Dinner Lab Does Cleveland

The culinary scene in Cleveland is something to behold…and devour!  And the rest of the country is finally figuring it out.  Besides world class chefs (including James Beard Award winners) and destination restaurants, other related businesses are flocking to town to feed us foodies.

Dinner Lab is a pop up restaurant concept offering memberships to diners who want to try innovative food from emerging chefs, or new menu concepts from established ones.  The events are hosted in unconventional spaces that exist for a mere 24 hours.

This weekend Dinner Lab officially launched in Cleveland with an event catered by Daniel Espinoza, a chef from Chicago.  As a member, I got an email several weeks ago, revealing the date, and the menu title and concept, “Anomar” Modern Mexican Cuisine.  I was excited to be a part of the first meal so we immediately bought the max amount of tickets allowed per membership, 4.  Then about 48 hours before the meal, the location was revealed.

Dinner-Lab-Gallery

The host site, smARTspace at 78th, is a mixed use space on Cleveland’s west side, offering up 6,000 sq. ft. of event and exhibit space.  It was nice to wander down the hallway, sipping on the signature cocktail of the night, checking out the various displays.

Dinner-Lab-Cocktails

We chose the second seating, so we got to check out the meals of our fellow diners on the other side of the room as we made our way to our communal table.

Dinner-Lab-Menu

Now… after all this hype is was finally time to EAT! Out came the first course, an imaginative calamari salad with chorizo.  (Here’s the part where I regretfully admit that I forgot to take pictures of the plated food.  I was so excited about the meal, that I failed to properly document it.  I’ll do better next time! Grateful for my guests who shared their pics)

Dinner-Lab-Calamari

Second course was a crispy tostada topped with pork.  A humble, hearty round two.   As we were served, we were also invited to give honest, constructive feedback and reviews of each dish on survey sheets.  It’s an integral part of the Dinner Lab experience.  I was a tougher critic than the rest of our party.  I didn’t care for the consistency of the chorizo in the first course, and thought the tostada could have used a little sauce to top it off   But the rest of the meal was a home run!

Dinner-Lab-Prep

We had some exceptional fried chicken, served on a cilantro grits for the third course.  And the final savory course was my favorite, a generous portion of tender mahi mahi, with a green mole sauce (my favorite component of the whole meal!)

Dinner-Lab-Jen and Drew

And for dessert, the make-shift kitchen cranked out a dense sponge cake with strawberries, peanuts, and caramel sauce.  The meal was also accompanied by three drink pairings, all of which were well-matched.

Dinner-Lab-Diners

While my husband and I mostly came to visit with our guests (my brother and his fiance, and a friend Danielle who joined us) the Dinner Lab concept encourages a “community dining”, through their communal tables.

Dinner-Lab-Dining-Room

We met a nice couple from Pittsburgh who dined next to us.  A Dinner Lab membership allows you to take advantage of events all over the country…which I think is pretty fun.  I’d love to wrap an overnight trip around one of these events in the future.

Chef Daniel Espinoza

Toward the end of the meal, the chef addressed the crowd as a whole explaining the inspiration for “Anomar,” his grandmother, Ramona.  Then after service was over, Espinoza came to visit each table individually, like a newlywed glad-handing guests at his wedding.  Espinoza was charming, gracious and attentive.  He asked us questions and answered ours.

Front of the house staff told me that initially they’ll be hosting events every month until word gets out and membership builds up.  The goal is to offer one every week.  Sounds delicious!

Dinner-Lab-Jen and Danielle

I invite you to join me for dinner at the next Dinner Lab event!  Click here: Member Invitation  and get $20 credit toward your first meal.

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Roasted Garlic and Jalapeno White Bean Dip.

This week marks the official beginning of picnic and barbecue season.  Memorial Day, Father’s Day, graduation parties and a host of other outdoor gatherings will bring food and people together (rain or shine) from now through Labor Day.  I never like to come empty-handed.  So I perused my fridge and cupboard to find the makings of a great go-to dip that you can replicate and bring to the next gathering you attend.

cannellini beans

My initial inspiration for this dip was the cannellini beans I had leftover from a vegetable soup my daughter and I made earlier in the week.  The recipe only called for a half a can, so I had about 1 cup left.  The idea of a white bean dip popped into my head.  But I usually find those to be rather bland. I dug deeper into the refrigerator, and came across half of a jalapeno I had remaining from a batch of guacamole.  Bingo.  That would give it just the kick I was looking for.  I decided to roast it, along with some garlic, to take the edge off both ingredients.

jalapeno-and-garlic

I put the halfed jalapeno (seeds removed) and three cloves of garlic into a small ramekin, drizzled some olive oil on them and sprinkled a pinch of salt.  I roasted the combo in a 400 degree oven for 25 minutes until the garlic achieved “GBD” status-Golden, Brown, Delicious.

roasted-garlic-and-jalapeno

It was time for my trusty food processor.  I poured in 1 cup of the cannellini beans, and added the roasted garlic cloves and jalapeno.  I seasoned the mixture with six cranks from my black pepper grinder and 1/4 t. of salt.  Then I fired up the food processor and gradually added roughly 2 T. of olive oil and let it blend for about a minute.  And, you’re done!

If you’re so inclined, I think a pinch of smokey cumin would be a nice touch in this dip too.  Of if you prefer even more heat, try a pinch of chipotle chili pepper in it.

roasted-jalapeno-and-garlic-white-bean-dip

I served my Roasted Garlic and Jalapeno White Bean Dip with celery sticks, but you could do slices of red, yellow or green peppers, maybe pita chips…whatever you want.  Pop open a cold beer to wash down the heat, and enjoy!

Cinco de Mayo Hangover Soup

I’ll admit it.  On the week of Cinco de Mayo, I’ll always fall prey to the marketing ploys of grocery stores (ex. limes, tortilla chips, Mexican beer, and guacamole components displayed prominently at the front of the store)  I’ve also been known to throw back a few more than I should on a day that doesn’t really have any significance to this Italian/Slovenian girl.  Hey, “when in Rome….errrr, Mexico City…” Right?  This recipe is for those of you who fall into one, or both of those same categories.  

Earlier this week I made chicken fajitas with fresh guacamole, hands down my favorite dish to order at a Mexican restaurant and one of my favorites to make at home as well.  So on day two, I found myself with some leftover chicken, black beans (both cooked), jalapenos, avocado, roasted corn and cilantro.  Rather than transforming the flavor profile of the meat (silly, since it was already heavily seasoned) I chose to make something new with some of the same ingredients I worked with the day before.

leftover chicken fajitas

I don’t know about you, but when I’m working through a hangover, I often like to “sweat it out.”  So I decided to bring the heat…and put these, and a few other ingredients, together to create a Cheftovers version of tortilla soup.

simmering mexican veggies

I chose a dutch oven for this project, and started with chopped garlic, jalapenos and onion.  I sauteed those in some canola oil until the onions were translucent, just a couple minutes.  Then I tossed in the roasted corn and season chicken (chopped into small pieces) I had leftover from “fajita night.”  Next, I cracked open a can of petite diced tomatoes and poured those in.  And since this was a soup, it certainly needed some stock.  I added a carton of chicken stock, making sure to season it generously with salt, and chipotle chili pepper to add some more, smokey heat to my “soup-to-be.”

adding ingredients to cinco de mayo soup

Finally, I tossed in a few sprigs of fresh cilantro, and squeezed a couple of lime wedges’ worth of juice into the pot to give it some brightness and acidity.

simmering cinco de mayo hangover soup

I brought the soup to a boil, then reduced the heat and let it simmer at a medium/low for about a half hour.  Toward the end, I tossed in the leftover black beans (didn’t want them to get too mushy or break down from being in there too long).  I tasted my soup and decided to add just a little more chipotle pepper and a bit more lime juice (a preference thing).  Now, it was time for some elaborate garnishes, since I had some on hand.

finishing the cinco de mayo soup

After scooping out a couple ladles full of my Cinco de Mayo Hangover Soup, I sliced up some fresh avocado and jalapenos, then tossed in a few more sprigs of cilantro.

cinco de mayo hangover soup

You could also add some crunchy baked tortilla strips for texture, or some shredded cheese.

Vamos a comer!  Let’s eat!  This soup should make you sweat as much, or as little as you want…and help you get to Seis de Mayo.  Now, I gotta ask…What’s your favorite hangover meal?