Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Flights of Fancy

Tonight is the third and final class in the Zack Bruell Wine School: Tour de France series at Cowell & Hubbard. Exploring the Rhone and southern regions, the tasting dinner promises a true French experience: bouillabaisse, braised lamb shoulder, canapes, cheeses and, of course, tiny chocolate mignardises (which means "cute" in Old French). The wines will be served and explained by Bruell's sommelier, Robert LaBuda, while the menu is created by chef de cuisine Andy Dombrowski (along with the chefs at Cowell & Hubbard).

Dombrowski says each class presents at least three courses with three wines each, which allows participants to more fully experience subtle variations in wines within a single region.

That way, he says, guests get to "have some fun and play around with it, as opposed to just saying, 'Here, this is a Bordeaux, and this is what you should taste, and this is what it goes with. Would you like to buy a bottle?'" 

Featured wines will range from run-of-the-mill bottles to higher-end or lesser-known makers for a more robust exploration of the Rhone and Southern regions of France. "We’re showing our guests the difference in taste not only from a quality [perspective], but educating them on the regions," he says. "It’s kind of a neat and different way to do a wine dinner."

(We'll be live Tweeting our thoughts and tastes along the way, so stay tuned, and send us any questions along the way.)

"You don’t have to be bashful about asking questions," promises Dombrowski. "It’s a very welcoming environment ... an open forum, and that’s kind of how we treat our restaurants as well."

If you're already asking, 'When's the next one?" check out the Giro di Italia series focusing on Italian vintners at Chinato in October, or January's New World series at Parallax, which will explore wines from North and South America and the Australian continents. Call 216-298-9080 to make a reservation for the Italian series or 216-583-9999 for the New World. Classes are $90 each or $250 for the entire series. One participant from each series will win dinner with Bruell and a guest.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Pedal Power

The Thriller BMX bike show was a crowd favorite.
Urban cyclists now have their own Cleveland festival. The first NEOCycle, held Sept. 26-28 at Edgewater Park and University Circle, celebrated the region's two-wheeled movement with races, unique rides, BMX shows and food trucks. More serious cyclists competed in races at the Velodrome while those looking for fun donned glow sticks and costumes for the Night Ride. Live music from local heavyweights such as Jessica Lea Mayfield and the Cloud Nothings added another draw. The Hub, a festival village, offered pre-ride SpyngaFlow yoga sessions, bike polo, Ray’s Indoor Mountain Bike Park build-out and pedal-themed vendors. If you didn’t have time to give this year’s fest a spin, NEOCycle returns for another installment next fall, hoping to carve out a niche as a premier Midwest urban cycling fest.

New Moon Rising keeps the feel upbeat on Sept. 28.

Young pedalers conquered the kids' obstacle course.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Uptown's Asian Invasion

Photo courtesy of Barney Taxel
Ninja City Kitchen and Bar opened last month in University Circle. This Asian street food and fast food concept from Bac Nguyen, the owner of Bac, a bistro in Tremont, is a fun spot as long as you know a few things in advance. Ninja City a place for eating, not dining. Water is served in plastic cups and some dishes arrive in paper-lined baskets. The vibe skews toward youth in decor and style, which makes sense given the location on the fringes of the CWRU campus.

Photo courtesy of Barney Taxel 
The operation strikes me as a cross between two other local creations. To order, guests fill out a form a la Happy Dog (soon to be opening a second outpost in the former Euclid Tavern down the street), with options to customize your own plates and combos. The small menu itself is reminiscent of items available at Noodlecat downtown — reinvented versions of ramen, gyoza, edamame, steam buns and chicken wings. I enjoyed everything I tried. The BBQ pork buns were my favorite — light, airy rounds of dough to wrap around bits of roasted meat accompanied by pickled carrot and radish, a toss of scallions and cilantro, and topped with chili aioli. The cold spring roll noodle bowl didn't stray far from tradition but it was nicely done with a tasty sweet garlic vinaigrette. The Banh Mi sandwich was big, mostly because of thick slices of crusty bread, but the filling of sliced pork, ham,  and veggies held its own. The portions were generous and the prices reasonable. I noticed that dishes were flagged for being gluten free, vegetarian or available without animal protein.

Photo courtesy of Barney Taxel
There was something a bit too postmodern about the decor for my taste, a mix and match pastiche that strives a bit too hard to be hip. The comic book cute wall art is inspired by graphic novels. The chain link fence that fronts the mirror — for no obvious reason — metal ceiling fans, utilitarian tables and chairs and exposed ductwork have an urban industrial feel. But then there's weathered barn wood paneling opposite the bar and in parts of the upper level. I do like the fact that the front window is actually a garage door that can be raised in good weather, with access to a small patio on the sidewalk.
I don't think I'd make a special trip just for a meal here, but if I was hungry and in the neighborhood, Ninja City would definitely be on my list of possibilities.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

LeBron James and Nike Unveil New LeBron 12 Shoes

I like the hummingbird.

In Nike’s world, it’s the Instinct, one of seven LeBron 12 color schemes introduced to the world Tuesday. A mix of purple and black with orange and teal accents, it shimmers a little, like the feathers of the tiny bird.

It’s not exactly the first — or second, or third, or 12th — animal you’d associate with King James. (Of course, Nike has that one covered too. In red, white and black, it’s known as the Heart of a Lion and will be the version LeBron will wear most often during the upcoming Cavs season.)

Of course, you’ve probably never thought of your sneakers the way the folks at Nike do — or even the way collectors and basketball junkies obsess over them.

Serious science goes into making sports gear like this. The Nike Sports Research Lab started in 1980 and has collected more than 30 years worth of data on athletes, performance and equipment.

“We’re at the intersection between the science of human performance and the science of the products we build,” says Matt Nurse, senior director of Nike Sport Research Lab.

“We have maybe the largest sports knowledge database in the world.”

That also means they likely know more about the science of LeBron than just about anyone else. His power, speed, agility, explosiveness. It’s all there.

All those characteristics are in the new LeBron 12 too.

One of the biggest changes starts right at the bottom, where five hexagonal-shaped Nike Zoom Air bags look like some updated version of the ‘80s game Simon. In the past, that cushioning and energy return system was a single piece. Now, it has been placed strategically to map the pressure points in the foot while playing. 

And while it’s easy to start getting geeky about the advances in the LeBron 12 — breathable Megafuse construction (the stuff that looks like black and purple mesh) and Hyperposite wings (which adds strength and support without sacrificing flexibility) — I like the Instinct because it’s unexpected. The Instinct also embodies my favorite part about LeBron as a basketball player: his vision, his awareness and his decision-making. It’s the part I’ve missed most since he’s been gone.

The science guys know LeBron’s vision tested at 20/20. They determined that he can release a 40 mph pass in 0.18 seconds, less than half the time it takes to blink an eye.

The Nike designers know a little about him too. So sure, a hummingbird.

“Hummingbirds see so well. They see better than humans,” says Kevin Dodson, Nike’s senior product line manager for basketball footwear. “They’re insanely quick. As they see, they can react, instantaneously.”

But even with that kind of vision, LeBron didn’t quite get the hummingbird idea at first, either. “He was like, ‘You guys are crazy. You guys are out of control,’ ” says Dodson. “But once we started to tell him about it, he was like, ‘I’m in. I love it.’ ”

So peek under Lebron’s name on the tag, and you’ll find a feather designed in oranges and purples. The bird appears in a teal hexagon on the heel tag. It’s all in there. 

But mostly, I like the Instinct because I’m glad LeBron’s all-in here.

Release Dates:

LeBron 12 NSRL Oct. 1 in China, Oct. 11 globally

Heart of a Lion Oct. 30

Dunk Force Nov. 11

Instinct Nov. 22

Six Meridians Nov. 29

Trillion Dollar Man Dec. 1

Data Dec. 20

The LeBron 12 is also available for customization on nike.com/nikeidbeginning Oct. 6.

By Steve Gleydura

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Southern Style, West Side Destination

Last Wednesday evening, my husband and I found ourselves on the West Side and hungry. Thinking about where to eat, I realized that it was Fried Chicken night at SoHo Kitchen & Bar in Ohio City, an opportunity to build your own meal around self-selected and hands-down delicious bird parts. I was an easy decision.

Ordering drinks proved to be its own kind of pleasure. The restaurant was running a bourbon promotion — you could choose any brand from their rather large and diverse offerings, get it any way you want it, and then reach into a bag and pull out a token to find out how much the cost will be discounted. My husband, a big fan of the brown spirit, chose a pricey pour, and picked himself a 20 percent off deal. I went for a cocktail dubbed the Cape Hatteras, mostly for the name because we used to vacation there with our kids, and was more than happy with the combination of light rum, St. Germaine, fresh lime and grapefruit soda.

Settling on sides was a challenge. He went with the weekly bargain options: grits and asparagus. I was leaning toward one of my favorites from the regular menu, the Dixie Ceasar. The romaine is grilled, speckled with peanuts, chunks of country ham and avocado, and shreds of cheese then dressed up in green goddess vinaigrette. But at the last minute I went rogue and got fried green tomatoes. Topped with corn kernels, pickled green onion and okra remoulade, they were, as my Savannah friend's mom likes to say, D.I V. Divine.

And then there's those fluffy biscuits. They get me every time. Warm out of the oven and served with soft flavored butter and fruit jam, they're irresistible. Good thing they only give you one apiece on the house. Otherwise I'd be too full to enjoy all the other fine things that come out Nolan Konkoski's kitchen six days a week.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Drinker's Dream

Photo by Barney Taxel
A friend turned the husband and I on to Red, Wine & Brew, a most unusual and impressive beverage shop in Chesterland. He gave the place a big build-up, and our visit there a couple of weeks ago confirmed that there was good reason for his enthusiasm.
Opened in 2007, the sprawling store boasts that shelves are stocked with 6,000 bottles of wine from around the country and the world and 1,500 different beers. Needless to say, drinkers can have a tough time making a choice. I certainly did.

Photo by Barney Taxel
 Then I talked to Gabriel Schlesinger. He stepped from behind the counter, offered his help and after some discussion, set us up with a $20 Italian Valpolicello, promising that it resembled a much pricier Amarone. He was right and we enjoyed the wine. Schlesinger's regulars rely on him, and he takes a certain pride in the fact that if customers tell him what they like and what they're willing to spend he can zero-in on something with a high probability of surprising and pleasing them. In addition to buying from the big name producers and representing the well-known appellations, Scheslinger, a self-taught oenophile and self-described wine nerd, seeks out the quirky, the different and the unfamiliar. Trophy wines share space with boutique brands and bargain bottles. He's got — and can tell you all about — wines from Macedonia, Montenegro, Moldova, Uruguay, Armenia and Israel, plus a sizable selection of sakes from Japan.
Although we didn't get introduced, another staffer has a similar expertise when it comes to beers. But Schlesinger takes the idea of a service to a level that goes beyond his job description. When I was paying for my bottle, and without any knowledge of who I was or that I might be writing about him, he handed me his business card, which identifies him as "The Wine Guy," pointed to the store's phone number, and said, "Call me for advice. Really. Anytime. If I'm here, I'm happy to help, whether you're planning a dinner party or in a restaurant and want to know what would go with certain foods, just ask. I'm not kidding. People think I'm joking when I tell them that. But I mean it."

Photo by Barney Taxel
Try him. Here's his number: 440-729-7376. And if you go the store, which is well worth the trip no matter where you live, he might even give you his cell number so you can reach him with questions after hours.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Anisfield-Wolf Book Award Winner Anthony Marra on Chechnya and His Debut Novel

Anthony Marra
Anthony Marra, the author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, speaks like he writes – in ornate, illuminative completeness. He’ll certainly make use of his skill for oration when he comes to Cleveland to give a reading Wednesday at the Baker-Nord Center for the Humanities at Case Western Reserve University.  Constellation, Marra's debut novel, was a New York Times Notable Book of 2013 and a Washington Post Top 10 Book of the Year. Marra's work, an exploration of a dark, desolate Chechnya, also won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award for fiction. He will receive the Anisfield-Wolf award in a sold-out ceremony and reading Sept. 11 at the Ohio Theatre. We asked him about Chechnya, his characters and winning awards.

Q: How did you end up getting interested in Chechnya?

A: I went to college in Los Angeles, and I took a year abroad. For half of that, I was in St. Petersburg, Russia. While I was there, I lived down the street from a military cadet academy, where I would see these 16 to 17-year-old kids in their military uniforms marching up and down the block. In their parade marching, they would pass a metro station that had become a gathering point for young men just a few years older than them, who were also wearing uniforms. They were veterans of the Chechen wars. Their uniforms weren’t nearly as clean, and their trousers had hemmed because they had lost limbs. It was an eerie moment where you could see these young men in their early 20s looking across the street at their pasts and these kids in their late teens looking across the street and seeing perhaps a potential future. There was something much more than years and a strip of asphalt that separated them, and that was Chechnya.

Q: What’s it like winning something like the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award?

A: It’s been an incredible honor to receive it. I’m not sure you could find a more distinguished jury on any literary award in the world. The books that they’ve awarded in the past have been the very books that made me want to become a writer in the first place. In Washington, D.C. [Marra's hometown], Edward P. Jones is a colossus of D.C. literature. He’s only written one novel, and I think he’s one of the greatest novelists alive. To receive an award that he received is just deeply humbling.

Q: Since the Anisfield-Wolf awards are given to works that touch on racism and diversity, do you think your book is representative of the Chechen experience?

A: I think it’s maybe a little risky for a novelist or any writer to start transacting in peoples rather than persons. The real spark of fiction, of drama, comes from the understanding of what it’s like to be an individual person in any set of circumstances, and that’s what I was hoping to get at. I’d like to think that, if my characters were to come alive and were to walk into a bookstore in Cleveland and pick up the novel, they would recognize themselves and think that I had done them justice. That’s the only test that one can pass.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Chef as Artist

   I got interested in Jamie Simpson, who became executive chef for the Culinary Vegetable Institute in Milan, Ohio, earlier this year, when he did a photo shoot at Taxel Image Group. My husband came home and told me he'd just met the most unusual and creative individual. So I called Simpson and our conversation confirmed that impression.

   "When I cook," says Simpson, "I want to create an experience, not just another meal. To explain what he means, he describes an imaginary walk through a field in autumn. "The grass is wet. I hear a pheasant in the cornstalks. Green walnuts are falling from the trees and wild fox grapes are raisining in the sun.  He'll use all this, literally and figuratively, to inspire and prepare a menu that captures the moment, a dinner that, he says, "is about a time, place, and feeling."

   His plates are visually stunning: delicate, detailed, and abstract. Assembled with painstaking precision, a painter's eye for color and form, and a storyteller's sensibility, they reveal a palpable sense of intensity and focus. Hardly what you'd expect from a guy who started out as a rock musician and now tends to nine beehives, a pair of Mangalista pigs and plots of heirloom French pumpkins, quinoa and Peruvian corn. Those endeavors are personal pursuits, his private farm-to-table explorations done when he's not busy cooking for and with visiting chefs and experimenting in the kitchen with product from Chef's Garden, the parent company that runs the Vegetable Institute and grower of specialty vegetables and herbs.

  Simpson's excited about being part of the second annual Roots Conference coming up in October at the Vegetable Institute. The keynote speaker will be acclaimed chef Jose Andres and topics to be covered in various sessions include indigenous cuisine, food taboos, food politics and policy, and the intersect of tradition and technology. Although the event is aimed primarily at industry professionals, food enthusiasts are also welcome. Presenters will come from around the country and the world, and many are big names in their fields. Simpson's in awe of the company he'll be keeping. "Myself and Max Bilet, co-author of Modernist Cuisine, will be headlining the conference," Simpson wrote in an email. "The gravity of presenting on a level like this is weighing pretty heavy right now. We will be speaking on art and food." That's a talk I'd like to hear. After my phone exchange with him and time spent looking at a photo collection of Simpson's dishes, I'm certain he'll bring great insight and a touch of poetry to the subject.