Sunday, November 29, 2009

Extra Helpings: Crop Bistro and Bar

Ever since I first read about Crop Bistro and Bar, I have wanted to go. Time after time I have read glowing reviews on various food forums, personal blogs and from friends whose judgment I trust. As soon as I discovered that they had a website, I immediately went online to check it out. What I found was a chef who is committed to doing local, sustainable and seasonal cuisine. Unfortunately, what I also found were menu prices that were a bit of a sticker shock for me. Even with me working right now, I knew that Crop would have to be a very occasional indulgence.

Along the way, I discovered that I can have my proverbial cake and eat it, too. On Sunday evenings, Crop offers a family-style dinner. Diners share the same salad and dessert course and each diner picks from a small selection of entrees. The price of this feast? Only $25 per person. Alright, so now I had a plan, the only problem was that for the past four months, my Sunday nights have been occupied with a recurring commitment I couldn't break. When I found out that I was going to be getting a free Sunday evening, I quickly contacted several of my Cleveland foodie friends, made a reservation using the OpenTable application for Android on my phone and anxiously awaited.

Crop Bistro is located at 1400 West 6th Street, Cleveland, OH 44113 and can be reached at 216-696-2767. Valet parking is available and there is a parking lot across the street. Of course, if you drove around the area a bit, there were also free places to park. I parked on the corner of Frankfort and W. 6th; there were meters, but it's only enforced before 6 PM.

Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:

Once inside, I sat at the bar and enjoyed a nice Argentinian Malbec and waited until my friends arrived. I looked over the wine line and much like the online menu, prices were really all over the place. The particular glass of wine that I had chosen was $8 per glass, or only $28 per bottle. Not a bad value, considering it was a delicious wine. As you can imagine, though, there were more than a few $150+ priced bottles of wine, too. When my friends finally arrived, we were shown to our table which fortunately was right in front of the open kitchen.

Here was a shot of the special Sunday family-style dinner menu:

As I mentioned earlier, Chef Steve Schimoler is focusing on seasonal foods, so the menu is likely to change fairly often. Our server took our order and soon after, a basket of bread and butter arrived:

Sadly, I didn't have much time to focus on the bread as an unexpected surprise arrived at our table:

This was our amuse bouche. While at first I thought that the chef might have recognized my foodie friends and sent over a complimentary course, apparently this was par for the course for every diner. The shrimp was perfectly cooked and the corn, done two ways both as kernels and as cornmeal had a wonderful play of sweet and salt in my mouth. The maple barbecue glaze underneath added another layer of amazing flavor. I didn't even realize until I looked at my friend Nancy's plate that mine was accidentally missing the cilantro oil flourish that hers had. She graciously scooped up a bit onto some of the bread and I eagerly tasted the bright flavor that the cilantro would've brought to the plate. Honestly, though, I didn't even miss it. My only taste of the bread that evening, I used the rest of the bread slice to completely mop up the remaining sauce on my plate.

Next up was another surprise course that I wasn't expecting. When these cups were first sat down in front of my other friend, Edsel, I thought he had ordered a cappuccino, even though I hadn't heard him say as much. Once all of us had one in front of us,

our server explained that this was a pumpkin and squash soup with a bit of seared duck confit in the bottom of the bowl, topped with a milk foam and finished with just the slightest bit of black truffle. Even before tasting the soup, I kept thinking to myself, alright, an amuse and a soup have already been served and we haven't even gotten to the three courses that were actually listed on the menu. And all this for just $25? Wow!

The soup was absolutely delicious. Even before tasting anything, the heady aroma of black truffles hit my nose. The soup itself was more broth-like than a thicker pureed soup, but wasn't lacking in flavor. The generous portion of duck confit at the bottom of the cup was crispy, tender, juicy, and had an amazing depth of flavor to it. Whatever the kitchen's magic is, I hope they keep it for a long time. I was disappointed when I reached the bottom of my bowl. Actually, I think all four of us were.

Having finished our soup course, we focused our attention to the large mixed green salad that had been placed onto our table:

Composed of leafy greens, roasted red and golden yellow beats, fennel, cauliflower, roasted red peppers, shreds of a wonderful nutty-tasting Swiss cheese, this was dressed in a homemade white balsamic vinaigrette.

Here was a shot of my portion (which was huge):

If there was a low point this evening, it would be the salad. The dressing was flavorful, but it didn't impart enough seasoning for the salad, so it was a touch bland. Given the fact that none of the tables had salt or pepper on them, I'm sure the intent was for each dish to come out of the kitchen seasoned appropriately. Don't get me wrong, this was still a lovely salad, but I think that all of the flavors would've really come together with just a touch more salt.

Having finally finished our third course, the entrees finally arrived. Here was a shot of my seared Tasmanian salmon served over melted leeks:

When I asked my server to what temperature the fish was cooked, she responded that it was normally cooked medium rare unless the diner prefered something different. Medium rare was perfect for me, so I let the kitchen do its thing. What I received was a nicely sized portion of salmon that was juicy, seasoned and seared perfectly, but sadly wasn't medium rare. It was more on the medium well side of the equation. Had the fish been dried out, I definitely would've sent it back to have them re-fire it. However, it was eminently juicy, so I decided to stick with what I had in front of me. The melted leeks were actually a combination of leeks and onions that had been slowly sweated and allowed to caramelize. Topping my salmon was a tarragon buerre blanc that had just a touch of sweetness to it to balance out the acidity. Overall, this was an amazing plate of food.

Accompanying each of our entrees was a shared plate of sides. Today we were served green beans that had simply been sauteed and seasoned and a Fall risotto that had been studded with apples and cranberries:

I tried both sides and while the green beans were a bit too vegetal for my taste, the creamy risotto was indeed wonderful. The apples and cranberries, which I wouldn't have thought would work well in a savory risotto, paired beautifully. Sadly, two of my dining companions ordered the fresh egg pasta as their entree and were bummed to discover another carbohydrate being served as part of the side.

After absolutely cleaning my plate, our server cleared the table and the dessert that was part of the dinner arrived at the table. Tonight's dessert was a chocolate and cranberry bread pudding:

The bread pudding was served with a maple-infused creme anglaise. This was a wonderful way to end our meal ... or at least that was what we thought. All of the flavors worked so well together and yet each retained its own identity on the palate. The pudding was super moist and it was served nice and warm. I would happily take this bread pudding any day.

After clearing away our dessert plates, we were surprised and delighted when Chef Schimoler came over to our table with a second dessert for us to share. The Chef had indeed recognized my dining companions and thought he would spring a complimentary dessert from Crop's regular menu on us.

Here was a shot of Steve's Sweet Foie:

Comprised of an espresso blondie that had been heated on the flattop, it was topped with a piece of seared foie gras and finished with a peppercorn and rosemary chocolate sauce. It turned out that the dessert was perfectly sized; after we split it up, everyone got a single bite. And, oh my goodness, what a bite! To call this dessert complex does a bit of a disservice to the flavor profile. Here you had a perfect example of something that hit almost all five flavor points in your mouth: sweet, salty, bitter and umami (or savory). The only thing that this really didn't play on was sour. But that's perfectly fine with me. As the chef was eager to point out, the seared blondie almost gives the flavor the "burnt marshmallow" effect creating in his mind the flavor profile of a campfire s'more. All I know is that in one bite of food, the chef had sent my mouth and my brain from happy to overload. I can only imagine the number of neurons that were being fired off in my brain to deal with the flavor explosion that was happening in my mouth.

Now fully sated, we requested our check and still couldn't believe that with tax and tip, the amazing meal we had just eaten was only $33 per person. While the foie gras dessert on the regular dessert menu is a bit pricey at $15, if you are looking for an absolutely amazing bite of food, do yourself a favor and split it amongst your dinner companions.

To say that I recommend Crop Bistro and Bar is a bit of an understatement. From the moment we arrived until the minute we left, we were presented with a creative, well thought out menu that was a true pleasure to eat. With the added bonus of the Sunday family-style dinner price, there isn't a single reason I can think of not to check out this amazing Cleveland eatery.

Crop Bistro and Bar on Urbanspoon  Crop Bistro & Bar on Restaurantica

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