In a recent conversation with some of my Cleveland foodie friends, we were trying to decide where to have dinner on a cold, rainy Friday night. Several spots were suggested, and while they all sounded okay, none of them really made me go "YES!" in my head. I looked through my contact list on my phone for inspiration and when I finally scrolled to the L's, I stopped. Having not been there in quite some time, Light Bistro suddenly sounded like the perfect spot. I suggested it to my friends who also agreed that it had been a long time since they visited as well. I pulled up the OpenTable for Android application on my phone and sure enough, there was an opening at 7 PM at Light Bistro for the four of us.
Light Bistro was located at 2801 Bridge Avenue, Cleveland, OH, 44113 and can be reached at 216-771-7130. Their website was quite informative and before leaving for Cleveland, I was able to check out much of their current menu. What surprised me about their current offerings were the number of small plates, or tapas, available. I don't remember this being on the menu before, but then again, it has been quite some time since I had last eaten there. Also new on the menu were pizzas.
Three out of our four-top arrived slightly early for our reservation. We sat at the bar and ordered a few drinks to get us started. Sadly the only less than stellar service issue we had tonight was with the bartender. He seemed preoccupied with people other than us. While two of us were served without issue, the third nearly had to flag him down in order to place his drink order. He was also unhelpful in determining what, exactly, was available for Happy Hour pricing. Both my beer and my friend's beer were actually $3 each during Happy Hour instead of the regular price. We didn't find that out until we were presented with our checks at the end of the meal.
When our fourth party member arrived, we moved from the bar to our table. Our server left us with a list of today's specials and the menus to look over. Here was a shot of the first page from the menu:
And a shot of the second page:
Just as in previous visits, after water was poured for each guest, a small brown sack containing bread, hot and fresh, arrived at the table along with nicely softened butter from Lake Erie Creamery. I smeared a little bit of butter on my bread before taking a bite.
I won't go into my usual diatribe about the complexities of the bread. Let's just say that this was a very nice way to start the meal. I'm very glad that Light's tradition of serving bread this way hasn't changed over the years.
When going out with a group of foodies, it is important to understand how the ordering process works. It is not enough just to order a single item off of the menu. To truly "get" what the chef is trying to do, you want to try and order as many different items as your group can handle. By employing this cross-sectional ordering technique, you can begin to understand if there are consistency issues in the food as well as get a handle on chef's vision. While two people ordering the same entree isn't necessarily frowned upon, the spirit of sharing with other diners at the table encourages everyone to order something different. That is why going out with a group is far more interesting than going alone. By myself, I might only get to try two or three flavors. With a group of four? I got to try seven.
We decided to start our meal out with some tapas and a pizza. Here was a shot of the thin and crispy Albondigas pizza:
Albondigas, the Mexican word for meatball, was comprised of ground lamb and was spiced with an earthy seasoning mixture that included cumin. Topped with a tomato sauce and both mozzarella and provolone cheeses, this was an excellent pizza. The crust was crispy and still chewy and the amount of sauce and cheese were perfectly balanced. The pizza was sliced into eight pieces, making it the perfect amount to serve four hungry diners.
The first tapas dish we ordered was the Chinese Street Chicken, which was cleverly served to us in a Chinese take-out container:
The only real culinary miss of the evening was this dish. While the chicken breast used for this dish was exquisitely fried and very juicy and the coating was crispy without being greasy, none of us got the miso or sesame flavors that were listed on the menu. I have to assume that they were in the breading on the chicken as there was no sauce at the bottom of the container. This dish was delicious as a fried chicken finger, but failed to transport any of us to the crowded, noisy streets of Beijing.
Our second tapas was the Chicken Liver Pate with crostini and Ohio apples:
Comprised of as nearly as much butter as chicken livers, the pate literally spread like butter onto the crispy wafers of bread. The brunoise of Ohio apple added a lovely tart flavor that helped to cut through the fattiness of the pate. To say that this dish was delicious was an understatement. As we neared the end of this dish, someone nervously joked about using their finger to get into the ramekin and seriously clean up the rest of the remnants. Nobody did, of course, but all four of us were thinking how much it would be nice to be the one who got to "lick the bowl," so to speak.
Here was a shot of my appetizer plate with a slice of pizza and the two tapas on it:
As it turned out, there was quite a bit of wait between when we finished our appetizers and when our entrees came out. Normally one of us would've asked the server what was taking so long, but after our sizable appetizers, we were all glad to get a little breather between the two halves of our meal. After our meal the chef stopped by our table to say hello. It turned out that the kitchen was being run by only a two man team tonight. Normally handled by the chef and three cooks, one cook was on vacation and the other showed up to work sick only to be sent home. That an entire restaurant full of patrons could be handled by only two people and the quality of the food was as good as it was speaks volumes for Chef Matt Mathlage. Slight detour there, now back to the food.
We decided on four different entrees for our dinner: pork, scallops, ostrich, and truffle ravioli. Here was a shot of my pork dish from the front:
And here was a shot from the back:
The Berkshire pork chop had been seared perfectly and then thinly sliced and fanned out on top of a champagne mustard sauce. This was then topped with pickled onions and served with creamy polenta. All of us were impressed with the dramatic presentation of the pork chop, a nod to the chef's creativity and playfulness. After exchanging bites of each dish with the others, I finally had a chance to tuck into my own. The pork was seasoned well and was tender and juicy. The champagne mustard sauce had just a touch of sweetness to it that helped to tame the bite of the mustard. The pickled onions added a nice contrast to both the meat and the mustard.
Everything on the plate was quite delicious, but the polenta really stood out. It was both smooth and silky and yet retained just a tiny little bit of mouth feel from the ground corn. While I can only imagine how much butter and cream had been used to finish this decadent accompaniment to the pork, it never lost the flavor of the corn. I found myself eating forkful after forkful as if I was in some uncontrollable state of mind where I could only focus on the flavor of the polenta.
After our server managed to clear the table our of dinner plates, he offered us dessert. Knowing that we had an appointment with a couch at the Velvet Tango Room after our dinner at Light Bistro, we politely declined and joked that we would be drinking our dessert soon enough. We settled the bill and then waited a few minutes to chat with the chef, who had no doubt until this point pretty much been in the weeds all night. In addition to telling us about the staffing shortage that had plagued the kitchen tonight, he also mentioned an upcoming wine dinner with a very special vintner flying all the way in from Italy. Fortunately, information is normally posted on their Facebook page about upcoming events.
Other than the strange quirk with our bartender, our meal tonight at Light Bistro was outstanding and I cannot recommend them enough. While prices for the entrees are a tad pricier, you could certainly make a meal out of the pizzas and the tapas for far less. The atmosphere, while not quiet, was not overly boisterous either, even with the restaurant full on a Friday night. I encourage you to check them out if you have a chance.