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Cleveland Food Tour: Medina’s Corkscrew Saloon

If you haven’t gone to Medina to spend a day walking around this quaint city, you’re missing out. What an absolute gem we have right in our backyard. I could go on an on about the nifty things to see but of course, this is the food tour and you could probably do an entire series just on Medina restaurants — which we just may do that! As you drive into Medina from route 57, you’ll notice a grand Victorian mansion that is now home to the Corkscrew Saloon. The home was built in the 1850s and was the Durham Mansion, where he made his fortune manufacturing time pieces. The space is just jaw dropping as this home was converted into a restaurant some time ago and apparently has been home to several over the years — the latest incarnation being the Corkscrew. Not sure why it’s called that, I didn’t gather that it was a “wine” place although it did have a nice selection. The bar area was small but well equipped and stocked with the usual suspects. The menu (we did lunch) was clever and had a number of interesting options of entrees and appetizers, and there are many selections that would please the most discerning of palate down to some grub for the kiddos — although I would suggest leaving the little darlings at home for this place. It’s elegant, and pricey but worth every cent.

We opted to start off with a pair of appetizers — fried calamari and scallops Rockefeller. The main entree was ahi tuna, with asparagus and fried rich. The calamari (much like the memorable calamari at Whistler’s) was fresh, vibrant and fantastic. Beautifully breaded and fried, it was not greasy or rubbery, but rather fresh and firm, with a fantastic coating. The sauce, however, was to die for. I don’t know exactly what it was, but on the calamari, it was utter perfection. The scallops were also amazing. Beautifully presented on the shell, they cooked perfectly and were loaded with flavor. The entree was a lesson in how to prepare ahi tuna. The pepper coating was seared in, leaving the center raw and giving a taste sensation that was out of this world. It was meaty, juicy and melted in your mouth. The black bean and corn salsa topping paired beautifully with the tuna and what can you say about the big asparagus, also seared to perfection with the right amount of snap.

Highly recommended, this is a great stop for lunch or dinner. The patio is beautiful as well, and features a large pond and waterfall, so a great stop for a cocktail after work or that special dinner. Five out of five stars, this is worth the trip!

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Whistle a Happy Tune: Cleveland Food Tour at Whistler’s in Avon

Located right at a very busy corner of Avon on Detroit Avenue and 611 sits Whistler’s Wood Fire Grill. Sort of a strange looking front as you drive by as it sort of resembles a shabby shack or old barn, but in reality it used to be an ice cream place — as we understand it. The front section is well lit and most likely this was added to put the actual 700 degree wood fire oven in, and it features a quaint little bar that seats four and about 5 or 6 tables in the space, which also leads out to a front patio.

The side entrance (main entrance) is the main dining room with a much larger bar. Why did we start with the decor? Well, for as amazing good as the food and service is, the actual decor and design of the place is at best confusing and at worst, really, really dated and kinda shabby, particularly when you look at the menu and corresponding prices — dinners are priced the same as much, much, MUCH higher end establishments. Now, having said that the food is good is an understatement — the food (and service) were fantastic. But, when it’s 5 p.m. on a Friday night and we are the only two folks in the place, there’s a sign.

Whistler’s is suffering from a brand identity crisis and is in desperate need of clarifying the message while updating the space to fit the menu and the cool factor of the wood fire grill. A bad website, awful decor, furniture from a cheap diner, yet the prices for a steak rival or if not more than Morton’s or Ruth’s Chris. It was strange, here you are in a rather expensive restaurant, yet you have sports on several TVs and really old WWII stuff, which made no sense at all? A bit of advice, hire a marketing professional to give you a little image makeover and a redesign of the front of house and the website, a clarified brand and message as to “what you are,” better and smarter promotions on social media and our bet is this place would be packed. Because…

The food is excellent. It’s fresh. It’s well crafted and thought out, and everything was absolutely cooked to perfection in that amazing wood fire grill.

The second bar in the front room had a few beers on tap and a nice wine and spirits selection. And, you can actually watch the wood fire grill from there, so it was a cool place to sit. We ordered the shrimp crostini and fried calamari as an appetizer, and both were very good — flavorful and fresh. The calamari was not frozen, it was hand cut, hand dipped and fried fresh and you can definitely tell the difference. Dinner was a 12 oz NY strip and lobster tail, which came with fresh zuke salad and a baked spud. Absolutely wood fired to perfection, flavorful, juicy and a perfect medium rare. The lobster was tender and moist, bursting with lobster awesomeness, and the sides were well prepared. In all, absolutely fantastic food. Great service, but I felt kinda bad for the cook and the waitress there on a Friday night hustling for tips with two whole customers.

Give Whistler’s a try, you’ll be glad you did. But, be prepared, it’s pricey (one dinner, two apps and a couple beers was over $100). I don’t mind paying for a good meal and good service, I just didn’t expect a $100 meal from a place that looks like really dark Flo’s Diner. Update the look, find your brand voice and this place — because of the cook and server — is a definite home run.

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Cleveland Food Tour: L’Albatros

If I had to sum up L’Albatros in one word it would simply be WOW! Or, should I say Le Wow! What an amazing place nestled on Bellflower Avenue in the heart of University Circle. If you’ve been, you know how awesomely awesome this place is — if you haven’t, do yourself a favor a book a trip to University Circle to see the art museum and have lunch or dinner at this rustic French “cafe.”

Now, before you go all foo foo on me, just because it’s French doesn’t mean it’s pompous or overly stuffy. In fact, just the opposite. Beautiful rustic charm as you walk in, you’re greeted by the kitchen staff on your right (all open) and a hostess in front of you, and the bar to your left (which also has some seating and a chef’s table — tres cool). You walk through the bar to the main seating which features large windows, brick walls and a very large and beautiful fireplace as the centerpiece on the far back wall. It’s almost as if you walked into an old home in the French countryside. And of course the menu featured what you may expect in a French restaurant, and this was, by far, one of the most extensive wine lists this reviewer has seen in some time (and several choices above the $400/bottle range if that’s your thing.). I opted for a gorgeous Bordeaux that paired absolutely perfectly with the entree selections: a chicken confit and a tiger shrimp over fettucini.

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The chicken confit (preferred over duck as it’s less fatty and gamey) was beautifully prepared and served over spaetzel, a treat one doesn’t often get with chicken. It was layered with complex flavors enhanced by, I believe, finely shredded brussel sprouts. The chicken was amazingly moist and fell right off the bone, making for a perfect mouthful with the spaetzel combination. Flaky, moist and delicious.

The tiger shrimp, while the “hero” of the dish was outshined by the just exceptional pasta. It was clearly handmade and perhaps as fresh as made to order pasta, cooked perfectly al dente. Without question, it’s the best pasta I’ve ever had at a restaurant, most always they drown it in heavy sauce or it’s just mushy — this was flavorful, had a great texture, and the sauce may have been made by God’s hands. It was almost a “broth” that coated the pasta and shrimp with an amazing flavor enhanced most definitely in this case, by roasted brussel sprouts. The shrimp was meaty and large, and the five tiger prawns that came with the dish were more than enough to eat.

Now, for dessert, what could possibly be better than…..fresh hand shucked oysters!

img_0265 as i am a true sucker for the shuckers, I had to get them. Shucked right then and there, these were as fresh as a naughty toddler in kindergarten. Briney deliciousness, garnished and served perfectly and paired with a beautiful Dortmunder Gold. Six to a plate, though you can also order 12. The best part of this luncheon/dinner excursion was, of all things, the price. I couldn’t believe how affordable this was (it was no more expensive than going to an Applebee’s, for instance). I couldn’t believe the prices, and I say that in a good way — I actually thought they could have charged double (and I’ve seen it for more, with less quality). The place is a fantastic value. The service staff was knowledgeable and engaging, prompt and smiling. They got a good tip (thank you Audrey and Liz!). This place is spectacular. A perfect date place without breaking the bank, and you can (and should) try something you’ve never had before. I can’t wait to go back. Five Stars all the way! Mon Dieu!

 

 

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Cleveland Food Tour: Cole’s Public House in Amherst

Nestled on Main Street in the quaint Sandstone City of Amherst sits the best restaurant this critic has been to in years, in Cleveland or Cincinnati, and is so far the top spot in the Greater Cleveland Food Tour. It rivals the very best of the best in Cincinnati, a great foodie town and  is reminiscent of the great spots in OTR, as well as Brew River or Incline. If you’re talking Greater Cleveland, it has a Tremont vibe but far less pretentious. Of course, I’m talking about Cole’s Public House. If you’ve haven’t been, you’re missing out and if you have, then you already know how amazing this place is.

For starters, guess what cocktail we started off with? That’s right, the holy grail quest for the perfect Old Fashioned has come to end — the holy grail is at Cole’s Public House. No, itimg_0021 is still not the standard bearer that is Bour Bon in Paris (KY), but it’s the best Old Fashioned I’ve ever had in Ohio. Crafted beautifully by friendly, knowledgeable and charismatic bartenders Wendy and Mike, it was the perfect combination of rye, sugar, aromatic bitters and style (the recreation of the Cavaliers logo for the cherry and orange peel was icing on the cake.). It was, quite frankly, delicious. The space has an old feel to it, the exposed brick walls and large, heavy dark wood accented by nice lighting and natural light from the front window made the space feel larger than it actually is. The back and side walls had faux windows with scenery and was quite cleverly designed. The bar is large, with ample seating and fronting an excellent selection of draft beers and an amazing selection of bottled and canned beer from the past (black label, for example, which I’ve never actually seen) to present.

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For the entree, I can never resist fresh, raw hand shucked oysters (I call them shuckers). They have a variety of things to put on them, but of course the only way to eat them is naked. Cleaned perfectly, filled with salty briny awesomeness, these were fresh, flavorful and a site for sore eyes — oh we love a good raw bar. Just delicious, a tad pricey, so this isn’t an everyday appetizer, but yummy and nicely unexpected in Amherst.

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After the apps, I had a roasted beet salad. Two types of beets roasted to absolute perfection. Tender and flavorful, a little earthy as you like them, but not mushy. Highly recommend the beets. The entree was a delightful black cod, served over a bed of hand made spinach fettuccine served with olives, crushed tomatoes and a garlic sauce. The fish was cooked absolutely to perfection, light and flavorful, and flaked off the fork with ease — glistening with natural oils and not overly seasoned as to ruin the great taste of the fish itself. Pasta in most restaurants I find they don’t know how to make noodles al dente. These were perfectly prepared, not drowning in sauce but rather allowing the fish and the pasta to brilliantly intermingle and create an amazing texture and taste.

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Overall, what can I say 9 out of 10 or perhaps a 9.5 if we gave out such numbers. Not particularly expensive, not pretentious and incredibly fresh, friendly, vibrant and creative. The drink menu is a masterpiece of creativity and skill, and the food menu is perfectly balanced to please any foodie. HIGHLY recommended, and the best restaurant in Ohio to date.

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Cleveland Restaurant Tour: Pier W

In our continuing saga of finding great restaurants throughout Greater Cleveland (and Greater Cincinnati) every now and again you have one that simply blows your mind — this was one of those occasions. While we’ve certainly  heard good things about Lakewood’s Pier W restaurant, until you experience it for yourself, the written word is a poor substitute — but we’ll try.

Walking in from the ample free parking, you’re greeted by a blue awning walkway into what appears to be a very, very small building. It’s almost as if you’re walking the red carpet to a private club. To your right is the patio seating and in front of you is the one floor down staircase that leads to the restaurant lobby complete with massive saltwater fish tank, and behind it, one of the finest wine rooms/wine selections I have personally ever seen. The bar, which was rather small relatively, was also quite exclusive as it was roped off. For every patron that left, another could be let in. The bar was fully stocked with every high end drink you can imagine, and they had several signature cocktails of their own creation, including the highly recommended Pier W drink.

Now, the view is worth going alone as you literally are peering out into the expanse of Lake Erie and to your right is the beautiful Cleveland skyline that so many folks, particularly visitors to the city, never see — from the Harbor Side. It’s breathtaking, since on this day it was sunny and clear, you could see all the way to the lake’s horizon and the curvature of the Earth. Did I mention the view was breathtaking?

Upon being seated, we were greeted by attentive and knowledgeable staff that shared special selections and explained the truly expansive menu. While pricey (dinner with drinks will cost  you $200) I have to say it was worth every nickel and I look forward to going again and again to try more selections. Now, i’m a sucker for raw oysters on the half shell and these did not disappoint. Beautifully presented and cleaned, the sampler of three types was the perfect into to a surf and turf dinner that is, without question, the best I have ever had — anywhere. Ever. The other appetizer was a scallop ceviche, again, flavorful, moist and powerful.

 

The surf and turf was standard filet (rare) and a beautiful lobster tail — again cooked to perfection and served with a twice baked mash and asparagus. The other entree was almost a “deconstructed” shepherd’s pie, with a garlic truffle mash as the bed to a glazed carrot and roast with a wine redux sauce — both melted in your mouth and were bursting with flavor. Perfectly combined and prepared with confidence. It was a sight for the eyes and a feast for the palette. All in all, if you’re looking for the perfect place to celebrate a victory, milestone or event in your life, this is the place to do it. 10 out of 10 and highly unconditionally recommended.

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