Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Cleveland-Philly Connection

There are those among us who think nothing of driving 10 hours for 10 courses — you know who you are — but most of us tend to dine closer to home. On Thursday, March 3, Team Sawyer shortens the distance between Cleveland and Philadelphia by hosting Jeff Michaud, chef/partner at Osteria and one of that city’s finest young culinary talents, at the Greenhouse Tavern. Instead of traveling east for 400 plus miles to taste his food, all you have to do is get yourself downtown to East 4th Street.

Michaud is preparing an Italian inflected pasta-centric tasting menu that’s paired up, plate for plate, with Jonathon Sawyer’s distinctive French-inspired, locally flavored fare. My sneak peak at the particulars for the family-style, six-course feast made for a seriously mouth-watering read: Ohio chevre salad/shrimp with guanciale and zolfini bean ragout; salt roasted sea bream with sauce menuiere/capon ravioli alla Genovese; pan braised quail/ rabbit porchetta. The extraordinary beverages — wine, beer, cocktails, grappa, and cheeses — some making their Ohio debut straight from Michaud’s own affinage (aging cooler) are alone worth the $97 per person price.

Chefs from different restaurants and different cities joining forces to create one-of-a-kind eating experiences has become something of a trend, here and around the country. I posted a piece last July about what I called a staycation dinner at Moxie featuring a Turkish chef from NYC.

This is quite a match-up. The James Beard Foundation named Michaud “Best Chef, Mid-Atlantic region” in 2010. Last week, Sawyer, already crowned by Food & Wine Magazine, was among the semifinalists for Beard’s “Rising Star Chef of the Year” award. With a duo like that there’s no doubt it will be a meal and night to remember, and one that provides conversational fodder for a long time.

I’ll be there. Forks lift off at 7 p.m. Reservations and prepayment required.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pre-order for Scott Raab's LeBron Book Begins, Title Announced

Veteran Esquire writer and Cleveland native Scott Raab (left) certainly has a catchy title for his upcoming book about LeBron James. The Whore of Akron: One Man's Search for the Soul of LeBron James was made available for pre-order at today.

Raab announced the name of his book on Sirius/XM's Mad Dog Radio following the Cavaliers' Feb. 11 win over the Los Angeles Clippers to snap the team's 26-game losing streak. We wondered at the time if Raab was just having fun, but it appears the title is real.

The book will be released Nov. 15, 2011 and is available for $17.15, according to Amazon's pre-order page. If you want to keep up with Raab's constant antagonizing of LeBron James and the Miami Heat in the meantime, follow him on Twitter at @Scott_Raab.

Time to Eat

Two little words never fail to get our stomachs growling: Restaurant Week. Why? First, it means an entire week of discount dining at some of the best area restaurants. Second, it’s the perfect excuse to visit that eatery you’ve been dying to try (or maybe just sample something new at your favorite downtown spot).

Starting today through Sunday, Feb. 27, the fourth annual Downtown Cleveland Restaurant week is in full swing with more than 40 participating Cleveland restaurants including The Greenhouse Tavern, Chinato, Crop, Mallorca and XO. Deals range from $15 lunch specials and $30, three-course, prix fixe dinners. Depending on the restaurant, deals may apply to the cost per one diner or two diners. So there's a plan to fit any budget. For a full list of participating restaurants and menus, visit the Downtown Cleveland Alliance here.

And as if our appetites weren’t whet enough, new this year are featured tasting and education events at different restaurants throughout the week. Be one of the first 20 table seated at Bricco tonight, and you’ll receive a complimentary copy of The History of PlayhouseSquare, or head to the Corner Alley from 4 to 6 p.m. for a vodka tasting at the Martini Bar. There is also a sake tasting, champagne special, and a dessert and martini buffet. For full details, check out the event listing here.

If you’re one of those diners that avoids the downtown rush because you hate to pay for parking, you’ve got no excuse this week. Several lots are offering $2 parking after 5 p.m. to Restaurant Week diners. Just be sure to print your parking voucher off the DCA website.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Rockin' It at Rockefeller's

A new Cleveland Heights restaurant has just opened in what just might be the grandest space this side of the Cuyahoga. It’s called Rockefeller’s, in honor of the building’s name and the property’s original owners and developers. The sprawling second floor room was designed to look like the hall of a medieval castle, and much of that remains: dramatic arches, a huge stone hearth, iron chandeliers, and coffered ceiling with hand painted beams.

Though it was most recently an event center, I used to go there to make deposits and withdrawals. Signs that it was once a bank are still in evidence: the vault door opens into the kitchen and a raised seating area is set off by the half wall and grill work that delineated the tellers’ booths.

Together all these unusual architectural details create a truly unique backdrop for eating, drinking and socializing. Turn left at the top of the stairs and you’re in a spacious dining area. Go right for a lounge outfitted with couches, banquettes, hi-top tables and a bar.

Owner Mike Adams, a lawyer by training, is manager and schmoozer in chief. Jill Vedaa, a talented young chef I’ve been following since I discovered her in 2006 at Saucy Bistro, is in charge of everything related to food and beverages. I am so excited to see what she’ll do now that she has a chance to run the show.
photos courtesy of Cleveland Memory collection

I’ve only had the opportunity to try selections from the lounge side menu, and I liked every bite and sip I sampled. The husband and I shared bruschetta topped with roasted squash, fried sage, and shaved parmesan. It’s a winning combo and taste was great-my only gripe was that the toppings fell off in the trip from plate to mouth- maybe those cubes of squash should be smashed into a spread. Homemade ketchup made an order of sea-salted fries disappear fast. We gave the ribeye carpaccio with blue cheese wasabi cream and a scoop potato salad the same treatment. But best of all was a bowl of mussels and chick peas in tomato fennel broth, served with crostini made from Stone Oven’s olive bread. I’d like to mention the excellent glass of malbec I had and the two unusual microbrews my partner downed, but we were having such a good time that I neglected to note down the requisite info- a serious professional lapse for which I apologize. But let it suffice to say that there are some great choices on the beer and wine lists.

The regular menu promises adventuresome Latin/Asian inspired fare, suitable for grazing or full on feasting; duck confit taquitos with ancho lime cream; shrimp fritters with sriracha tartar; short ribs chimichurri; cumin crusted pork chop; hanger steakand malanga mash.

Adams and Vedaa what Rockefeller’s to be the kind of a place come often and regularly, early and late. I think they’ve got all the right ingredients to pull it off. I know I want to head back there soon and I predict other’s will feel the same after a first visit. No website yet. But here’s what you need to know: 3099 Mayfield Road, Cleveland Heights, 216-321-0477. Tuesday-Saturday dinner only. Tuesday-Thursday dining room 4-10 PM, lounge till 11, Friday and Saturday dinning room till 11 and lounge till 12.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Joe Tait bobblehead for first 5,000 Monster fans

The good people over at the Lake Erie Monsters gave us a preview of the Joe Tait bobblehead they'll be handing out to the first 5,000 fans through the gates Saturday night when the Grand Rapid Griffons come to town for "Cavs Night" at The Q. (Joe has since taken his rightful place alongside the bobbleheads of George Washington, Brad Daugherty and a Jawa on my filing cabinet).

There will also be a free pregame autograph session with the Cavaliers' Daniel Gibson, Manny Harris and Christian Eyenga. FoxSports Ohio play-by-play man Fred McLeod and analyst Austin Carr (read our February 2011 "Life Lessons" with him here) will also be on hand to greet guests and sign autographs. Plus, there will be appearances by Moondog, the Cavalier Girls, the Scream Team and more. Tickets start at $10 and are available at or any northern Ohio Discount Drug Mart location.

Heaven's Rain cast attends Solon Cinemas film screening

Solon Cinemas played host to several Hollywood actors this past Tuesday during a screening of the new film Heaven’s Rain. Based on the true story, the film recounts the story of Brooks and Leslie Douglass, whose lives were irrevocably changed one evening 30 years ago when their parents were killed by drifters Steven Hatch and Glen Ake in a home robbery.

“The responsibility to get it right kind of falls heavy on your shoulders,” explains actor Mike Vogel, who played Brooks. “I couldn’t have done it if he himself [Brooks] hadn’t sort of opened up Pandora’s Box.”

A Philly native, Vogel came on the scene several years ago with a role in the 2003 reboot of The Texas Chainsaw Massacre. These days his career is progressing nicely, bringing him roles in Cloverfield, as well as the awards-season darling Blue Valentine. But Vogel gained more than just experience working with Brooks.

“Brooks has also become a close friend and a brother,” Vogel says. “I hope I did him proud, and I hope that the message comes through in the story. Brooks is a remarkable guy. … He’s been able to turn the story on its head and really use the adversity to accomplish change.”

The idea of the movie first took shape when Brooks decided to explore his long-held passion for film and moved to L.A. After meeting writer and director Paul Brown in a screenwriting class, Brooks decided he wanted to try to write about his family’s story.

“I never thought I would write this story, but it was actually Paul that talked me into it,” Brooks explains. After describing the tale to Brown in class, Brown asked where the story came from and was floored to find it was a true story.

“I said, wait a minute, this is a real story?” Brown remembers. Though it was painful for Brooks, the men worked together to craft a screenplay based on the Douglass’ life.

Brooks even raised $2 million in order to finance filming. “All this energy was created around a story that had real emotional power,” he says.

For more information on the film and to request a screening in your area, visit

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Make a Date with a Cold Fish

The title of this post reads like some seriously bad advice, especially this month when thoughts — and ads — turn to romance and hanky panky. But trust me and read on. I wouldn’t steer you wrong.

Zack Bruell and his team at Parallax in Tremont are holding their first ever sushi and wine class. It’s a three-part series that begins Feb 21. On consecutive Monday nights, from 6-8 p.m., participants learn the basics of wrapping and rolling vinegared rice with slices of raw tuna, salmon, eel and octopus. Carmen Paponetti, the restaurant’s sushi chef will lead the hands-on sessions, and everyone eats their own creations. Drinking is also involved. General manager and certified sommelier Damir Terzic offers pairing guidance and his pours will focus on new world wines. Feb. 21 is for sparkling wines, Feb. 28 features whites and March 7 is all about the reds.

$135 per person (plus tax and gratuities) gets you the whole shebang — three evenings out with food, wine and guides. Reservations are required and space is limited. 216-583-9999. Could be a nice thing to do with someone you love, (assuming they aren't squeamish about uncooked seafood), or an opportunity to acquire some new skills for future wooing.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Rob Zombie, Paul Simon & More: 2011 Rock Hall Presenters

Rob Zombie (left), Paul Simon and Neil Young will be among those inducting this year's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum class.

The list of pairings for the March 14, 2011 ceremony at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City is as follows (inductees listed first)

• Alice Cooper/Rob Zombie
• Neil Diamond/Paul Simon
• Dr. John/John Legend
• Darlene Love/Bette Midler
• Tom Waits/Neil Young
• Jac Holzman/John Densmore
• Art Rupe/Lloyd Price
• Leon Russell/Elton John

Friday, February 4, 2011

Gardens Under Glass makes Cleveland a 'visionary city'

Cleveland just made a "top cities" list -- and no, not the "most miserable." Vicky Poole, creator of Gardens Under Glass, the Galleria at Erieview's giant urban greenhouse, deserves a big thank-you from the rest of us. Not only is she heading up what's perhaps Cleveland's greatest green project, giving the city's people and restaurants fresh, organic produce, but she has also -- hold your breath -- managed to secure us a place among Travel + Leisure's list of the world's most visionary cities.

Cleveland sits at No. 4 on this list, behind Masdar City, Abu Dhabi, which is heading toward becoming the world's most sustainable urban center, and Tallinn, Estonia, where government has declared free Internet access a birthright. Travel + Leisure, citing Gardens Under Glass, declares that where our businesses have failed and our storefronts are empty, our ingenuity is taking root.

When we interviewed Vicky for our May 2010 issue, Gardens Under Glass comprised a few garden mall carts. Now it's closing in on achieving its goal of becoming Cleveland's center for green technology and a hub for the city's environmental awareness efforts. The urban greenhouse is now home to 17 sustainability-minded vendors and has launched a program called "Lunch and Learn," which offers hourlong seminars on Wednesdays that cover topics from composting and rain barrel building to harvesting and gift ideas.

Vicky Poole says she hopes that, through her efforts at Gardens Under Glass, she may show that there is enough space in Greater Cleveland to grow enough vegetables for the entire city. She could be right, but for now, she's shown us something of equal importance: Cleveland, for once, has something that nobody else can top.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Snowed-in Cleveland Orchestra Musicians Jam at Ann Arbor Pizzeria

The big winter storm may have caused a slight detour in the Cleveland Orchestra's concert schedule, but the ice didn't stop 30 of its members from joining young amateur and student musicians in a jam session at Silvio's Organic Pizzeria at the University of Michigan.

"It was a special moment that happened as a result of an unfortunate circumstance," says Liz Stover, programming coordinator of the University Musical Society in Ann Arbor, who was part of the audience.

Stranded in Ann Arbor, their Chicago concert canceled, the orchestra members joined the local chapter of The Classical Revolution, which plays chamber music every Wednesday night.

"It was so wonderful to see these professional musicians from one of the nation's best orchestras getting down and dirty in a beer and pizza joint without some of their own instruments," says Stover.

Amidst the Coronas and pepperoni, three basses played an arrangement of Rachmaninoff's Vocalise, and other orchestra musicians performed the eloquent sounds of Mozart's horn quartet. World-renowned pianist Pierre-Laurent Aimard, who performs with the orchestra at Carnegie Hall this weekend, played Brahms. Snowstorms may cause stress and schedule conflicts, but maybe getting stuck in Ann Arbor was really a blessing in disguise.

Rock Hall Goes Gaga for Female Artists

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum announced today that its next exhibit, Women Who Rock: Vision, Passion, Power, will open on May 13. It will examine the roles female artists have played in the history of of rock 'n' roll from its beginning through today.

Broken down into eight different eras, the exhibit will span the top two floors of the museum most recently occupied by From Asbury Park To the Promised Land: The Life and Music of Bruce Springsteen.

Women Who Rock will start with the 1920s, highlighting the likes of blues artists such as Ma Rainey and Bessie Smith. However, 1960s girl groups, disco divas and pop icons such as Lady Gaga will all be covered in the exhibit, which is scheduled to run through Feb. 12, 2012.

To coincide with the exhibit's opening, the museum's annual It's Only Rock and Roll Spring Benefit Concert will feature an all-star lineup of female artists this year, including Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Inductee Wanda Jackson and Cyndi Lauper, who are both featured in the Women Who Rock exhibit. Additional artists will be announced soon. Tickets to the benefit concert go on sale to Rock Hall members March 28 and to the general public March 29. For more information, visit

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Amateurish Attitude

Those in the restaurant business know “amateur hour” doesn’t refer to an old-time talent show. The term is about the busiest nights — Saturdays, Valentine's Day, New Year Eve, and other holidays — when tables are filled with people who tend to dine out only on weekends and special occasions. It originated with servers and bartenders at high end establishments and it was meant to be derogatory, differentiating the rookies from the regulars. Amateurs, in the opinion of these industry insiders, don’t know how to tip, have pedestrian palates, and always want to substitute this for that to the annoyance of everyone in the kitchen. I think the conceit is snotty and mean, given that these so-called amateurs help keep restaurants in business and staff members gainfully employed. But I suppose a case can be made that it’s rooted in the reality of what these folks deal with on a regular basis.

However, the concept has morphed into something snarkier, a them-versus-us insult adopted by a self-important subset of diners. Apparently they believe that going to a nice restaurant and spending a lot money on a weeknight gives them some kind of bragging rights. In conversation and online these culinary cognoscenti set themselves apart from less savvy and sophisticated customers.

That was apparent in a post titled “When Vulgar Amateur Diners Ruin Dinner.” It was written by Washington City Paper’s assistant managing editor Michael E. Grass. He gets his shorts in a knot about a group of women sitting next to him in a restaurant who are inconsiderately loud. When they also have chocolate martinis with food, their status as rank amateurs is confirmed. It’s a nasty bit of euphemism and reveals more about what's wrong with him than the ladies he labeled.

His attitude of superiority irritated me. I’m a paid eater. But there aren’t many in my line of work anymore. Which makes most everyone else, including Grass, an amateur. And you’ll often find me in a restaurant on Friday or Saturday nights. As a reviewer I want to get a firsthand impression of what it’s like when the dining room is packed and hectic. If a place can deliver a good experience under those conditions, and many do in this town, it’s a measure of overall skill and ability. But I'm also there even if I’m not on the job. Like all you non-professionals, I enjoy going out at the end of a long work week, indulging my taste for good food and drink knowing I don’t have to get up early and get to my desk the next day. I don’t mind being with the amateurs. Actually I’d rather sit beside them than a bunch of foodies snapping pictures of every course with their cell phones, madly texting and tweeting their whereabouts and trying to impress each other by telling stories of the incredible meals they had someplace else. On a Thursday.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Let Us Eat Cake

There’s something sweet cooking across the street from our offices, and it smells like Yellowcake. The clothing and accessories line by Project Runway Season 8 contestant Valerie Mayen is opening as a pop-up shop in PlayhouseSquare at 1603 Euclid Ave.

Mayen, one of our 2011 Most Interesting People, says her colorful designs with unique silhouettes and details suit various women: “I’m had soccer moms in Kansas City buy my pieces and Vietnamese fashionistas in New York. I’ve sold to indie retro girls in London and army wives in Kuwait.” And, of course, there’s been no shortage of love from Clevelanders.

The Yellowcake shop is on ice for now as tonight’s looming winter storm has pushed the opening to Friday afternoon. But Mayen let us in for a taste of what she’s serving. Here’s a sample of our favorite items.

Beth’s pick

Fabric pom pom, small: $8 or two for $15, large: $14 or two for $26

I love the color of these fun little (and some not-so-little) outfit embellishers, especially this time of year when we could all use a bright pop in our lives (the two-tone pink and purple is my favorite). Different hardware on the backs of each pom pom means you can opt to clip one in your hair or add one to an outfit or purse for a little extra pizzazz.

Kim’s pick

Hat, $44

I've recently become obsessed with hats. Maybe I've watched too many episodes of Mary Tyler Moore with her iconic hat tossing. I've been on the hunt for a new hat to make that transition into spring, and this one will do the trick.

Carly’s pick

Luxe coat, $288 (marked down from $388 for the pop-up shop)

If you’re like me and see a whole lot of black when you look in your closet, this lightweight pink coat might be just the piece you need to make your look pop. The belted style is Yellowcake’s best-seller and is the first Mayen made for the line. Although the Luxe coat comes in many colors, this pink stands out in the shop and is sure to do so on the street as well.

The Yellowcake shop opening on Friday at 4 p.m. includes appetizers from Bricco, so get there early to snack while you browse. On Saturday, the shop will likely be open noon-10 p.m. Sunday is still up in the air, so call 216-236-4073 to check hours. Downtown Cleveland Alliance has more information about hours, but note: The shop is only open until the 13th, so get your slice of Mayen’s fashions while you can.