Early this month, I met up with a group of friends in Cleveland for a foodie weekend getaway. (Note: I don't like the term "foodie" but words like gourmand sound so pretentious.) Why Cleveland? Frankly, until recently I viewed Cleveland as "The Mistake by the Lake." Watching Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations episode on Cleveland changed my mind, as did the Food Network's Next Iron Chef where Cleveland Chef Michael Symon beat out all other contestants for the honor. I started reading about great restaurants in the Cleveland area (Chef Symon's Lola and Lolita, The Flying Fig, Fire, Carrie Cerino's), a good brewery (Great Lakes Brewing Co.), and my attitude about the city began to change.
My husband imports motorcycles and the port of entry is Cleveland so he travels there frequently. Before, I never wanted to accompany him on his business trips but now I had a reason. In addition to the restaurants and the Westside Market, there are two Trader Joe's, a new Penzey's, Whole Foods and Sur la Table (none of which we have here). So I've been going with my husband, leaving him to deal with the customs officials and brokers, and going off shopping. I hadn't eaten at any of the above-named restaurants, though, until a group of people on the Cook's Illustrated Bulletin Board decided Cleveland would be the next destination to "meet and eat."
We certainly did eat. Everyone brought goodies for an initial reception (I swear I could live on Marilyn's toffee), and there was a plethora of spreads, dips, charcuterie and pickles. Desserts were not overlooked by this crowd - the swoon-inducing toffee and a variety of cookies were offered (including one of my favorites, speculaas). Yum. It's nice to be able to talk fervently about food with people nearly nonstop and not have them try to commit you to a nice, quiet hospital.
We ate dinners at Lola and The Flying Fig. The picture at the top is of the Tempura Green Beans appetizer at The Flying Fig, which Michael Ruhlman recommended when he spoke to our group. Yep, Mr. Charcuterie himself spoke to our small group after we had been cooking together all morning at The Viking Store in Cleveland's swanky Legacy Village shopping center. If I had a kitchen like the one at the Viking store I might finally have enough room. It is bigger than the apartment I used to live in! I have included a few photos below of our group cooking together.
Most of the other food photos I took didn't turn out very well. (I even forgot my camera for the Lola dinner. Doh!) I tried sweetbreads for the first time and thought they were pretty good, but I probably won't try to make them myself. I also had duck at Lola (excellent), but I must say I was a tad disappointed with dessert. I had the 6 a.m. special, which was French toast and maple-bacon ice cream. The ice cream was okay but not outstanding, and the rest of the dish was not memorable at all. Perhaps my expectations were too high because I make a lot of desserts myself, but I just wasn't impressed.
The Flying Fig dessert was better (fig and thyme crisp with lemon ice cream that was excellent), but the rest of the meal, while very good, wasn't quite up to the meal at Lola. I had a small plate sampler with Ohio lamb meatballs (fair), a local goat cheese served with candied pecans, toast slices and a strawberry preserve (excellent), and a scallop stuffed with short ribs (very good). The tempura green beans were tasty, although the dipping sauces were a bit strange. One was a sweet maple sauce and the other a mustard. I might try to make the beans at home sometime - everything is better deep fried!