I was recently invited to join a group of other diners at the latest Cleveland Eats group of Meetup.com. The group schedules periodic dinner dates at some of Cleveland and Akron's newest and hottest restaurants. Tonight's dining destination? L'Albatros in University Circle. Having eaten there several times in the past, I was excited to return again to experience some of Zack Bruell's amazing country French fare.
Parking has always been a bit tight at L'Albatros. In the past there was a self-service machine at the front of the lot where you inserted cash or a credit card, paid for the number of hours you needed, and proceeded to walk into the restaurant. I don't know if that system has been replaced, but tonight there was a gentleman at the front entrance to the parking lot taking cash and doling out parking passes. Fortunately I managed to snap one of the few remaining spots available.
Here was a shot of the entrance to the restaurant:
Once inside, I was seated at the exact same table I've been at time and time again. Apparently there are only a few spots to put large parties. And as last time, the lighting inside the restaurant was extremely dim. In my last post, I had to pretty much discard all of my photos as they came out way too dark. This time, I had the advantage of having a flash camera. Fortunately, I sat at the end of the table where both food photographers were sitting, so we could minimize the exposure to others at the table.
As our entire party finally settled in for a much anticipated meal, one of the servers began doling out slices of French bread:
On its own, this was excellent bread, a sourdough version. Of course, I remarked about how good the bread tasted during my last visit, too. While there was softened butter for those who wished to partake, one additional condiment was present on the table that I hadn't seen before, a whole-grain, country-style Dijon mustard:
I thought that this was an even better condiment than the butter would have been. It was sweet, tart, spicy and salty all at the same time. And since the mustard seeds were only partially ground, they gave the spread a lovely texture that contrasted nicely with the bread.
Even though I had a flash camera tonight, menu shots are more or less pointless because of the physical size of the menu. Don't misunderstand, the menu was only a front and back side of a single piece of heavyweight paper. However, the physical dimensions on that piece of paper would've made photographs either incredibly hard to read or oddly disjointed. A better use of your time would be to check out the menu already posted on their website.
In the end, I decided to go with three tastes tonight. First, a salad from the daily specials. Second, a dish from one of their standard menu appetizers. Finally, an entree from one of their standard menu dishes.
Having given in to my relatively recent love affair with fresh roasted beets, once I heard that the daily salad special contained them, I was sold:
Consisting of a mixture of golden yellow and red beets, goat cheese, and arugula, this was simply dressed in a very light and slightly sweet champagne vinaigrette. Between the sweetness of the beets, the tanginess from the goat cheese, and the pepperiness from the arugula, this was quite the taste sensation. The leaves were perfectly dressed and by the time I reached the bottom of the plate, not an extra drop of dressing could be found.
For my appetizer course, the chicken liver and foie gras mousseline was simply calling my name:
Served with pickled red onion, cornichon and toasted bread slices, this was a sinful and unctuous way to celebrate liver. The mousseline was incredibly smooth, spreading easily on the toasted bread and delivering a mild liver flavor that literally melted in your mouth. Paired with the acidic onions and cornichon, this dish hit all the right spots on my tongue. I didn't ask my server, but I'm certain based on how light the mousseline tasted, it must have contained either whipped heavy cream or butter. Either way, it was decadent and delicious.
Finally, the main course. Having recently seen an episode of Bobby Flay's Throwdown series on moules frites (aka mussels and fries), I knew that once I saw it on the menu at L'Alabtros, I had to order it. Here was a shot of my entree tonight:
The mussels were sitting in a white wine and butter sauce with lots of fresh garlic. The frites were topped with a chili-spiced aioli that gave a mild, but successful "zing!" to each bite of the frites. The mussels themselves were perfectly cooked and very tender. The broth, while delicious, really needed something other than frites in order to soak up the amazing juice ... perhaps some nice crusty French bread. Sadly, by that point, the "bread guy" had stopped making his rounds at our table. The frites were decent enough, clearly they were homemade, but they just don't have that nice crispness to them that I really desire in a fried potato. That being said, they were consistent with other versions of frites that I've had in Cleveland.
While some of our group still had room for dessert, I needed to pay my check and leave a little earlier since it was a work night and I still had to drive back to Akron. Overall, I really enjoyed my return trip back to L'Albatros and I'm happy that Chef Bruell's vision of a French brasserie is enjoying continued success. I know I am looking forward to returning soon for another excellent meal. The casual, yet intimate feel of the dining room should appeal to diners who are looking for a romantic evening out or who might just be looking to be transported to a small countryside restaurant in the southern part of France.