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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