Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Rice is Nice, Sake is Better

What looks like vodka, is brewed like beer, but drinks like wine? The answer is sake, the ancient and traditional Japanese alcoholic beverage made from rice.

Locally, there's no better place to learn about it firsthand than SASA Restaurant in Shaker Square. The restaurant has more than 40 different kinds of sake on the menu. Every Tuesday night, 300 ml bottles are half price, or you can opt for sake flights or sake cocktail specials. Owners Scott and Brenda Kim also host three-course sake tasting dinners on the last Tuesday of each month (advance reservations are required).

But at 6 p.m. April 22, there's an opportunity to go a little deeper. Artisan sake expert Norikane Kira will be on hand to provide a guided tour through five imported varieties of Jizake, distinctive regional versions of the rice beverage produced in small batches. Each will be paired with a small dish that is sure to be wonderful. The event will cost $15 per person, plus tax and gratuity not included. Seating is limited and reservations are essential. My husband and I are already on the list and looking forward to some liquid education.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Fizzy Math

Photo courtesy of Suzuran Photography
Mike Gulley has a plan, a partner and a product. He's run the numbers, prepped countless test batches and — after three years of development, false starts and testing the water efforts — he's ready to make his small batch, all natural, less-sweet pop commercially available under the new brand name Old City Soda, which was formerly known as Cleveland Soda Works. The goal is to launch this summer, and he hopes there will be a storefront cafe-type location, too. But you don't have to wait that long to taste his stuff.
Gulley will set up shop at the first Cleveland Flea of the season. On Saturday, April 12, he'll be pouring and selling his non-alcoholic ginger beer — a drink that explodes on your tongue and leaves a tingle behind — as well as Cinchona bark and lemon grass tonic, fruity flavors like grapefruit and a cinnamon version.
Photo courtesy of
 Suzuran Photography
The pop-up market, held in the parking lot and garden of Sterle's Country House on East 55th Street, is a terrifically fun event dedicated to all things local, handmade, vintage, repurposed, artistic, edible and curious, making it the perfect match for his liquid creations. A bartender by trade, Gulley will also be mixing up some adult-only cocktails, featuring his own carbonated beverages including a Moscow Mule and a wonderful version of the Dark and Stormy that I've had the pleasure of tasting. And if winter continues to resist giving up up its grip, he promises there will be hot toddies, too.
Right now, Gulley's soda-making is a side venture and he spends most nights and weekends as fruit peeler, brewer and bottle filler. But the 29-year-old hopes that soon he'll be able to concentrate on bringing us "the most unique crafts sodas out there." Just thinking about it makes me thirsty.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Cleveland's Marvel-ous Movie Premiere

Cleveland natives Joe and Anthony Russo directed Captain America: The Winter Soldier, out Friday. 

Tuesday night at Cinemark at Valley View, about 1,500 people all witnessed an incredible underdog story good enough for Hollywood, but made in Cleveland. We're not talking about the movie screened there, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, but the blockbuster's directors, Joe and Anthony Russo. Read our April issue for the full story.

As kids, the self-taught filmmakers from Cleveland's East Side first picked up a video camera to film the family vacation at Disney World. This time, Disney bankrolled the brothers to shoot The Winter Soldier for six weeks in their hometown. About $80 million (of the estimated $150 to $170 million budget) was spent in the region, Joe says. The local cast and crew, along with the Russos' family and friends, were invited to the Cleveland premiere, which followed screenings in Los Angeles, Paris, London and Beijing.

This was the Russos' third time making a film in Cleveland. The first was a darkly comic student film Pieces, which premiered on the wall of their parents' garage. That led to the caper comedy, Welcome to Collinwood. Then the always affable directors were approached by Ron Howard to make Arrested Development. Though they won an Emmy for directing the pilot, the show was eventually canceled due to dwindling ratings and has been rebooted by Netflix. Their biggest success, Community, airs on NBC Thursdays at 8 p.m.

The Winter Soldier was spectacular, but you'll have to see for yourself Friday when it hits theaters nationwide. No spoilers here. It's no secret Marvel has already negotiated with the Russos to film the next chapter in Captain America's saga. Before the film, a live presentation appeared on all five screens, in which Ivan Schwarz, president of the Greater Cleveland Film Commission, mentioned the possibility of that film being made here, too. "If you want to make that promise today, it's cool," he told the brothers, only half-joking.

Joe and Anthony stole the show, thanking the state for providing the $9.5 million tax credit, the city for putting up with the West Shoreway shutdown, and of course, their family, which probably filled up half the theaters.

Afterward, Joe was out in the sea of people, where he is most comfortable, getting his picture taken and hugging everyone who walked by. Anthony, who prefers a more quiet environment, hung back by the theater doorway and talked to people one-on-one.

"We really feel like we made this movie for ourselves, like we're the audience," Anthony said. "To be around other people, to see them react the same way we did to the film, was just really exciting, especially because they were people so close to home."

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Good Fit, Close Quarters

Without planning on it, I seem to be on a tear about small spots. Last month I wrote about Tony's Southside in Tremont and Orale in Ohio City. Now I've got a third one, this time on the East Side. Gigi's on Fairmount opened in Cleveland Heights, a few doors down from On the Rise bakery, in late 2013. A labor of love for husband and wife Gia Ilijasic and Jim Patsch, who explain their new venture as the natural outgrowth of their personal enthusiasm for good food, good drink and good times, the pretty little place bills itself as a wine cafe. Based on how busy it was on a recent cold and blustery week night, it looks as though it's just what the neighborhood needed.

 My girlfriend and I found a nice, reasonably priced bottle of Italian red and shared an artisan cheese platter that included jam, dried fruit, nuts and — best of all — a pool of lavender honey. We also got a mix-n-match bruschetta board, selecting four toppings from a long list of options: white bean and kalamata olive tapenade, house-made trout pate, shredded roast pork flavored with lime and cilantro, and caponata made with lamb and feta. All were quite tasty. The kitchen also offers a daily soup or two, salads, overstuffed pannini, charcuterie and a couple of entree style specials nightly.

I really like Gigi's, but so do lots of other people and that's the problem. It was incredibly loud and 45 seats are crammed uncomfortably close together. It felt like we were sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with the people on either side of us. Private conversation was not possible and by the time we left my throat was sore from shouting over the din. I'm looking forward to the warm weather when they'll expand to the sidewalk out front.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Geek Cred

When Joe and Anthony Russo were seeking an endorsement to become the directors of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, they asked Steven Soderbergh. The Oscar winner, who had produced their Hollywood directorial debut Welcome to Collinwood, had a simple question: “Tell me why you want to do this movie,” Soderbergh recalls.

He wanted to confirm the upstart indie directors he discovered at Slamdance Film Festival in 1997 weren’t just trying to advance their careers by taking on a high-profile property.

“You don’t understand,” they responded. “We have a comic collection worth [$60,000]. We’re obsessed with this stuff. That’s why we want to do it.”
Joe and Anthony Russo field fanboy questions at the 2013 San Diego Comic Con International
Soderbergh called Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige and told him, “I think they’ll totally deliver for you.”

Marvel believes they have. The two sides have held negotiations for Captain America’s next adventure, too, says Anthony.

“You need to have some street cred in terms of your knowledge,” Soderbergh says. “The fans of that stuff really smell a dilettante.”

Joe’s knowledge has been building for 32 years.

“My uncle Ron gave me a box of 100 comics from his collection from when he was 10,” says Joe, who collected for about 20 years. “I read 'em all in a few days.”

And like with any good origin story, there was a dash of foreshadowing.
“One of the first was 'Marvel Team-Up' with Cap and Falcon, ” Joe remembers. “When we found out we were going to do this movie, it was very resonant for me. It felt like it had come full circle. You laugh because you think of all the money you spent on comic books as a kid actually came to fruition.”

Joe and his uncle would add to their collection a few times a month, digging for rare finds at comic conventions. Most memorably, he struck geek gold at a garage sale when he was 12.

“I bought The Incredible Hulk No. 181 for 25 cents at a garage sale,” Joe says. The issue features the first full appearance of Wolverine. One copy fetched $150,000 at a 2011 auction. “I felt guilty, because at the time it was worth a couple hundred bucks. So I asked her, ‘You know what this is worth?’ ”

“She said ‘I do. I just want to share my collection with kids, so take it.’ ”

Joe was blown away by the gesture, which stuck with him. “One day, I’m going to sell everything in my collection for a quarter at a garage sale to a bunch of kids.”

The Cleveland premiere of Captain America: The Winter Soldier is 6 p.m. tonight at the Cinemark at Valley View. Tickets are required for the event. More information can be found at The nationwide release is April 4.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Reintroduction to Community Affairs

So you're counting down the days until Captain America: The Winter Soldier premieres nationwide April 4. You've read our April feature story and know the trailers by heart (we're a little partial to the Super Bowl version), hunting for glimpses of the West Shoreway, Theater and Warehouse districts.

But if you need even more insight into what Cleveland natives Anthony and Joe Russo have done with their piece of Marvel's universe, it's time to sign up for Hulu Plus and binge on Community.

That's because, while the duo was in postproduction for the first blockbuster of 2014, Joe directed two episodes of the show they got off the ground.

And you don't need Superman's X-ray vision to see the big screen's influence on the quirky NBC cult-comedy.

“His directors’ eye is even keener,” says Yvette Nicole Brown, the Cleveland native who plays Shirley Bennett. In “Geothermal Escapism,” the Community students play a schoolwide game of hot lava (you remember that kids game, right? You must walk on chairs, tables or whatever to avoid the floor, which is deadly) to win Abed’s (Danny Pudi) prized $50,000 comic.

“We don’t have a huge budget on Community, but Joe made that episode look like a movie,” she says.

The action-packed episode was loaded with special effects, stunts, laughs and even LeVar Burton. It echoed the premise of the paintball saga the brothers directed to conclude season two, which put them on Marvel’s radar and got them their career-changing gig.

“He’s learned how to make it even bigger with even less,” Brown says.

“Geothermal” also marked the final episode for Donald Glover, who plays Troy Barnes. “Most of us were blubbering messes,” recalls Brown. But Joe kept the set light and loose, which allowed the actors to stay composed long enough to pull off the scene’s “heartstring moments.”

And for a look at how proudly geeky the brothers really are, queue up “Advanced Advanced Dungeons and Dragons.” Anthony read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy three times each by the end of high school and Joe collected comics for 20 years.

"I was a big fan of Marvel growing up, a big fan of X-Men, Wolverine and Spider-Man," Joe says. That should make it a fun summer of movies for the Russos. Besides their own Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Sony's Amazing Spider-Man 2 debuts May 2 and Fox's X-Men: Days of Future Past opens May 23.

Friday, March 28, 2014

CIFF: “The Sax Man” delivers a satisfying performance

What began as a 20-minute short film about saxophonist Maurice Reedus Jr. turned into a three-year project for local filmmakers Todd Bemak and Joe Siebert. Known to Clevelanders as “The Sax Man,” Reedus has been entertaining audiences for more than 17 years with his alto sax outside plays and sporting events. He was selected as one of Cleveland Magazine’s Most Interesting People in 2013. The Sax Man premiered March 22 at Cleveland International Film Festival and has an encore showing at 4:45 p.m. March 30 at Tower City Cinemas. Cleveland Magazine talks to the filmmakers about the  festival experience and Reedus’ influence on our city.

Cleveland Magazine: How did it feel to watch The Sax Man on the big screen for the first time?
Todd Bemak:
Premiering here in Cleveland was a very special thing because everybody knows Maurice, and the intent of the film was to show the connection Cleveland has to Maurice. The audience was clapping along to the music and interacting with the film more so than I’ve ever seen. It was almost like it was a live event in front of them, and that was quite amazing.

CM: What did you take away from your time with Maurice?
Joe Siebert: Success isn’t necessarily about becoming rich and famous or being the best at what you do, but it’s about being true to who you are and figuring out a way to contribute that to the world around you. At one point, Maurice could have made it big, but life didn’t work out that way. Instead of giving up on music, he stuck with it even when he had to play on the street to do it. What he ended up creating with that was becoming this essential part of Cleveland that everybody recognizes and has an attachment to that has made a difference in creating an experience in Cleveland.

CM: What are your plans for the film?
TB: We’ve been entering the film into festivals, and we’re just starting to hear back from some. In April we’re taking it to the Memphis International Film and Music Festival, the Arizona International Film Festival, the Chicago International Movies and Music Festival and Beverly Hills International Film Festival. We expect to hear about the May and June festivals soon, so hopefully we get into some of those.

The Cleveland International Film Festival runs through March 30. To browse the full schedule, visit

By Christina Bucciere