Late Spring Plate Landscape: Farm to (Farmer’s) Table

Summer is in full swing, but in harvest terms, it’s still spring.  And the team at Spice Acres inside the Cuyahoga National Park is ready to show off their bounty.  We attended the first Plated Landscape Dinner at the Farmhouse home of Chef Ben Bebenroth (of Spice Kitchen and Bar) and his family.  What a treat! It was such a charming setting surrounded by beautiful fields and fitting farmhouse details.


We were greeted by staff from the restaurant, with passed appetizers and a refreshing elderberry cocktail.
Then we got a guided tour around the property from Andrea, a trusted caretaker of the land. We walked through fields of chamomile, red veined leafy greens, purple asparagus and climbing hops. 
Then we migrated to the shabby chic surroundings of the rehabbed barn across the street from the fields. Long communal tables were set with an enticing menu and thoughtful wine pairings.  


Taste, touch, smell, sight and sound (thanks to the cellist and acoustic guitarist on hand)…all the senses were tickled as we got to know our fellow diners. 


We were treated to the bright bounty of Spice Acres.  Five courses of beautifully prepared plates, starting with a chilled pea soup with scape and fennel, paired with Jeio Cuvée Rose, which was crisp and refreshing.  It was a great way to open up our palates.  Course two featured some of those lovely greens we saw in the fields, dressed with crab apple vinaigrette, pickled blueberries and chile roasted pistachios (my favorite element of the dish), and paired with Marie de Beauregard Vouvray which had a nice sweet finish.  Our third course, Verlasso Salmon, utilized the lovely chamomile from the field.  It was smoked, along with cucumber, fennel and beet.  I loved the smoked chamomile for a light smokey flavor, not at all overpowering the seared fish.  The Spice team poured Becker Pinor Noir with this dish.  


The final savory course was a Spice Bush + Honey Confit Duck Breast with braised endive and strawberry gastritis for a sweet and tart component to the delicious duck.  The wine pairing for this dish was my favorite, a perfectly dry Pecchenino San Luigui Fogliami Dolcetto.  And for dessert, there was a Wild Chamomile Mousse with lemon curd berries with kamut shortbread and bee pollen, paired with a Von Wilhelm Spatlese Reisling.  It was light, sweet and satisfying. 


You can also experience this kind of farm to table evening through the Plated Landscape Series.  There are several more dinners like these throughout his the summer and deep into the fall.  Head to Eventbrite‘s Plated Landscape page for event information and tickets.  

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Cru Uncorked, a new fine dining destination in CLE

Who said white tablecloths were out? Not so. A new fine dining destination is pulling out all the stops to reassure Clevelanders, and visiting guests, that fine dining is not dead in our culinary crazy city. 


Perched at the corner of Chagrin Boulveard and SOM Center Road in Morland Hills, Cru Uncorked is a French New American restaurant five years in the making.  


The property itself is impressive even before you walk in the double doors to the entryway.  It’s made to look like a French Chateau inside and out, and it delivers.


Inside you’ll find four intimate and themed dining rooms, The Wine Cellar Room, The Terroir Room, The Winery Room and The Vineyard Room.  All are decorated slightly different to reflect a certain mood.  General Manager Billy Cutler tells me guests can choose the “scene” they’d like to dine in.  Some are decorated with original vineyard photography, or murals created from such photographs. 


The restaurant seats about 100, plus space for private events in a separate banquet room drenched in natural light in the afternoons.  There’s also a spacious and secluded patio in the back. Everywhere you walk you’re reminded of the time and care that went into creating this space.  


There are thoughtful details like the cedar lined ceiling of the lounge which makes you feel like you’re inside a wine barrel, and the antique grape gathering baskets affixed on the wall.  I was fascinated by the collection of vintage corkscrews, cheese knives and tastevins (small metal cups worn around their necks used instead of wine glasses to taste wine) displayed on the wall of The Wine Cellar Room.


Inside the spacious kitchen I was introduced to Executive Chef, John Stropki, who said it is an honor to be at the helm at such a place.  He was busying working through a dessert from the menu.  No pastry chef here, Stropk says.  He’s behind every item on the menu, which ranges from a burger to halibut and beautiful pasta options. Prices range from $26-$55.  But side dishes are included in the menu price for each dish.  Reps say they believe this makes them competitive in the local fine-dining scene, as a la carte side dishes can add an $15-18 more per entree.


Guests will also be able to choose from more than 200 wines from all over the world, thanks to their massive wine cellar with the capacity for 6,000 bottles.  And for a sweet finish to a meal, they have several dessert wine flights to choose from.


Cru Uncorked is preparing for top of the line service and exquisite meals for those who crave the finer things in life.  They’re accepting reservations now, ahead of their May 16th opening.  Bon Apetite! 

Plated Landscape Dinner Series at Spice Acres

Time to dig in to the spring and summer calendar and plant some ideas in your head about some great upcoming events at Spice Acres.  

The innovative and creative culinary minds behind Spice Kitchen and Bar, and Spice Acres have announced the dates and locations for their Plated Landscape Dinner Series.

Plated Landscapes are held at the farm occupied by the Bebenroth Family, Spice Acres, in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, and at select family farms that supply their kitchen with local sustainable foods.

These communal dining experiences are the brain child of Chef/Founder/Farmer, Ben Bebenroth and started in 2006.

For the $150 ticket guests receive a welcoming cocktail and passed hor d’oeuvres, followed by a guided farm tour, and a five-course meal with expertly paired wines.  And the setting can’t be beat.

Photo Credit: Genevieve Nisly Photography

The 10 night series starts in late June and goes through October, although you don’t have to commit to the entire series, of course!  Go to one, or one each season!  Advance purchase required via Spice’s Eventbrite page.

Here is the complete list of events.

Ohio City Farm Urban Landscape Dinner: Friday, June 2

Spice Acres Late Spring Dinner: Thursday, June 29 and Friday, June 30

Yellow House Cheese Farm Dinner: Friday, July 28

Spice Acres Summer’s Bounty Dinner: Thursday, August 24 and Friday, August 25

Killbuck Valley Mushroom Farm Forage Dinner: Sunday, September 24 

Spice Acres Autumnal Harvest Dinner: Thursday, October 12 (VEGETARIAN) and Friday, October 13

Quarry Hill Orchards Apple Dinner: Friday, October 20

Photo Credit Genevieve Nisly Photography


And also in the fall Spice Acres has some really cool
family friendly farm events throughout the summer/fall – The best part? FREE admission!

Toasting of the Fields, May 21 – live music, lawn games, planting activities, food/drinks for purchase by Spice Catering Co.

Pizza + a Movie Night, July 14 – games + activities, movie screening in the barn, make your own pizza/drinks for purchase by Spice Catering Co. 

U-Pick flowers – $10/bouquet from 8-11am the first Saturday of the month (July-Oct). No registration needed.

I’m making a serious effort to eat closer to the earth this summer, expanding my own garden and shopping at farmers markets.  This event falls right in line with that.  I hope you’ll join me!   

Note: Photo credit for the feature/title image goes to Full Bloom Photography

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. 

Polpetta at Porco gets the ball rolling

Meatballs make me happy.  They’re a comfort food, a version of which can be found in nearly every cuisine.  Saucy, savory and satisfying.  And when you base a menu entirely off these Sunday supper staples, you’re on to something.  Enter Polpetta at Porco.

polpetta-meatballs

Friends and fans of Porco Lounge have long loved the potent drinks and party atmosphere of the Tiki Room.  But until now, they’ve only offered things like nachos and tacos for food at the W. 25th St. location.  Now Stefan Was (of Porco), Brian Okin and Adam Bostwick (of Cork & Cleaver and Graffiti Social Kitchens and Dinner in the Dark) have teamed up to bring a fully functioning kitchen in to the kitschy place.

Bostwick tells me he’d been thinking about the concept of a meatball menu for sometime, thinking primarily about a food truck, initially.  But during their recent trip to New York City, to cook at the James Beard House (see previous post, Cleveland Chefs take New York) they dined at The Meatball Shop.  The idea was reignited, and Bostwick says they spent the entire drive home talking about meatballs.  That’s a conversation I want in on.

The concept was fast tracked when they decided to combine forces with Porco for their first location. (no need for a complete build out, only the addition for some shiny new kitchen equipment)  The menu is fast casual, kind of like the ones you see at Barrio, Noodlecat or Happy Dog.  Pick a meat, pick a sauce, pick a side.  All of their meatballs are gluten free, and they even offer a vegan variety.

They’re sourcing everything they can from local makers, like beef and chicken from Ohio City Provisions, produce from Fresh Fork Market and pork from K and K Butcher Shoppe on Warren Rd.

They soft opened on Monday, and will be expanding daily, Bostwick says.  Polpetta will always exist in Porco, but the plan going forward will be to establish more of the chef-driven concept in other locations.  With the captive audience that already flocks to Porco, they’ll establish their following, then spread their flavors, and balls to other parts of town.  Chef Bostwick says there isn’t a food you can’t convert into some kind of “ball.” So I can’t wait to see the creative concepts and fusions they generate at Polpetta.  The scratch kitchen is open Monday-Thursday 5pm-Midnight Friday and Saturday 4pm-1:30am.

It should be noted that I wrote this entire post without making any “balls” puns.  Tough to do. But ownership says there are plenty already being “tossed” around in the first few days of operation.  They’re even thinking about starting a book with all the balls jokes that customers come up with.  Bostwick says food should be fun, and I agree.  🙂

Sol: Redefined

It’s a tall order to offer up something on a menu in Cleveland these days that isn’t already being done somewhere else.  But they’re doing it at Sol, in downtown Willoughby.  The Spanish-inspired scratch kitchen has just launched a new menu, retaining the favorite flavors from the year-old restaurant, but rethinking the structure and approach to make its food more affordable.

The inviting and eclectic dining room, and sprawling patio are the perfect setting for the  experience ownership and kitchen staff are going for, a modern communal and social dining experience.  The changes to their menu will also facilitate that.  Tapas!  They’re not appetizers, more like shared small plates.  I know, it seems like the same thing…but they’re not.  For example, Brussel Sprouts.  Can you imagine ordering a Brussels Sprouts appetizer?  But these are among their best selling dishes when offered as a tapa.

sol-menu

The restructured menu has broken down some of their former entrees into tapas format (with 15 different options), and added a “between bread” section, to shave down the price points, and contribute to a more casual feel.  Affordability and approachability are the two most important goals for ownership right now, they tell me.  Their menu items formerly ranged from $7-$26, but now are between $5-$14 (the traditionally-sized entrees are more, but still less than they were before).  Favorites like their famous flank steak and juicy double bone-in pork chop will remain on the menu.  Phew!

I got a nice sampling of the new offerings, including Spanish Flatbread with Catalan sauce, the crispy Brussel Sprouts, Braised Pork Tacos with charred cabbage and smoked pepper aioli, and a General’s Fried Chicken (my favorite!).  All packed the bold flavors, you’ve come to expect from Chef Michael Schoen.  That chicken was crazy good.  Makes me want to try the rest of it!

sol-chicken-sandwich

Schoen says no menu is ever final, and they’re looking forward to hearing from diners about the changes. They’ve been tweaking ingredients and portion sizes throughout Sol’s first year, culminating with this new menu, full of shareable conversation pieces.

Now, he and ownership hope to see people’s impressions of Sol expand from a “special occasion” destination.  They want their Lake County clientele to think of the downtown Willoughby location as a destination for a fun, uptown communal dining experience, where people will eat leisurely, indulging in the elevated menu of tapas and relaxed atmosphere.

Sol is located in downtown Willoughby at 38257 Glen Ave.  solwilloughby.com

SummerDine

 

 

How does a citywide dinner party sound to you?  I’m in!  Dine with a couple (dozen) of your closest friends and participate in a culinary celebration stretching across Cleveland. 

Les Dames

Courtesy: Les Dames Cleveland Chapter website

The Cleveland Chapter of Le Dames d’Escoffier (made up of women in the food-service industry) is hosting one BIG dinner party on August 24th.  Fine restaurants throughout the region have ponied up a table for 2-10 diners, and the meals at every establishment will be served at 6pm, at a unique location in the dining room.  Each guest will be treated to a 4-5 course meal, paired with two glasses of wine (or a signature cocktail and a glass of wine).

 

edwins salmon

Participants can chose from the menus at Edwin’s, The Emerald Necklace Inn, Fire Food & Drink, Greenhouse Tavern La Campagna and Michaelangelo’s.

The SummerDine event supports an organization that includes Northeast Ohio’s top women in the culinary and hospitality industries.  With the purchase of tickets, Les Dames can continue funding their Green Table Initiatives outreach and grant programs.  Past beneficiaries include the “Take Charge and Learn Food” program at the Coit Road Farmers’ Market, the Case Western Reserve University Farm, Veggie U, the Countryside Conservancy Farmers’ Market Junior Chef Program, and the Tremont Urban Learning Garden.

Tickets for this citywide culinary celebration at $75 each, and are sold directly though the Les Dames d’Escoffier Cleveland event page.

Eat, drink, and toast to your dining companions and to those eating elsewhere in this tasty city, all for a good cause!