Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Belly Up to the Bar

The evening featured creative cocktails and specialty beers but seating was at linen draped tables not barstools. The event was last week’s “Bar” Dinner at Melange in Beachwood. Co-executive chefs Adam Bostwick and Matt Creighton decided to riff on the wine-centric meals hosted by so many fine dining spots, by pairing spirits and brews with playful versions of standard pub and tavern fare. I was invited by the restaurant’s owner Andy Zelankofske, who wanted me to get acquainted with what his chefs can do. And I have to say that by the time I was done eating my way through the six course tasting menu I was impressed. These guys brought skill and inventiveness to the food, and infused the proceedings with an appealing sense of humor. They’ve been cooking under the radar, and I’d say it’s definitely time for them to get some well-deserved attention.

Here’s my course by course account of the experience.
1) Shot and a Beer: Thyme infused whiskey sour for sipping. A rich, creamy, lick the bowl good cheese soup for slurping made with Dead Guy Ale, Gouda, and caramelized onions. As soon as I was done I wanted more.

2) White Mary and Potato BLT: The seasonings for these pale Bloody Mary’s, made with Chopin Vodka and clear tomato water, were frozen Popsicle style. Stick was good for stirring. A slice of herb roasted potato was topped with some pork belly, bacon mayo, oven dried tomato and micro chives. Mmmmm.

3) Fish-n-Chops: Seared scallop crusted with shredded phyllo, plus shoestring pickle fries, dill dust, and malt vinegar “caviar” bubbles that burst in the mouth. It was a terrific combination set off by a sour German style ale made by Bruery, a California craft brewer.

4) Burger and a Beer: Short rib pavé made by braising meat, pulling it off the bone and pressing it into a cube and searing. It was served in room temperature tomato broth- that’s the “ketchup” element, with a bit of cheddar, a dab of mustard sauce and cornichon salsa (the stand in for pickle slices). Not much more than a bite like all the dishes so far, this one disappeared fast. I was slower downing the accompanying Chimay Blue Label.

5) Wings and Champagne: This was fun food. Flutes filled with Riondo pink prosecco and a plate of three chicken wings confited to crispy perfection in their own fat and coated with an effervescent hot sauce that added a seltzer-like buzz to the roasted chile burn, along with a spoonful of shaved celery salad spiked with bleu cheese powder. I maxed out and couldn’t eat the last piece. I wish I had it here right now.

6) Coffee and Dessert: They revved up the high test mocha java with espresso syrup, Sambuca, and Frangelica. A basket was brimming over with hazelnut biscotti, zucchini madelines, donut holes with lime curd filling, and planks of dangerously delicious peanut bacon brittle- full as I was I found it impossible to stop eating the stuff.

Bostwick and Creighton came out to describe every dish. I enjoyed putting faces with names and getting a sense of what these chefs are all about. You can have a chance to do that too. At the start of the evening Zelankofske had told me that if the event was a success, he’d plan another one. Apparently the consensus was two thumbs up because he just announced that Melange will be doing these "Not another wine dinners" every other month. Tentative date for the next reservation only bar dinner is May 18. Check the website for details.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Czech Mates

The first few minutes of Protecktor has the feel of a 1930’s Sam Spade noir piece. The opening scenes are a jarring Kaleidoscope, a little silly, a little over the top, so it comes as a surprise when the film turns serious and dark and fascinating, very fascinating.

The Nazi occupation is always fertile ground for tension. As Hitler’s regime occupies Czechoslovakia, life becomes more and more uncomfortable for a married couple. The wife is a film actress of Jewish descent, so her problems are obvious. Confinement in their small apartment chafes at her free spirit. The walls will not hold her.

The husband, a minor-level radio announcer, finds himself in a slow, reluctant march to the Furor’s tune. Soon, almost by accident, he finds himself the voice of Nazi propaganda, not a great gig when you have a Jewish wife.

There are other layers to Protecktor, such as the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich, but the heart of the film is the husband. The film gives him no point to get off of this train of events, which we know must end badly. It is unsettling to realize that most of us, in his same shoes, would take the same steps – resistance seems so futile and so dangerous that the unreality of the occupiers quickly becomes the new reality.

Events are not always clear, motives are not always obvious, but the Protecktor will stick in your mind and fill it with questions. — Bob Carson

Fri., March 26, 11:30 a.m.; Sun., March 28, 4:25 p.m. To view trailer, click here.

Danish Twists

The small country of Denmark has sent a boatload of great films to the Cleveland International Film Festival. Headhunter is good, but it is not the usual Danish knockout.

A former hotshot reporter named Martin Vinge (who is in every scene) is now a big-time headhunter. Hired by the owner of Denmark’s largest company, Vinge must find the firm’s new leader — as long as it’s not be the son of the retiring owner.

But the son will not be passed over without a fight. Let the corporate intrigue begin.

There are more twists than a Chubby Checker reunion. Several of the twists don’t quite ring true: a sick son that can only be treated by a special doctor, a female newspaper reporter sidekick who seems to have more power than Lois Lane, and Vinge’s excellent relationship with his ex-wife (this always strains credibility).

Still, I’m a sucker for corporate double and triple crossing. Headhunter looks great and is beautifully acted. The film relies on suspense with a minimum of violence and romance. Denmark looks great. Despite a few potholes in the plot, headhunter is worth the ride. — Bob Carson

Thu., March 25, 1:50 p.m.; Sat., March 27, 9:40 p.m.; Sun., March 28, 1:25 p.m. View the trailer here.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Silent Treatment

Three days with a wealthy, dysfunctional family as they attend the patriarch’s funeral is hard sledding. Still, it’s a fascinating ride as Lea, a 21-year-old student studying in France, returns to Catalonia for her grandfather’s funeral.

Her father, Josep Maria, and her French mother, Joelle, have been separated for some time, but keep up appearances for the funeral. Their split is not the only thing that's troubling about the family. The relationship between Josep Maria, his two brothers and his sister, who shows up at the last minute and has written a thinly veiled novel about the family, are painfully realistic and strained.

There is very little plot in Three Days With the Family; instead you are witness to these unhappy people, their family skeletons and where they are buried. Relationships are partially revealed with a look, a glance, silence or a few words, putting Lea in the running for an award for “Most Prickly Female in a Slowly Paced Spanish Film.”

Do not expect any resolution and do not expect to leave the theater dancing. You will leave the funeral thinking — even if it’s just to pause for a blessing that you’re not part of this family. — Bob Carson

Wed., March 24, 2:15 p.m.; Thu., March 25, 7:15 p.m.; Fri., March 26, 9:30 a.m. View the trailer, here.

Be Bizarre

I just read an article about culinary adventurers who search their city’s restaurants for the weirdest, wildest, most off-putting fare imaginable: seafood that’s still wriggling when it goes in the mouth, pig brains, bugs and duck embryos. In New York City they’ve formed a club, calling themselves Gastronauts, and their quest for unlikely foods takes them way beyond the organ meats and animal parts that scare off most ordinary diners.

I have no doubt that Cleveland chefs would have a hard time finding an audience for foods that exist at the extreme edges of edibility. But some are determined to get us to push our boundaries at least a little.

Brian Okin is one of them. At Verve, his restaurant on Carnegie Avenue, the reigning idea is to reinvent American comfort food, updating it with contemporary style and international flavors. He knows that our grandmothers used every anatomical bit a critter offered from gizzards to feet and it inspires him. I recently had dinner there and sampled two dishes rooted in this tradition.

For his cleverly named “Pigs in a Blanket” appetizer Okin makes fried croquettes from slow cooked trotter meat pulled from the bony foot and ankle that he coats in panko breading. The meat was moist but not fatty like the pork belly that’s showing up on menus everywhere, and some mostarda and pecorina chief set it off nicely. In “Liver and Onions” he plays with this old fashioned workingman’s staple by pairing slices of veal liver, which had the rich butteryness of fois, with scallions and rosemary mustard vinaigrette. I liked them both very much.
Next time I go, I’m planning on trying the Offal and Eggs: veal sweetbreads with a mushroom and sweet potato frittata. Or if it’s lunchtime I’ll go with the Offal burger, which stacks those same sweetbreads on a bun with speck, talleggio, and a smear of cinnamon aioli.

None of these would get those NYC Gastronauts excited — they hunger for much stranger stuff. But for a dining public that favors steaks and chops, a meal at Verve can be a deliciously dangerous walk on the wild side.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Z is back

As expected, the Cavs have re-signed Zydrunas Ilgauskas, bringing the 7-foot-3 veteran back to Cleveland in time for a championship run.

Cavs playoff victories wouldn't have been the same without him. Though Z was born in Lithuania, he's "as true a Clevelander as any of us will ever be," we said last May. Read Jeannie Roberts' Z profile here.

Con Jobs

Chameleon, a stylish Hungarian thriller that follows the rather seedy trail of a gigolo/con man and his trusty sidekick, is like a fine feast marred by a single overcooked side dish.

The movie is well filmed, well shot and well acted. It offers a plot with several neat twists, including the hunky main character, Gabor, working as an office cleaner to pick potential female targets by analyzing trash.

Gabor and Tibi take their scam on the road and raise their sights to the beautiful ballerina-daughter of a millionaire. She’s injured her knee so severely that she may never dance again — leaving her open to Gabor’s hustle. He’ll introduce her to a famous orthopedic surgeon, who is the only one capable of making her whole again.

And while his film is a lot of fun, easy on the eye and keeps you guessing, that plot premise is completely overdone: There is only one doctor in the whole world that can perform the miracle operation that drives the action, and, of course, the doctor will not operate without serious nudging from the protagonist. This is so lame, and … it is the third film I have seen in the last month that uses this same ridiculous theme.

It’s refreshing to see the rich, famous and beautiful have as much time finding medical treatment as the rest of us. Hopefully, when you have a medical issue, the one miracle doctor you need will be at the Cleveland Clinic or University Hospitals and not require any special prodding or pressure to help you. — Bob Carson

Tue., March 23, 9:30 p.m.; Wed., March 24, 4:30 p.m.; Fri., March 26, 9:15 a.m. View the trailer, here.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Run Times

Portraying the life of a real person can be akin to knitting a silk scarf while wearing boxing gloves.

Think about a person that you know, say your Aunt Tillie. Now, imagine that you have an hour and a half to show her essence. Now, imagine you are attempting to reveal a person you don’t know, from a different era, say for example the famous Cleveland Indians baseball shortstop and manager Lou Boudreau. Where do you start, where do you end, what goes in the middle? This type of film is a hard pull.

People are complex. Lives are complex.

Somehow, directors/producers Davey Frankel and Rasselas Lakew scored with The Athlete.

The movie's subject, Abebe Bikila (or sometimes Abebe Bikila Bekele), may be an unfamiliar name. However, when the credits roll, you will know of the first African to win an Olympic gold medal. More importantly, you will have a strong sense of the man — not just the athlete — who blazed a trail for other great African distance runners.

Told with flashbacks and an economy of words, the movie opens with Abebe driving a tired Volkswagen Beetle through the magnificent Ethiopian landscape. We willingly climb into the passenger seat.

Methodically, the filmmaker drops clues, like the pounding bare footsteps that lead to Bikila‘s Olympic victories, as we learn of politics, geography, family, sports, triumph, relationships and tragedy. We are never told what to feel about Bikila, who only earned a birth to the 1960 Olympics as a replacement and won running in his bare feet; we are allowed to watch and draw our own conclusions.

One of the tests of a film is whether or not you will remember the story in a month or a year or 10 years. Though his tale has largely been forgot to history, I will remember this Ethiopian soldier who conquered Rome in 1960 and Tokyo in 1964. — Bob Carson

Wed., March 24, 5 p.m.; Fri., March 26, 9:45 a.m. View the trailer, here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Lake Effects

“All the waves are brown,
And the sky is gray.
I’ve been in Lake Erie,
On a winter’s daaay.”

Apparently, the requirements for being a surfer in Ohio are a wet suit, a surf board, a pipeline to local meteorologists and a vehicle ready to race to Edgewater Park in hopes that the Lake Erie chop folds over into a string of very moderate waves.

As one of the erstwhile Lake Erie surfers opines early in the film, “It’s sort of silly, but it’s better than watching TV.”

This is a mantra for many of us.

There are better films showing at the festival. The theme is simple, local guys having fun doing something that bonds them together. The documentary consists of several zillion waves and several interviews with a friendly group of guys you may run into at Wal-Mart or a local pub (you will recognize them in their rubber suits, Lake Erie aroma and frozen hair). That’s about it: water, waves, bad weather, waiting, and words trying to explain why they willingly jump into cold soup. While unusual, it is doubtful you will feel compelled to join them.

Perhaps the real story lies in local filmmakers trying to earn their bones. You need to tip your hat to anyone with the guts to make a movie — any movie. Time, patience, money, dreams and elbow grease run out fast. So give credit to Scott Ditzenberger and his crew for jumping into some chilly water.

Fri., March 19, 9:35 p.m.; Sun., March 21, - 9:20 a.m.; Mon., March 22, 5 p.m.

TiMER rings in film fest opening night

If you could live in a brave new romantic world without divorce, rejection, or fear that you'll never marry, would you do it? If you could get a timer implanted in your wrist that told you when you'd meet your soulmate -- for only $79.95! -- would you?

That's the premise of TiMER, a sci-fi romantic comedy that opened the 34th Cleveland International Film Festival last night.

Film fest openers need to appeal to a big audience -- festival sponsors, guests, and $125-a-head ticketholders filling five theaters at Tower City Cinemas. So TiMER was a shrewd choice: it's a funny, witty film with a fresh, provocative take on a popular genre.

Writer-director Jac Schaeffer writes circles around the average rom-com script, imagining all the ways her invention would transform how people date, fall in love, and marry. Turns out the timer doesn't solve all romantic problems -- it creates new ones. What do you do if your timer says you won't meet your soulmate for years? It's a new test of character: some stay chaste and focus on themselves, while others sow their wild oats right up until D-Day.

Women and men haven't changed in TiMER's world -- they react to the new romantic dilemmas in recognizable ways. Oona, the protagonist (played by Emma Caulfield of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), is still filled with marriage anxiety, because her timer is blank: Her match hasn't gotten his implant yet. So she dates timerless guys, coaxes them in for implants, then dumps them when she learns they aren't the one. Lovelorn and lonely, she balks when a free spirit with four months left on his clock proposes a fling. "Girls like you think I'm cheating on someone I haven't met yet," he quips. He's got her figured out.

Before the film, Schaeffer visited all five theaters with film fest board president Jules Belkin and Mayor Frank Jackson. Sitting in the third row, I reached for my cell phone when the mayor stepped forward, thinking it'd make a good picture. Then I stopped. By the time I rifled my pockets, got the phone into camera mode, and lined up the shot, I figured, the soft-spoken mayor would be done talking. I was right: His address (thanks for coming, I know you'll like the film, I hope you like Cleveland) lasted about 10 seconds.

Afterward, Schaeffer and co-producer Jennifer Glynn mingled with hundreds of party-goers at the reception in MK Ferguson Plaza, the beautiful old art-deco post office. The guests received egg timers as parting gifts.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

A Global View of the FIlm Festival

For every Avatar, there are a thousand films each year that are rarely seen. Each year, Bill Guentzler, of the Cleveland International Film Festival, culls the cinematic herd down to a few hundred. It’s not easy. We sat down with Bill for a few minutes to see how he does it. — Interview by Bob Carson

Q. Is there a window of time when the film must be produced to qualify?

A. We aim to screen the “newest and best,” so usually we try to screen films that are no more than a year old (having their first public screening since the previous March), but on occasion there are amazing films out there that still haven’t been shown in Cleveland that are a bit older, so we still screen them (nothing older than two years if it’s not part of a retrospective).

Q. How big of a pool of films do you wade through?

A. From April 2009 through January 2010, I watched 611 feature films. I don’t count shorts.

Q. Yikes! Do you have a posse of fellow film festival directors from other cities that kick around good choices?

A. Yes. I’m friendly with most of the U.S. directors that have their festivals in the spring. We talk about what we’re programming, maybe try to share some films — so we can share International shipping costs — and recommend a lot of films.

Q. Does showing a film COST the film makers anything or does it COST the CIFF anything to run them? Are these filmmakers merely hoping to be noticed or do they recoup any costs on the film festival trail?

A. Well, filmmakers that submit their film to us (opposed to me finding the films at other film festivals) pay an entry fee (which ranges from $25 to $85, depending on length of film and date they submit). We are charged screening fees for some films, mainly by sales agents or distributors.

Q. Do you ever have desperate producers and directors begging and weeping on your office floor to please, please, show my film? Any screaming and sending nasty notes if they do not make the cut?

A. All the time. Many filmmakers don’t like rejection. But who does? Often, filmmakers are happy that we offer committee comments — we are one of the rare festivals to do so — so they take the rejection a little lighter. At least they know why they weren’t selected. And they need to understand that what might have won the Audience Award at the Butte, Montana film festival just might not work in Cleveland. And when I see 611 films, and we have an additional 500 submitted, we do have to make a lot of tough decisions to bring that number down to the 150 feature films we’re showing.

Q. How do you spread out the decision-making process the rest of the year? Do you watch a movie a day?

A. I start traveling to other festivals in July. I’m out of town for over three months a year (spread out through the summer and fall) at other festivals. We also open our submission process in July.

Q. Do you use any other film festivals prior to the Cleveland festival as a sort of template for your selections and do reviews from these effect your decision?

A. We don’t use any festival as a template, but just by default, the other festivals that I attend have already done some work for me and have created a roster of films that they think work, and I make my decisions on what to see based on that. We, in turn, are somewhat of a “festival of festivals.”

Q. Can you walk us through the process? Say that I’m from Alaska and I just finished a documentary film about a racehorse titled Balls of Fire. What steps would I need to take to get my Balls of Fire running at the 2011 CIFF?

A. Submit your film. We open our submission process in July. We use an online submission service called and we also have forms available on our Web site. Then you wait. Many filmmakers constantly bombard us with calls/emails asking what the status is. If it’s a great film, it will get in; but being a “pest” doesn’t help your case.

Q, And finally, off the top of your head, any quirky "selection stories” pop into mind?

A. Someone sent a bloody baseball bat to the office with their submission (a horror movie obviously). I still have it in my office.

The Cleveland International Film Festival runs at Tower City from March 18th to the 28th. Check back each day starting tomorrow for some previews of coming attractions.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Horny Horticulture

"Orchids aren't just pretty ... they are sexy. ... In Victorian England, women weren't allowed to have orchids because the form of them was thought to be too erotic and too sexual, and it would be too much for a woman to bear, having a flower that sexual in her possession."

- Susan Orlean, author of The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession

If that's the case, Cleveland Botanical Garden is positively swelling with sexuality this month as it hosts Orchid Mania for the seventh time.

"We have an amazing array of orchids here," says chief horticulturist Cynthia Druckenbrod. "We have over 500 varieties and over 1,000 plants."

They suspend from rafters, drape over railings and sprawl around the waterfall. They emanate sensual scents: Vanilla, chocolate, coconut, lemon and angel food cake.

Should your trip to the garden inspire you to create your own little hothouse, orchids are easy to grow.

"There's brands where you just add ice [cubes] at the top and they melt and it gets your orchid to keep blooming and blooming and blooming and setting up a new flower to spike the following year," says Druckenbrod.

And you thought botany was boring.

Cleveland Botanical Garden
’s Orchid Mania runs through March 28.

Photo by Miranda S. Miller.

Movie Munchies

Every year I scan the Cleveland International Film Festival program book to see what’s cooking. Literally. Because there are usually at least a few food focused and culinary- themed movies plus others in which eating, cooking, or serving play a major or supporting role in the story. I star each one on my personal schedule- a long, complicated and aspirational list covering a broad swathe of the world and a wide range on interests that is subject to change- and try to see them all. The effort shapes the days and nights from March 18-March 28. I may not be able to get to each and every one- life, work, and pure visual exhaustion sometimes interfere- but I always intend to. And for me the hope that runs through the ten day stretch is half the fun.

I’ve carefully combed through the 100 plus pages of Films A-Z and found a veritable feast of thought provoking things to see.

a documentary from a Swedish director and producer, that explores the legal battle over Dole Food Company’s use of a harmful pesticide in Nicaragua. Sponsored by fire food and drink
March 27, 2:15 PM, March 28, 4:30 PM

a partnership between two filmmakers one American the other Irish, the documentary is a look at the honeybee crisis and their importance to our food supply. Fest folks describe it as visually stunning
March 25, 9:35 PM, March 28, 7:20 PM

-Cooking History
a documentary comedy about war and food. Impossible to imagine and therefore essential to watch .
March 23, 7:15 PM, March 25, 2:25 PM

a cinematic essay about the rise of the local food movement and the meaning of a sustainable food systems with an on screen appearance from Alice Waters
March 19, 4:50 PM, March 20, 2 PM followed by a discussion, March 21 11:45 AM

-Mid-August Lunch
an Italian movie so no matter what else it is about, the storyline, as the name suggests, really does include shopping, cooking, family gatherings around the table, and much drinking of wine
March 27, 7:30 PM, March 28, 12:10 PM

-What’s on Your Plate?
follows two kids as they learn where their food comes from so its no wonder the North Union Farmers Market is among of the sponsors
Match 27, 11:45 AM, March 28, 2 PM

-A Matter of Size
one of those whoda thunk subjects- an overweight Israeli, whose mother complains about her fat sonbut fixes him food nonetheless, bands together with others of his size to form the country’s first sumo team that gets wrestling lessons from the owner of a sushi restaurant . how can i not see this?
March 20, 7:45 PM, March 21, 4:45 PM

-Villon’s Wife
based on a group of short stories. a Japanese woman takes a job at a pub to repay her n’er-do-well husband’s debt, thrives in this new life, and becomes empowered to change her relationship to him
March 23, 11:40 AM, March 25, 6:45 PM
-Shifting from big screen fare to television, mark your calendars for Monday, March 22. Momocho will be featured on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives at 10pm on the Food Network. The viewing party is at Eric Williams' other place The Happy Dog on West 58th and Detroit. Fun begins at 8pm

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Iggy, Stooges lead 2009 class into Rock Hall

"Rock Hall silver-anniversary ceremonies lacking in 'sizzle,'" reads the blasé Plain Dealer headline this morning. And yeah, OK, plenty of no-shows diluted last night's inductions, from Peter Gabriel (for Genesis) to two Hollies to half of ABBA.

But how can you write the headline "lacking in sizzle" next to a photo of a shirtless Iggy Pop, after he and the Stooges tore through "Search and Destroy" and "I Wanna Be Your Dog"?

I refer you instead to the New York Times coverage, which includes this choice collision of the Grey Lady's style and Iggy's punk spirit:

Behind him, Mr. Pop, 62, was already unbuttoning his white dress shirt, getting ready to jump, drop to his knees, strut and twist across the stage and down into the black-tie audience.

Yes, that's Billie Joe Armstrong from Green Day singing with Iggy in the photo.
Here's a link to an Artisan News Service video about Iggy's induction on YouTube, with a test pattern blocking out Iggy's hands as he flipped off the crowd in triumph.

(Photo from

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Great Out of the Gate

I spent a great evening with an old friend last week. We share February birthdays and always celebrate by going out together. We chose Menu6, the brand new restaurant helmed by Michael Herschman in the old Boulevard Blue location on Larchmere, for our annual- and belated- party of two. This would be my second visit- I’d come for the friends and family opening night the previous week and knew I wanted to return. The plan was to meet early for a drink and some apps. But one hour became almost four, nibbles turned into dinner, and the first glass of really good wine led to a second and …But who’s counting? I will however, drop some names: Chateau de Campuget (rosé); Gobelsburg (gruner veltliner); and Obsidian Ridge (cabernet sauvignon).
We ate our way through a spread of small plates: seared day boat scallops with cucumber noodles; the gravlax of the day- blue nose bass cured in sea salt and fennel seed; beef carpaccio with lemon grass infused scallion chili dipping sauce; cress salad with blood orange slices, Humboldt Fog cheese in a mustardy dressing; and Kentucky “foied” chicken (testament to Herschman’s quirky and irrepressible sense of humor) in truffled jus. Then we split an entrée steak sauced with an amazing foie bordelaise that had us begging for spoons. Oh, and there was some chocolate to end the meal- gelato, pot du crème- and madelaines. Hey- we were celebrating remember?

The place looks redone, though the actual changes are small. The walls have been painted a sooty slatey shade of gray that really appeals to me. Maybe it’s because I’ve lived with a photographer for 40 years: the color represents that nuanced and intriguing visual terrain between pure white and darkest black where so much of an image happens. Whatever the explanation, the room just felt good and my friend and I were in no hurry to leave.

Nice space, good food and drink, and excellent conversation- I was happy. The whole experience definitely took the edge off being another year older. The restaurant’s website is not up yet but you can get particulars on the Menu 6 Facebook page.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Oscars 101: Take our quiz!

Think you know who’ll walk away with the bald brass guys this Sunday? Take our Oscars pop quiz and compare predictions with Jim Denny, film instructor at Cleveland State University and co-owner of the Web site Movie Posters Etc. (To give you a leg up, we’re only including the nominees that actually stand a chance.)

1. Best actor will go to:
a) Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart
b) George Clooney in Up in the Air
c) Jeremy Renner in The Hurt Locker

2. Best actress will go to:
a) Sandra Bullock in The Blind Side
b) Gabourey Sidibe in Precious
c) Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia

3. Best supporting actress will go to:
a) Penelope Cruz in Nine
b) Maggie Gyllenhaal in Crazy Heart
c) Mo’Nique in Precious

4. Best director will go to:
a) James Cameron for Avatar
b) Kathryn Bigelow for The Hurt Locker
c) Quentin Tarantino for Inglourious Basterds

5. Best adapted screenplay will go to:
a) Precious
b) Up in the Air

6. Best achievement in visual effects will go to — OK, consider this a freebie.
a) Avatar

7. True or False: The Hurt Locker will tromp Avatar (and the other 8 nominees) for best picture.

Denny’s predictions:

1. a. Bridges has been snubbed four times, so he’ll likely get the Academy’s nod. “I’m not saying [Bridges] doesn’t deserve it this year,” Denny says. “He probably deserves it and they feel they owe him.”

2. a. “It seems the favorite is Sandra Bullock. But … anytime Meryl Streep is nominated, you know there’s a possibility she could win.”

3. c. “The Oscars love it when an actor [does] something beyond what they’re used to. Mo’Nique was doing very lowbrow comedy, and now all of a sudden she turns in a stunning performance. [That] makes her performance seem that much better.” Her win is “probably the biggest lock.”

4. b. “It’s important to always look at the history of the Oscars when looking at the upcoming Oscars,” says Denny. No woman has ever been named best director. Bigelow will likely be the first. “I think it’s going to be the year where they decide to right that wrong.”

5. b. “As much as I hate to say it, probably Up in the Air could win,” says Denny. “It’s not worthy of an Oscar nomination at all. It’s a 3-star movie, not a 4-star movie. Not a 3-and-a-half either.” But he thinks its contemporary theme will resonate with Academy voters. George Clooney’s character “terminates people for other companies. He comes in and he does the dirty work. And so it’s examining [an] aspect of life that a lot of Americans are going through right now.”

6. a. “Avatar’s going to win. Not a question. It is groundbreaking.” But those visual effects may hurt its chances at winning best picture. “All of a sudden, maybe actors see actors aren’t so important when you can animate them so wonderfully.” That could create a backlash. “Actors don’t want to be replaced.”

7. True. “Without a screenplay nomination,” says Denny, “[Avatar] probably will not win [best picture]; it’ll be The Hurt Locker.”

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

This One's a Gem

Jeff Jarrett’s a chef at North End in Hudson. He and his wife Tammy, who’s a nurse, are in the process of adopting a second baby girl from China. The first child they added to their family two years ago, which already included three boys, is visually impaired.

The new 13 month old they want to bring here was born without eyes and abandoned by her birth parents at four weeks. The likelihood of her ever leaving the orphanage for a real home was slim to zero until the Jarretts learned of her situation. They’ve named her Jewel and they’re doing everything they can to bring her here. They have big hearts but it will take deep pockets to make it happen.

They need $20,000-25,000 and to raise some of that they’ve organized a fundraiser, Cooking for Jewel. It will be held on Monday, March 22 at The Cleveland Sight Center from 5:30 PM to 9 PM. Once again, our astonishingly generous community of chefs responded to a call from one of their own and has stepped up to lend a hand. The evening’s food will come courtesy of a long list of talented locals. As of this writing it includes:

Matt Baber– Naya Bistro and Lounge: Highland Heights
Dante Boccuzzi– Dante: Tremont
Lanny Chin– Naya Bistro and Lounge: Highland Heights
Mark Cleland– North End: Hudson
Zack Conover– The Leopard: Aurora
Ellis Cooley– Amp150 : Marriott Cleveland Hopkins
Brian Doyle-World's Fare Culinary/Danny's Organic Marketplace
William Fugitt-Private Chef: Columbus
Aaron Guzik– L’Albatros: Cleveland
Heather Haviland-Lucky's Cafe/Vine and Bean:Cleveland
Jeremy Lisy-KJ Greens
Matt Mathlage– Light Bistro: Ohio City
Matt Mytro– Stove Monkeys: Cleveland
Mike Nowak- Bar Cento: Ohio City
Stacey Stoudemire- Simply Elegant Catering
Wendy Thompson– A Cookie and a Cupcake: Tremont
Ky-Wai Wong– Lucky’s Café: Tremont
Eric Wells- Skye LaRae Culinary Services

There will also be a silent auction with chances to bid on great stuff, including an original framed photo by my husband Barney Taxel and a collection of books from Gray and Company Publishers, including a copy of the latest edition of my book Cleveland Ethnic Eats.

Tickets are only $25 per person and I’ve already bought mine. Make reservations online or call 330-353-4991 (the Jarrett’s home). If ever there was a good cause folks, this is it. And contributing is not only easy, it will be fun. Purchase a ticket, have some terrific food, and give one little girl a family and a future.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A Noble Look at NYC Fashion Week

We all have goals – to learn how to parlez francais, to make it through spinning class without hyperventilating, to spend (way) less time playing FarmVille on Facebook, to meet Project Runway’s Tim Gunn –

Wait. What?

“One of my big goals this year was to meet Tim Gunn,” says 32-year-old Cuyahoga Falls photographer Jason Noble, who just returned from New York Fashion Week. “I’ve already met Heidi Klum, Michael Kors, Nina Garcia and half of the winners from Project Runway so that was my goal this year. And I got to meet [him] toward the end … so it was kind of exciting for me. I’m a big fan of that show.”

Noble has been hobnobbing with high society for three years since a fashion photographer friend based out of Indianapolis called the Marietta College graduate asking, “Hey, I just got into New York Fashion Week. Can you come help me out?”

So what does an admitted T-shirt-and-jeans type of guy from Northeast Ohio say to the author of A Guide to Quality, Taste and Style and the host of Lifetime’s reality show administering advice to the fashion-impaired?

“I’m like, ‘Hey, Tim, I’m a really big fan. It’s really nice to meet you,’” he says. “And you know, he’s a really polite guy so we talked for a second and I’m like, ‘Hey, can I get a photo with you?’ And he’s like, ‘Of course!’”

Seeing the picture Noble took at arm’s length, Gunn kidded, “’Wow! I could be your grandfather!’ So it was kind of cute; he’s funny. And as soon as I got that photo, everyone else tried and he’s like, ‘Nope! I’ve got to go!’ and he disappeared through this door that we never even knew existed,” Noble laughs. “So we kind of joke around that Tim Gunn has his own private little tunnel to Fashion Week.”

During his 10-day stint in NYC Noble also shot Russell Simmons, Liv Tyler, Mena Suvari, John Legend, Adam Lambert… “I’ve got a folder with over a hundred different celebs that I photographed this time out,” he says. And he met Jay Manuel from America’s Next Top Model and Kelly Osbourne, who seemed to be there every day.

“One thing I do when I’m backstage is I try to get models to do devil horns so I tried to get Kelly to do that and she kind of turned her nose up and almost gave me a snooty expression. She’s like, ‘Oh, no, I don’t do that.’ So it was just kind of funny being the daughter of Ozzy Osbourne and whatnot. But then I’m like, ‘Ok, well, can I get a photo?’ And she’s like, ‘Oh yeah, totally!’ So, really nice girl.”

Noble says it’s nearly impossible to attend every show as there are sometimes 10 a day but his favorites were G-Star Raw for its “visually stunning” backgrounds and choreographed performance and Vassilios Kostetsos, whose “entire collection was just amazing. … The use of color, the use of print and a lot of the outfits were on the edgy–slash–risqué side.”

Edgy-slash-risque as in super-short skirts and low-cut tops? “Yeah. All of the above,” he laughs.

Asked if he’ll return to Fashion Week when it hits Lincoln Center in September, Noble replies, “Oh yeah. Definitely.”

For a slideshow of Noble's images from Fashion Week, click here. 

Jason is owner of locally based Noble Images Inc. His work can be seen at