Saturday, September 19, 2009

Cleveland part 1: House of Blues and spotting Lola

As our family headed into downtown Cleveland for a weekend vacation, I sighed to myself. Here I was, going to the city where Michael Symon (probably best known for being an Iron Chef on the Food Network) has two restaurants, and I wouldn't get to dine at either one of them. The impetus for our trip was for one son to see his beloved Minnesota Twins play the Indians at Progressive Field, and for the other son to go to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. I reminded myself that our time with our sons was flying by, and trips were for having fun as a family. I'll be able to experience fine dining, I thought, once they were out of the house ... and through college, so that we could afford it ... and that was about 10 years from now. Sigh.

On Friday night, we checked into our hotel (the Holiday Inn Express on Euclid) and headed out on foot to find a place to eat. After a block or so, we spotted a bustling street strewn with twinkle lights, with lots of restaurants. We decided to check it out. The weather was perfect, in the 70s without much of a breeze, so we agreed that we wanted to eat outside in a restaurant that was fairly teen-friendly. We picked the House of Blues, which was one of the few outdoor areas where there wouldn't be a wait. (Word to the wise: you're not going to get the best meal by picking the least busy restaurant. We knew that, but we didn't want to deal with a long wait and frankly the ambiance of the street would make up for shortcomings with the food).

Right after we ordered our beverages, a photographer came by to take our picture. I knew we'd be hit up for buying an expensive package of photos. Our fault for picking a tourist spot, I thought.

One son ordered a turkey club, the other a burger, and my husband and I split a rack of ribs. (My husband and I don't usually share meals, but in this case the ribs only came in a full rack, and the waiter told us that people often split them). I also ordered what was billed as "Our Famous Rosemary Skillet Cornbread."

While we were waiting for our food, we unsurprisingly got the sales pitch for our pictures and spent about 12 bucks on a couple of prints.

We did some people watching and every so often spied the Goodyear blimp that was flying overhead (it was at the Indians game).

As I looked at the signs down the street, my gaze settled on the sign that said "Lola." (Way at the bottom of this picture, in an oval.) Lola, Lola, Lola ... I was trying to think of why that name sounded so familiar to me.

Then it hit me: that was Michael Symon's restaurant! And I was walking distance from it!

My 14-year-old son and I decided to take a quick stroll down there. It looked slick and sophisticated. We were both wearing tie-die t-shirts, but we summoned the courage to go inside and ask to see a menu.

When I saw the menu, I thought our family could go for lunch because there were many items that were approachable -- club sandwich, pulled pork, a burger, and fried bologna (a favorite of my husband's). But the friendly hostess told me that they didn't serve lunch on weekends, so that was out. She did say she had a table for two available at 6 p.m. the next day. I told her I'd think about it, and as we walked back to our table at the House of Blues, my son and I agreed we'd love to get a chance to eat there. I told my husband about the 6 p.m. opening, but said I didn't want it to disrupt our weekend plans.

Our dinner at the House of Blues arrived, and the food was unremarkable, neither great nor terrible -- except for the skillet cornbread. It is shown to the right, with my son's club sandwich in the background. The photo doesn't do it justice (it was dark, I used a flash, and I was just about to grab a slice out of the cornbread). It was thick, moist, sweet, and deliciously flavored with fresh rosemary. It came with some sweet butter -- I don't remember if it was sweetened with honey or maple. I'd be happy to go back there and make a dinner of that cornbread and an appetizer or side salad. (I found the recipe online, and realize that it would hardly be a light meal. It has lots of eggs and heavy cream. Yowza, no wonder it tasted so good.)

After dinner, our waiter offered to show us the room where bands played (they curiously don't have entertainment on Friday nights). It was a cool space with lots of folk art on the walls, and the stage had an interesting patchwork curtain. My son remarked that he'd love for 441 (his band) to be able to play a gig there someday.

As we left, my husband encouraged me to take the 6 p.m. opening at Lola with my older son. He and my younger son would go to a cool-looking place on the corner that was a combination restaurant, martini bar and bowling alley. It didn't take much arm twisting. I went to Lola made the reservation, almost skipping like a six-year-old as I left. More about Cleveland in my next post...

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bourdain coming to Rochester

Anthony Bourdain is coming to Rochester on November 20. The lovable bad boy of the culinary world will appear at the Auditorium Theater. The articles say that tickets are $39.50 - $49.50. And that you can get VIP tickets to go to a meet-and-greet with him for $75. And that doesn't include the astronomical fees that Ticketmaster tacks on.

What the articles don't say is what the heck he'll be doing on stage. The acts I've gone to the Auditorium to see have been plays (Les Miserables, Cats) and music acts (Squeeze, Earth Wind & Fire, Sesame Street Live).

As far as I know, Bourdain cooks, writes, and travels. I can only guess that he'll get up there and talk about cooking, writing and traveling, because I can't imagine him doing a song and dance number. And he can fill up a huge auditorium by doing this? Sheesh, that guy has a great thing going, doesn't he? Sign me up for that career, please.

I'm a Bourdain fan, but I just can't imagine shelling out $40 to sit in a huge auditorium to watch him speak. Now, if it included some frites from Les Halles (I hear they are fried in duck fat), I'd consider it.

Seriously, has anyone paid that kind of money to go see Bourdain? If so, do you recommend going?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Top Chef Las Vegas: episode 4

School has started for my two sons and life is flat-out bonkers right now. Top Chef is such a welcome escape on Wednesday nights -- and it's so much more restful to watch it if I'm not thinking of what to put in a blog post.

While our Rochester native, Laurine, seems to be running in the middle of the pack at this stage of the competition, she is proving herself to be an interesting and thoughtful writer with her blog. As a result, I'm going to defer to her blog for commentary on this week's episode.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Top Chef Las Vegas, episode 3

No time for a recap this week as my family and I are having a whole bunch of family time before school starts. Just a couple of comments on our home girl, Laurine.

Laurine's QuickFire dish showed her chops. A burger made out of potatoes with portobello mushrooms as the bun? Cool. I thought she'd be on top.

I knew she'd be in trouble when she and Preeti decided to make pasta salad. Those judges have never met a pasta salad they liked. The judges overreacted to Laurine saying she forgot she was in a competition. I'm sure she meant she had a job to do, wanted to please the people in the armed forces, and got into caterer mode. A big "whew" for Laurine not being eliminated ... and hoping she gets out of caterer mode and into competitor mode quickly.

Here's a link to her post about the episode.
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