the sushi is consistently fresh and delicious and is worth the drive. You can tell that this independent restaurant is a labor of love, because Anna the owner is almost always present, greeting guests like old friends and circulating through the dining room and stopping at the tables to chat.

The hibachi chefs have a sense of humor and really put on a show, and you definitely walk out of there full and happy. The hibachi offers a nice mix of meat, vegetables and rice with flavorful dipping sauces. The grilled shrimp appetizers are nice too – but not if you are out to dinner with a vegetarian (on second thought, you get your dinner companion’s appetizer, so I recommended it!). Hibachi entrees come with miso soup and salad.

Tonight my neighbor Kim and I spontaneously decided to go out for sushi, which to be honest happens quite often. I had delivered batch 4 of a rather large translation project today and wanted to celebrate. I had tried the Iidako Nigiri last Saturday when I ordered sushi to eat at home after my training walk for the Breast Cancer 3-Day, and I was craving it again. It did not disappoint.

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Seaweed salad

I always start my meal with a martini there. The Cherry Bomb (featuring Three Olives Cherry Vodka) is always delicious and refreshing. My friend Kim ordered a Sam Adams. Akira also serves Kendall Jackson Chardonnay, which pairs really well with sushi. We are creatures of habit, so Kim ordered the seaweed salad and I ordered the miso soup and house salad. The miso soup has fresh seaweed and generous cubes of tofu in a delicious broth. The ginger dressing on the house salad is light and refreshing and can be quite addictive as well.

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Miso soup

We tend to order a la carte because we have our favorites. Tonight I ordered two orders of the Iidako (baby octopus) Nigiri, the Philadelphia Maki (rolls with seawood with salmon, cream cheese and scallion), and the Rainbow Roll Futomaki (double size maki roll of tuna, whitefish, salmon, yellowtail and shrimp wrapped around the California Maki). Kim ordered the Tobiko (flying fish roe) Nigiri, Lobster Maki (lobster, lettuce and tobiko) and the Nama Sake Nigiri (fresh salmon). Other favorites on the menu include the Cloud 9 Maki (sushi roll with shrimp, mango and sour cream), the Volcano Roll (with shrimp tempura, conch, tobiko and spicy mayonnaise)  and anything with the Toro (marble tuna). Akira is one of the few sushi places that serves Toro. The toro is sold at market price and simply melts in your mouth. If you are looking for a treat and it is on the special board, I suggest you try it.

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Philadelphia Maki (left), Rainbow Roll (back), Iidako Nigiri (right)

Sushi newcomers might want to start with smoked salmon, shrimp (always cooked) or crab stick and work into the raw fish selections. You may soon find yourself happily dining on Unagi (eel, which is rather sweet and quite delicious) and Iidako. It’s the pickled ginger and the mixture of wasabi, soy sauce and sushi. I crave it constantly.

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Left to right: Salmon Nigiri, Lobster Maki and Tobiko Nigiri

Online reviews of Akira (and past personal experience) complain of slow service, but we have noticed that the service at Akira has really improved. Our servers have been extremely attentive the last few times we have been there. Our server was surprised how fast our sushi was up.

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Akira's sushi bar

When we left at 7:30 there were lots of folks standing in the foyer still waiting to be seated. I have no idea if they were there for the hibachi or the sushi, but business was definitely booming on both sides of the restaurant. We were in and out in an hour, which we appreciated since we were both exhausted from a busy week.

Now if only Akira served Benihana’s Lobster Roll (big chunks of lobster meat served with melted butter instead of soy sauce and $20 a pop – talk about orgasmic!) I would never have to go anywhere else…

Contact info:

Akira Hibachi
6025 Kruse Drive
Solon, OH 44139
440-349-6850

Henry’s at the Barn in Avon

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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

Trattoria on the Hill in Little Italy

IMAG4566Trattoria on the Hill (formerly known as Trattoria Roman Gardens) is one of my favorite restaurants in Cleveland’s Little Italy. The food (particularly the gnocchi – oh my God, the gnocchi!!!) is fresh and delicious. And most importantly the prices are very reasonable. Since I had not yet started IMAG4567my blog when I went here I did not take as many pictures as I normally would have. We were there on a Tuesday and the place was pretty full, which is a testament to the fresh food.

The bread service with the fresh tomato bruschetta is absolutely divine. The bread was very fresh Italian bread (most likely from Corbo’s or Presti’s) – and the tomato bruschetta was amazing. I couldn’t stop eating it. I’ll take a picture the next time I am there.

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Eggplant Parmigiano

I ordered the eggplant parmigiano. I asked my friends on Facebook for recommendations, and one of my Italian friends told me I needed to get the eggplant parm. She raved that she had never had better eggplant parm – even at Italian restaurants in NYC. She wasn’t wrong. The eggplant at Trattoria was thinly sliced, lightly breaded and simply delicious.

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My friend Hélène ordered the gnocchi and let me try some. They were absolutely divine. So good that we were both craving them several days later and made a spontaneous trip that weekend. I have an unwritten rule that I never order the same thing as the person I am eating with, but I broke that rule for these gnocchi. They are a simple potato gnocchi in a sauce of tomato basil, butter and Romano. I had planned on bringing half home, but found myself eating the whole thing.

IMAG0142Everyone in the group thoroughly enjoyed their meals. The lasagna is huge and vegetarian-friendly (made with ricotta cheese, spinach and mushrooms – you can order meat sauce if you want a more carnivore-friendly meal).

The couple at the other end of the table ordered the linguini and clams and cavatelli with meatballs. Both looked lovely and quite affordable. They definitely enjoyed their meals as well. No one had room for dessert, although the desserts served to other tables looked quite delicious.

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Linguini and cavatelli and meatballs

On a trip there several years ago I had tried the Baby Bay Scallops Pesto with Linguini, which Rachel Ray had recommended on her show Tasty Travels. I would probably stick with the dishes with tomato sauce, because Trattoria on the Hill is known for their tomato sauce. It is fresh and delicious – and available for purchase.

The service was quite attentive, and they had no problems giving us separate checks. I like this place so much that my translators group is planning our Annual Meeting there in the fall (based on my and Hélène’s suggestion). But I will definitely be back before then!

Contact info:

Trattoria on the Hill
12207 Mayfield Road
Cleveland, OH 44106
216-421-2700

Miss Molly’s Tea Room in Medina

100_0524One of my favorite places to go to lunch with my family is Miss Molly’s Tea Room in Medina, located just off the Square at 140 W. Washington St. #6. This is not a place to take the menfolk in your life. They will most likely feel uncomfortable surrounded by flowers, tea cups, doilies and other frou frou. We recently went there on the Saturday before Mother’s Day. We made our reservation a month ahead of time. It’s a good thing we did. The place was packed, and they had a live harpist that day, which was nice.

IMAG0657My nieces have been going there with us since they were very little. They have always been very accommodating to children. In fact, it is a popular place for little (and big) girls to dress in their finest. On our most recent visit there was a table of older women wearing all kinds of different hats – just because.

You can order the tea iced or in your own teapot (loose leaf tea or tea bags available, but a proper tea is served loose leaf and steeped for 3-5 minutes). They offer a delicious variety of teas from black teas, green teas to delicate white teas. Tea is nothing without scones. Their scones are quite good and are baked fresh every day. The scones are served with Devonshire cream and preserves upon request.

My all-time favorite meal is the Chicken Divan. I was in the mood to try something different that day though, so I ordered the tuna salad croissant. All the meals come with your 100_0528choice of soup or one of their side salads. They have four delicious salads to choose from: cucumber salad in a light creamy sauce (my sister’s favorite), chilled cranberry salad (Miss Molly’s specialty), broccoli salad (one of my favorites) and strawberry pretzel salad (which is by far my favorite). I ordered both the broccoli salad and the strawberry pretzel salad.

My mother ordered the crab salad puff and a side of the lobster bisque soup. She loved the fresh dill in the crab salad and remarked that the lobster bisque soup was delicious as well100_0529.

My sister had the Harvest Turkey sandwich that day, but she usually orders the chicken salad sandwich.

My nieces ordered Mac and Cheese and the cheese pizza off the children’s menu. The children’s meals come with a ‘decorate-it-yourself’  cookie. They love coming to Miss Molly’s, because they get their milk served in miniature tea pots and demitasse cups. In fact, they enjoy it so much that we serve them milk in tea pots at family dinners now too.100_0527

100_0532I have also had the Heavenly Wrap (roast beef and roasted red peppers with watercress, fresh spinach leaves and horseradish) and the Cooper River Croissant (hot ham and cheddar cheese) during past visits and can vouch for the freshness of the ingredients and overall tastiness. Miss Molly’s also features a quiche of the day and a featured lunch. The featured lunch the day we were there was a white lasagna.

One of these days we are going to order the special tea service. You need to request it 24 hours in advance. So if you are looking for someplace to take a special woman in your life I highly recommend Miss Molly’s.

Contact info:

Miss Molly’s Tea Room
140 W Washington St # 6
Medina, OH 44256-2262
330-725-6830

My current addiction: Trader Joe’s Pomegranate Limeade

traderjoesI cannot get enough of Trader Joe’s Pomegranate Limeade at the moment. There are two Trader Joe’s in Cleveland:on the West Side in Westlake and on the East Side in Woodmere. I bought the Pomegranate Limeade on a whim a few weeks ago and went back two days later and bought three more bottles. I drink it straight and cut with tap water. Both ways are refreshing and delicious. I plan to enjoy it until it is pulled from the stores, which knowing Trader Joe’s could be any day now. I still miss the Triple Espresso Mochas and Triple Espresso Lattes.