Monday, July 26, 2010

Hot in Cleveland

I had a couple of new flight options to choose from and I chose the flight with the normally unpalatable five hour delay in order to spend some time with my brother who just recently moved to Cleveland about a month ago. He picked me up from the airport and he gave me a little driving tour of Cleveland, driving by downtown and through the university hospitals where he works. We stopped by his new apartment in Cleveland Heights briefly which was great to see: brand new, spacious, well appointed and convenient. He's really all grown up now!
We had just enough time for a dinner before my flight so we went to Michael Symon's restaurant in Tremont, Lolita. I've been eager to try Michael Symon's restaurants in Cleveland ever since I read about him in Michael Ruhlman's book, "The Soul of a Chef," at least five years ago. It's a wonderful read, it also focuses on Thomas Keller and French Laundry for a good portion of the book. Michael Symon's subsequent fame from Iron Chef America and big personality only served to piqué my interest more.  I'll admit, the opportunity to visit his restauarant was another main draw of a longer layover in Cleveland. Since Lola, the first, more formal restaurant, is closed on Sunday, we went to Lolita, which was perfect as it is more casual anyway and we had to be in and out fairly quickly. We arrived just in time to catch the happy hour which ended at 6:30pm.  We ordered the entire happy hour menu: the Lolita burger, mussels and chorizos, fried Brussel sprouts, chickpeas and flatbread,  mac n cheese, and the Lolita burger, everything was just $5 each, a total steal.
The food reminded me a little of Gjelina: slightly rustic where fresh ingredients shine and the food is bursting with flavor. I actually liked it more than Gjelina; I felt that it was a little more nuanced and had more variety.  Also less attitude and hipster-tude, always a plus. The burger with the perfectly fried egg on top in an english muffin was juicy, salty and so good with the egg yolk oozing all over. I loved the fried Brussels sprouts which were perfectly charred and very interesting with anchovies and capers for some more intense saltiness and walnuts to mellow it out.  You can never go wrong with salty, crumbly chorizo and mussels, and I actually really enjoyed the chickpea spread which was different from the usual hummus, a little less creamy with some bite from the freshly chopped scallions.  The flatbread was awesome too, crisp and puffy in spots with sea salt, butter / olive oil and a hint of rosemary.  Surprisingly for me, I thought the only disappointment was the mac n cheese with chicken and goat cheese, it was a little too creamy and a little bland, like an alfredo sauce. It just was a little pedestrian, especially relative to all the other dishes which were complex and bursting with flavor.   Still, it was a great meal for only $33 total! You can't beat value like that. There are plenty more pastas, pizzas and entrees on the menu that look tasty and all reasonably priced, with everything under $20, and most items well under $15.  It's definitely worth a special visit to Cleveland.

I loved the decor of the place. It's in a cozy little Cleveland neighborhood (reminded me of the nice parts of philly) with a lovely copper bar (where we ate), hammered tin ceiling, filament light fixtures that emitted a warm glow and a nice open kitchen with a shimmering blue mosaic backdrop.  I loved the feel of the place, not too big, not too tight. Everyone was so friendly, and my highlight of the night was seeing Michael Symon!  My brother saw him first, having heard his distinctive cackle. My only regret is not taking a picture of him; it was more excited to me any regular celebrity sighting for me since I've been hearing about him for so long.  He disappeared back into the kitchen before I could catch him and his staff said he had to catch a flight.  He's just as he appears on tv, always laughing and looking like he's having a great time.

I like Cleveland a lot; there's a great restaurant scene and I've heard good things from my brother about the bar, arts and culture scene. It's a lot more green, clean and well-kept than I originally imagined.  People also seem very polite and laid-back; maybe a little too laid-back, there seemed to be a lot d slow, indecisive drivers out there and there are some ridiculously low speed limits in some places.  It does have all the convenieces of a city though, without some of the drawbacks like traffic and overcrowding (at least from 
what I saw). Now that I think about it, Cleveland actually reminds me a bit of Philadelphia, where I spent four years.  I loved living in Philadelphia and thought it was a great city with good restaurants, bars, culture and shopping.  I think Cleveland will similarly be a nice place for my brother for the next five years!

900 Literary Road
Cleveland, OH  
(216) 771-5652

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