Wednesday, June 15, 2011

An Open Letter to Fabio Mota

Dear Chef,
Thank you for having me in last week to get a first look at the newly opened Club Isabella and a taste of some dishes from the menu. Now, my question is: Fabio Mota, where have you been all my [professional] life? You say you’ve cooked at Johnny’s on Fulton, and the long-gone Johnny’s CafĂ© downtown, and most recently at the original Club Isabella, from 2004 until 2007 when it closed. But I never heard your name, saw your face, or knew anything about the guy behind my food. And now, suddenly here you are, bursting onto the dining scene with a gorgeous place of your own. You, along with your Cordon Bleu training in Paris, your serious attitude and original ideas, were something of a secret around here, but it appears your time behind the scenes is over. Based on what I’ve seen and tasted, I’m guessing that soon everyone’s going to be talking about you. I’m happy to get the buzz started.

Your space — a total and stunning renovation of a building on the fringes of Little Italy that began as a social club in the late 1930s and ended up as Goose Acres Folk Music Center in its last incarnation — is sleek, sexy and clearly a place for grownups. I can’t drive by the patio without wanting to stop and stay awhile, and I love the seamless segue from inside to outside thanks to those big sliding glass doors.

I’ve eaten much good food prepared by talented and skilled chefs in this town and around the country. So I know the difference between very good, good and everything else. You served me some very good dishes. For those reading this, here’s what I ate that really just knocked me out: fried sweet and spicy cuttlefish; a salad of Brussels sprout leaves, endive and Serrano ham in a lemon vinaigrette; calamari Bolognese; a croque monsier sandwich made with more of that ham, Gruyere cheese, avocado salad and a perfectly poached egg; and a roasted veal marrow bone with fleur de sel, toast brushed with clarified butter and a citrusy vinaigrette.

Sure you’ve got the pizzas, the steak, the burger — seems a prerequisite for survival these days. But you’re also being bold, working with some uncommon ingredients, doing dishes that are out of the ordinary and different from everybody else in Cleveland. I respect and applaud that.

Even the bar snacks — marinated, panko coated fried artichoke hearts in a kicky aioli, spiced and roasted nuts, a gardiniere of vegetables brined in house — were outstanding, which explains why they disappeared so fast. Kudos to your second in command, chef Rick Chandler: He did a great job explaining how things were prepared and what’s going to be happening in the kitchen. He’s also a great spokesperson for you and the restaurant, obviously excited about what you’re doing together there.

I don’t blame him. I am too, and I already see a serious contender for Best New Restaurant in 2011.
photos courtesy of Club Isabella and Pauline Lewis Photography


Tino said...

Dear Chef --

I cannot speak to the food as I have not eaten at the newly opened Club Isabella yet. However, I can speak to the fact that you have fallen prey to whatever marketing and design firm suggested you do your website ENTIRELY IN FLASH. Not only have you buried your location under the "Experience" icon (really?), but since the address and phone number is done in Flash, you cannot highlight to copy and paste it into something useful ... say, an address book, or Google Maps.

Additionally, by doing the entire site in Flash and not providing an HTML-based option, you have also alienated all those mobile devices that don't support Flash, like say, all those iPhone and iPad users.

Flash is a wonderful technology when used appropriately. Please don't let these marketing and web design firms convince you that style trumps substance. It doesn't.

I look forward to tasting your food.

Disgruntled web surfer

Anonymous said...

Technical feedback is always welcomed and yes some of the points mentioned are valid but lets leave the tech debate and merits of when to use or not use flash to a different forum. Since food is what this post is about lets not disrupt or take the focus away for how truly amazing the creations that Chef Mota is introducing Cleveland to.

Anonymous said...

Disgruntled web surfer,

While a debate on flash versus HTML-based programming is smart and contemporarily germaine... Really?

Is it necessary to provoke negative press at the parturition of a business which is so geared toward hospitality and the feeling of bliss obtained from a full belly?

I'm sorry you can't copy and paste the address on your web browser. Crtl-C is a huge shortcut and time saver...

Oh and I have been to the restaurant. I didn't care that my iPhone couldn't pick up the webpage; I was too busy enjoying the veal marrow on toast points. I also suggest a Maker's Mark manhattan from the great bar staff - excellent.

Empty Belly

Mobi-Wan Kenobi said...

Soon to be tagged as Cleveland's premiere restaurant, inside information has it that Club Isabella is putting the finishing touches on a mobile web-site set to launch this coming week; perhaps Cleveland's first restaurant to launch such a robust site able to render on any mobile device with a web browser.

Innovation on behalf of Club Isabella is not strictly limited to the excellent food and sometimes takes a few days to catch up with the Chef's over all vision of his establishment.

So please sit tight Tino as you won't need to copy and paste anything from what I have heard; just click-to-call for a reservation from your mobile phone or follow the google map through the front doors and experience the club first hand.

Sergio Saade said...

Dear Fab, I'm so glad to read this comment! But I'm not surprised since when you were young you showed "chef skill" at home.

I'm looking forward to taste that excellent food you fix...

Your uncle and Pal

Sergio (From Tucuman Argentina)

Anonymous said...


I miss playing tunes at Goose Acres.

Anonymous said...

The food at this lovely restaurant is simply to die for! I, personally have been there a few times and nothing has ceased to amaze me! Between the food, atmosphere and lovely wait staff my visits are always a bright spot in my day!

Thus far the only somewhat negative comment anyone has had to say is about the web site. If that's all you have to say then I am sure they are more than willing to take it.

Keep doing a fabulous job Fabio!

Mobi-Wan Kenobi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mobi-Wan Kenobi said...

Please find sneak preview of the Club Isabella mobile site

log onto it now to view the menu and make a reservation now as the place is hopping!

Anonymous said...

Dear Chef Mota,

First and foremost I want to thank you for re-opening Club Isabella. This sophisticated yet comfortable dining experience has helped dining out become a new pleasure. Your food is spectacular and interesting with a fabulous flare. Every time I dine at Club Isabella I always feel upbeat, content, and full of amazing food when I leave. Chef Mota, thank you and best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Fabio: I made a reservation by phone on Monday June 27 asking for patio table for 5 on Sat. July 2. I was told reservations are not taken for patio and patio was first come but they would note the request on my reservation. When I arrived tables were open outside but I was told they were reserved. I was seated inside and it was downhill from there on. The awning on the window was broken and we were faced with sun covering our table for about an hour causing us to shift our chairs. The service was bad, the specials were described and we had to call our waiter back to order drinks. We asked twice for bread. We were told it was in the oven and when it finally arrived, it was cold and had seen an oven a long time ago. One of my guests was given a hanger steak be mistake and he took it because we had waited so long for our food. The noise level inside is bad especially with live music adding to the problem. We skipped coffee and desert because we had been there for 2 1/2 hours and our waiter was now waiting on a table for 10 next to us. I waited to visit the Club till I thought you had the kinks out but you have a lot of work to do. The food was delicious but that did not make up for all the bad features. I'll be back but not for awhile.

Anonymous said...

Sadly, we too were so excited to spend our friday night at the newest and most raved about restaurant. We had frequented the old Club Isabella several years ago and the sleek and sophisticated building that brings life to that corner of Little Italy warmed my heart. But the experience was down hill shortly after the host scoffed at us for not having reservations and basically encouraged us to eat quickly, "because I have lots of reservations coming," this in spite of the fact that it was 5:30 and only 4 tables were full in the ENTIRE restaurant. The food was very good, but not great. The service was with a smile, but incredibly slow and inattentive. And the crowd, well it doesn't match the restaurant's interior. Theres a mix of old, old folks, to surburanites to hospital resident in their hospital scrubs. By the way, it is absolutely intolerable that they are allowed into the eatery donning garb that can have infectious and bodily fluids on them. It was all very disappointing.

Gina B. said...


I wil take your suggestion on anything! I will have to check Club Isabella out!


Anonymous said...

After arriving for our reservations at 8pm we were not served water at our table for 30 minutes. 2.5 hrs later were told what we ordered was no longer availale. Another hour after that for our food to come out. Did not get dinner until 3 hours after arriving. The food was average and the service was well below average. I have never written a post before but feel strongly about Cleveland and our food scene. Club Isabella needs to step up their service game and quality if they want to live up to their potential.

Anonymous said...

@Mobi-Wan Kenobi :

So, a mobile site within the week, huh? You posted that on June 20th of this year. It's now almost four months later, and still no mobile. site. So much for that idea.

Too bad. That, coupled with all the negative reviews regarding the service both here and other places are quite disheartening.

Mobi-Wan Kenobi said...

Dear Anonymous,
Please see my June 21st posting about

I suggest that you visit Club Isabella for yourself as the food and service has been enjoyed by thousands since opening with nothing but positive feedback.


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