Friday, December 31, 2010

Preview Of Palate Restaurant And Lounge

I generally make it my practice not to review newly opened or recently opened restaurants. Even with a seasoned chef, line cooks, and wait staff, every restaurant needs about a month or so to fine tune the experience so that it is more or less consistent for every guest. Unfortunately, by sticking to this rule, it doesn't give me the freedom to talk about new and promising restaurants that I think my readers might want to hear about and try for themselves.

Since rules are meant to be broken occasionally, today I decided to make an exception and attend a meal on the opening night of Palate Restaurant and Lounge. Headed by Chef Jeff Jarrett, formerly of North End Restaurant in Hudson, Ohio, I have been suitably impressed with his cuisine at other venues (such as Taste of Hudson 2010 and the first Dinner In The Dark) and I was eager to see what he and his team would put together with their very own place. Originally slated to open towards the beginning of December 2010, various permit delays pushed the actual opening date to the end of December instead.

Palate Restaurant and Lounge was located at 12214 Pearl Road, Strongsville, OH 44136 and can be reached at 440-238-8500. The restaurant was located in a small strip mall just off of Pearl Road and the easiest way to find them when driving down Pearl Road was to look for the cross street, Fall Water Road. Turn into the plaza at that intersection and follow the drive towards the back of the building. Parking was somewhat limited along the side of building, but there was a large lot behind the entire building which should supply ample parking.

Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:

Exterior of Palate Restaurant and Lounge
Tonight I decided to share my meal with three other friends, fellow food blogger Nancy, her husband Bob, and Flickr devotee Edsel. I want to reiterate that today's visit and subsequent write-up is a preview and not a typical review. While I went to the restaurant with the intent of paying for my food tonight (more on that at the end of the review), it would be unfair to any newly opened restaurant as well as to the reader to become too critical of the food and experience as it will ultimately get better and more consistent given a few more weeks. I plan on returning in several months for a more critical sampling of their menu.

[Ed. Note: The following pictures will look a little dark because the location of our table was in a VERY dark spot in the restaurant and I didn't use the flash on my camera (on purpose). I've actually lightened them slightly just to make them pop a little. I didn't want to over-lighten them because I wanted to give you a sense of what to expect when you go for a visit yourself.]

After being seated, we were handed Palate's brand new menu:

Palate Restaurant's Dinner Menu
What I really liked about this menu (besides the fact that I could fit the entire thing into one photograph) was its elegant simplicity. I've seen so many restaurants who want to offer everything under the sun to their diners and the result is a menu that has no focus and no sense of identity. The other thing that surprised me was the sense of value the menu provided. All appetizers were between $5 and $8, salads between $4 and $7, and entrees between $13 and $20.

While we were honing in on our dining strategy tonight, fresh bread arrived at our table:

House Baked Bread
The bread was made in-house by the Sous Chef/Pastry Chef Lauren Stephenson. In addition to the fresh bread, softened butter was presented in two small ramekins:

Ramekin of Softened Butter
The bread was warmed slightly, enough to allow the butter to gently melt right into the crumb. The bread also came in handy for getting that last bit of sauce or dressing off of the empty plates of food we would consume in the courses to come.

Since there were four of us dining tonight, we decided to split three of the appetizers. First off, we started with two of the Corn Flake Encrusted Crab Cakes:

Crispy Crab Cakes
These were priced per cake and we each ended up with half of a cake. The crab cakes came on a pool of apple butter and nestled on top of the cakes were small strands of candied hot pepper rings. I didn't manage to get any of the candied hot peppers until my very last bite, but when I did, wow was that ever good! One would think that hot peppers would overpower the delicate crab, but given Chef Jarrett's treatment, it remained as an accent flavor.

Our second appetizer was the Citrus-Cured Hamachi, Beets, Horseradish Cream, Pickled Red Onion dressed in a Lemon Basil Vinaigrette:

Citrus-Cured Hamachi
As with the crab cakes, the hamachi was ordered on a per piece basis and we decided to stick with two pieces here as well. The incredibly delicate flavor of hamachi (aka yellowtail) often has a slightly lemony and buttery flavor and even with all of the other ingredients on the plate, I never lost the taste of the hamachi. One of the hallmarks of Jeff's food is a profound sense of balance and this dish exemplified that fact.

Our final appetizer of the evening was the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Livers over Cheesy Polenta, Spiced Honey and Grilled Scallion Salad:

Buttermilk-Fried Chicken Livers
Ever since I discovered the fried chicken livers at Lolita many moons ago, I have been a complete sucker for a properly fried chicken liver. Tonight's version was crispy on the outside, creamy and tender on the inside and the cheesy polenta added a second layer of softness to each forkful I put into my mouth. While the plate pictured in the photograph above represented a single order, I could've greedily snarfed down the entire lot and not felt guilty at all.

Our appetizers out of the way, we next moved to the salad/soup course. I decided to order the Fried Goat Cheese Salad:

Fried Goat Cheese Salad
Two rounds of fresh chevre had been coated in bread crumbs and deep fried to a golden brown. I first came upon this sublime flavor at Moe's Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls many, many years ago and there is just something about the crispy exterior combined with the soft, warm interior that makes this a perennial hit. Paired with the goat cheese rounds were roasted beets, apple, greens and a cranberry honey gastrique. Combining said ingredients on my fork and taking a subsequent bite resulted in a very happy foodie. This was one of the dishes that I used the aforementioned bread to make sure I sopped up every last bit of vinaigrette from the bottom of the dish.

Bob ended up ordering the Soup of the Moment:

Bacon, Potato, and Cheddar Cheese Soup
I've included a shot of it here because Bob generously asked our server for four soup spoons so that we each could have a taste. Tonight's soup was Potato, Bacon, and Cheddar Cheese and besides being delicious, it was hearty and perfect for a cold winter's day like today.

Our second course now complete, it wasn't long before our entrees made their way to the table:

Seared Scallops over Celery Root Puree
Tonight I decided to go with the Seared Scallops over Celery Root Puree, Apple Slaw, Gremolata, and Salsa Verde. The puree was super smooth and from the mouth feel, I deduced that it had been finished with either butter and/or cream. The scallops were seared to a golden brown crust on the outside and yet were still tender and translucent on the inside. The apple slaw added a nice textural contrast to the soft scallops and the gremolata and salsa verde brought a bright herbaceous sensibility to the dish. Before I knew it, I was staring down at a completely empty plate and found myself using more of the bread to sop up every last bit.

After clearing our table of finished plates and silverware, our server dropped off the dessert menu. The front of the menu had the desserts:

Palate Restaurant's Dessert Menu 1
And the reverse had after dinner drinks:

Palate Restaurant's Dessert Menu 2
Eager to try some of Lauren's $5 sweet treats, when I saw the Dark Chocolate Mousse, I knew I couldn't resist it's siren song:

Dark Chocolate Mousse with Parmesan Tuille
A layer of Devil's Food cake was topped with two spheres of the velvety smooth dark chocolate mousse. Dried cherries were sprinkled on top and in a move that gave the dessert a somewhat "rabbit ears" quality to it, two Parmesan tuilles were inserted into the top. I tried each of the components of the dessert separately and then got down to the business of combining various flavors. Joining the umami and salty qualities of the Parmesan cheese with the sweetness and slight bitterness from the dark chocolate was an interesting idea. While pairing chocolate with cheese is a home run for some people, for me it didn't do much to elevate the dish. Of course, given that I nearly licked the bowl clean after reaching the bottom, clearly I had no complaints about the flavors.

At various points in our meal, Jeff, Lauren, and General Manager Chrisopher Von Alt stopped over to see how our meal was. In what came as a complete shock to all of us, when at last our table was completely cleared of plates and dishes, our server approached us to tell us that the meal had been comp'd by Chef Jarrett. We earnestly put up a protest, but she stood firm in her resolve. We at least insisted that we would need to know the check total so that we could tip her properly. Alcohol excluded, tonight's check for the four of us, with tax, came to $37.50 per person.

I was at first concerned that having the meal comp'd would compromise my ability to write about tonight's experience, but I quickly realized that a) this was a preview of the menu and b) my opinions had already been formed before finding out about Chef Jarrett's more-than-generous gift to us. Once the restaurant has had time to settle into itself, I will return for what hopefully amounts to a more anonymous critical analysis of the food (as much as is possible since much of the staff now knows what I look like).

In the meantime, I highly encourage you to check out this new addition to the Strongsville culinary scene. The food was innovative without being too "out there," the prices were completely in-line with the level of cuisine and the staff seemed knowledgeable and eager to make sure our dining experience was top notch. As the restaurant is brand new, I would recommend that you call for reservations just to make sure they have a table waiting for you when you go. With plans in early 2011 to add lunch service and a Sunday brunch, I look forward to many more good meals at Palate. Considering that they are only a thirty (30) minute drive from the Montrose area via the Turkpike, I definitely think it's a worthwhile trip. If you decide to try them out for yourself, shoot me an email or leave a comment and tell me about your experience.

Finally, I would encourage you to check out Nancy's blog post about her experience at Palate. In addition to joining Edsel and I for dinner tonight, she and Bob also attended a "Family and Friends" dinner the night before and has some added perspective that is definitely valuable.

Palate on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

A Trio Of Lunches At Sweet Pea Cafe

I remember reading about Sweet Pea Cafe several years ago in the Akron Beacon Journal and was reminded once again of its existence about a year ago when Jane Snow mentioned them in one of her weekly electronic newsletters (to which I highly recommend you subscribe). But it wasn't until I happened to be in the Fairlawn area one day for lunch that this quirky, VERY out of the way place popped into my head as a potential candidate for lunch. Nestled in a multi-business building suite, the cafe was only a single block east of Summit Mall, but for those who only drive on the major roads, it can be a bit intimidating to find.

Sweet Pea Cafe was located at 117 Merz Boulevard, Fairlawn, OH, 44333 and can be reached at 330-794-7952. They do have a website, but it appears to be fairly incomplete and only somewhat helpful. Parking at the restaurant was in the lot in front of the building.

Here was a shot of the front of the space occupied by the restaurant:

Storefront of Sweet Pea Cafe
For my initial visit, I had decided to go for a late lunch at 12:45 PM figuring that most of the lunch crowd would have come and gone. While the restaurant was about half full when I got there, within fifteen minutes, the crowd had shrunk considerably. When I walked in the door, someone behind the lunch counter motioned that I should sit wherever I'd like. As it appeared that many of the tables by the front door hadn't been bussed in a while, as soon as I picked a four-top by the window, someone immediately came over and cleared and wiped down my table.

After finishing with the cleaning of my table, he handed me the menu:

Sweet Pea Cafe's Menu Page 1
Sweet Pea Cafe's Menu Page 2
From the little feedback I had seen on Yelp and Urbanspoon, I knew that Sweet Pea Cafe had many devotees of the food. A lot of the positive comments revolved around the fact that the menu was vegetarian friendly. Even more comments were made as to the freshness of the food. While I wasn't particularly looking for a vegetarian meal today, I was in the mood for something fresh and tasty.

After placing my lunch order, I sat back and surfed the web on my smartphone while I waited for my lunch to be prepared. After twenty minutes with nothing coming out of the kitchen, I began to get concerned. The cafe was only one-third full and it was taking the kitchen a long time to get my food out. While I had the flexibility of no set time limit for my lunch, lots of other patrons might not. I can only imagine how long it took to get food if the place was packed during peak dining hours. Finally at about twenty-five minutes after originally placing my order, my lunch arrived.

Here was a photograph of the hamburger platter with a side of Sweet Pea Cafe's "country potatoes":

Hamburger Platter
I had upgraded the basic burger ($7) with American cheese (+$1) and bacon (+$1):

Bacon Cheeseburger
I had ordered the one-third pound burger to be cooked medium and when I bisected the burger using the steak knife my server provided to me upon my request, I got a much better view of the interior of the burger patty:

Bisected Bacon Cheeseburger
Sadly, this burger was cooked somewhere between medium well and well done. Fortunately, it was still juicy. With the addition of a little yellow mustard and ketchup, I took a bite and was rewarded with a good, but not great burger. On the plus side, the bun had been nicely toasted which not only added a nice textural element to each bite, but also helped to keep the bun from disintegrating when the juices from the burger leaked out. Also nice was the bacon which tasted freshly cooked and crispy. The tomato was red and sweet, but there was just a bit too much lettuce. It bordered on salad territory and made the sandwich a bit more difficult to eat.

Accompanying my burger was a serving of the country potatoes:

Country Potatoes
When I asked my server what country potatoes were, he seemed to have a hard time describing them to me. As soon as he set the plate down, it was obvious that they were simply roasted new potatoes. The potato wedges were hot and creamy on the inside and crispy on the outside. However, they were grossly underseasoned, bordering on completely unsalted. Every now and again I thought I detected a hint of salinity, but it just wasn't enough. I have debated endlessly about whether eggs should come out properly seasoned (I think they should), but a bland potato product? Had the menu stated that they were purposely unseasoned to allow the diner to adjust it to their preference, I might have given these a pass. As no such mention was made, I have to ding the restaurant for this oversight.

In the end, from start to finish, my initial meal took approximately one hour to complete. Which, as far as lunches go, isn't terrible. But, with the restaurant at only one-third capacity when I went, I don't know that I'd be willing to tempt fate and go right at noon. They are open for breakfast and lunch daily, and have dinner hours Thursday through Saturday. From what I've read, they also do a special prix fixe meal the second Saturday of each month. While the potatoes disappointed me today, the burger was good enough that I'm definitely willing to give this hidden Akron eatery another try ... and that's exactly what I did.

I knew that after my first visit was complete that I would be returning for a second relatively soon. About two weeks after my initial go-round, I decided to stop in for another lunch. The lunch crowd must really vary day by day because for today's visit I arrived shortly after noon to find the restaurant even less full than when I went last time. The good news was that my meal this time not only fit into the one hour time window I try to stick to for lunch, but actually only took forty-five minutes from the time I left work until the time I returned.

When I walked in, I checked out the specials board and noticed that they were serving a white chicken chili today and with the temperatures hovering outside in the mid-50's, I thought this might be an appropriate way to start my meal. When my server approached me, I asked about the chili. She apologized and said that the soup du jour wasn't chili but a hearty pork stew. She never gave a reason for the disparity, but the thought of the stew sounded just as appealing as the chili so I went ahead and ordered a cup.

Here was what arrived at my table just moments later:

Hearty Pork Stew
And here was a close-up shot of the pork stew:

Close-Up of Hearty Pork Stew
Filled with chunks of pork, carrots, onions, potatoes and cabbage, this definitely lived up to the definition of the word hearty. A bowl of this with some nice crusty bread and a salad and you would be good to go on a cold day like today. While the liquid portion of the stew was closer in consistency to a gravy, that was only a minor criticism. The stew was seasoned well and it was clear when I first tasted it that some type of acid had been used at the very end of the soup making process to lift and brighten the flavor of the finished product. It didn't taste sour, mind you, just fresh.

Since I had only ordered a cup of soup, I was able to substitute it for the salad that was normally served with my main course for today, the macaroni and cheese. I have read interesting reviews of the macaroni and cheese omelet that Sweet Pea offers, but not being in a particularly breakfasty kind of mood, I decided to try the macaroni and cheese entree sans eggs. They offered the dish both as a vegetarian and carnivore option, served with either eggplant or prosciutto respectively.

I decided to get my macaroni and cheese with the roasted eggplant:

Macaroni and Cheese with Roasted Eggplant
Topped with what appeared to be panko and toasted under the salamander before being plated, Sweet Pea's version was creamy and delicious. The noodles were cooked completely, but still had a bit of tooth to them and they were sauced such that they were neither dried out nor swimming in the cheesy sauce. The sauce was complex and tasted like a blend of cheeses; I suspected at the very least Cheddar to be one of the players. When I asked my server about it, she didn't know either, but a gentleman who I am assuming is either the manager or the owner stopped by my table to let me know that the sauce was a combination of Cheddar, Jack, and American cheeses. The American, he noted, was used specifically to give the sauce extra creaminess.

The one downside to the dish was the eggplant. When I tasted a piece of the eggplant by itself, it was nicely caramelized and conveyed a subtle sweetness. The problem was that this flavor got lost in the cheese sauce. I like the idea of offering a roasted vegetable mixed in with the macaroni and cheese; I just think it needs to be a little more assertive in flavor.

A thoughtful touch today was my server's inclusion of a bottle of Cholula brand hot sauce that she brought with my entree:

Cholula Hot Sauce
While I hadn't asked her specifically for the condiment, when I added a few drops to the pasta dish, the vinegar from the hot sauce actually helped cut through the fattiness of the cheese sauce and the spice from the chilies took an already good dish and elevated it even more. While I used the hot sauce quite sparingly, the flavor added to my enjoyment of this dish immensely, so much so that I may just have to start adding hot sauce whenever I have this American classic in the future.

For my third and final lunch at Sweet Pea Cafe, I decided to order off of the daily specials board. As with my previous visits, there was always both a vegetarian option as well as a meat-based selection on the panini board. When I saw that today's meat-based panini was a Cuban sandwich, my mouth instantly started watering. A good Cuban sandwich can be a thing of beauty and I was curious to see what the kitchen would send out to me. After reading the description on the board, however, I was left with two questions. First, the board listed the cheese being used as "Jack." Not Colby Jack or Pepper Jack, just Jack (bonus points for those readers who get the television show reference I just made). Every Cuban sandwich I'd ever eaten prior to today had come with Swiss cheese. The other variation today was that instead of yellow mustard, a brown mustard was being substituted.

When my server came to take my order, I asked about the Jack cheese. I don't think she understood the point of me asking about the cheese, but when I asked if I could substitute Swiss cheese in place of the Jack, she happily agreed. In a rather odd twist of fate, a different server explaining this exact panini to a table next to mine described the sandwich as coming with Swiss cheese and not Jack cheese. So clearly, somebody at Sweet Pea knew how to make a proper Cuban sandwich. But I digress.

After around twenty minutes or so, my sandwich and side arrived:

Cuban Sandwich and French Fries
Here was a side shot of the Cuban sandwich:

Side Shot of Cuban Sandwich
What to say about this sandwich? The outside was hot and crusty. The inside was cool to lukewarm. The ham had been placed on the sandwich in thick "steak" form, not shaved thinly. The pulled pork was juicy but nearly flavorless. The chopped pickled added a bit of crunch but almost no acidity. The brown mustard was actually an impossibly thin layer of grainy mustard spread on just one side of the sandwich. The Swiss cheese was nicely melted.

Was this a bad sandwich? No, it wasn't. Was this a Cuban sandwich? Technically, all of the ingredients were there. In spirit, however, this was not a well thought out sandwich. The ham, barely warmer than refrigerator temperature, was so thick that if you didn't manage to bite completely through the sandwich would yank all of the other ingredients out from the two pieces of bread as you pulled the sandwich away from your mouth. The acidity and bite from the mustard and pickles did almost nothing to help cut through the fattiness of the cheese, ham, and pulled pork. While the pork added some much needed juiciness, by itself it had little character. Finally, the bread. Instead of a nice crusty roll with a soft interior, Sweet Pea's version was so crispy on the outside that I thought I might damage the soft lining on the inside of my mouth as I took bite after bite.

The other component on the plate were the fresh cut French Fries:

Fresh Cut French Fries
Post frying, these potato sticks had been tossed unevenly in a dried herb blend and salt as some of the fries were completely bland and some had seasoning. While the fries succeeded in not being greasy, they were also fairly limp and not crispy at all. Applying ketchup help to hide the seasoning inconsistencies, but nothing could compensate for the lack of crispiness in these potatoes.

Honestly, I'm torn over Sweet Pea Cafe. I wanted to like them as they are the very type of restaurant at which I want to spend my money. Based on the research that I did before going, many people obviously do like them as the restaurant has always been busy (at least when I arrived). While some of the dishes have been successes, there have been an equal number of misses, too. While I would rather spend my money at a place like Sweet Pea Cafe than any of the national chains, given their so-so record over three separate visits, I have to recommend that if given the choice, Continental Cuisine, Mr. G's Pizzeria, Beau's Grille, or even Pub Bricco (review coming soon!) might be a better choice if you are in that neck of the woods. Nothing was outright bad, but not knowing from visit to visit what to expect makes me leery to recommend whether you should spend your hand-earned dollars at this little eatery in Fairlawn.

Sweet Pea Cafe on Urbanspoon

Monday, December 27, 2010

Don't Skip Dessert At Moe's Restaurant

I've been going to Moe's Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio on and off since it first opened back in 1998. If pressed, I couldn't tell you why I wasn't more of a regular patron at the restaurant, although I do have some excuse between 2000 and 2004 because I wasn't living in the Akron area at the time. That being said, the number of times that I've gone back for a meal at Moe's since my return to the northeast Ohio area in 2004 has numbered themselves at two: once, about three years ago, and tonight.

I've had a number of readers suggest that I go back to Moe's and give them another shot and tonight I answered that call. It wasn't so much that I had experienced poor service or bad food during my prior visit, but the restaurant just never seemed to be present in my mind when it was convenient to simply stop in for a meal. Seeing as it was early on a Wednesday evening (5:15 PM) and I still had about an hour and a half to kill before a scheduled hair cut at Frizz Hair Salon, I thought I might just try and kill two birds with one stone.

Moe's Restaurant was located at 2385 Front Street, Cuyahoga Falls, OH 44221 and can be reached at 330-928-6600. While this time around I noticed that there was a fairly ample parking lot behind the restaurant, I did what I've done in times past and parked along either side of the street (it's a one way street). Moe's website is available here.

After getting out of my car, I snapped a photograph of the front of Moe's:

Entrance to Moe's Restaurant in Cuyahoga Falls
The entire storefront in the photograph above belonged to Moe's and there were actually two entrances. The left door lead you directly to the dining room. The door on the right side of the street-facing building lead directly into the bar area. Both were connected by a hallway at the back of the building.

Once inside, my eyes adjusted quickly to the available light in the dining room and I realized that there were quite a few larger tables tonight, even though I was the first to arrive in the dining room:

Moe's Dining Room
As always, the seasonal monthly menu is colorfully written on the back wall on a chalk board:

Moe's Monthly Entree Specials
I asked the hostess if they'd be able to accommodate a walk-in tonight. After carefully eying her reservations list, she announced that she did have a table available, but I would have to be done and vacated by 7:30 PM since that was when the table was needed for its first reservation tonight. Knowing that my haircut was at 7:00 PM, I quickly agreed to those terms and she promptly sat me down and handed me the menu:

Moe's Menu Page 1
Moe's Menu Page 2
Luckily, in a move designed to control people from constantly having to wandering over to the back of the restaurant to read the entree specials, the first page of the menu was a repeat of this information. The reverse side was a list of the appetizers, salads, and soups available.

While I studied my options for tonight's meal, my server approached my table with the bread service:

Bread Service
Comprised of homemade bread and a compound butter that had been mixed with paprika and garlic, it certainly looked intriguing. I picked up a slice of the bread and smelled it (I'm such a bread-o-phile). It had a nice acidic smell to it, as if a starter of some kind had been used in the dough. Here was a shot of a single slice of the bread with a shmear of the compound butter on one end:

Housemade Bread with Garlic Paprika Butter
I would've liked the bread to have been cooked a little longer or hotter, to give the outer crust a nice chew to it and more caramelization. After tasting the bread straight up, I'd say it was good bread, not great bread. After completing coating the bread slice with the compound butter, I took a bite and was rewarded with a hefty garlic bite. Not too overpowering, but unless you had a major sinus infection, you couldn't miss this pungent flavor.

My server informed me that all entrees come with a house salad dressed in a red wine vinaigrette. If the house salad didn't appeal to me, however, I was told I could substitute one of their other salads and get $3 off the price listed on the menu. And while the golden beet salad was calling my name, I decided to stick with the house salad so that I could try out an appetizer, too. Having recently tried the pierogi at Beau's Grille for lunch, Chef Jared Kirby decided to offer his version of this eastern European staple with both decadent lobster and savory shiitake mushrooms. This was exactly the kind of chef "twist" I was hoping to find at Beau's.

Here was a shot of the Lobster, Shiitake Mushroom, and Potato Pierogi appetizer:

Lobster Mushroom Potato Pierogi
What shocked me when this was first put down in front of me was the amount of lobster meat that topped the dish. Then again, this particular appetizer was $14 and I think it definitely delivered. The claw meat was just a shade chewy; not enough to detract from the overall enjoyment of the dish, but enough to notice. Ironically, the bits of meat that weren't the prized pieces (i.e. claw meat) were more tender. The shiitake mushrooms had been seared until they had a nicely caramelized exterior and a wonderfully savory flavor.

I next went looking for the homemade pierogi. After digging around the dish, I finally found them:

Potato Pierogi
There were three of these beauties in the bottom of the dish and while they weren't nearly as large as the mammoth ones served at Beau's Grille, they were still fried in butter until they had a crispy exterior. The only problem with these pierogi was that there was just a touch less salt than what I would've liked. I hate to call it undersalted, because there was definitely seasoning. The lobster and mushrooms, however, had been nicely seasoned, so when eating all three flavors together, it was quite delicious.

After eating every little last bit from the appetizer dish, my server returned with my house salad:

House Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette
Accompanying the mixed greens salad were two crostini, one a Roma tomato spread and the other a Bleu cheese spread. After adding some freshly cracked black pepper, I dug in to my salad. The leaves were expertly dressed, just enough to coat each leaf without leaving a pool of dressing at the bottom of the plate. The dressing had elements of sweet, sour, and salty and the salad greens brought a nice bitterness to the party in my mouth. The spreads on the crostini added nice flavor and textural contrasts to the salad green. For being a simple "house salad," I think the kitchen did a great job presenting a balanced dish.

As I was eating my salad, I noticed that the dining room was beginning to fill up; a great sight to see on a Wednesday night. I'm also glad that I showed up when I did as I would be getting out of there just as the kitchen got hit with multiple 8 and 10 top orders. A few minutes passed by and my entree for the evening, a Slow Roasted Duck Confit with Butternut Squash and Walnut, Concord Grape and Rosemary Jus arrived at my table:

Duck Confit Angle 1
Here was the same dish from the opposite angle:

Duck Confit Angle 2
Essentially half of a duck that had been confitted and then seared and glazed before service, the duck had been brushed with a dark sauce that had been baked on (kind of like a barbecue sauce, but different in flavor). I tasted the butternut squash first and found it very smooth and creamy with elements of both sweetness and savoriness. After I began to dig around the duck, I not only found lots of well cooked duck that shredded easily, but also some of the subcutaneous fat (which ducks have quite a bit of) under the skin that had not been fully rendered, thus leaving the skin a bit flabby and fatty:

Unrendered Duck Fat
While there was visually just a bit of chopped rosemary on the outer skin of the duck, I was actually kind of surprised at how little impact it had on the overall smell and taste. I am unsure if the concord grape component of the dish was part of the jus or part of the glaze on the duck skin. Either way, it, like the rosemary, felt a little lost to me. I would have loved to seen a garnish of halved grapes on the plate as well, just to reinforce its use elsewhere in the dish. While the butternut squash puree was nicely seasoned, sadly, the duck meat could've used just a tiny bit more salt. As in the first dish, it wasn't bland, but just a tiny bit off.

While I neither had extra time nor room in my stomach tonight for dessert, I decided to take a snapshot of a floor-standing chalkboard announcing the desserts du jour:

Moe's Dessert Menu
I do remember that the last time I went to Moe's for dinner, I had been uninspired by the usual suspects that seem to appear on every upscale restaurant's menu: creme brulee and chocolate molten lava cake. While I was unimpressed last time, tonight I wished I had more of an opportunity to explore one of these fantastic sounding desserts.

By the time I paid the check and left, the place was starting to hop with excitement. Tonight's meal accompanied only by water came to $50, tax and tip included. Moe's definitely wasn't inexpensive, with entrees ranging from $20 and extended into the lower $30's. However, the fact that a well executed house salad accompanied each entree helped to make the prices a touch more reasonable. Really the biggest complaint about tonight's meal, and it's quite minor, was that some of the dishes could use a touch more salt. Fortunately, there were salt shakers on the table should you decide to correct the salinity levels yourself, but at this price level, my feeling is that the food should come out of the kitchen perfectly seasoned.

I definitely had a great meal at Moe's Restaurant and recommend that if you are looking for a professional dining experience with a broad, but not overly broad, selection of choices, give Moe's a try. Hopefully you'll be able to do what I couldn't ... save room for dessert!

Moe's on Urbanspoon

Friday, December 24, 2010

Friday Fish Fry At Mr. G's Pizzeria

It had been nearly two and a half years since I had last eaten at Mr. G's Pizzeria in Fairlawn, Ohio. Mr. G's had only recently come back onto my epicurean radar since I was now in the area for lunch on a much more frequent basis. While I'm certain the restaurant's owners would much rather be known for their Italian cuisine rather than a fish fry, from what I remembered of past meals, it was actually a rather good rendition. At least it used to be.

As I have certainly demonstrated with The Lenten Project, I am totally a sucker for a good piece of fried fish and if your restaurant offers it, regardless of the style of cuisine you serve, I will more than likely try that before anything else. The problem is that there aren't too many terribly good fish fries out there. Now mentally stuck on fried fish and it being Friday, I decided to avail myself of this All You Can Eat (AYCE) seafood special at Mr. G's.

Mr. G's Pizzeria was located at 2955 West Market Street, Fairlawn, OH 44333 and could be reached at 330-836-1111. Having been around for a while, I would have thought they would have a website by now, but alas at the time of this writing, they appear not to (don't get confused by this Mr. G's, it's in Texas). Since the restaurant was located in the typical strip mall, parking was in the lot in front of the set of stores.

Here was a shot of the storefront of Mr. G's:

Storefront to Mr. G's Pizzeria
Once inside, a sign directed me to seat myself. As I had gone today slightly after the lunch rush ended and the bussers hadn't gotten around to cleaning the tables yet, there were surprisingly few clean tables at which I could sit. I found one near the back of the pretty tiny restaurant and soon my server stopped by to take my drink order and drop off a menu.

Here were the photographs of the menu:

Mr. G's Menu Page 1
Mr. G's Menu Page 2
Mr. G's Menu Page 3
Mr. G's Menu Page 4
Besides noting that today's AYCE fish fry was only $7.99, I noticed that Mr. G's offers fish two other ways: as deep fried white fish fillets for their fried fish basket and a hand dipped fresh cod for their fried fish sandwich. Wanting to know which I would be getting today with the daily special, I asked my server when she returned to take my order.

"Hand dipped cod," she replied.
"Oh, you mean the fresh cod you use for the sandwich?"
"Yep, that's the one."

This actually surprised and delighted me. I had assumed it would be the white fish fillets and that they were being fried from frozen. Any reservations I had went right out the window and I proceeded to order the fried fish option.

After only a few minutes, this arrived at my table:

All You Can Eat Fried Fish Platter Shot 1
From this angle, you can see the thick-cut fried-from-frozen steak fries, a bit of the fried fish in the back right, and the hushpuppies in the middle and lower left of the plate. I decided to take another photograph from the reverse angle as well:

All You Can Eat Fried Fish Platter Shot 2
Fried fish on the left, coleslaw on the bottom and to the right of the coleslaw was a cup of tartar sauce. I started with the fish first. The dish came with three cod fillets that had been breaded and fried. The fillet on top was the most perfect of the three and had an only slightly greasy coating, but was still nice and crisp. I pulled off a bite and tried it without the adornment of any sauce. The cod was not only beautifully cooked, moist and barely translucent, but tasted properly seasoned and fresh when I ate it as well. This was a good piece of fried fish. Sadly, however, the bottom fillet of cod

Soggy Battered Fish
was a lot less crunchy and quite a bit more oily (admittedly, it's hard to see the grease in the above photo). The cod inside the coating, however, was just as tasty as the cod in the perfect fillet sitting on top.

I next tried the tartar sauce by itself:

Cup of Tartar Sauce
While it had a decent flavor on its own, it didn't have enough acidity in it to properly cut through the fattiness of the fried coating on the fish. In fact, sort of by accident, when some of the fish got paired with the coleslaw, I realized while it was a more unusual pairing, taste-wise it balanced out much better on my palate. When I tasted the coleslaw by itself, I was very pleased with the nice balance between sweet, tangy, crunchy, and creamy it possessed. When my server stopped in to check on me, I asked if it was homemade and she grinned and confirmed that it was.

The other element on the plate, the steak fries, were pretty decent. Most were crispy on the outside and fluffy and steamy on the inside, but a few of the ones at the bottom of the plate were somewhat oily. Fortunately, I received so much food (and I hadn't even asked for additional fish yet), that I was willing to eat the good ones off the top and discard the not-so-good ones on the bottom. The only real downer on the plate were the hushpuppies. Having been fried to within an inch of their lives, they were pretty dried out.

While I could've ordered more fish, this one plate of food was more than adequate to feed me today and had I eaten any more, I probably would've required a mid-afternoon nap to process it all. With a glass of water, my check with tax came to just slightly over $8. In addition to being a great value, the quality of the fish was excellent and for the most part, the frying of my food had been done with a better than average skill level. If you are into fish fries, whether they are AYCE or not, definitely give Mr. G's Pizzeria a try. They are only open for lunch on Wednesday through Saturday, but they are open for dinner every night of the week. I know I'll be going back in order to sample some of their more traditional Italian fare.

And maybe another fish fry or two.

Mr G's Pizzeria on Urbanspoon
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