Having been a food blogger for a year and a half now, I have come to expect several different reactions from chefs, restaurants, and the more entrenched food industry. Some are completely indifferent and consider the rantings of an amateur food critic to be unworthy of any response. Some are highly critical, pointing to the obsessive picture takers who value getting that one prized shot rather than following accepted restaurant behavior and trying not to disturb other patrons. Finally, there is the much more rare example of a chef or restaurant that understands the power of social media and attempts to harness all of that energy to help out his or her establishment.
When I am out by myself doing restaurant reviews, I try and be as discrete as possible. One of my main directives in writing this blog is to tell you about my experience just as if you were there instead of me. Alerting the wait staff by engaging in obvious food blogger behavior would defeat that goal. However, when the restaurant knows ahead of time, such as the case tonight at a complimentary tasting of the new summer menu at Reddstone, I generally loosen up a bit and take my time to make sure I can photo document as much as I can.
About a week ago, I received an email invitation from Becca Meyers, Marketing and Events Manager for Reddstone (warning: semi-gratuitous use of Flash and music). The email explained the what, where and when and suggested if I was interested in attending that I should RSVP. I had heard the name "Reddstone" bantered about before, but having never been there, I went on-line and checked out their menu. The vibe that I got from the menu was upscale bar food. But having never actually visited, I wasn't entirely sure. Curiosity sufficiently piqued, I emailed her back to reserve my spot.
I arrived in Battery Park (which is visible from Route 2) around 5 PM to find the area mostly dead. After parking my car on a nearby curb, I walked past the still gated patio to the front door located at the corner of West 76th Street and Goodwalt Avenue. Technically they are located at 1261 W. 76th Street, Cleveland, OH 44102 and can be reached at 216-651-6969.
Here was a shot of the still locked front door:
Walking through this door would put you squarely in the bar area. Since it was still locked, I tried the door on the side of the building. This was unlocked, but when I walked inside to see if they were open yet, I was told "ten more minutes." Fair enough. I walked back out into the mid-70's afternoon and made a few phone calls. The next time I turned around, the neon sign in the front door was now actively displaying "Open."
As I walked into the bar and sat down, I began to look around. There was a lot of dark wood and the room itself felt very isolated from the bright sunny day that lay on the outside of the walls. The owners were clearly trying to play off the "Redd" in the name as most of the bar was illuminated with red lights of varying intensities. When I arrived, the bartender was lighting many small votive candles and interspersing them throughout the bar, I suppose to give it a more intimate feel.
Looking skyward, I noticed two things: a disco ball spinning on its axis throwing angular shafts of red light onto surrounding surfaces and this rather odd wooden carving:
Having seen this image on tractor trailer mudflaps, I have to admit that it seemed out of place. I began to wonder who the clientèle of the establishment might actually be.
Soon enough, the bartender came over and introduced himself and asked if I wanted a beverage. After listening to my on-tap choices, I went with a pint of the Great Lakes Dortmunder Gold:
I've always loved the balance of this beer and tonight's freshly-tapped pour from the keg really hit the spot. The bartender asked if I wanted to look at the menu and that's when I told him I was here for the summer menu tasting. He continued to prep the bar for opening and around ten minutes until six, he informed me that since it was such a nice day, the tasting was going to be held on the patio out back. Grabbing my almost finished beer, I walked out the side door and into the now open patio area. Continuing around to the back right, a secondary bar came into view. I picked an open seat and proceeded to finish off my Dortmunder while waiting for the other food bloggers to show up.
Oddly enough, no one showed up until just about six o'clock, when suddenly it seemed like everyone suddenly just appeared. Within moments, I had joined the rest of the group and we retired up to the top of the patio where we occupied three different tables. Becca left us with a printed letter of introduction which contained tonight's menu.
Here was a shot of the letter:
And a close-up of tonight's proposed meal:
She also left us with a copy of the current menu, which you can see on-line at their website, but as the whole point of a seasonal summer menu is to change, don't be surprised if some items on the on-line version are no longer available by the time this review publishes.
My original Dortmunder now drained, for my second beer I decided to go with another on-tap selection, the Pyramid Haywire hefeweizen:
Served with an orange wedge, this was a nicely done wheat beer. It wasn't particularly assertive and had I been in the mood to drink a beer particularly suited to summer, this definitely would be the one.
Everyone now in place, the meal began. Co-owner and executive chef Josh Kabat came out to introduce himself to the group and explained a little bit about the changes and new additions to the menu. It turned out that the five courses we would be sampling tonight were just some of the changes planned for the summer.
First up were Salmon Lettuce Rolls:
The lettuce wrap contained salmon carpaccio, radish sprouts, and a bit of sweet soy. They were topped with a garnish of red bell peppers and scallions. Served alongside the lettuce wraps was a chili and miso dipping sauce:
Resembling tamaki, or handroll sushi, I was tempted to pick this up with my fingers and dip it into the sauce. However, there was a lot of water at the bottom of the plate and I didn't want to get my hands dirty this early in the meal. It seemed that others had the same concern because knife and fork were pretty much used by everyone at my table to eat this. The flavors were very crisp and clean and the salmon had a nice fresh flavor to it. The dipping sauce definitely added a Vietnamese/Japanese spin to the dish, although I think it might have been a bit too strong as I lost the delicate flavor of the fish.
It turned out that the wetness at the bottom of the plate was due to the fact that the kitchen had wrapped these rolls ahead of time and the salt from the soy sauce had leached out some of the water. I assume when you order these off the menu that they will be making them to order, so a sogged out lettuce leaf won't be a problem.
Next up was the BBQ'd Duck Confit Slider:
And here was a shot of the slider with the crown of the bun removed:
It became clear to me by this second course that we would be getting mini-tastes of what would eventually be put on the menu. I surmise that you won't be ordering single sliders, but an order will come with two or three. The slider itself had been topped with a daikon slaw and poblano creme fraiche (which is apparent if you look at the crown in the second photograph.
I tried each component on the slider by itself. The daikon slaw was crunchy and had a nice rice wine vinegar acidity to it. The poblano creme fraiche was creamy with just a little bit of heat. The duck meat was tender and because of the abundance of sauce, it was very moist. I was a little concerned about the overuse of BBQ sauce, however, as the flavor of the sauce seemed to overpower the flavor of the confit duck meat. Reassembling my slider, I took a bite. While definitely a tasty little sandwich, I confirmed my suspicion about the BBQ sauce. It masked the flavor of the meat too much. This could've easily been a pork slider as it was a duck. That being said, it was definitely a delicious combination of flavors. Perhaps a better idea would be to sauce the duck less and make additional sauce available in a squirt bottle.
The third course was to be a sampling of their "Slice of America" All American Burger:
Here was a shot with the crown removed:
Comprised of a sirloin burger patty cooked medium, the burger quarter came topped with American cheese, diced pickles, and a special Reddstone "sauce." An additional slice of perfectly ripe tomato and lettuce leaves were available on the plate for those who wanted them, but I chose to eat my burger as it came. I tasted the special sauce by itself and found it to resemble something similar to the sauce on a Big Mac, only with a bit of chili heat. Nothing obnoxious, mind you, but just enough to make it interesting. After squishing the burger down to a manageable size, I took a bite. This was a tasty burger. Nothing particularly innovative, but tasty nonetheless. To continue with the McDonald's analogy, it almost came across as a gourmet version of the Big Mac.
Some complained that the burger was a bit messy, but as a burger lover myself, a messy burger just means that you are doing something right. Additionally, with the restrained use of toppings, I didn't have condiments and toppings squirting out the sides with every bite.
Along with out burgers, baskets of freshly fried salt, pepper, and rosemary fries were brought to each table:
These were hot, crispy, and very tasty. The interesting thing about fresh rosemary is that you can smell it way before you taste it and such was the case tonight. Condiment caddies were brought out containing mustard, ketchup, and hot sauce, but I preferred to eat mine as they came. I would have no problem ordering these the next time I come for a meal at Reddstone.
Our fourth course was another worldly trip, this time to Japan / Thailand. Here was a bowl of the Shrimp and Soba Noodles:
Here was a closer shot of the bowl:
Besides the perfectly cooked shrimp perched on top of the noodles, the dish also contained pickled Napa cabbage, red bell pepper, scallions, black and white sesame seeds and was dressed in a mildly sweet and spicy peanut sauce. The noodles were also nicely cooked and dressed and the balance of flavors was, to my taste, the best of the evening. I'm also happy to see that they served this dish with chopsticks; however, they may want to reconsider sticking the chopsticks directly into the bowl of noodles. Just as with sticking chopsticks into a bowl of rice, it is considered symbolic of death in Asian culture. It doesn't personally bother me, but then again, I'm not from that culture.
By the time our fifth and final course came out of the kitchen, the sun had begun to make its final descent into the horizon. The last dish was a braised five spice beef short rib:
Here was a shot of the same dish from another angle:
Perched atop a potato and kimchee latke and topped with fried crispy leeks, each dish also had a small pool of plum sauce. As this was set down in front of me, I could smell the cinnamon and nutmeg from the five spice powder. The leeks were beautifully fried and were crispy without being greasy. The beef, having been long braised, was definitely tender, but when I tried to cut it atop the latke, the experience began to go south. The latke sort of smooshed apart, making the possibility of getting a forkful of vertical ingredients, starch, protein, and vegetable a bit harder than it should have been.
While the potato and kimchee latke was tasty, I completely lost the taste of the kimchee, both the spice and the fermented flavor. And the worst part was the braised beef itself. Everyone universally agreed that it was too salty. Mine was salty, yes, but not to the point where I couldn't taste other flavors. However, the overwhelming warm spices from the five spice powder completely overwhelmed the beef flavor. All I could taste was salt, cinnamon and nutmeg. The sweetness from the plum sauce helped a little to cut the salt, but not enough.
While I think that this dish was an excellent idea, I think it definitely needs to get tweaked a bit before being placed on the summer menu. For me, less salt was an obvious first suggestion, but I also think the five spice powder could be a little less pronounced as well. And I love the idea of using kimchee to give the dish a spicy, fermented flavor, even if it is just subtle. As fellow blogger Nancy from Fun Playing With Food suggested, perhaps use the kimchee as a garnish on top. Or perhaps sandwich the kimchee between the latke and the short rib.
Our meal now at its conclusion, one of our servers brought us the check for the bar tab and we all divvied it up appropriately, adding in a tip for the service we had received tonight. Having now tried some of the new summer menu items, I am eager to return back and try some of the other food that we didn't have a chance to try tonight. I've been told that the chicken wings are fantastic and I'm always up for a good chicken wing.
Including this blog, six other bloggers / blogging teams were present to taste the food. I have linked to the ones who ended up writing about the event tonight at Reddstone so that you can get a sense of what others had to say as well:
Cleveland Sandwich Board
Food 'N Such Cleveland
Fun Playing With Food
Green Dog Wine
I was familiar with four of the six blogs already and it was great to add two more to my list of writers to check out on a regular basis.
Even with a few missteps tonight, the flavors and creativity that the kitchen team put forth in this new summer menu really did impress me. I'm not often on the west side of Cleveland for a post-work meal, but if I find myself in such a situation, I might just have to stop back by and put together a tasting menu of my own.