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.

capital grill oysters.jpg

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!

 

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Better Service: Elevating Cleveland Restaurants’ Game

When national names descended on Cleveland this summer for the RNC, they were wined and dined and entertained.  No one expressed disappointment in what was presented on their plates.  They did, however, criticize the service level in the city whose restaurant scene is exploding.  Recognizing that there is a gap between the level of cuisine and the level of service, Restaurauer Zack Bruell brought in the big guns: his son, Julian Bruell.  The younger Bruell comes with more than just a name.  The newly dubbed Director of Service for the Zack Bruell Restaurant Group brings with him years of experience at some of the country’s most prestigious dining destinations.  And he is ready to raise the level of service across the city.

Bruell, former General Manager of Sauvage, and former Service Manager of Jean Georges, both in NYC,  is charged with  upholding, training and developing new and elevated service standards for all of the Zack Bruell restaurants’ front of house employees. This includes standardizing and creating beverage, food, service standards, and training materials.  He will also collaborate with ZBRG’s Director of Operations, David Schneider, with development of wine and spirits lists and human resources oversight. He and Schneider wear a lot of hats, according to Bruell.


“Our restaurant group’s goal is to be more polished at our craft than any group of restaurants in the United States. Ultimately, we want our guests to leave feeling like they had a memorable and non replicable experience at our restaurants. We want people to feel dining with us as an enjoyable escape from their every day life,” said Bruell.

Bruell believes that the Cleveland restaurant market is growing extremely fast, potentially oversaturating the city with a below standard service, beverage, and culinary culture. In response, he says, they will focus on educating employees and embracing the creative talent on their teams in order to combat this potential downfall. 

“We want to change and elevate the standard of service, cuisine, and hospitality not just in Cleveland, but throughout the world. We want our guests to feel like their experience in our restaurants is cosmopolitan, culturally enriching, and unique,” Bruell said.


The first two months of Bruell’s return to Cleveland was spent at L’albatros Brasserie + Bar, then two months between Cowell and Hubbard and Chinato Ristorante, and he has just begun training at Alley Cat Oyster Bar. At all of the locations he’s visited, Bruell says they’ve developed more attentive and detail oriented service standards. Some of these changes include teaching of proper verbiage with guests, standardizing day-to-day position training and service manuals, and using the knowledge and tastings of product to tailor and guide the dining experience to each guests desired tastes. 

“I have been really proud of all of the service compliments our staff’s have received, as I want them to take ownership of their craft. They have embraced the many service changes I have made, and are excited to learn more and provide a proper, personalized dining experience that our guests desire,” he said. 

As they move forward, Bruell says they will embrace and take all reviews seriously. 

“We have always understood that every day is extremely important and that we cannot afford to take an off day,” he says.

 

Bruell recognizes that social media and marketing are extremely important as they focus on capturing the millenial clientele, who is constantly engaged and driven by social media outlets.  In the future, look for ZBRG to focus social media and marketing on the feeling of being a part of their restaurant “family” and the feeling of being involved and intrigued with what they do everyday. 

“I was lucky enough to experience 5 years of cultural, personal, and hospitality growth when in New York. I was really inspired by the energy, drive, and new ideas and creativity in New York. I experienced and provided levels of service that were considered the best in the world, and I believe I can develop that level of service in Cleveland and within our restaurants,” he said.

I have already personally heard about the positive changes in effect because of the younger Bruell’s presence.  I’ll be interested to hear about the improvements from other frequent CLE diners. 

Giving local and gifts for foodies

More and more people are making an effort to eat local and support locally made and sourced products. And the holidays provide a great opportunity to continue that trend, and introduce loved ones to some of your favorite local restaurants and artisans. 

For one stop shopping, try the new Merchants Market in Legacy Village.  The shelves are stocked with things that will please a variety of tastes.  My friend Dane Wujnovich, of  Brucato Gourmet has an incredible Sicilian pizza sauce, in two varieties, that would be a great addition to a gift basket.  The artisan sauces and cocktail mixes from Pope’s Kitchen make for perfect hostess gifts, as would the sweet offerings from Fear’s Confections.  Craft cocktailing fans can stuff stockings or mix up holiday party bevvies with bar ware and mixes from Happy Hour Collection.  Or satisfy the coffee lovers with some beautiful beans from local small-batch roaster, Six Shooter Coffee.

Toast to your health and the New Year with a bottle of Cleveland Whiskey, or a premium rum from Portside Distillery.

Or send a little piece of Cleveland to someone who can’t get home this holiday, with a gift crate full of local goods, artfully packed in a salvaged apple crate from the Cleveland Crate Company.

cleveland-crate-co

Put the flavors of your favorite Cleveland restaurant under the tree, with products developed by a number of local chefs.  Try Chef Doug Katz’s line of recipes and spice blends, Fire Spice Company.  Chef Zack Bruell also makes retail products, including a trio of sauces, balsamic vinegar and olive oil, and a line of coffee blends.

I’m a big fan of giving the gift of an experience.  For the foodie on your list, send them on a local food tour, like Taste Cleveland Food Tours.  They offer Tremont, Little Italy and West Side Market options.  Cooking classes are a fun way to connect and bond over what we all have in common, food!  I love the variety they offer at the Loretta Paganini School of Cooking.

And take advantage of restaurant gift card deals this time of the year.  Many establishments, like Pranzo, in Willoughby are offering a bonus gift card of $10 or $20 when you purchase $50 or $100 in gift cards.  People who like to eat out frequently will love The Deck from Cleveland Independents.  The organization of locally owned restaurants produces this yearly collection of discounts (average savings of $10 on a $30 purchase) to nearly 50 restaurants.  Or get gift certificates to their member restaurants at a significant discount (like $35 for a $50 gift certificate).

Cheers to Spring Cocktails!

Time to freshen up your cocktails, people.  It’s finally springtime.  Now, while I firmly believe that a dirty martini and a dry red wine are always in season…mixed drinks and spirits are most thirst-quenching and satisfying when they celebrate the season.  Here are my fresh takes on spring cocktails.  Cheers, everyone!  Thanks to my good friend and fellow blogger, Rachel of @myroaringacres (Twitter) and @roaringacres (Instagram) for her styling and photography talents!

cocktails spring fling set up

The Spring Fling

This is for those of you who are are on the Moscow Mule train.  No copper mug needed here, although, I suppose it would be pretty great in one of those if you own a couple.  Pick up your favorite brand of ginger beer, (NA or with alcohol, whatever you prefer) I used Bundaberg, and try your hand at infusing vodka.  Not hard, I promise.  For the Spring Fling, add thinly sliced cucumber to a mason jar full of vodka.  At my house we’re usually stocked up with Three Olives.  And just let it hang out in the fridge for at least a day, but a couple days is better.  And you can buy simple syrup, or make it yourself (2-1 parts sugar to water) heat until dissolved.  This drink, to me, is an excellent candidate for a happy hour at home.  Slap together a nice looking cheese plate and you’re in business.

Spring Fling

1 tsp. simple syrup + 2 pinches of fresh mint, muddled together with a wooden spoon

Equal parts cucumber infused vodka and ginger beer

Add ice and garnish with fresh cucumber slices (I toss in a couple that have been sitting in the vodka)

 The Tulip

Limoncello is another thing I always have in my liquor cabinet (or freezer).  I only buy Caravella, everything else is too sweet for my taste.  And when I saw a basket of blood oranges at the grocery store the other day, I knew that would be just the “sweet” to the “tart” I was looking for.  Make this pretty spritzer for book club night and your friends will forgive you for not actually having read the book.   

cocktails blood orange

Tulip Spritzer

3 oz. vodka

2 oz. limoncello

Splash of Martini & Rossi Bianco (a light, lemon/sweet vermouth)

The juice of half of a blood orange

Shake in a cocktail shaker full of ice to chill, finish with a generous pour of San Pellegrino Blood Orange sparkling fruit beverage, or sparkling water if you’d rather it less sweet.  Garnish with a slice of blood orange.

The Samoa-Tini

This one’s for you moms who’ve been hocking Girl Scout cookies for weeks, stationed at the grocery store, going door to door, and calling in favors.  You deserve this.  This one is also for those of you who occasionally make the choice to “drink your calories” some days.  No judgment here.  The Samoa is by far my favorite of the varieties sold by those cute little devils…I mean scouts.  Did my best to recreate that decadent flavor.  This one is best done in batches, because you’ll be using a blender.

1 part Disaronno (Italian liquor)

1 part Godiva Chocolate Liqueur

2 parts Smirnoff Kissed Caramel flavored vodka

Splash of Half & Half

Blend above ingredients in a blender, along with ice, until you reach desired consistency

Rim your cocktail glass with Smuckers Salted Caramel Topping then coat with toasted coconut (bake sweetened coconut flakes at 350* until golden brown).  Finish with a chocolate drizzle in a pattern like the cookie.

I’m always up for suggestions.  What are you shaking, stirring and pouring these days?  #toast

 

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.

Cheftovers Live! Demos on the Marty Allen Show

It’s good to know people.  And I’ve been fortunate enough to be introduced to a lot of good people through my work in television over the years.  During my first internship (like a hundred years ago!) I met veteran radio producer, Marty Allen.  He and I have maintained a friendship throughout the twists and turns in our careers.  And he was generous enough to offer up an opportunity for me to appear on his show and share what I’ve been up to with Cheftovers.  “3-2-1….we’re live!”

marty Allen photo

Marty has an internet radio show, The Marty Allen Show that airs live every Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons from 2-3pm.  He invited me to come on and do some cooking.

“Do you have a kitchen in your studio?” I asked.

“Guess I didn’t think this through,” he replied.

Not a problem.  I’ll figure something out,” I said, convinced.

I also saw this as an opportunity for a long time friend, and fellow food blogger, Michelle, of The Secret Ingredient Is.  So I asked her to join me.  Who needs a working kitchen to perform live demos on a radio show, right?! We had a small card table and some outlets.  Time to adapt.

Michelle cooking

I knew Marty well enough to know that it would go over well to start with a cocktail.  Easy.  That’s when I came up with the recipe I posted earlier in the week for a Berry Boozy Arnold Palmer.

berry-boozy-arnold-palmer

I mixed a couple of those up while Michelle walked Marty and his co-host, Bill Bender, through her recipe for her No Bake Energy Bites.  Then it was time for some more significant eats…prepared on a 4×4 card table in a radio studio, mind you.  Having been a part of countless cooking demos on television before, I suggested Michelle do one of her killer salads.  Easy to prep and it doesn’t have to be hot.

pretzel crusted honey mustard chicken

She assembled and dressed her Honey Mustard Pretzel Crusted Chicken Salad with Strawberry Vinaigrette for a couple of hungry hosts.  It’s a great summer salad.  And as she dished that out, carefully avoiding all the expensive equipment, I fired up the panini press.  In preparing for this appearance, I figured it would be a great tool to turn Michelle’s leftovers into something else equally tasty.  (and work around that whole, “no kitchen” thing)

prepping panini

I sliced up the Orlando Ciabatta Rolls I brought, then piled on some of her leftover chicken, a handful of spinach leaves from the salad, and the remainder of the Brie wheel.  Then to add my own touch, I prepared a balsamic mayo by mixing about 2 T. of garlic cilantro balsamic vinegar with roughly a 1/4 cup of mayo. (the ratio is up to your own taste).  And finally, I included one of my favorite things in the world, caramelized onions.

grilling panini

While that melted together on the press, Michelle and I got to chat up Marty and Bill about what we do on our blogs.  They were happy to have us do most of the talking, as their mouths were full with our good food!

sliced panini

I sliced and served up the fourth and final recipe, pleased that this turned out as well (and as delicious) as I’d hoped, given the fact that this was the first time I’d made it…live on the radio.

This experience was a blast, and a boost of confidence for me.  I starting to think that I can indeed figure out a way to marry my experience in the media with my passion for food.  “Stay tuned” as we say, for what I have on tap next.  (I’m behind the camera for the first time since college!)

Berry Boozy Arnold Palmer

Cheftovers is expanding into cocktails!  And if this first one is any indication of what I’ve got shaking and stirring around in my little head, happy hour is gonna be great this summer. 

Who doesn’t love an ice cold Arnold Palmer in the summer?  For those unfamiliar, this traditional summer drink is a half-and-half mix of iced tea and lemonade.  Cool and refreshing, it’s one of my favorites.  So I decided to give it a new twist and turn it into a “cooler.”  In summers past, I’ve been introduced to a few varieties of iced tea vodkas, Firefly Vodka is my pick.

Firefly-vodka

Now this wouldn’t be a Cheftovers cocktail without a leftovers element.  I like a little splash of fruit in both my lemonade and my iced tea.  And it just so happens that I had a boat load of frozen berries in my freezer.

frozen-blackberries

I like to toss them in there when I get BOGO pints or when they’re getting too ripe.  Don’t toss ’em, freeze ’em!  I thought I’d substitute frozen cubes of fruit for ice cubes, so as not to water down the drink and add that subtle fruit flavor I was after.

frozen-raspberries

I tossed what I found in the freezer, (a mix of blackberries, strawberries and raspberries) into the blender, then added about a tablespoon of honey, some water, a squeeze of lemon juice from a single wedge, and a generous splash (like a 1/4 cup) of limoncello (an Italian lemon flavored liqueur).

blended-frozen-fruit

I blended it until smooth, then poured the mixture into ice cube trays to freeze.

berry-ice-cubes

When those were good to go, it was time to bust out the shaker.  Staying true to the original Arnold Palmer recipe, I mixed one part Firefly sweet tea vodka with one part lemonade, added some ice cubes to the shaker and did the “it’s almost happy hour” dance to shake it all up and chill the mixture.

berry-ice-cubes

I poured the iced tea vodka/lemonade over the berry ice cubes, and garnished it with a sprig of mint for a classy touch.  Cheers!

For another (and less sweet) take on this drink, try lemon flavored vodka (like Absolut Citron), and unsweetened ice tea.  What are you mixing up for your patio parties?