The One Where I Ramble On & On About Cleveland Restaurants

Alternate Title: How Many Links Can I Put In One Post?

This past weekend my parents offered to come up for the weekend to baby-sit so Mark and I could go out for his birthday. They got here Saturday afternoon and helped us clean up our garage (AKA the dumping grounds for all the wallpaper, carpet, etc. we have pulled out of the house) and organize our garden tools. It was great to be able to get that done and now we have room to get to things like the lawn mower, ladders and all the things that become vitally important when spring hits. Now we just have to hire a junk company to come pick up all the nicely rolled carpet and bags and bags of debris.

In planning for the weekend we started asking around for some restaurant ideas. Mark and I love eating out and have a healthy disdain for chains; we like to eat local and support the culinary community. In Toledo, this was a pretty easy task – there were several wonderful locally owned joints that served great food. In the 9 or so years we lived there we had discovered several favorites. Now that we are in Cleveland, choosing just one place is a herculean task! The more we looked the longer our list of possibilities got. We both knew that there were plenty of independent restaurants, but had no idea the caliber of the Cleveland culinary scene. (Yes, I read Michael Ruhlman, and I know that Tony Bourdain has brought No Reservations here, but somehow that never really sunk in.)

Of course, the first place that came up is the newly famous Lola. Chef Michael Symon has recently been making a big name for himself on the Food Network by winning the Next Iron Chef contest. And he recently announced that he will be taking over the FN show Dinner Impossible along with opening a new restaurant in Detroit’s newly renovated Book Cadillac building. However we decided that we weren’t up for the fancy-pants “see and be seen” atmosphere of Lola or its sister Lolita.

During our digging we came across several very favorable descriptions of the food of Jonathon Sawyer, a Cleveland native who was recently nominated for the prestigious Rising Star Chef Award from the James Beard Foundation. His Bar Cento has made several of the “best of” lists and the food sounded simple and down to earth. He’s a big believer in using locally-sourced and organic ingredients and it shows on his menus. He is also in the process of opening The Greenhouse Tavern, the first Green restaurant in Ohio and we can’t wait to check it out when it opens. Also, how cool is it that he does Cheffin’ with Kids? It’s a weekly event where kids can make their own pizzas along side Chef Sawyer at Bar Cento… we are so doing this someday soon.

However, reservations at Bar Cento were not to be had so we settled on grabbing a drink there to start our night. I had an exquisite lavender martini, made with lavender-infused Gray Goose and Mark and a local mico-brew while we sat at the bar. I couldn’t pass up a chance to order Sawyer’s legendary Pomme Frites with Belgium mayonnaise. These duck-fat-fried fries have been described as “breathtaking” and we totally agreed. Served in a paper cone with a trio of flavored mayonnaise, they were a fantastic taste of Sawyer’s reputation for using a few simple ingredients and letting the quality of the food shine. Bar Cento will defiantly be on our short list for a return trip and a proper meal.

As our reservation time approached, we headed through the cute area of Ohio City to our chosen dinner destination, Momocho. This is a cozy little place that was recommended for its fun menu, casual atmosphere and fun people-watching. If we were childless and moving to Cleveland, this would have been the neighborhood for us. Much like our old ‘hood in Toledo this Historic area is a great mix of people, architecture and that old school neighborhood feel – the kind of place where everyone is strolling about in the evening and visiting with neighbors. Unlike Toledo’s Old West End, Ohio City has a vibrate restaurant, bar and retail scene and Momocho is part of it.

Known for their guacamole, they have an impressive array of 6 different kinds and you can even get a sampler of 3 different kinds. Mark hates all things avocado but I had to try one, so I ordered the blue crab, corn and chile chipotle guac and it was heavenly. Amazingly Mark decided to have a taste and “he likes it! Hey, Marky!” We both enjoyed it immensely and Mark conceded that maybe he’s just never had properly made guac before. Their guac and salsas are served with freshly made corn chips which were warm and crunchy but a bit too salty.

We had also heard that they make a mean margarita at Momocho and Mark opted for the sampler of margs. He got a trio of mango, pomegranate and blood orange while I just ordered a traditional one. The “samples” are not samples – the are more like tumblers and one sampler order equals 1 ½ or 2 regular drinks. All of them were fantastic and made with fresh fruit. I’d love to try their sangria on a return trip. They have a darling outdoor seating area but it was too chilly on Saturday to use it, it would be a great place for a lingering summer meal with friends.

For dinner we both had their signature taquitos. I opted for the slow roasted duck with pomegranate ancho barbacoa while Mark had the carnitas with honey-chipotle mojo. Everything was fabulous – the meats were slow roasted, tender and flavorful. The sauces were a perfect complement to the spices. By the time we finished about half our food we were both overly full.

As we made our way back to our car we decided that we need to start a date-night at least once a month to discover all the great things our new hometown has to offer – from the ethnic fare to the gastopubs, I think we have a lot of ground to cover.

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Peanut Butter Extreme

First of all I have to wish a very belated birthday to my wonderful hubby, Mark, who entered his next year of life on Wednesday.  Of his 36 years on this earth, I’m sure he will tell you the last nearly 10 years have been by far the best, right honey?  Right?!?! 

One thing you must know about Mark is that he is a peanut butter fanatic.  He’s actually received huge vats of the stuff as gifts.  People are always bringing him new PB candies, suggesting desserts and the like as he’s got a bit of a reputation.  So each year I try to come up with some new PB confection for his birthday.  There have been a couple of good ones and a couple not so great ones.  Last year, I struck gold and he asked me to repeat the recipe.  So on Tuesday night I whipped up a batch of these bad-boys: Mark’s Xtreme PB Birthday Cookies.

Mark's Birthday Cookies

Basically they are just two peanut-butter cookies smooshed together with PB frosting.   But, hoo-boy those suckers are fierce!  They are ridiculously rich, sinfully delicious and all around decedent.  Most of the time Mark comments that some PB thing he has just eaten is “not peanut-buttery enough” but there is no such complaint after one of these wonderful treats. 

Ready for the oven

Mark’s Birthday Cookies for this year were made using this recipe minus the chocolate and peanut butter chips.  These cookies were perfect – chewy on the inside, crispy at the edges.  This recipe will defiantly be sticking around.  Based on making this item as a sandwich cookie before, I made half of the cookies with the traditional fork criss-cross for the tops and the other half were flattened with the bottom of a measuring cup for the bottom of the sandwich; this made them lay better on the plate. 

The filling is, I believe, a Barefoot Contessa recipe which was given to me by Amanda at KickyBoots after reading one of her posts last year (I can’t find the post, sorry!).  I have modified it a bit to use chunky pb and just a tad more cream.  This fantastic concoction would be heaven on chocolate cupcakes, but it also is amazing just on a spoon (or a finger). I had planned to coat the “insides” of the cookies with melted chocolate but decided against it due to time constraints and wanting the cookies to remain pure peanut butter. 

I do have to warn you that these cookies are extreme and they get inhaled instantly.  Mark usually takes them to his office on his b-day and they last 10 minutes tops.  Considering the fact that they have approximately 18 gazillion calories they are a good thing to share.

Boob Tube

A few questions for the Noggin Network* (with apologies to any reader who doesn’t have toddlers).

Little Bear
Why is Little Bear naked while Father Bear and Mother Bear are always decked out in elaborate three-piece suits and full gowns? 

What’s up with Uncle Rusty?  First, shouldn’t his name be “Uncle Bear” …how come he gets a proper name but no one else does?  Also, is he a swinger or something?  Why, when the other adult bears are in full, formal attire does he get to run around in bib overalls with no shirt and a kerchief around his neck?  Does he have a swingers party to attend later?

Since when does a bear need a fishing pole to catch a fish?

Emily is a bit of a controlling brat.

Where did Mitzi come from?  A monkey in the middle of the woods frolicking with bears and owls and ducks?  A cat is enough of a stretch, but a monkey – get real!

Max & Ruby
What parent in thier right mind would leave their child with Ruby?  Even if she is Max’s sister, she’s not all there.  Max hides behind a potted plant during hide and seek and Ruby can’t find him; she lets him take ice cream in the bathtub several times, creating a mess each time; she allows a toddler who only speaks a few words to go to the grocery store BY HIMSELF; she ignores him while she invites her own friends over to play, and she’s not bright enough to tell when Max has swapped out his monster toys for her dolls.  I don’t know about you, but those are all qualities I look for in a baby-sitter.  Besides, just where is their mother?  The only adult ever around is their grandmother.  If I had a daughter like Ruby I guess I would be hiding away somewhere boozing up, too.

Lazy Town
Um, WTF????

Oobi
Other than the annoying voices I kind of like this one

The Upside Down Show
For the love of god, please film some more episodes!  If I have to hear the “very hairy” song again or hear about the “shirsday smarty” one more time my ears are going to explode.  And why do David and Shane always have to be doing something FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME? 

I think I need a hobby.

*disclaimer – M really doesn’t watch that much TV, mostly just Sesame Street while we are preparing dinner.  Noggin does however make it’s way on the tube a couple of times a week when we are in need of some downtime.

Spring Sprung

Um…Hi!

Please forgive my lack of posting this week.  It is finally not gray and cold outside and we spent the majority of our free time during the last week frolicking in the out-of-doors.  It’s been a looooong winter and it’s been a blast watching M re-discover what awaits her outside.  She has already de-flowered all of the crocus in the yard, which is really my fault since I picked one to show it to her up close.  We found a small, child-sized rake in the garage of the new house and she busies herself “helping” clean out the flower beds. And the girl loves to dig in the dirt. She makes a bee-line for a patch of garden bed next to the garage as soon as she’s outside and settles down to dig, dig, dig.

As for walking, we have been taking daily family walks in the neighborhood.  We usually do this sans-stroller as M prefers to run free for the mile or so we walk.  The upside is that she gets totally worn out and sleeps like a champ for 12+ hours every night and her naps are up to 1 ½ – 3 hours.  The down side is that it can take forever and we end up carrying her a small part of the way.  Either way it means I have to do a little less time on the treadmill in the dark, boring basement.  Now that the weather has broken I hope to get outside for some post-bedtime walks just to break things up a little.

Finally, this weekend I had an uncontrollable urge to be a 1950s housewife, apparently.  I really wanted to bake some bread so I whipped up a nice loaf of cinnamon-swirl bread along with some standard white bread.  Both were made with ½ white flour and ½ whole wheat flour since I ran out of the white – oops!  The house smelled heavenly and the bread is fantastic.  Then, I had planned to do a lemon-garlic roast chicken but the nice weather (70 degrees!) was calling so I went to the park with the fam instead.  Oh well, I will roast the chicken later this week – I guess my quest to be the perfect homemaker fell a little short.  The fine patina of dog hair that covers everything in the house will also attest to this failure.