Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Ameritrust Rotunda Opens For Wednesday Holiday Concerts

When downtown lunch-goers scramble up Euclid to grab a quick bite, many of them pass an architectural treasure on the corner of Euclid and East Ninth Street. Closed since 1996, the Ameritrust bank rotunda caught the attention of passers-by last Wednesday. As the music of pianist Robert Cassidy from the Music Settlement drifted out of the rotunda, intrigued Clevelanders stepped in for a rare glimpse of the granite building’s breathtaking architecture.

The golden Cleveland Trust Company seal on the banking floor shined among the filled seats. The massive Tiffany-inspired stained-glass dome, above two mezzanine levels, twinkled in the sunlight. Guests, grabbing hold of the iron and bronze railings, ascended the dome’s staircases to view Francis Millet’s vivid murals depicting the rise of Midwestern civilization. For Millet, who later died on the Titanic, these paintings were his lasting legacy.

The Cuyahoga County government, University Circle Inc. and the Downtown Cleveland Alliance opened the rotunda’s doors for their Circle in the City series of midday holiday concerts, which continue Wednesdays through Dec. 19.

Despite its rich historic value and architectural beauty, the Ameritrust complex has been shuttered for 16 years. Cuyahoga County purchased it in 2005, but plans to connect the rotunda to a new government administration building fell through.

County Executive Ed FitzGerald, who is looking for a buyer for the complex, was inspired to open the rotunda’s doors after taking a tour.

“When I left the building, I said that we must do something to open this up to the public,” FitzGerald said Wednesday. “It just isn’t right that a jewel of interior architecture has been locked away from the public and is covered in dust and wasting away.”

FitzGerald called Chris Ronayne, president of University Circle Inc., and invited him to showcase the circle’s cultural institutions during the Wednesday concert series. Ronayne seized the chance. It’s the first University Circle event in downtown Cleveland, he says.

”At University Circle Inc., we’ve had an intentional strategy to reach out beyond our borders to neighborhoods within the community of Cleveland and beyond,” said Ronayne. “Cleveland is a world-class city with world-class institutions and architecture like this at the Ameritrust building. We just have to open our doors to it.”

The Circle in the City series at the Ameritrust rotunda continues tomorrow with holiday music by the Tony Koussa Holiday Trio, sponsored by the Cleveland Botanical Garden. The rotunda will be open 11:30 am to 1 pm for concerts on the next four Wednesdays. Food trucks outside the rotunda will sell lunch.

“We focused on music in part because of the holiday season, but also because it’s really thematic to who were are as a city and what we do in University Circle,” said Ronayne. “Be it classic music or rock ‘n’ roll, we’re a music city.”

(Photos by Jennifer Schlosser, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture)

Girl Talk

Women are rising to prominence in Congress and in Cleveland restaurant kitchens. Gains in both groups are long overdue. I leave the political commentary to others. But I am grabbing this opportunity to talk about one emerging culinary star in our midst — Melissa Khoury, the executive chef at Washington Place Bistro and Inn.

A graduate of Johnson & Wales, she last worked as the sous chef at Amp 150 from 2009 to 2011 before moving on to her latest gig and being promoted to the top toque position. Khoury joins a small select group of females running restaurant kitchens that includes Karen Small (Flying Fig), Jill Vedaa (Rockefeller's), Heather Haviland (Lucky's) and Rachel Spieth (Press Wine Bar).

After spending a couple of wonderful hours as Khoury's guest, sampling dishes from her new fall/winter menu, created with help from her sous chef Chris Kafcsak, I can say with confidence that this young chef has earned a place among these other extremely talented women. In fact, she can hold her own with the city's up and comers of both genders.

A salad assembled from arugula, watercress, pears poached in red wine, a fine domestic Gorgonzola and toasted hazelnuts all dressed in a vanilla vinaigrette achieved a great balance, playing opposites off each other — sweet and bitter, funky earthiness and green freshness, soft and crunchy. Loved this.

The presentation of pork belly was clever. Seared and crisped, the rich fattty chunk of meat came with a cabbage roll, delicate and transparent, stuffed with chopped apple, radicchio and basmati rice, and tangy preserved lemon vinaigrette.

The taste of the season was captured in a fall-off-the-bone tender confit duck leg with apricot gnocchi, braised greens, rings of delicata squash and slices of rutabaga. Vegetables are an important part of Khoury's plates, never an afterthought or a filler, and she uses them in interesting ways, as these two preparations illustrate.

Ditto for fruits. A steak goes from fine to fabulous courtesy of a fig balsamic reduction. Seared scallops take on dimension thanks to a quince gastrique that amplifies their natural sweetness. I also really liked the lentil salad accompanying the shellfish: it's topped with crunchy fried carrot and parsnip threads, a take on a classic Arabic mujaddara and a nod to Khoury's Lebanese heritage. 

The most delicious dish of all to me, the one I raved about to the husband and can't wait to go back and eat again, was the Australian sea bass (aka barramundi), a mild white fleshed fish. She serves it in a bright orange carrot broth, with a farro risotto in which celery root puree takes the place of cream. A shallot gremolata made with pickled celery root adds just the right touch of acid. This is such an outstanding creation on every front -- appearance, taste, and originality. It even gets points for being healthy.

Needless to say, after trying all these things, I did not really have room or appetite for dessert. And Melissa confessed that treats are not really her specialty. But then added that she had come up with something she thought was pretty good and really wanted me to weigh in on it.

I still wasn't convinced, but then she offered this description: "It's a vanilla panna cotta (I am helplessly, hopelessly attracted to custards and puddings like this), topped with brown sugar caramel, salt and peppered sauteed apples and chunks of pumpkin seed brittle." I couldn't say no, and I'm so glad I didn't. The play of creaminess against all that snap, crackle and pop was brilliant.

A few of the old crowd-pleasing favorites from the original menu, like oxtail pierogies and pot roast, are still offered, but as far as I'm concerned, Washington Place has become a new and different place. Khoury's boss Scott Kuhn was smart to hire her, put her in charge, and let her essentially reinvent the restaurant.  If you're equally clever, you'll go discover what she can do for yourself.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bonjour French Friends

Cleveland has a sister city in France (news to me) - Rouen, the capital of Normandy which is Jaques Pepin's home turf. We're hosting some special guests from our sibling metropolis next week for a culinary exchange organized by the French American Chamber of Commerce. Two are open to the public and anyone interested in attending should hurry to make reservations. Both promise an authentic experience and an entertaining few hours. No guidebooks, passports, or pocket dictionaries required.

On Tuesday, November 27 there's an intimate dinner for just 25 people at L'Albatros in University Circle. Two chefs from Rouen, Alexis Caquelars and Anthony Coufourier will partner with the restaurant's Chef de Cuisine Jack Ahern to prepare six courses. Brandon Chrostowski, staff sommelier, is in charge of the French wine pairings. The evening beings at 6 PM.  Price is $100 per person (plus tax and gratuity). Call 216-791-7880 to book your seat.

The new 2012 bottling of Beaujolais is in the spotlight along with other French reds and whites on Wednesday, November 28 downtown at Pura Vida, from 5:30-9 PM. The wines will be accompanied by a three course meal made by the same two visiting chefs, who will also do a cooking demo. They'll be working side by side with students from Tri-C's culinary program, under the supervision of their instructor Chef Ky-wai Wong and restaurant owner Chef Brandt Evans.  Price is $80 per person and you must register in advance.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Plain Dealer's future dominates public forum

Will The Plain Dealer remain a daily newspaper? That question dominated the conversation at today's forum at Trinity Cathedral about the future of the news in Cleveland.

“There’s a lot at stake; it’s not just our jobs,” said Harlan Spector, chairman of the Newspaper Guild's Plain Dealer chapter and one of the leaders of the union's Save The Plain Dealer campaign, launched Sunday.

The Plain Dealer's owner, Advance Publications, has been converting its daily newspapers in several states to three-day-a-week publications and cutting their staffs by about 50 percent. The realignment toward online publication has already happened at Advance's papers in Michigan, Alabama and New Orleans, and it is slated to take place in Syracuse, N.Y., and Harrisburg, Pa. in January.

Plain Dealer staffers fear Cleveland will be next. A no-layoffs pledge in the journalists’ union contract expires in January, and the company has told leaders of the newsroom union that layoffs and unspecified changes are coming.

“This really undermines the ability of the press to function as it should in a free society,” Spector argued to the audience of about 30 at today's forum, sponsored by the Cleveland chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Spector pointed to paper's coverage of the 2009 Cuyahoga County reform effort. “The Plain Dealer was all over county reform. We covered it at every turn of the screw,” he said. “That would not have happened if it weren’t for a daily newspaper coming to look at that day in and day out. That’s the kind of thing you’re going to lose.”

Without a daily paper, many people will be cut off from the news, Spector argued. “The physical paper serves a role that I don’t think can be replaced digitally,” he said. “There are a lot of elderly in the city, and they’re not just going to go on the website to get their news.”

Print newspapers nationwide face declining circulation and revenue as readers move online. People at the forum agreed that social media is accelerating the change and becoming many readers’ main source of news.

“News was a one-way thing, where we printed it and you read it. We played the gatekeeper role,” said Jean Dubail, a senior regional editor at and a former Plain Dealer staffer.

“We would sort through all the myriad of things that were happening in Cleveland and boil them down into a manageable package that you could read every day,” Dubail said. “Now that function is being performed by your friends.”

Plain Dealer reporter Diane Suchetka, in the audience, argued that her colleagues are providing reliable reporting online and in print. “We’re tweeting, we’re on Facebook, but we’re giving people a quality product just like in any other industry,” Suchetka said. “You want the suit coat that you buy, or the glasses that you buy, or the shoes that you buy to be good, and you’re willing to pay for good quality. That’s what we’re asking.”

The Save The Plain Dealer campaign's online petition has attracted nearly 1,000 signatures in the past 24 hours, totaling at 3,629 supporters as of this afternoon. The campaign hopes to receive 5,000 signatures and encourages the community and long-time followers of The Plain Dealer to show their support over the next several weeks by signing the petition, subscribing to the paper and writing letters to Advance executive Steven Newhouse.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Book Club

photo by Bob Perkoski,

I’ve been spending time with Michael Symon’s Carnivore: 120 Recipes for Meat Lovers, just recently released by Clarkson Potter (and covered in Cleveland Magazine last month). First impression after the initial flip-through was that it’s nice to look at, (though it does not unfortunately lay open and flat), well organized and full of dishes I want to eat. And, as the co-author of my own new book (with Marilou Suszko), Cleveland’s West Side Market: 100 Years & Still Cooking, (mentioned in both the October and November issues of Cleveland Magazine) with a forward written by Symon, I was delighted to see that a goodly number of the photos were shot at the local spot we both love so much.

Further closer reading revealed that it offers a great deal useful information, even for an experienced cook like me, but is clear and simple enough for anyone at any skill level to use.The writing — from chapter intro’s and headnotes to instructions and sidebars are lucid, engaging, and warmly personal. Some credit for that must go to Symon’s literary collaborator Doug Trattner, freelance journalist, editor, author, and chronicler of Cleveland’s food scene for many years. Symon has many talents but he’s the first to admit that he’s not a pro when it comes to putting words on paper. So it was Trattner’s job to turn the chef’s thoughts and ideas into solid, readable prose while letting Symon’s style and personality shine through on every page. He succeeded admirably. So I thought it would be interesting to get —and share — Trattner’s perspective on the partnership.
photo by Bob Perkoski,

-How did you get involved in this project? Michael approached me at the start of the process saying that he was looking for a ghostwriter for his second cookbook and would I consider taking it on. Having now made it through to the other side, I see how important a good fit between team members really is. There is absolutely no room for ego in this role, and I think Michael saw that quality in me.

-What exactly was your role? Initially, I was tapped to be a straight-up ghostwriter, meaning that all of my work would be behind the scenes, with perhaps a mention in the acknowledgments. Soon after the project began, though, Symon was hired onto the cast of The Chew, which he juggled along with Iron Chef, Symon Suppers, and Cook Like an Iron Chef. The busier he got, the larger my role became. In the end, Symon upgraded my status to that of co-author, complete with cover credit. I never asked, he didn't have to offer, but that's Symon in a nutshell.

-How long did the project take from start to finish? We first discussed the project more than a year and a half back. First there are outlines, tables of content, basic structural issues like how the chapters will be categorized. Recipes are tested (by Symon's chef Katie Pickens), photographed (by Jennifer May), chapters are written, manuscripts are submitted, returned, re-submitted… until everything is as perfect as humanly possible.

-Were there any especially memorable moments- good or bad- as the book went from concept to completion? You mean besides the late-night pillow fights? Due to a mix-up, I never received the publisher (Clarkson Potter) style guide until late in the game. That meant that pretty close to 120 recipes were improperly formatted. I had to go back and re-do a lot of my work. But it was all worth it when I received my first hardcover copy. It is such a beautiful cookbook, and to see it all come together in one glorious package really is staggering. It was the highlight of my professional career – that is, until my name landed on the New York Times Best Seller list.

-Is this your first time collaborating? How was it being part of a team? In terms of process, how did you and Symon work together? Was it a smooth or bumpy ride? For Fresh Water, our team produces a product every week, so I'm used to speedy efficiency. Things move slower in book publishing, and I often found myself stuck waiting for the answer that would allow me to move on with my work. I had to accept the fact that I was working with one of the busiest human beings on the planet and to not take silence or delays personally. But when Symon gets a window in which to work, he is a machine.

-What are some of the challenges in writing a cookbook and how was this different than other writing you've done? After writing professionally for a dozen years, you develop a style (hopefully) that not only is unique to yourself, but also sort of hardcoded into your DNA. When you write with and for another person, you need to resist those involuntary and instinctive impulses to do things your way. Mike has a style all his own – one that clearly is beloved by fans – and more than anything, I need to preserve, sharpen and enhance his voice. I imagine it's a bit like ventriloquism -- without those creepy dolls.

-Did you learn anything new about meat and how to cook it? I did. One of the best takeaways from the book, I think, is the notion of the dry brine (or quick cure). Symon is not a big fan of wet-brining meats; instead, he suggests liberally seasoning meat the night before and letting it rest in the fridge overnight. Do this to a good-quality chicken the night before you roast it and you will be amazed at the difference. I also learned that when the recipe calls for veal heart, do not substitute the heart from a worn-out dairy cow or you will be very sorry (but your dogs will be very happy).

-The public loves Michael and no matter how significant your contribution, as far as they're concerned this is his book. Is it hard to be in the shadow of a big celebrity like Symon? As far as I'm concerned, this is his book. While I'm extremely proud of the work I did, the book would be nothing without the bald man on the cover. It is his food, his words, and his talent that created the thing. More importantly, it is his reputation and hard work that is selling the thing. I can't imagine enduring his grueling schedule of TV tapings, book signings, public appearances… All I had to do was sit in front of my computer in my jammies. The book is not a New York Times Best Seller because of me; it's because of Symon.

-I heard a rumor that you're already working on second cookbook with him. Is it true? It's true. We recently started work on Symon's third cookbook, which plays off of the type of cooking he does on The Chew. The recipes are really geared to the home cook, who may not have a lot of time, but still wants to feed his or her family a delicious (and affordable) meal. If all goes as planned, the book should drop around this time next year.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

After Party, After Sandy

 I was hanging out at Noodlecat late Saturday night,  mingling with some of the hard working chefs who so generously donated time and talent to the utterly fabulous and financially successful West Side Market Gala. As if he hadn't already done enough,  'Cat owner and chef extraordinaire Jonathon Sawyer, who worked with Michael Symon on the big fundraiser, rolled out the welcome mat for an afterparty. He wanted to be sure that those who worked the main event also had a chance to kick back, relax, and enjoy some nice food and drink. Ben Bebenroth, who's own Spice Kitchen and Bar had been closed last week due to the power outages that crippled so many Cleveland neighborhoods, was outside grilling.

Eric Williams and I chatted about how Storm Sandy had hurt us here. Momocho, his Ohio City restaurant, was dark for three days. He lost about $5,000 worth of food and the building suffered some serious wind and water damage. He estimates his total losses at $15, 000, a lot for a small business but not much, we agreed, compared to the hit taken by those on the east coast, including some of the chefs scheduled to be here for the Gala. I mentioned reading an article in The New York Times about how tough things were for that city's hourly wage workers: their desperate attempts to get to work despite the dangers and transportation shut down because they couldn't afford to miss a day of work, and the despair of those who  lost desperately needed income when their employers didn't or couldn't open for business. Williams told me that, worried about his own people, he had gone to the bank, made a cash withdrawal and paid his staff for the days Momocho was shuttered. "I did it," he said, "because it was the right thing to do."

He didn't tell me this to boast or make himself look good. I wasn't on the job and he had no reason to think I'd write about it. We were just two people chatting about what had been going on. But thinking about it afterwards, I realized that I wanted to share the conversation because it encapsulates both some of the grief the hurricane left in its wake and the way people step up to help one another in times of crisis. The entire evening- the super efforts Symon and Sawyer made to find replacements for the chefs from out of town who were not able to make it here; how everyone pulled together to insure that the fundraiser went ahead as planned including Williams who cooked for the event; Bebenroth showing up with his usual smile despite a hellish week and troubles of his own; and my exchange with Eric- was a little story within a big a disaster and a testament to resiliency and goodness.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

All That Glitters

Penny Preville has been designing jewelry for decades. But when she talks about her art, she has all the enthusiasm of the little girl who loved nothing more than playing in her grandmother’s jewelry box.

“My father’s mother had really beautiful jewelry — Tiffany, Cartier, beautiful gemstones, pieces that just evoked so much emotion,” she says. “They were really magnificent. It was special. It really sparked my interest. I just started taking costume jewelry apart and making things.”

Her jewelry captures the opulence and grandeur of another era, one seen partly through the rosy glasses of memory, but also through dedicated research into foreign cultures and lost worlds.

“I’m very inspired by the history of art and past cultures,” she explains. “It’s kind of like imagination, falling in love with what I think is beautiful in those eras or cultures, and then making it into a piece of jewelry that a woman can wear and feel it become a part of her, adorn her.”

Preville’s collections will be on display during a one-day champagne-and-sushi trunk show at Alson Jewelers this Saturday, Nov. 10, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. We asked her for a few of her favorite pieces from the upcoming show.

Diamond Bangle Bracelet: “It’s very simple: It’s pave, with a twist and engraving on the side. But it’s so classic — you could wear it with shorts and a bathing suit, or you could wear it black tie. It’s just something [where] you put it on every morning, and you’re dressed.”

Garland Band: “One of my favorite pieces, one of my signature pieces. When I started I did a garland collection that’s all leaves and flowers. I love it. That’s one thing that I wear all the time.”

Feather Earrings: “I love feathers. That goes back to when I first started and I was in love with American Indian jewelry, when I was still in college, and I would make feathered earrings and wrap them in leather. Now it’s with diamonds,” she says with a laugh.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Zombie Apocalypse Descends Upon SPACES

Slavs and slaughter, accordions and apocalypse collided on the Superior Viaduct Saturday night at SPACES Gallery's benefit party, the Polkapocalypse. A live (and undead) polka band played while zombie party guests with perfected decaying-flesh makeup and splattered fake blood shambled through the gallery, almost stealing the show from the hundreds of artworks auctioned off.  

Other costumed guests embraced the themes of polka and the apocalypse, such as this player of a nuclear bomb accordion and this couple with polka-dotted faces and T-shirts bearing the date of the purported Mayan apocalypse.  Photographer Justyna Walker won the title of Zombie Queen for her entry in the zombie art contest, a photo of a female zombie in traditional Polish dance clothing.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Polka, Zombies Descend on SPACES Gallery for Saturday Polkapocalypse

You can always count on the artists and art lovers of SPACES gallery to put on a creative party. This year, they've dubbed their annual benefit the Polkapocalypse, crossing Cleveland-style old-world music with the latest undead craze.

That's right. Polka + zombies.

Flesh-eating hordes will stalk the Superior Viaduct this Saturday night.  It's a costume-optional party, but just imagine the possibilities. You could go as zombie Frankie Yankovic, your accordion wailing a peppy death march... or dress in a checkered red shirt and gray face paint...  or shamble slowly but relentlessly through the crowd, singing "Who Stole the Brains?" in Polish...

Whatever I can imagine, the SPACES crowd will surely outdo it.

The apocalypse begins at 7 pm for VIPs, 8 pm for regular ticket-holders, 10 pm if you get the "graveyard shift" $10 tickets. Live music starts around 8; DJ Kishka spins polka records starting at 10. Everyone gets a chance to bid on auctioned art, and higher-priced tickets include a buy-it-now option. There's also a 12x12 art sale, where everything's $75 and 12-by-12-inches or smaller.  (For more info, click here. You can buy tickets online until noon today. After that, they'll only be available at the door.)

At 9:45, the evening peaks with several guest-blogger judges (including yours truly) judging the results of a polka zombie art contest. We will name the winner the Zombie King or Zombie Queen.