Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Passover Seder 2010: A Pictorial

I had the honor and privilege of spending yet another evening at Nancy and Bob's house celebrating this year's Passover Seder with my wonderful friends. Since I wrote at length about my Passover experience last year in a two-part entry, I thought I would pay homage to Nancy and Bob's incredible commitment to providing their guests with an amazing and delicious meal without letting too many words get in the way. If you want to read in-depth descriptions of the food, I encourage you to check out last year's entries. This year, I'm feeling that simpler may be better; there just isn't a need to rehash. Once Nancy has a chance to recover and post a blog entry about her experience, I'll post a link here so that you can get multiple perspectives on this one incredible meal.

Nancy and Bob's Passover Seder table.

Hot peppers from Bob's garden.

Steamed eggs. Creamy and delicious.

Gefilte fish with carrots, flat leaf parsley and Bob's homemade horseradish.

Nancy's homemade Gefilte fish. Words simply fail.

Matzah, Elijah's Cup, Miriam's Cup.

Charosis: Local apples, local honey, Vietnamese cinnamon ... need I say more?

Ceremonial Seder plate.


Ceremony is starting. Lighting the candles.

Matzah ball soup made with a double stock. Amazing as always.

Light and fluffy even without any leavening.

Roasted cauliflower with garlic.

Sweet apricot matzah farfel with more Vietnamese cinnamon.

Spicy potato kugel made by Bob.

Braised beef brisket with caramelized onions.

My dinner plate. Tremendous flavors!

Homemade flourless chocolate galette and coconut macaroons.

Creme Anglaise.

Final bite of the meal ... dessert.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Where The Wild (Blueberry) Things Are

If one were to doubt the power or effectiveness of social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, I am here to tell you that while these particular websites may come and go over the next decade, the concept of being connected and sharing information is here to stay. Restaurants would do themselves a great service by wholly embracing this concept as a way of promoting themselves and trying to lure in guests. Even something simple like listing the daily specials can go a long way to getting customers to think about you. Today's late breakfast at Flury's Cafe serves as a perfect example.

After my last wonderful lunch at Flury's, I discovered that the owner, Kim Dunchuck, had set up a Facebook fan page for the restaurant. It was a no-brainer for me to become a fan of this little eatery. Once added to my other fan pages, anytime the page was updated, I got notified in my News Feed. Logging in last night, I noticed that one of the specials for today was wild blueberry crepes with butter and brown sugar. My first thought was, "Yum!" My second thought was, "Where on earth do you get wild blueberries in Ohio at this time of year?" As much as I tried to get the thought of those crepes out of my mind, I had been thinking of them non-stop since last night.

Realizing that the only way to purge the thought from my mind was to satisfy the craving and order them. I showed up at Flury's today at around 11:45 AM hoping that I would be able to find a open stool in this tiny sixteen seat restaurant; I was in luck. My server dropped off a menu and told me about the day's specials (including potato soup and sloppy joes), but having been thinking about those crepes all morning, I knew exactly what I wanted.

Flury's Cafe does so much of their menu from scratch, including the desserts. Today there were peanut butter cookies and banana bread with icing available. Just like my previous visit, samples were available to try and drive sales. Before taking my order, my server offered me a small bite of the banana bread:

While the quickbread was a little dried out from sitting on an uncovered plate for a while, the flavor was intensely banana and delicious. The icing surprised me as I figured it was probably simply vanilla. Instead, a note of lemon began to emerge in my mouth once the sweetness subsided a little bit. Overall, it was a delicious bite and had I not come to quench my sweet tooth on blueberry crepes, I might have left with a slice.

It turned out that the blueberry crepes came with one side: Ham, sausage, bacon, or your choice of eggs. Kind of in the mood for bacon AND eggs, I asked if it would be possible to get a side of eggs as well. Considering that the crepes with one side was only $6.25, an extra $1.90 seemed reasonable for two eggs, sunny side up. While there were probably four times as many customers in the restaurant today as the last time, it didn't take long before my crepes were placed in front of me:

As good as the crepes look in the picture, they tasted even better. These were sensational! The freshly griddled crepes were incredibly tender and cut with the barest pressure from my fork. I was convinced right away that the blueberries were indeed wild due to their small size, slight chew, and intense blueberry flavor. The flavors from the butter and brown sugar served as an undercurrent to the primary flavor of the blueberries; subtle, yes, but I could definitely pick up on it. I was told by my server that as good as the blueberry crepes were, the strawberry crepes were out of this world. I found it hard to believe given the plate of food I had been served, something else out there existed that would be even better. Since Flury's rotates the crepes every week, I know it's only a matter of time before I see the strawberry show up. And you better believe my butt will be on that bar stool with fork in hand.

My eggs and bacon showed up on a secondary plate:

The bacon was nicely crisped and was quite tasty. I alternated between bites of the salty bacon and the sweet blueberry crepes to maximize the sweet and salty flavors that I so love to combine. The eggs were served unseasoned, although bits of egg that touched the bacon strips did pick up a bit of seasoning. I didn't have a chance to pick the cook's brain about why the eggs don't get salt and pepper, but I will say that this is not unusual for a diner/cafe to not season the eggs at all.

Once the cook had a chance to breathe for a moment, I asked her about the crepes and the wild blueberries. Crepe batter can be tricky in that it has to sit for at least an hour after initially blending it up in order for the gluten to relax and fully absorb all of the liquid. Only then will you be rewarded with ultra-tender crepes. Aware of this fact, the crepe batter was actually made the night before and allowed to hydrate all night. I then turned my questions toward the wild blueberries. Apparently Sysco Corporation, a major player in the food and food-related products distribution business, has been able to source frozen wild blueberries. While the cook couldn't remember the exact provenance of these particular berries, it didn't diminish how intense and delicious they were. I half wanted to lick the platter clean after finishing my crepes; perhaps if I had been the only customer, I would have.

I cannot reiterate how neat Flury's Cafe is. Both of my experiences have been friendly and down-to-earth. The fact that the food was inventive, and most importantly, delicious, only goes to underscore some of the reasons that I know I will continue to go back and highly recommend that you give them a try as well if you haven't had the opportunity. The staff will take excellent care of you, regardless of whether you write a food blog or not.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Extra Helpings: Breakfast At Tiff ... Err, Twig's

Ever since my first trip to Twig's Diner in Barberton, Ohio, I have been jonesing to return. The last time I went it was in the early afternoon and even though I had been told several times that Twig's is primarily known for their breakfasts, I wasn't in a breakfasty kind of mood. But the siren's song of homemade biscuits (or as Twig's spells them, bisquits) and sausage gravy kept calling to me to come back. Having recently written about the biscuits and gravy at another restaurant, I just had this feeling that something special was waiting for me at Twig's.

While it was 1 PM today when I arrived at Twig's, I was still bound and determined to order up some of their homemade goodness. As I walked in, I was greeted by a woman who turned out to be my server. Even before I had a chance to sit down, she had already asked me what I'd like to drink. As I slung my winter jacket across the back of the opposing chair, my server put down the cup of decaf and glass of water for which I had asked:

As she set it down, she told me told let her now if it wasn't hot enough. Apparently the decaf was being dispensed from a thermal carafe and she was concerned that it was too old. While it tasted hot enough to me, apparently she was worried enough that she made a fresh pot of decaf and replaced one mug with another. While the first one had been hot enough, the freshly brewed coffee was far tastier. I'm glad she took it on herself to replace my original cup.

As I looked at the daily breakfast and lunch specials, my initial thoughts of bisquits and sausage gravy seemed to suddenly come into question:

My eyes were drawn immediately to two menu items, one breakfast and the second lunch. The second breakfast special was two eggs, cheesy bacon grits, and choice of toast. The lunch special that caught my eye was the fresh beer battered fish. Oh, man! Knowing that Lent was upon us, I figured I'd be seeing the fish special again over the next couple of weeks. Which left me with the debate over whether to get the cheesy bacon grits special or stick with my original intention of bisquits and gravy. When my server finally came over, we talked it over and I decided on the cheesy bacon grits special with bisquits instead of the toast and then added a cup of the sausage gravy to round out the meal.

Since my meal took a little bit to come out, I did what I always enjoy doing at restaurants, people watch. There were a few other regulars in the restaurant today and they easily interacted with my server, as she was the only one working the front of house today. I mentioned Twig's unique decor in my last write-up and it seemed that my amped up server fit right in with that uniqueness. With that wonderfully warbly alto voice, she felt very Flo-esque from the TV show Alice without all the "Kiss my grits!" attitude. Twig's has a very down-to-earth friendly attitude to it and even when mistakes are made, people seemed good natured and easy going.

Soon enough, my meal arrived at my table:

The eggs were cooked perfectly. They were tender and the yolks were nice and creamy. Sometimes when you order "sunnyside up" eggs, the whites around the yolks haven't completely cooked. Not this time. The only criticism I had, and I consider this one a throw-away, was that there was no salt on the eggs. While I firmly believe that adding salt as one cooks is a necessity, since these eggs were never flipped over on the flattop, the salt never would've had a chance to interact with the heat. Therefore, a little salt added at the table was all that was required to remedy the situation.

At the rear of the plate was a small dish of cheesy bacon grits:

With a consistency somewhere between gloopy and semi-set, the flavor of these grits was quite good. Everything was nicely balanced and you could taste the cheese, bacon, and corn in every bite. I have had quite my fair share of horribly bland, unseasoned grits in the northeast Ohio area and it was quite a nice surprise to find that someone at Twig's realized that grits do need some seasoning, especially if they have entered savory territory (which these definitely had). Unfortunately, with all of the other food I was served today, I could only eat about half of these.

Along with my breakfast platter, I also received a cup of the homemade sausage gravy:

I tasted this by itself before slathering it over my bisquits. The good news was that this was a very tasty gravy. I got the sweetness from the milk and the saltiness and spiciness from the sausage. Not chili spice, per se, but more like black pepper spice. The bad news was that by the time this showed up on my table, it was a bit too cool. I imagine with only one cook in the kitchen, it's entirely possible that the cook served up the gravy and let it sit while she made the rest of my meal. The bisquits themselves were hot and split easily under the weight of my knife. The bisquits were tasty by themselves, but one of the bisquit halves had a bit of a hard spot. However, once I ladled sausage gravy over it, most faults were forgotten. Twig's has some very good bisquits and gravy. Not slap-your-momma good, but probably some of the best I've tasted in the area.

As my server dropped off my food, she asked if I wanted to try some of Twig's homemade jams with my bisquits. Having read some very positive things about these jams, I quickly agreed. While I was prepared for a single jar of jam, what I was presented with astounded me:

All homemade by Twig herself, you have peach and grape in the front and apple butter and strawberry in the back. Not content to try just a single flavor, I quickly employed one of my remaining bisquits as a jam delivery system:

From left to right you have peach, strawberry, grape, and apple butter. From what my server told me, they have the peach, strawberry, and apple butter year round. Other flavors cycle in whenever Twig felt like it. I noted that as I dispensed each jam, the consistency was somewhere between a sauce and what most of us think of as a hard set jam. I tasted each in turn and the one singular notion that I walked away with was the freshness of the fruit. Sure, they were each sweet, but the main flavor you get with Twig's jams was the fruitiness. The apple butter, by far the most viscous of the four, also had a nice bit of spice that reminded me of the holidays.

My sampling now complete, I was just too full to eat anything else. I paid my check and walked out into the bleak, cold February day now completely sated. My server had told me that lots of people use the jams as toppings for their waffles and pancakes and I can completely understand why. Between the wonderful cheesy bacon grits, the luscious sausage gravy and the over-the-top fresh jams, I am convinced that I have found a restaurant that I will be coming back to again and again. Two visits, two successful meals. I suggest if you haven't already given Twig's Diner a try, now is the time.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Nicely Fried Chicken That Won't Break The Bank

After reading about Lindsay's Amber Restaurant on fellow food blogger's The Hero of Canton site, I decided to track them down and give them a try. Located in a L-shaped strip mall just south of the Route 224 and Route 91 intersection, they are tucked away in a position not visible from Canton Road. It had been a while since I had read the review, so I didn't recall too many details of Hero's visit, save for one: I was definitely bringing down the average age of the patrons seated in the restaurant, albeit only slightly.

Located at 1500 Canton Road, Akron, Ohio 44312, they can be reached at 330-733-9611. As of this writing there was no website associated with the restaurant.

I arrived tonight around 7:30 PM to find a mostly empty parking lot and restaurant. Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:

A sign immediately inside the front door advertises an all-you-can-eat fish (AYCE) fry for $7.49. While this was tempting, I decided to take a look at their regular menu before making up my mind. Here was their regular menu:

What jumped out at me almost immediately was the availability of "comfort" foods that some people seek out. In talking with readers, I find that people generally go out to eat for two reasons (although I'm sure there could be more). Some people choose restaurants because they offer fare that is similar to what they make at home. For whatever reason, perhaps they are too tired or just not motivated after a long day at the office, they want what they normally have at home. Others, myself included, often pick restaurants that have menus that offer foods that I wouldn't normally do at home. Can I cook Thai food at home? Certainly, but many times I'd rather just have someone else do it for me. Lindsay's Amber's menu, with its stuffed peppers and meatloaf, would certainly fit the bill for the first crowd.

After talking it over with my server, I ended up not going with the AYCE fish dinner, but with a fried chicken dinner instead. She warned me that they fry the chicken to order and that it might be about fifteen or twenty minutes. I assured her that if it was as good as she said it was, I had no problem with the wait. She walked into the kitchen to place my order an within just a few minutes returned with fresh rolls and margarine:

The rolls were fresh, but they were pretty much run of the mill in terms of flavor.

She also brought me my first of two sides, the homemade coleslaw:

I could tell when she set this down in front of me that it was indeed homemade. The shred on the cabbage and carrots was irregular. It was dressed in a nice amount of sauce, neither being too dry or too soupy. The dressing was also unique to Lindsay's. It was definitely coleslaw dressing, but their recipe had a much richer flavor profile to it. It was well balanced and hit salty, sour, and sweet in a very nice way.

I don't know if it actually took twenty minutes for my dinner to arrive, but it certainly didn't seem like it had been that long. Shortly after finishing my coleslaw, my chicken and second side, Jo Jo's, arrived:

You can order chicken in just about any combination and I had chosen a chicken breast and a chicken wing for dinner tonight. When I first dug into my chicken, I thought it had been broasted, a process of brining and then pressure frying, because the skin was so crispy. However, I confirmed later on that the chicken was simply deep fried. Not only was the skin nice and crispy, but the seasoned flour mixture they had used to coat the chicken added a wonderful salty spiced flavor to the meat. The chicken meat was amazingly juicy and I eagerly devoured both breast and wing. I suspected that the chicken might have been brined in order to get it this juicy. When I went up to pay the check, I struck up a conversation with the manager. He confirmed that the chicken was indeed brined. This also turned out to be the perfect amount of chicken for my meal; I had no leftovers to pack up at the end.

The Jo Jo's were coated in the same seasoned flour mixture before being deep fried. Here was a shot of the cross-section of one of these potato wedges:

Flavor-wise, these were just as tasty as the coating on the chicken. I did have two issues with the Jo Jo's, however. The first issue was that some of the larger Jo Jo's weren't cooked entirely through and had just the tiniest bit of raw potato texture at their very cores. The second issue I had was proper drainage. On the white ceramic plate, the small pool of tan frying oil could be easily seen. Fortunately, only the Jo Jo's sitting directly in the oil were greasy. Finally, and this issue dealt directly with the entire plate, not just the Jo Jo's was the lack of color diversity: A nice sprig of parsley would've done wonders to break up the monotony of brown on the plate.

As a surprise, my server also brought me a third side:

Apparently all of the dinners were served with the vegetable of the day, in today's case, corn. I was appreciative of the gesture until I took a bite and realized that this was canned corn. While I realize that many of the typical patrons might prefer canned corn over frozen because that was what they grew up with, personally, I had no issue trying a few bites and pushing the rest aside.

How much did I pay for my two piece fried chicken dinner with a side of coleslaw, Jo Jo's, corn, and rolls? $7.00 with tax. An amazing bargain! It's hard to believe a restaurant the size of Lindsay's Amber would ever fill up (it looked deceptively small from the outside), but from The Hero's account, apparently Sunday is a very popular day for the restaurant. Tonight being a Wednesday evening, there was ample choice of seating arrangements. Despite my small issues with the Jo Jo's and the canned corn, I think that overall I really enjoyed my dinner at Lindsay's Amber Restaurant. Everything I ordered was quite tasty and it was clearly very easy on the wallet. I recommend that you give them a chance the next time you are in the area.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Titillating The Taste Buds At The Sandwich Board

One of the keys to drawing in new customers is location. I know that I can't be the only person out there that makes mental notes to try out someplace new when I discover them. Unfortunately, roadside property comes with a premium price tag. When I find something in an unusual and not-visible-from-the-road location, it intrigues me. The Sandwich Board was just such an establishment. Tucked away in a small complex behind the CVS store on West Market Street in Akron, the only mention of it was on a small placard that sits underneath the much larger sign for CVS. Having discovered the restaurant only after they had closed for the day, I was determined to go back for lunch the next day and check them out.

Officially, the Sandwich Board was located at 1947 West Market Street, Akron, Ohio 44313 and can be reached at 330-869-5653. As of this writing, there was no website currently associated with the restaurant. The CVS mentioned earlier was the one at the corner of West Market and South Frank Boulevard. If you know where Ken Stewart's Grill is located, then you'll know the CVS of which I speak. To get to the restaurant, turn into the parking lot of the CVS and then drive along the right side of the CVS parking lot. Once you've reached the back of CVS's parking lot, it connected to the small collection of shops where the Sandwich Board was located. There was a small lot available where you can park your car.

Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:

Not knowing if this was a take-out or sit-down kind of place, I walked in to discover a rather narrow but deep room full of tables. As there was a sign at the entrance indicating that patrons should seat themselves, I opted for a table right by the window so that I could take advantage of the natural light for my photos.

My server dropped off a menu and explained the du jour selections for the day. Here was the menu:

I was a little concerned because the prices seemed higher than what I was expecting. Fortunately, as I would discover when my sandwich arrived, the higher prices translated into both quality and value for the dollar. As a nice bonus, any sandwich on the menu was available with a garden salad for only $0.99 more.

I decided to start out with the optional garden salad and a side of their homemade yogurt dressing:

While the tomato was mealy and more or less tasteless (as one would expect in Ohio in the winter), the rest of the salad was nice and fresh. To my taste, the Iceberg lettuce in the salad seemed to have a lot of "core" ends, but they weren't so fibrous as to be inedible. The real star of this salad was the yogurt dressing. At the same time sweet, sour, salty, and creamy, this dressing really sang. I would've been happy just having a nice gyro to dress with this delicious sauce. In fact, I ended up only using about half of it to dress my salad. The other half I saved to dip the potato chips that came with my sandwich.

Only a few minutes after finishing my salad, my sandwich arrived. Today I decided to order the Hidden Panini. Consisting of turkey breast, Swiss cheese, 1000 Island dressing and fresh tomato, it was griddled between two slices of marbled rye bread. I asked my server why it was called "Hidden," but he didn't know the story behind the peculiar nomenclature. The next time I visit, hopefully the owner will be there so I can find out more.

The sandwich came with a side of potato chips and a pickle spear:

Here was a close-up shot of the side of the sandwich:

What jumped out most prominently as I sank my teeth in for my first bite were the fact that you get a lot of turkey in your sandwich and that the turkey used in this sandwich was very high quality. In fact, it tasted like it had been freshly carved from an actually roasted turkey. So many times I've ordered a turkey sandwich and the deli cuts used have that slimy, over-salted quality to them. Not this turkey. Hot, fresh, and juicy, this turkey had the perfect texture. The cheese was nicely melted and the 1000 Island dressing added a nice bit of moisture, but little flavor to the overall sandwich. I think I might have preferred the sandwich with something a little more assertive, perhaps a Dijon mustard, rather than the 1000 Island dressing. Since you can build your own sandwich, I'm sure that the kitchen would be happy to substitute one for the other.

Overall I was very happy with today's meal. Yes, $8.49 does seem like a lot for a turkey sandwich, but between the quality and the quantity of the meat, the value became immediately apparently. Between my salad and half of my sandwich, I was quite full. I ended up talking the other half of my sandwich, some of my chips, and the rest of my yogurt dressing home for a second meal later on that evening. I highly recommend you take the time and effort to track down this little gem and try the sandwiches out for yourself. I know that I plan on returning soon to try out another sandwich soon. Well, that and to get more of their fantastic yogurt dressing.

Sandwich Board on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Extra Helpings: Cleveland Chefs Cook For Jewel

I become aware roughly a month ago about a wonderful benefit that was being held to help the Jarrett family defray the costs of bringing their second adopted daughter home to the United States from China. Being born a baby girl was a disadvantage in Chinese culture, but being born blind she was considered essentially a social pariah. Jeff Jarrett, chef at the North End restaurant in Hudson, Ohio, and his wife Tammy, after having three boys of their own, decided to adopt their first daughter, Jasmine, from China. While Jasmine does have some visual impairment, she isn't blind. The joy that Jasmine has brought to the Jarrett household made them consider adopting a second child, Jewel, who is completely blind.

While adopting unwanted children from China used to be more reasonable, lately the cost to adopt a child, even a special needs child, has become very expensive. Friends convinced Jeff that he should hold a fundraiser and allow some of the most prominent Cleveland-based chefs and caterers to come together and help with the cost of bringing Jewel home to the US. I've been told that Jeff was a little reluctant, but what resulted was nothing short of really magical and it just goes to show you that those in the restaurant and food service industry fiercely protect their own.

For a measly $25 donation, the event tonight, hosted at the Cleveland Sight Center on the corner of Chester Avenue and East 101st, had some of the major players in the Cleveland culinary scene participating. There were a total of nineteen different tables, representing sixteen different businesses. Each table had an amuse bouche / small appetizer-sized portion of food. I arrived shortly before 5:30 PM to find each table still setting up and prepping for dinner service. I walked around, spotting a number of friends and food blogging colleagues and prepared for the onslaught of awesome food. At about 5:45 PM, it seemed that the food machine was in full swing, so I started working my way around the room. Fortunately, there was a small area just off the main service room where we could sit, eat, talk, and just enjoy the food.

Let's start working our way through the tables together, shall we?

Table #1: Matt Baber, Naya Bistro and Lounge, Highland Heights:

Not a good way to start the food descriptions, I know, but this was actually the last thing I tried and I forgot to actually ask the chef what it was. What I THINK it was ... braised spicy pulled beef on crostini with a thin slice of cucumber on top. The meat was tender and juicy and had quite the kick to it. The cucumber slice alleviated the spice a little bit, but not too much.

Table #2: Dante Bocuzzi, Dante, Tremont:

This was a tomato jam with a mozarella cheese spheroid and a bit of micro pepper for garnish. The spheroid was the only real instance tonight of "molecular gastronomy." Only the outside of the sphere was set. After placing the entire bite in your mouth, the orb essentially explodes releasing all of the flavor and juice which mingles with the other flavors.

Table #3: Zack Conover, The Leopard, Aurora:

Sadly, this station was empty.

Table #4: Ellis Cooley, AMP 150, Cleveland:

This was a cauliflower panna cotta with a layer of pureed chives and it was topped with a bit of caviar and driblets of more oil. While most panna cotta are sweet, this one was entirely savory and the texture was incredibly smooth.

Table #5: Brian Doyle, World's Fare Culinary / Danny's Organic Marketplace:

This was quite the healthy item tonight. Composed of green lentils, pumpkin seeds, carrots, tomato and cucumber, it was tossed in a light vinaigrette and topped with Chinese Toon plant which gave it a very earthy, mildly spicy flavor. Oddly enough, the Toon plant is considered to be a weed; perhaps the application of it in a culinary setting is enough to elevate it to new heights.

Table #6: Aaron Guzik, L'Albatros, Cleveland:

Chicken liver mousseline on a toasted crostini with an apple chutney and topped with micro pepper. Oh. My. God. This was fabulousness on a cracker! This was a perfect one bite popper and once I started to chew and the flavors began to meld, I was in heaven. In fact, I selected Chef Guzik as my favorite bite of food tonight and there was definitely some stiff competition from the other tables.

Table #7: Heather Haviland, Lucky's Cafe / Vine and Bean, Cleveland:

Lucky's first of two entries was this decadently rich and creamy macaroni and cheese. Apparently this is already on the menu and I can definitely see myself ordering this item the next time I go in. Be forewarned, however, as there was MUCH cream involved in making this dish (they were making it a la minute right at the station). I know that many of you already understand the skinny (pardon the phrase) when you go out to eat. It tastes good because of the cream or butter used in many of the dishes. This version of macaroni and cheese is definitely not diet food.

Table #8: KY-Wai Wong, Lucky's Cafe, Tremont:

Lucky's second entry: This was an apple crisp topped with whipped cream and a homemade caramel sauce. The apples were sourced locally and I have to say I enjoyed this dessert as it wasn't too sweet and the textural play between the apples, the crisp, and the whipped cream was a nice contrast.

Table #9: Mark Cleland, North End, Hudson:

Here you have the first of two pork belly dishes presented this evening. This was a cube of braised pork belly and plantain chip served over a pineapple saffron sauce (which also felt like it had been mounted with some butter as well). The pork belly was incredibly tender and the crispy plantain chip added some nice texture. The acid from the pineapple sauce cut through some of the fattiness of the pork.

Table #10: Jeff Jarrett, North End, Hudson:

This was a beet cake topped with something creamy. I popped the entire bite into my mouth and while this had a little bit of sweetness from the beets, I would still characterize this as a savory dish rather than sweet. This would make an excellent amuse bouche.

Table #11: Jeremy Kisy, KJ Greens and Adam Bostwick, Melange, Beachwood:

This was a homemade chocolate ravioli filled with foie gras and topped with macerated strawberries. The woman standing in front of me was confused as to what the addition of a savory element like foie gras meant in terms of dinner service. The chef reassured her that it was definitely dessert. She looked unconvinced, but when I tasted it, it definitely tasted like dessert to me. While it was tasty, this was one of those times where I felt that even a couple of grains of coarse sea salt sprinkled on top would've really catapulted the taste through the roof.

Table #12: Mike Nowak, Bar Cento, Ohio City:

This was a braised short rib and mushroom ragu topped with crispy coriander dusted potato chips. As with most dishes served at Bar Cento, the flavor was rich and complex and the playfulness of the chips worked well with the tender braised meat.

Table #13: Lauren Stephenson, North End, Hudson:

This was an Alinea-esque play on a chocolate dessert. The chocolate bar was topped with toasted nuts and a strawberry "leather." I tasted individual components on the dish separately and was pleased, but it wasn't until I scraped the entire contents onto my fork and ate it as a whole that I was rewarded by a sweet, bitter, chocolate, and crunchy mouthful. It was incredibly complex and most importantly, good.

Table #14: Matt Mathlage, Light Bistro, Ohio City:

This was the second sighting of pork belly. These finger sandwiches were comprised of braised and shredded pork belly and topped with what tasted and smelled to be micro oregano. This two-bite sandwich was absolutely fantastic and easily took the number two spot on my favorites tonight.

Table #15: Matt Mytro, Stove Monkeys, Cleveland:

This was being promoted as "faux sushi." Here you have an infused cream cheese filling along with melon and cucumber wrapped in a prosciutto nori.

Table #16: Jonathon Sawyer, The Greenhouse Tavern, Cleveland:

On the left, a potato and leek (aka vichyssoise) shooter and a miniature fried bacon arancini to the right. The potato flavor of the vichyssoise was quite prominent (in a good way). Both were delicious on their own and tasting the soup after chewing on the arancini really married the flavors together well.

Table #17: Stacey Stoudemire, Simply Elegant Catering:

This was a curried rice and curried turkey meatball. The curry was incredibly light in both components of this dish.

Table #18: Eric Wells, Skye LaRae Culinary Services:

There were two kinds of bruschetta being served at table #18. The first was a quite decent tomato, reduced balsamic, micro basil and grated Parmesan cheese.

The second was a roasted red pepper, bleu cheese and reduced balsamic vinegar.

Table #19: Wendy Thompson, A Cookie and a Cupcake, Tremont:

The final table held about ten varieties of mini-cupcakes. While there were definitely flavors for every palate, I decided to go with two that sounded appealing. On the left was a chocolate and raspberry cupcake and on the right was an espresso cupcake. Both cakes were incredibly moist and tender. The flavor contrasts (raspberry and espresso) were in the toppings and while both were good, there wasn't enough oomph to serve as the counterpoint flavor they should have. That being said, I still think they were really good cupcakes.

As you can imagine, gentle reader, by the time I ate myself through the entire room, I was quite full. It was like having an eighteen course tasting menu. Fortunately, I had picked up a complimentary bottle of water before sitting down to start tasting the food. The water served as both my palate cleanser and a way to make sure I remained hydrated during my dinner tonight. While the event is obviously over, I would like to encourage you to either make a donation to the Jarrett's through their website or visit one of the many businesses listed above to show them how much you appreciate their support of this fantastic cause.
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