I attended a great party at L’Albatros last week. The French bistro with an Ohio heart made it onto Esquire’s annual list of Best New Restaurants for 2009 and a crowd of friends and fans that filled two rooms gathered to celebrate. The twenty picks from around the country are detailed in the November issue and the write-up about Zack Bruell’s brasserie appears on page 83 with a photo of sautéed walleye and lobster quenelles (fluffy dumplings) in a buttery sauce Americaine. Happily, executive sous chef David Uecke was cooking up that the very dish for guests at the shindig while his boss was kept busy enduring a steady stream of hugs, cheek pecks, handshakes and back slaps. John Mariani, the magazine’s longtime columnist and food critic and the guy who decides which places are worthy of a spot in the line-up, came to town for the occasion.
Cleveland hasn’t always been on his radar. In fact the professional eater didn’t see much reason to come here until 1999 when he got an invitation from his colleague Stephen Michaelides to attend the opening of Moxie, which thoroughly impressed him. It was the first step in an ongoing campaign launched by Michelides, who had been editor and then associate publisher of Restaurant Hospitality from 1970 to 1998, and his wife Jeanne to make Mariani aware of all the great local places they thought he should at least consider when assembling his yearly roster of noteworthy new restaurants. He’s returned regularly since then to check out the dining scene, and has put praises in print for 3 Birds; Red, the Steakhouse; Fahrenheit; Lola; and Zack’s other two ventures Parallax and Table 45.
Mariani, who chronicles his dining adventures in a weekly e-newsletter called The Virtual Gourmet, no longer entertains any doubts that this city is home to some very talented chefs making food as good as anything found anywhere in America. It feels good to have him in our corner, and to know that his readers are getting the real story about Cleveland. It feels even better to live here and be able to have dinner at such superb spots every night of the week.