Chef’s Table: Date Night at Flour

Old friends are the best.  Old friends, and good food…now that’s a great night!  My husband recently reconnected with a childhood friend (through a chance encounter I had with him during one of my cooking segment shoots).   They quickly caught up over the phone and decided to plan a night at the restaurant where he is a chef, Flour.  We scored the Chef’s Table on Saturday night so that we could chat up Brett and enjoy the incredible menu the place offers.  

Flour Salumi 

Seems only fitting in a restaurant labeled an “Italian Kitchen” that immediately after being seated, Brett greeted us with a stunning Salumi plate (complete with delectable selections like mortadella, coppa picante and salametto framani)

Flour cheese plate

And before we could even look at the menu, I was won over by the cheese plate that had fresh sliced turkey figs, Calabrian pecorino. langherino, humboldt fog and aged gouda.

Flour Allison and Andy

We had the pleasure of dining with another couple of old friends of the chef, Allison and Andy.  They too were ready to indulge in all that the menu offered, toast, taste and celebrate the success of their childhood buddy.

When I mentioned that we were coming to Flour, a friend who dines there often recommended one of the appetizers.

flour big a$$ meatball

“I have dreams about the Big A$$ Meatball at Flour,” she said

Didn’t take much to convince us.  We ordered a pair of these softball sized portions, which were placed on a rich whipped ricotta and topped with fried sage.  Heaven indeed.  We also tried the chorizo stuffed dates and a plate of mussels.

Flour Mussels

Since Brett is the self-proclaimed pizza master of the kitchen, we had to try one of the wood-fired pies that people rave about here.  Didn’t need to hem and haw about this choice…it was the potato carbonara for us and we were not disappointed.

Flour carbonara pizza

This killer pizza incorporates potatoes as part of the base beneath the aged provolone, egg and pancetta.  You’d think that was enough food…but once again our eyes were bigger than our stomachs and we decided to order three entrees to share as well.  We went for the Mediterranean Branzini, a tagliatelle with a bolognese, and the show stopper, a lobster strozzapreti with pancetta, bone marrow and cream.

Flour Lobster Pasta

This was a noodle new to me, and worth every single calorie.  Just when we thought we were done, Brett brought out dessert, a cereal panna cotta, sweetened from Frosted Flakes!

We shared a couple bottles of wine, plenty of memories, more food than we should’ve eaten, and some good laughs.  That’s a good date night no matter what your taste in food, or friends!

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Opening Night: Alley Cat Oyster Bar

It’s been a delicious and interesting journey observing a restaurant go from concept, to construction, to service.  Over the weekend I was invited to dine at the soft opening of Alley Cat, Chef Zack Bruell’s newest restaurant, and the first tenant to open in the revitalized Flat East Bank project on the banks of the Cuyahoga River.

        Alley-Cats-Happy-Hour Jen and Danielle at Alley Cat

I invited my parents, and a colleague, Danielle Serino, who likes Zack’s food even more than I do.  It was a picturesque night along the river, perfect for the open air dining room and a glass of wine on the deck while we waited for our table.Alley-Cats-Bar3Alley-Cats-Bar2

I took it all in, amazed that just ten days prior, on was on a hard hat tour…and this was what the bar looked like then:

Alley-Cats-Bar

The dining room was buzzing with clients, vendors, friends and foodies.  And the vibe was as cool as the display of oysters at the bar.

alley-cat-oyster-bar

As is expected on the very first night of service, we sat down nearly an hour after our reservation.  But I could see the kitchen was slammed.  “I’m ready to get my ass kicked,” Bruell told me over the phone earlier that day.  His open kitchens are part of the experience at this, his eighth restaurant.

Alley-Cats-Kitchen

Bruell was using the evening to begin to iron out the execution of the menu, and the logistics of the whole place.  Guests were invited to donate to the Marjorie & Ernest Bruell Cancer Fund (his parents) in exchange for pretty much anything they wanted on the menu.

Alley-Cat-menu

We started with a round of appetizers, the Fried Calamari with Kimchi, which was very tender, as was the Steamed Middle Neck Clams.  But the favorite by far were the Alley Cat Stuffed Oysters (with watercress, chicharrone, fontina and breadcrumbs)

Alley-Cat-Appetizers

They were also serving a limited variety of their fresh, raw oysters.  So mom tried one of each.  (Pemaquid, Chincoteague and East Beach Blonde) She liked them all but didn’t have the experienced palate to really tell the difference.

Alley-Cat-Oysters

For an entree, I went adventurous and tried the Grilled Octopus with smoked paprika aioli and succotash.

Alley-Cat-octopuse

Dad (like me) is a sucker for lobster, so he selected the Lobster Roll, butter poached with green goddess dressing.  Creamy and sweet!

Alley-cat-lobster-roll

My mom can never resist scallops when they’re on the menu.  And Zack does them better than anybody in town.  These were off the Catch of the Day section of the menu and were served with lemon grass cream.

Alley-Cat-scallops

And the menu item I can’t resist at any restaurant: HUSH PUPPIES!  I could make a meal of them.  These were fantastic.

Alley-Cat-hush-puppies

I rarely order dessert when I’m out for dinner, but tonight was about sampling the new menu and giving feedback to the kitchen.  So…we took one for the team and ordered three to split! Dad’s favorite was the chocolate caramel cake, Danielle preferred the banana cream pie, but my favorite, hands down, was the coconut cheese cake. (evident by the fact that I dove in and finished most of it before I remembered to snap a picture)

Alley-Cat-dessert

We were full and happy by the end of the meal, and excited for what’s to come in this space.

danielle and zack and jen

I congratulated the Chef on the way out, thanked him for a great meal and wished him luck working out the kinks.  He sighed and told me that a line cook already walked out on the job on night one.  It’s going to be a rough first couple of weeks.  Stay tuned, and hungry!