Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Brunch in Cleveland

After 3 months in Cleveland, it was about time I tried brunch here. I recently went to 2 different places: Luna Bakery and Cafe and The Inn on Coventry.

First, Luna Bakery and Cafe is a relatively new spot in the Cedar-Fairmount area. It's hip, modern, bright, etc. The space is crowded, but the atmosphere is energetic. You order at the register and then fight for a table (on busy weekends). Or, while waiting for the table, you can watch the "chefs" make crepes and regret that you didn't order 10 more things... The menu selection is pretty diverse. There are no egg classics (benedict, etc.), but there are a variety of sweet and savory crepes and breakfast and lunch sandwiches. I got the dark chocolate crepe with fresh berries. Then, because the display was so tempting, I also got a green tea macaron, a chocolate-hazelnut macaron. Finally, I noticed the mushroom quiche and decided to try it as well. Never mind that I had already had breakfast that morning... So let's start with the quiche: it was incredibly smooth and melted in my mouth. The crust was still flaky and buttery. However, I wish that the mushrooms flavor was more detectable. I next tried the crepe. It was warm and thin. The chocolate filling was neither too much, not too little - it was in good balance with the crepe. And the berries presented a nice contrast to the sweet chocolate. I managed to save the macarons for home, but I quickly finished them, as well. They had good texture, but nothing special as far as macarons go. They were delicious, but the flavors were just average.

Only a couple of weeks after the experience at Luna, I went to the Inn on Coventry. We were a large group (8 of us), but didn't have a problem getting a table at 9:45 am. Unlike Luna, the Inn is old, dark, and crowded. It's an old establishment, and it feels like it has never been renovated. The character can be nice if the original features are done in the right way, but that wasn't the case with the Inn. Fortunately, the food was worth it. I got the Maryland crab cakes Benedict. I wasn't sure if getting seafood at that location in particular was a good idea, but it turned out ok. Well, the crab cakes didn't have that much crab, but they were ok. They weren't great, but they weren't a disaster. The eggs, however, were perfectly poached. The yolks were soft in the middle and ran on the plate as a nice rich cream. I love egg yolks! Who cares about cholesterol ;) The Hollandaise sauce had red peppers in it, which complemented the crab cakes well. On the side, I got grits just because I miss the South :) My first impression of the grits was that they were very bland, but I eventually got used to the taste. They definitely didn't have any cheese. At least they were still creamy...

Despite the old interior, I would have liked the Inn on Coventry if it wasn't for the service. They problems started as soon as we sat down. The waitress was rushing us to decide on drinks. I understand that she was busy, but she was almost rude whenever she had to interact with us. But the worst part was at the end, when we were done with the meal. The waitress simply set the checks on our table without asking them if we were ready. And then both her and the hostess kept coming over to our table to see if we were ready to leave. It did feel like they were making us leave. Yes, there were people waiting, but we got there early to get a table, so I feel like we had the right to stay. Plus, we weren't simply sitting there. We were already packing our things up. Maybe they got a little more revenue that morning by giving our table to someone else, but they definitely lost a customer in me.

Compared to the vibrant, happy and friendly atmosphere at Luna, the Inn on Coventry was quite a disappointment. But I'm looking forward to trying more brunch places. I hope that more of them will be closer to Luna rather than the Inn.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Mmm, fresh seafood in Atlanta

And after a single post about Cleveland, I'm back to Atlanta! Well, only for a short visit over Christmas. In between catching up with old friends and eating my mom's amazing food, my sister pumpkin and I sneaked out for a nice dinner out. I'd heard from a ton of people how great The Optimist was supposed to be, so we finally tried it out.Plus, even though Cleveland is on a lake, getting fresh food here can be a challenge...

The restaurant is located on the West Side of Atlanta, pretty close to JCT Kitchen and Abattoir. It also has the same feel to it: converted warehouse that's now both modern and sophisticated at the same time. But what the restaurant is really known for is the seafood. It has a large selection of raw oysters, which we unfortunately couldn't try :( Instead, we got the tuna tartare as a starter. This dish was both innovative and delicious. It came with duck breast ham and SHAVED hardboiled egg on top. How often do you see shaved egg or duck breast ham?!?!?! And yes, that's ham made out of duck breast. I don't know how they made it, but it was amazing, with a rich flavor that I usually associate with spicy dried sausages. The creaminess of the egg was perfect with the fresh tuna, and the ham provided a punch of flavor and saltiness to the otherwise plain fish. The plate was also spotted with a black garlic reduction for an additional layer of flavor. A great start to the meal that matched my expectations for the restaurant, but set new expectations for the main course.

For entrees, I got red snapper with roasted cauliflower, and Pumpkin had swordfish with beans and capers. Unlike the creative appetizer, the entrees were just standard. Well, they were delicious, but there was nothing special about them. The cauliflower was just like any cauliflower I've had. On the bright side, the fish was fresh and well cooked. Mine was a little bland, but Pumpkin's swordfish was well flavored.

Because we had been eating copious amounts of food for a few days, we didn't get a dessert this time. One things that irked me, though, is that our waiter didn't even ask us if we wanted the check or a dessert menu. He simply placed the dessert menu on our table and walked away. I guess that's a good strategy to entice someone into getting dessert, but I didn't appreciate it. Indeed, I found the service a little lacking and not up to par, especially compared to the other great restaurants nearby. The waiter came and asked us for our order as soon as we were seated, before we could even look at the menu, but when it was time for the check, he was no where to be seen. I did like certain aspects of The Optimist, but it has some work to do before it can catch up with the other great restaurants in the area.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Welcome to Cleveland

Well, I've been in Cleveland for about three months now. I already settled into my new place in downtown, started the new job, have seen lots of snow and experienced COLD weather, but at the same time I've done a great deal of exploring of the city. Of course, that includes a great deal of eating out. A few places that stood out are mentioned below.

One of the first places I went to after moving in was Greenhouse Tavern, which is only a few blocks away from my apartment. I went there with my parents because I thought they would be excited about a place with a creative meat menu. One of the items is a whole pig's head!! I was sure my dad would want to order that. Instead, he scorned at it and got the hot wings.... Well, at least he said he liked them. My mom got the lamb burger. The burger was juicy and delicious, with strong, but not overwhelming lamb flavor. The fries that it came with were also crispy and great. I opted for the pasta because I didn't feel like having a large meat course. The pasta came with grilled tomatoes, pancetta and green beans in a black garlic sauce. It was relatively light and flavorful, but a tad dry. Still, I definitely want to go back to Greenhouse Tavern and get that pig's head!!

Another very memorable place was Lolita, which is owned by iron chef Michael Symon. I went there for my birthday with a group of friends, so we ordered several things. Unfortunately, I didn't take pictures of any of them :( My appetizer was dates with almonds and bacon. It was sweet and rather heavy, but definitely very delicious! The eggplant dip was on the lighter side, but also very good. It came with a wonderful flatbread that I couldn't get enough of. For entrees, a couple of us ordered the octopus and bone marrow risotto. I thought the dates were rich, but the risotto was rich on another level! After all, what can you expect from a creamy risotto, which already has an indulgent texture, after adding pure fat in the form of bone marrow to it? At the same time, it was still edible and very pleasant to eat. It did melt in my mouth. And because it was so rich, I could barely eat half of it and had dinner for the next day :) Finally, what very pleasantly surprised me at the restaurant was that they brought a dessert for me - meaning, it was free :) It was some kind of cake that had custard in the middle and caramelized pears on top. But it resembled a molten chocolate cake than a layer cake. The cake itself was spiced (probably with cinnamon, etc.) and very very moist because of the custard. It was simply outstanding - one of those desserts that make you eat them even though you're stuffed...

Based on these two places and lots of others, I'm very excited about living here and trying out more things. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Local flair in Minneapolis

Wow, so many things have changed over the last several months: I defended my graduate dissertation, graduate from school and moved to Cleveland for a new job. All of these things kept me busy and made me neglect my blog. But things are finally slowing down, so I'm back!

Today I'll quickly catch you up on some of the most memorable dining experiences I had recently. I'll start with a trip I took last fall to Minneapolis/St. Paul to visit Pumpkin there. It was still the beginning of fall, the leaves on the trees were all shades of yellow and red, the air was crisp, but still warm - PERFECT! Pumpkin had to work during the days when I was there, so I was left to explore on my own. I didn't mind it, though, because I got to rest and do whatever I want. In between going to parks and museums, I grabbed a few meals. I had a lot of fresh local food at a small cafe next to a lake (can't remember its name :( ) and the modern art museum. But the best meal of the trip was at Butcher and the Boar. I don't often eat meat, but when I do it's something special - as at the restaurant of a James Beard Award semifinalist.

In addition to Pumpkin, her roommate also joined us for dinner. We decided to share the sausage sampler because the restaurant is known for its sausages. The platter came with a pork, beef and boar sausage each, which was perfect for the three of us. We also got the beer-battered fries on the side. All the sausages were amazing. They were juicy and flavorful, each with its unique taste. The pork sausage was especially juicy, with what looked like pieces of cheese inside. It was my favorite. The fries were also perfect: crispy on the outside and soft inside.

Finally, the other place worth mentioning is a local ice cream chain called Sebastian Joe's. I have newfound appreciation for ice cream, especially small family brands that still make the ice cream by hand. They use the best ingredients, and usually have some unique flavors. Sebastian Joe's is one of those places. After a lot of deliberation - and tastings ;) - I got a scoop each of the Pavaroti and Spumoni flavors. I mean, where else have you heard names like these?? The Pavaroti was caramel and banana ice cream with swirled caramel, banana pieces and chocolate chips. The Spumoni is almond, lemon and orange ice cream with dried apricots and almonds. Both types were absolutely delicious. And even though the Spumoni had so many flavors mixed in, they were all balanced for an overall great taste. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

A visit to Chicago

A few weeks ago I went to Chicago for the very first time. Neither my sister, nor I had been there before, so we decided to meet up there. We stayed there for only one night, but we had a great time. Despite the short stay, we got a good sampling of the Chicago food.

One of the places I really wanted to try in this Midwest city was a Mexican restaurant called Frontera Grill, haha. But it's no ordinary Mexican. The owner is Rick Bayless, who has been called the Julia Child of Mexican food. He lived in Mexico for a long time, and prepares authentic Mexican dishes. Unfortunately, his restaurant is quite popular, which meant that there was a long wait even late in the afternoon, between lunch and dinner hours. Fortunately for us, there is a cafe attached to the restaurant (Xoco) which serves more street food-like versions of the dishes at Frontera Grill. So, my sister and I ate there. I ordered the suckling pig torta, and Pumpkin got the seafood caldo. My sandwich was great. I loved the grilled bread. Its crunch made it sturdy enough to hold the pile of meat that was in the middle. The pickled onion was a great addition because it cut through the richness of the meat. The sandwich came with a spicy salsa that was REALLY spicy. At first I scoffed at the warning by the server, but this is seriously the spiciest thing I've had. One drop was enough to set my mouth on fire for half a sandwich. I wish they would tone down the heat a little. Pumpkin's caldo was also hot, but in terms of temperature :P Compared to my sandwich, it was very light :) Yet, the broth was very flavorful and refreshing.

We also got the Mexican hot chocolate because I was curious what the original thing tastes like. And OMG, it was AMAZING! It tasted as rich as if you were drinking molten chocolate, but it was a lot more liquid to be simply that. However they prepare it, I can see why the Aztec rules loved it so much.

Of course, our other meal in Chicago had to be deep dish pizza. We went to a place called Giordano's that a friend of mine had recommended. We ordered the original deep dish pizza as it was our first time trying it. Pumpkin was a little worried whether the small pizza would be enough for the two of us, but as soon as we saw the pizza, we realized that there's no reason to worry. The pizza is GIANT! It's as thick as a cake. It has a crust on the bottom, then layers of cheese, peperoni and bell peppers, and another layer of cheese that acts as a top crust. Pumpkin and I ate a piece each, and we are stuffed. Rather than not being enough for one meal, we got three meals out of it over the next few days. I did like the deep dish pizza, but I prefer the thin crust ones. Sorry, Chicago...

Sunday, October 6, 2013


I love the concept of tapas: you get to try several dishes at once. Even though Eclipse di Luna is a popular place for tapas (and late night dancing) in Atlanta, I didn't get to go there until recently. I met up with my friend Ems one last time before leaving for Cleveland. We started the night with some cocktails: I had the lychee martini, and Ems got the grapefruit martini. My drink was really good. It was slightly fruity, but because the lychee has a tart flavor, it didn't taste too cloying overall.

In an attempt to find crispy potatoes (patatas bravas) as good as the ones at Loca Luna, I was really excited to try the ones at Eclipse di Luna. (Side note: what's up with having the word "Luna" in both tapas places???) There are a couple of things that must be done right with the patatas bravas. First, they need to be CRISPY on the outside, but not drenched in oil while frying. Having some good seasoning on them is also nice to have. Second, the Romesco sauce on the side needs to be both creamy and spicy. Well, I'm happy to say that the patatas bravas at Eclipse di Luna perfectly satisfied both of these requirements! :) They were as good as the ones at Loca Luna that I love so much, and I couldn't find any difference.

The other two dishes we decided to try were the fried goat cheese with caramelized onions (seen above with the potatoes) and the pulpo salteado (octopus "hash"). The goat cheese was good, but not exceptional. I guess it's hard to change its potent taste into anything else. And the taste is the reason why I got it anyway. The octopus wasn't really hashed, but that's what it reminded me of. It came sauteed with potatoes, onions, capers, peppers and lemons. The octopus itself was cooked really well and was not chewy. The poptatoes were crispy and contrasted the soft peppers and onions. And the acidity from the lemon made the dish really pleasant to eat. In summary, it was delicious!

I can honestly say that I loved Eclipse di Luna. I think I might like it even more than Loca Luna. My only regret is that I didn't know how good it was until now, when I'm about to leave the city :(

Friday, September 20, 2013

A celebration

As of two weeks ago, I'm a doctor!!!! Well, not the "real" one, the medical kind, but a doctor of philosophy: I got my PhD in pharmacology. The final requirement was an oral dissertation defense, and I passed it two weeks ago. To celebrate, I knew I had to go eat at a nice restaurant. I had wanted to try The Spence for a while now, so passing the defense was the perfect opportunity. It is owned by Chef Richard Blais, who won TopChef Masters and likes to experiment with molecular gastronomy.

Because of the importance of the occasion, I went to The Spence with my parents, who were treating me to the dinner. My parents are the "quantity is more important than quality" and "if there's not a pile of meat, the dish is not good" type of people, so I was very worried about how they'll like a sophisticated restaurant where the emphasis is on quality of ingredients and preparation. Well, my fears were founded, as it turned out, but I was determined to enjoy the dinner no matter what. I started with a drink that is not on the current (frequently changing) menu :( So, I can't remember everything that was in it or even its name :( I did remember that it contained a type of alcohol starting with "B." After a lot of googling (which did involve the search phrase "alcohols starting with "b"), I finally fount it!! It's called Fernet Branca: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernet. The waiter did warn me that the drink has a very distinctive flavor, and that was definitely the case. I can't really describe it. It's bitter and aromatic at the same time, strong, but not overpowering like absinthe. The other ingredients in my cocktail weren't as interesting, but the end result was delicious.

One of the reasons I wanted to go to The Spence was to try bone marrow - which I've never had despite being somewhat of a foodie ;) My dad insisted that he wanted fish, but didn't want to pay for the branzino. I warned him that the sashimi (of kampachi) probably won't be enough for him to fill up, but he wanted it anyway. Even my mother, who can usually try new foods without immediately hating them, was overwhelmed by the menu. Too many unfamiliar tings to her, so I eventually ordered the tagliatelle. I hoped that the flavors would be similar enough to what she's used to that she would like it. We also got the fried Brussels sprouts. I knew very well that the portion sizes would be small and the quantity of the food won't be enough for my carnivorous parents, but they refused to get anything else. My dad was SHOCKED when he saw his sashimi - simply four pieces of fish. There was nothing I could tell him about the quality to make him less mad :( On the bright side, he ate the Brussels sprouts to make up for it. I did try a piece, and they were amazing! My mom seemed to like the pasta, but I think she was also disappointed by the size. I did try a little bit of the pasta, and it was really good, maybe even a little too rich (buttery) for my taste. But I did love the buttery flavor of the bone marrow :) The description that people use, that it's like melted butter, is spot on. Imagine roasting a rack of lamb and then dipping your bread in the drippings: that's what bone marrow tastes like. Just a little salty, with a rich roasted/browned flavor. The bone marrow came with a piece of toasted bread and diced tuna. The tuna was great, but I wish there was something even more light and fresh to balance the marrow - maybe even some celery ;)

(A side note: I know that plates at the Spence are meant to be shared and that they're small on purpose. Even though Bulgarian culture is huge about sharing and family-style eating at home, the opposite is true if you eat out. My dad thinks people will laugh at you if you try someone else's food. So, we all ended up eating a single dish.)

And to finish the celebration, we ordered two desserts: the pistachio shortcake and the ricotta cheesecake. The shortcake was really good. It was point and light, with pronounced (in a good way) pistachio flavor. The whipped cream was light and not too sweet. However, I was completely blown out by the cheesecake. It was really really REALLY OUTSTANDING. It honestly tasted more like ricotta mouse than cheesecake. I've never had a cheesecake as light and fluffy as the one at the Spence. Man, I wish I could eat that every single day! It even made my dad forget that he was mad at me for taking him to this "horrible" restaurant. That's what I call a good dish :P