Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Herb House

Did you know that the headquarters of the Herb Society of America is right here in Lake County on Kirtland –Chardon Road? I didn’t, until a couple of weeks ago. I stumbled on the group’s website while doing research for my new book about the West Side Market . The link between the two is Vineyard House. Now the home office for the Society, it was built in 1841 by a farmer from locally quarried sandstone. Benjamin Hubbell, one of the architects for the market house purchased the property in the 1920’s, planting grapevines and stabling his horses there.

The library, a 3000 volume collection of books, periodicals, pamphlets and videos covering everything herbal from aromatherapy and medicinal plants to cultivation and culinary uses, is in what was once a bedroom. Only members of the Society can check things out but the public is welcome to sit and browse.

The national organization, with 48 chapters around the country, clearly keeps a low profile in the community. The Western Reserve Herb Society, which maintains the lovely herb beds at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, is the largest.

My discovery is timely. Vineyard House is open Monday-Thursday 9 AM-5 PM. and this a lovely time of year to visit. But I also learned about the group’s upcoming annual conference in Pittsburgh June 23-25. The schedule is packed with all kinds of fascinating educational programs plus garden tours and a plant and seed exchange. I might just have to plan a trip to Steeler-town, that is if I’ve made enough progress and can justify taking a few days off from writing that book.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cleveland Welcomes Largest Wind Turbine in North America

While you were sleeping off your Easter sugar high, the Port of Cleveland was celebrating a first for our city: a Kenersys Europe GmbH K100 2.5 Mega-Watt wind turbine. Monday morning the blades and nacelle, or the enclosed section atop the tower that holds the generator and other mechanisms, arrived via ship. Thanks to a loan from Cuyahoga County, the turbine will be installed at The Lincoln Electric Company in Euclid. Here’s how the monumental new wind turbine stacks up:

  • From its base to the tip of the blade, it’s 443 feet tall. That’s 23 feet taller than Cedar Point's Top Thrill Dragster.
  • Each of the three blades are 165 feet long. Stacked end to end, they’d be taller than Terminal Tower.
  • The turbine is about three times taller than the 147-foot wind turbine at the Great Lakes Science Center.
  • Our new wind turbine is the largest in North America, according to County Prosecutor William D. Mason, Chairman of the Great Lakes Energy Development Task Force.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Flour Time

It’s always a pleasure to report on the launch of the latest local restaurant. So I’m happy to start spreading the word that Flour, a rustic Italian eatery in Moreland Hills, is now serving dinner. In the hyper competitive restaurant industry where the rate of failure is high, this place has all the ingredients for success, most notably chef/owners with lots of experience, business smarts, and real culinary talent.

Chef Paul Minnillo is the Big Daddy here. He’s earned many awards and accolades over the course of a long career defined by creativity, high standards, and a European sensibility for the pleasures of eating. He’s also had a major -and positive- influence on the Cleveland dining scene and the people who make it happen. One of those people is his partner in this venture Chris DiLisi. The young chef cooked with him at Baricelli Inn. Flour reflects their shared vision for a place that’s so welcoming, reasonably priced, and appealing that the public will drop by often and regularly; early, late and in between; for a glass of wine-there will be around 30 sold by the pour- and a cheese or salumi board at the bar, or a full on antipasti to entrée feast.

The menu, which will likely be tweaked in the coming weeks and months, has a mix of starters and salads that work equally well as small plates for snacking and sharing; pasta in half and whole portions; and a small selection of heartier secondi-two fish and one each of chicken, beef, pork , and veal. And then there are the pizzas: the 10 inch rounds are baked in wood burning pizza oven, manned by an Ohio native who polished his skills as a pizzaiola in Turin.

The plan is that almost everything, from foccacia and ricotta salata to ice cream will be made in house, from scratch.

I’ve already been there twice, both visits before it opened to public. The first time was during the final, finishing stages of construction, a few weeks ago when the kitchens were still surgical suite clean. Tables and chairs weren’t in place yet and the polished concrete floor was awaiting one more coating. But there was no doubt that I was seeing a sophisticated, sexy space in the making, an impression that was confirmed when I returned eight days ago for a “friends and family meal.” I ran into Tony Anselmo that night. He’s co-owner of Premier Produce, a food purveyor that supplies most-if not all- of the best restaurants in town and an old friend of Minnillo’s. He was visibly proud of his pal and said to me, “How ‘bout this guy. At 61 he starts all over again, with a new concept and a new place. Now that’s a story.” I couldn’t agree more and I'm looking forward to the all the tasty ways this story will unfold.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Delicious Memories

A couple of weeks ago I came upon an article about the famed French chef Paul Bocuse in Atlanta Journal Constitution. An iconic culinary personality and one of the first to come out from behind the kitchen door and be known by name, Bocuse has just been proclaimed Chef of the Century by the Culinary Institute of America. I met him in 1993 and reading about him brought back some wonderful memories. He was in Cleveland and part of the launch of Sans Souci, the lovely Mediterranean themed restaurant that continues to operate in the Renaissance Cleveland Hotel downtown. I was among a small select group of local journalists invited to attend a dinner he prepared. The delivery of that invitation is something I’ll never forget. A limo pulled into my driveway and when I answered the door the driver presented me with a gorgeous basket. It was lined with a golden yellow cloth napkin embroidered with the restaurant’s logo, and a bottle of olive oil, some herbes de Provence, and a note requesting the pleasure of my company. Bocuse and Chef d’ Cuisine Claude Rodier prepared an extraordinary meal. We sat in at a large table set up beside the stove. It was my first chef’s table experience and among my earliest professional encounters with a master and a celebrity. I came home with an apron and as autographed cookbook, Bocuse’s Regional French Cooking. Both have been well used over the years. His recipe for pears poached in Beaujolais has become my go to dessert for impressing guests. What I’m thinking about today are how many other big names and major players in gastronomic universe I’ve met, interviewed and written about since then. It’s been a privilege and I’ve had more fun than I could have imagined. Although I put in long hours and toil diligently to get the writing as good as it can be, on occasion I’m embarrassed to describe what I do as work. I’m still having a great time and I still love sharing the stories about what I discover. With all this on my mind it seems like a good moment to voice my appreciation to the publications and the editors that have given me these opportunities, and to all the readers like you, for whom I do it. Thank you.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Go for the Grapes

The likelihood of snowstorms and white outs that keep us at home is slim. The 35th International Film Festival, which keeps any of us sitting in the dark for eleven days, is over. So it’s a good time to get out and I’ve heard about some great opportunities for wine enthusiasts this month.

Battery Park Wine Bar

Tonight, April 6th, winemaker Steffan Jorgen of Bergevin Lane Vineyards in Walla Walla Washington will be at Battery Park Wine Bar to guide guests through an eight pour tasting, with appetizers to compliment them. The two hour event begins at 6 PM. Cost is $15 per person. Battery Park’s owner and wine expert Mike Graley has also started doing regular Last Wednesday of the Month Wine Tastings. You get to try 16 of his wine picks plus some small plates for $20. You can buy a bottle of whatever you like at retail prices. Next one is April 27. For info to RSVP, call 216-631-9463

Two standout dinners on the calendar. Call immediately to ask if there are seats left at Moxie for tomorrow night’s five-course Darioush wine dinner (April 7). The Napa Valley winery is known for its limited production Bordeauz style estate wines. Executive Chef- and culinary mastermind- Jonathan Bennett is doing a really inventive menu to pair with chardonnay, viognier, shiraz, cabernet sauvignon that includes seared tuna plated with a yuzu croquette, sesame brittle, and the intriguingly named “pliable wasabi;” and roasted squab plus grilled asparagus, poached egg, and white truffle. Service starts at 7 PM, the price is $99 per person (plus tax and gratuity), and reservations are required, 216.831.5599.

Chez Francois
Wed., April 13, Chez Francois in Vermilion offers a six course meal with paired wines from Oregon’s Maysara Winery where grapes are farmed bio-dynamically. Winemaker and owner Tahiene Momtazi will be on hand to talk about the family’s innovative growing philosophy and vineyard practices as guests sip their Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, a Rosé, a selection of three different Pinot Noirs, a dessert Riesling . John D’Amico, co-owner and top chef, has planned an impressive line-up of dishes: roasted heirloom carrot and curry soup; phyllo crusted shrimp with warm pineapple and apple compote; sea bass in a tomato tapenade crust; duck cassoulet; roast veal tenderloin; and apple crepes with quince cream. $ 85 per person (plus tax and gratuity). Call 440-967-0630 for reservations.

Lilly Handmade Chocolate
For those on a more modest budget there’s no better deal around than the weekly tastings at Lilly Handmade Chocolate in Tremont. Prices this month range from $3.50-$4.25 (plus tax). Your money buys four wine and beer samples paired with the prefect truffles. It’s a casual first come, first serve, while supplies last kind of thing, Fridays 12pm-6:30pm, Saturdays 11am-6:30pm; and Sundays 11am-2:30pm. Complete beverage list for each weekend here.


(Photos: Battery Park Wine Bar, Maysara Winery)

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Best of Cleveland: What Do You Want?

It's almost time to start voting for your favorites for Best of Cleveland 2011. But we want to know, what would you like to see added to our list of categories? Check out last year's ballot (click for a larger view) and leave your suggestions below.

Voting for Best of Cleveland 2011 will be available online May 1 through July 1 at One voter will win two VIP tickets to the Best of Cleveland party on Friday, Oct. 14 at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.

Be sure to check back May 1 to see what categories made the final cut.

Supply and Demand: Seeing the Cavs for Cheap

Ever since the awful truth set in this fall, every Cavs fan has asked: Should I even bother going to a game this season? Which leads to a more capitalistic question: How much is a ticket to see a .200 team worth?

Tonight, Friday, and next Wednesday, as the Cavaliers’ season dribbles out to its deflated end, all the season ticket holders who re-upped in the LeBron Era’s final days and can’t stand the thought of watching the 62nd or 64th or 67th loss will be unloading their tickets on Flash Seats for almost any price.

For the frugal fan, it’s a wine-and-golden opportunity. For less than you paid for nosebleeds last season, you can see an NBA game from seats you never could’ve afforded during the good times.

A month or two ago, my friend Ian told me he and his girlfriend, Shana, had sat in the club level, the mezzanine where a wait staff brings food and drink to your seat, for $10 a ticket. Even with FlashSeats’ fees – 24 percent plus $1.50 plus tax – they’d paid less than $30 total for a pair of seats with a face value of $144 each.

So, the night before last month’s Cavs-Magic game, I huddled with Ian at his laptop, talking strategy, taking lowball shots at normally ridiculously expensive seats.

Ian, my most frugal friend, was the perfect point man for our bidding. He clips coupons and systematically scouts grocery sales, returning triumphantly with receipt-tape scrolls that proclaim, “You saved 86 percent!” Now, he punctured asking prices of $76.50 or $150 as ruthlessly as William Shatner on a Priceline commercial, bidding $11, $14, $15.

“Shouldn’t we go up to $20 on a few?” I asked. “What if no one accepts our bids?”

“I’m pretty confident we’ll get something,” he said calmly.

Sure enough, by morning, someone had taken our $15 offer. The site’s BidSafe feature automatically canceled our other pending bids, and a half-hour before tipoff, we were in. Ian handed over his credit card at the gate and a guy printed our tickets from a hand-held device. I gave Ian $27, but that’s only because we couldn’t find another friend to split our four seats four ways at $20.25.

It was my first Cavs game in the 100 level. The view from the club level is very good: straight on, the whole court stretched out in front of you. Instead of straining to identify the players by number and physique from the corners of Loudville, I recognized faces. (Well, a few faces. The roster’s changed a lot.) I was on the aisle, so hailing a waitress was easy. I ordered a hot dog and a Labatt’s and leaned back in my seat. It felt luxurious.

The flame-throwers still shoot out from the scoreboard before tipoff. Between quarters, instead of Moondog dunking with help from a trampoline, we saw a whole stunt-dunking troupe of Scream Team members and an athletic Cavalier Girl.

Ahmaad and Nicole, energetic as ever, reward seemingly every season-ticket holder who bravely renews for 2011-12 with a thank-you moment on the Jumbotron. The diehards’ faces are frozen, half stoic, half smiling at their own hopeful thick-and-thin fandom.

The game? Fun if you can forget it’s your team being dunked on and run ragged across the court. “The last game, they were more evenly matched,” Shana observed. “This is like watching a bully beat up a younger kid.”

Next year (if there’s no lockout), supply and demand will surely level off. Despite the team’s coaxing, many season-ticket holders will have quit on the Cavs, yet a first-round draft pick will spark a needle-twitch of curiosity among single-game buyers.

So I recommend bidding on the fire sale for the Cavs’ last three forlorn home games. Good seats for NBA basketball in Cleveland will never be so dirt-cheap again.