Tour de Bruell. A summer dining adventure

I did it!  And boy was it fun.  The Tour de Bruell is a summer challenge issued by Chef Zack Bruell and his team.  The mission: eat at each of his six local restaurants throughout the summer.  It’s an inviting and ambitious task ahead for diners.  Fans of the Zack Bruell Restaurant group have from Memorial Day until Labor Day to complete the Tour.  If they do, there are some delicious prizes they’re eligible for.

This year, I joined a couple of friends, and my husband and attempted to eat at ALL SIX in a day.  I was game, and starving.  And since it was my husband’s 40th birthday he was ready to go big!

Stop one was Alley Cat in the Flats East Bank, known for their spectacular raw oyster selection and fabulous views along the river.  We ordered a dozen oysters, and the seafood board (like a charcuterie board, with things like squid ceviche, salmon pate and seafood sausage)

And we toasted our adventure with a signature cocktail of the Tour, from Floh Vodka, and a glass of the featured Rose.  We drank in the views and the flavors.  Got our passports stamped and we were ready for the next location.

We hit Parallax in Tremont next, Bruell’s oldest of the stops along the Tour.  Their sushi is my favorite menu item there, so we ordered some that included beef for my meat eating husband and we were treated to some shrimp and vermicelli and a sweet apple tart for an early dessert.

Another toast…this time with the featured champagne of the Tour, Nicolas Feuillatte.  We were really settling in now!  Our next stop was supposed to be Chinato, along E. 4th Street.  But at the time we rolled up (or rather crawled) there was too much traffic and no parking so we skipped it and returned two days later.

So instead we went ahead to Cowell & Hubbard in Cleveland’s Theater District. We posted up at one of my favorite seats in the city, a front booth.  We ordered the pasta special, a ramen…and slurped it up.

And when I go to Cowell, we always get the pork stack and the bone marrow.  Both are a “must try” when you dine there.  More drinks and laughs, and another stamp for our passport.

Next we headed to the Intercontinental Hotel, home of Table 45.  They have a new Executive Chef there, Zach Bond, who was eager to tell us all about their new menu approach.  So we were treated to a five course tasting menu at the Chef’s Table.  Very Cool.

We had a perfectly cooked scallop with a jalapeno corn puree, a fresh summer salad with compressed watermelon, a take on Bolognese with smoked sausage, a spectacular Sri Lankan curried lamb and a palate cleansing berry sorbet to finish it off.  We paired the food with more of the featured wines of the tour.  My favorite was the Pinot Noir.  Stuffed? Not yet.  We were in it for the long haul. Once we got our stamp we were on our way to University Circle and my favorite patio in the city, L’Albatros.

It was a beautiful night to sit outside.  And to my surprise, given the hour and the volume we’d already consumed…we didn’t just eat…my husband still wanted to feast!

He ordered our favorite appetizer on the menu, the savory French Toast.  And to be honest, I only look at the menu when I go there just to see if anything has changed.  I ALWAYS get the cassoulet.  It’s just the best.  We got our stamp and called it a (great) night.

Fast forward two days and I popped back over to Chinato to complete my Tour card.  I have been dying to try the Blended Burger Project offerings from local chefs, so since we were their for lunch that was an easy choice.  Delicious and juicy!  And for starters we had a gorgeous tomato salad featuring three varieties of cheese and tomatoes.  Perfection.

tour de bruell completed card

So I did it! And you can too!  Get your card at any participating  restaurant to kick it off. Parallax, Chinato, Cowell & Hubbard, Table 45, L’Albatros and Alley Cat.  Hurry up! If you complete the Tour De Bruell by July 4th you and a guest are eligible to win a chauffeur-driven progressive dinner. (there will be five winners!) Finish by Labor Day and you’re eligible to win a VIP Tour Finale Dinner.  Ten winners and a guest will win a multi-course meal and wine pairings at one of Zack’s restaurants.  While there one of those people will win the Grand Prize, a multi-course meal for 8 guests cooked at your home by Chef Bruell!

 

 

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Laura of Pembroke: A hostess’s paradise

I am busier than ever.  But I find myself wanting to cook, play hostess, and serve on pretty things after my visit to the newly opened Laura of Pembroke store in Orange Village.

Three generations of women carefully curate this lifestyle boutique.  They have cool clothing, furniture and home accessories, suitable for any age bracket or tax bracket.  But what I was really drawn to, was all of their lovely serving and hostess wares.  Check out the luxury melamine from Beatriz Ball.  This crazy working mom covets the idea of dishwasher safe pieces that are so pretty!

beatriz ball

Every since I stepped foot in the new shop within the brand new Pinecrest development, I have been daydreaming  about their lighting.  Anyone who knows me, has probably heard me wax poetic about chandeliers, and dreamy, luxurious lighting.  I fantasize about a comfortable formal dining room where I can host a variety of events…from intimate dinner parties to fancy blow outs.  The lighting pieces that they have to offer are just stunning.  So it’s wonderful to hear that they are working with local builders to outfit entire homes as part of their interior design arm of their business.

The ladies behind Laura of Pembroke have thoughtfully collected pieces and collections that could adorn any table, and contribute to any tablescape.  What I appreciate about what they do at this new boutique…is that there are choices for every price range.  There are low, medium, and higher price points within every division of their business.  And what’s great is that you’d have to look at the price tag to pick out the more inexpensive stuff.  It’s a high-end store that is very approachable.

I love the collection of copper pieces, and whimsical Kate Spaced polka dot selections they’ve chosen.

And I keep thinking about a watermelon salad with feta cheese, and a refreshing summer gazpacho I could serve in these modern white place settings I saw there.

white pottery

And seriously…how gorg would a caprese or panzanella salad look in these?

Bottom line, this place makes me excited.   They’re now officially open and ready to dazzle you.  Go to Pinecrest in Orange Village and check them out.

Disclosure: I was invited to check out Laura of Pembroke by management. In exchange I was gifted some merchandise.  As always, my opinions are my own. 

 

 

 

Let’s Eat! Legacy Village Restaurant Week

People always ask me “What’s your favorite restaurant in town?”  Truth is I don’t have one.  I’ve got lots I love.  But I rarely frequent the same one that often.  I’m too busy trying new ones or trying new offerings from some great stand bys.  That’s why I love restaurant weeks!  They encourage and incentivize you to eat out.  I love to use various restaurant weeks to sample places and menus I’ve not been exposed to yet.  Come April 9-15th, it’s time to experience Legacy Village Restaurant Week.

brio chicken

Head over to the Lyndhurst shopping and dining destination and you can try one, or all six participating restaurants. For $25 a person, (the lowest Restaurant Week menu offering I’ve seen) you can get a three course price fixed dinner menu.  Want to really “treat yo self?” Opt in to the Capital Grille’s Restaurant Week menu for only $38 per person. Other participating restaurants include Bar Louie, Brio Coastal Bar & Kitchen, California Pizza Kitchen, Granite City Food and Brewery and The Melting Pot.

melting pot

I can’t wait to try the Grilled Balsamic Chicken at Brio, indulge in French Onion Soup (while it’s still so darn cold outside) at Granite City or slurp some Kung Pao Noodles at California Pizza Kitchen. And if you’ve never had dry aged beef, like the 14 oz Bone In NY Strip they’re offering at Capital Grille, it’s worth it!

captial grille steak

And get this.  I love a good giveaway almost as much as I like a good happy hour.  There are some great giveaways associated with Legacy Village’s Restaurant Week.  Participants will get an entry form to fill out when they dine, and will be entered into a drawing for a Legacy Village Restaurant Prize Package that includes a $50 gift card to each of the six participating restaurants! Additionally, they will select a diner from each night of entries to win a $50 Legacy Village gift card!

I feel like a game show host.  “And wait, there’s more….” Those entry forms include a coupon that can be redeemed for free Valet Parking from April 15 – May 15, 2018.  I don’t know about you, but there are plenty of times when I’m shopping there (along with the rest of the county)..and parking close is a luxury!

So pick a place to dine out from April 9th-15th and I’ll see you there!

Cocktail Time at Capital Grille

Spend any given evening with me and you’ll find out how ritualistic we are about cocktail hour at our house. We shake, or stir, sip and snack. We decompress, check in and unwind. So I truly appreciate the new Cocktail Time menu now available at The Capital Grille.

I was recently invited by the team from their Legacy Village location to sample some of the offerings they’ll have at the bar and lounge between 4 and 7pm.

capital grill charcuterie

I started with one of their bottled cocktails, The Churchill, a bourbon based drink with lemon juice and hibiscus honey syrup. Yowza, they aren’t shy with the booze. And I wasn’t complaining. It had been a long day. Then we snacked on some tasty charcuterie, including some Grana Padano cheese–decadent.

Then we moved on to a handful their “hands on” menu items, like their candied bacon cheeseburger sliders and the mini tenderloin sliders. Both were perfectly cooked and were generous sizes. With those I tried the Gallery Row Cabernet Sauvignon, velvet smooth and satisfying, especially for $8 a glass.

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The stand outs among the food we tried, though, were the Oysters Casino and the Korean Fried Chicken Sliders. The oysters were incredibly tender despite being cooked. And the texture was great, not off-putting to even those at the table who don’t usually indulge in them.

capital grille korean chicken

And the chicken slider had just the right amount of kick and sweetness. The chef said beware, however, as the gojuchang they use is different every bottle or batch they work with. So it could have more heat, or more sweetness depending on the day.

I look forward to warmer weather when we can even enjoy these heavy apps out on the patio.  The full Cocktail Time menu also includes Lollipop Lamb Chops, Pan fried Calamari, Prosciutto wrapped mozzarella and Tuna Tartare.  They range in price from $9 for a trio of oysters, $10-12 for two of the sliders, or $18-19 for the lamb and tuna.

Check it out sometime and tell me what you think!

 

Got Milk? Buckeye Country Creamery

I love a good farm visit. And I love getting to know where my food comes from and who is responsible for it.  When I was invited to come and check out Buckeye Country Creamery in Ashland this week, I jumped at the chance.

creamery employee

It’s a family run dairy farm (two generations at work) that’s been operating for more than 25 years.  But only in the last year and a half have they launched their creamery, an endeavor that required a significant leap of faith and capital investment on the part of the Lahmers Family.  But they’re banking on the “If you build it, they will come” concept.  Or rather, “If you milk it, they will come.”

They have a herd of 130 cows right now, which they milk twice a day, and produce 900 pounds of milk daily.  What makes their milk different? The A2A2.  It’s the type of beta-casein protein that is easier on your digestive system.  Many people who cannot usually drink milk, and consider themselves lactose intolerant, can drink A2A2 milk without side effects.  That’s a game changer for some families.

The other thing that differentiates them from other nearby creameries…flavored milk.  It’s a heckofa lot easier to get a child to drink a tall glass of “cookies and cream” milk than plain old cows milk, right?  Buckeye Country Creamery’s line of products include strawberry, chocolate, cookies and cream, and mocha flavored milk. (They add the powdered flavoring during the pasteurization process) These varieties are especially creamy, because the flavors are made with whole milk. They also make drinkable yogurt, mozzarella cheese and ice cream with the same A2 properties.  We got a chance to sample milk flavors, the yogurt and ice cream from Buckeye, and my girls guzzled it all down!  I think the yogurts were gone in a day!

creamery yogurt

For those food conscious readers, their pasteurization process is also worth noting.  The milk at Buckeye Country Creamery is pasteurized slowly, at a low temperature, to keep more enzymes and proteins intact. It’s not homogenized, so the cream rises to the top, as they say.

creamery vat

Locals can buy up the products coming out of the Lahmers Dairy Farm, at their modest store on site…a glorified hallway, really.  They stock the fridge and operate on the honor system.

“Sometimes we get an IOU in there,” jokes dairy farmer, Christy Hulse.

Word is getting out in the Ashland area.  People are popping in on a weekly basis and pick up the essentials.

“We’re going to need a bigger fridge,” Hulse said, with a smile.

creamery fridge

You can find Buckeye Country Creamery’s line of products at 120 locations between Cleveland and Columbus, including the West Side Market, Case Western Reserve University and Miles Farmers Market. (runs about $3.99 for half gallon, $6.99 a gallon)  Click here for a complete list.

Disclosure: I was invited to visit the farm and write about my experience, in exchange for a sampling of their products. 

 

The Generour Pour: Capital Grille

Great steak and unbeatable wines.  That combo made for a spectacular meal this week at The Capital Grille at Legacy Village.  They’ve got a summer promotion worth toasting to, The Generous Pour, that we had the pleasure of experiencing this week.  

The wine tasting event brings you seven of “The Critics’ Darlings,” which are 90+ point California wines that should please even the pickiest of oenophiles.  You can plot it out however you’d like, depending on what you’ll be dining on.

We knew we were coming for a long, indulgent meal.  And since we’d been to the steakhouse before we also knew what we’d be ordering, so we worked with our fabulous server, Tommy Violante, to map out our pairings.

To start we went large!  Out of the gate we ordered the Cold Shellfish Platter and Fried Lobster Tails (off the menu but a house speciality).  Pass the lemon wedges and the seafood bibs! All were prepared to perfection.

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For that, Tommy brought us the first three tastings, all whites.  We had a lovely WillaKenzie Pinot Gris from the Willamette Valley (90 points), a Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc from Sonoma (92 points) and my favorite of the trio, a Cambria, Clone 4 Chardonnay from Santa Maria Valley.

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This was a surprise, because I don’t normally favor Chardonnay, and it’s rare to see that variety come out of the Santa Barbara area.  THIS is the reason you experience wine tastings like these!.

Knowing I had a SERIOUS steak coming at me shortly, I responsibly ordered a kale salad (and no decadent sides, like I wanted to!).  Then our server brought out the other four tastings for us to sip on through the rest of our meal.  If ever one struck us more than the others, or if all of them did, he offered to top off the glasses. Generous Pour, indeed.  They were not stingy with these high end wines.

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So, out came a 90 point Siduri Pinot Noir, also from Willamette Valley, and Arrowood “Sonoma Estates” Cabernet Sauvignon (2014) from Sonoma County, a 91 point Edmeades Zinfandel out of Mendocino and a 92 point Mt. Brave Cabernet Sauvignon (2012) from Napa Valley.  Each offered rich flavors and a few surprises.  The Pinot Noir had just enough body to it for this phase of the meal.  The Zinfandel was far stronger than you’re used to and very smooth.  But the Mt. Brave Cab was by far my favorite, and worth savoring!

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Oh yeah, there was steak too!  On our server’s suggestion, I tried a bone in filet for the first time. The cut was enormous, compared to what you usually see in a high end steak house and it wasn’t all bone….lots of velvety meat seasoned beautifully.  My husband had a bone in ribeye, and wasn’t disappointed.

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And just as the words, “I could use something sweet to finish the meal” came out of my mouth and hung over the intimate booth we were dining in, Tommy brought over a Creme Brûlée and Flourless Chocolate Expresso Cake.  The perfect note to finish the meal, and the wines!

To me, it’s the service that sets The Capital Grille apart from other steak houses.  The cuts are spectacular, no doubt.  But it’s the experience, like a chance to sip on The Generous Pour, perfectly paired with our personal meal selections, that makes it a worthwhile dining destination.  The best part? This summer promotion is only a $28 add on to your meal.  And you can win a bottle of all of seven of the wines featured.  Just head to The Captial Grille location near you before September 3rd.

Disclosure: I was invited by the Captial Grille Public Relations team to experience this promotion.  But as always, all opinions are my own.

Basil Fest!

 

 

 

 

Put basil in just about anything and I will try it.  Kinda like bacon.  I think it’s got a place in both sweet and savory dishes from apps to desserts and this time of year I can’t get enough of it.

If you’re lucky, and you’ve been an attentive gardener this summer, right about now your basil is blowing up.  Fortunately for me, my blooming basil timed out with my favorite sous chef (my sister) spending some time in town.  We love spending time in the kitchen together.  And we love preparing big family feasts together.  She had a brilliant idea this go ’round: Basil Fest.  We picked as much as we could from my garden, my parents, and a neighbor and went to town!

basil harvest

I had a bucket full of bright, big, flawless green leaves to work with, so coming up with the menu wasn’t tough.  There were still plenty of fresh, juicy strawberries to be had and tomatoes are just starting to ripen around here.  So those, plus all of our basil harvested, and another neighbor’s fig tree were the inspiration for the menu.

basil fest menu

I started with the lemonade.  I love making home made lemonade!  It’s a few extra steps compared to dumping the powder and mixing it with water of course, but I think the fresh tasting results are worth it.  I used Paula Dean’s recipe for strawberry basil lemonade.   I halved it, since I didn’t have the time or energy to juice a whole bushel full of lemons, and it was easy and fabulous.  Bonus: makes a good mixer for cocktails, too!

strawberry basil lemonad

Next, I moved on to my panzanella.  I like to let mine sit for a while to soak up all the juices and really marinate.  This is where my Cheftovers magic comes into play.  Panzanella is a salad that combines bread (leftover or stale, preferred actually) and fresh veggies.  So I cut a handful of rolls we had left over from the previous weekend’s barbecue into cubes, and toasted them up in a pan.  Voila!  What would have been trash is now an essential component to my colorful salad.

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There are plenty of routes you can take with panzanella depending on your taste and what yo’ve got on hand.  I used fresh tomatoes, yellow and orange peppers, cucumbers, red onion and a ton of BASIL, naturally.  I tossed everything together and dressed it with a simple red wine vinegar and olive oil dressing (seasoned with only salt and pepper).  If they made a panzanella print I would wear it as a dress!  Isn’t it beautiful looking?

panzanella

I took more of those same leftover rolls and used those for the base of my bruschetta.   No surprise, more tomatoes and basil at play here.  But instead of finely chopping the garlic to add to that killer combo, or painstakingly shaving garlic and scraping the freshly cut cloves on to the toasted bread, I decided to finally break in my “brand new” mortar and pestle I scored from cookbook author, Michael Ruhlman’s estate sale.  By using that tool, I created a smooth garlic paste to mix in with the fresh basil (minced) and tomatoes (diced).  Drizzle that with olive oil and pile it on to toasted bread and you’ve got a bright, crunchy bite with a more gentle and evenly distributed garlic flavor that other methods will deliver.

 

Now it was time to move on to the real work-the pasta.  This is where my sister shines.  I have tried, and tried and listened and watched.  But my homemades never seem to turn out the way hers do.  So I let her go to town, making fresh noodles with the help of my 3 year old, a real chef in the making.  The only secret I can share that maybe you won’t find in other recipes: she pours white wine into the shell of the empty egg she uses for the dough and adds it to the mix.  It’s magic.

While those beautiful noodles rested, I made the pesto.  More BASIL! Lots more basil.  Recipe follows.  One trick that will help you keep your pesto that beautiful bright green of the leaves, and not brown from bruising them-add a little ice to the food processor!  And if you don’t keep pine nuts in your pantry (I usually don’t because they’re so expensive but for this dinner we were sticking to tradition) substitute almonds for a cheaper, super food solution.

pasta with pesto

When it was time to cook and toss the pasta in with the pesto, I warmed it up in a large pan, and loosened it up with some olive oil.  I added grilled chicken for some protein, but shrimp is nice with pesto too.  And be sure to sprinkle your pesto generously with some Parmesan or Romano.  While the pasta was cooking we sliced up the fresh buffalo mozzarella, and more juicy tomatoes then hand picked the prettiest and largest basil leaves left to top off our caprese salad. (BONUS: We learned a new hack from the cheese vendor where we bought the log of buffalo mozzarella-slice it with dental floss for a smooth even cut)

better caprese salad

This is an easy finish after you’ve sliced and stacked the components.  Just drizzle it with the best olive oil you’ve got and then top it with balsamic vinegar, or even better, balsamic glaze for a sweeter touch.  Season with salt and pepper to taste and let the flag of Italy inspired salad sing!

When we plated everything up it made for a stunning tablescape of BASIL centric dishes.  I set a nice table and we feasted on our hard work.

AND-we couldn’t forget dessert! Using a recipe from Fabio Viviani’s new cookbook (Fabio’s 30-Minute Italian) as inspiration, I combined ricotta, honey, mascarpone cheese and put a dollop of that on a freshly picked fig (halved), courtesy my parent’s neighbor.  Drizzle that with more of the balsamic glaze and top it with another perfectly petite basil leaf and you have a sweet and savory finish to Basil Fest.

Now you know there is more where that came from!  Still plenty more of my favorite herb growing in my garden.  So, inspire me!  What are you making with your basil? What should I try? 

Basil Pesto

1/2 c. Pine nuts (pignoli) or almonds
2 c. Loosely packed fresh basil
1 Clove of garlic
1/3 c Parmesan cheese (or Romano)
Juice from half a lemon
Salt and pepper to taste (careful with the salt as the cheese is salty already)
1/2 c. Of olive oil

Add the nuts to the food processor first. Blend until they are crumbs.
Add everything else but the oil. Turn on the processor and slowly pour in the olive oil. Taste and adjust (you add more of anything you like to find the perfect balance)