Friday, October 29, 2010

Third Time's A Charm At South Market Bistro

Up until now, I have not had good success in obtaining a meal from Wooster's South Market Bistro. The first time I went, I had mistakenly used information from the Yahoo page I looked up on the Internet and hadn't verified that they still had lunch hours. Upon showing up to their doorstep (yes, yes, gentle reader, I should've called to confirm) for a mid-day meal, I quickly learned that no, they did not have lunch hours. Of course, this led to the wonderful discovery of both the Broken Rocks Bakery & Cafe and Tulipan Pastry & Coffee Shop just across the street. My second attempt at having a meal at South Market fared no better. While I did show up during the correct business hours, unfortunately, the entire restaurant had been booked for a special event and they weren't able to accommodate guests not on the list. Sigh.

So now, more than a year later, I decided to give my luck just one more try and showed up on a Friday night at 5:45 PM with no reservation. I hoped that I would be early enough that I could slip in and out before the tables filled up. As I drove past the restaurant, I was happy to see that most of the tables by the front window were devoid of patrons: a good sign (at least for me). I parked on the street and walked north about a block until I was standing outside the front entrance to the restaurant:

Exterior of South Market Bistro
South Market Bistro was located at 151 South Market Street, Wooster, OH 44691 and can be reached at 330-264-3663. Parking was pretty much wherever you could find it, but fortunately, if you manage to find a spot on the street, there appears to be a generous three hour limit, so you shouldn't feel rushed to get in and out.

As I walked in the front door, I was greeted with a single room, longer than wide, and an semi-open kitchen at the rear of the room just past a small bar area. As my eyes adjusted to the new level of light, I realized that other than myself, there were only two other patrons currently in the restaurant and they were both sitting on stools at the bar. Unless the restaurant had lots of clients showing up right at 6:00 PM, I reasoned that accommodating a walk-in would be just fine. One of the servers greeted me with a smile and when I asked if they had room for me, she responded with an enthusiastic, "Absolutely." I have a funny feeling that her enthusiasm was due more to the time of my walk-in as a four top did the same thing an hour later and there was some consternation as to whether they could be sat. Handling walk-ins can be a tricky affair since you want to accommodate everyone without penalizing other customers who took the time to call and make a reservation.

Regardless, the server showed me to my table, told me of the daily specials, and left me with a menu to examine:

South Market Bistro Menu Page 1
South Market Bistro Menu Page 2
South Market Bistro Menu Page 3
One of the draws of South Market Bistro was chef and owner Michael Mariola's focus on using local, seasonal ingredients in his dishes. The restaurant's menu felt small in some ways (at only two pages), but looking through the courses, there were at least four or five dishes in each category from which to select. I guess I've gotten so jaded over the years from having to make selections from menus that have entire pages (or two) dedicated to just chicken entrées that finding a menu which was succinct, yet complete, was quite refreshing.

While pondering my dinner choices tonight, my server brought over the bread and butter. Here was a shot of the pre-sliced breads thoughtfully served on a wooden carving board:

Bread Service
As soon as she sat the board down in front of me, I was highly suspicious of the bread on the left. Even though it had been a year and a half since I had eaten it, it looked very much like the European sourdough breads that Broken Rocks was serving. The minute I picked it up, inhaled deeply and took a bite, I was convinced it was the one and very same. The bread to the right was a thinly sliced focaccia with rosemary and crunchy grains of sea salt. When my server stopped back in to take my order, I think I surprised her a little when I asked if the sourdough had come from Broken Rocks. She admitted that it did and then further went on to tell me that the focaccia was made in-house. Both were absolutely tasty and fresh.

Along with my bread, a triangular wedge of softened butter accompanied the board in a small bowl:

Softened Butter
I did try the butter on a bit of the sourdough and it tasted, well, buttery. But as Broken Rocks sourdough bread was a truly fantastic bread all on its own, I ended up using very little of the butter.

Seeing as all of the entrées came with a house salad, I decided to order a starter. As I scanned the menu for something suitable, I came across what the menu described as "mussels and fries," but I knew far better as moules frites. Having had this dish at several other Cleveland eateries (including L'Albatros Brasserie), I was excited to try South Main Bistro's version. I was a little concerned because of my disdain for poorly executed hand cut fries, but I put my trust in the kitchen.

After only a short time, I saw my dish placed on the pass and my server grabbed it and walked it over to my table. As she set it down, some pretty amazing scents wafted upward:

Moules Frites
Consisting of mussels steamed open in a wine and butter broth with the addition of garlic, leeks, and spinach, it was then topped with super crispy slightly thicker than shoestring fries. The smell was amazing. As I dug into my first shell and retrieved the small nugget of mussel meat, I was rewarded with an incredibly tender and flavorful bite of food. I next turned my attention to the fries. They had clearly been seasoned when they came out of the fryer as the salt was nicely distributed along the entire surface of the fries, not just on the top. I tasted my fries and came upon what would turn out to be a theme running throughout tonight's dinner: salt. The chef running the kitchen liked aggressive seasoning. Not overly salted where I would send it back, but probably more salty than I personally would've used.

Regardless, I hoovered up every last mussel and fry and then used the leftover sourdough bread to mop up as much of the steaming broth as I could muster. It really was that good. Toward the end of my appetizer, I heard my waitress talking to a nearby table who obviously saw what I had ordered and asked her about it. When I overheard her say that the mussels were accompanied with the restaurants signature truffled fries, I thought to myself, "Did I miss something? None of these fries had any truffle flavor of any kind to them."

In fact, when she stopped by to pick up my empty plate, I asked her specifically about the statement she had made to the other table and she confirmed that they were indeed truffled fries. I didn't disagree with her, but it did make me think that maybe I should've tasted them more carefully. I reviewed the photograph of the menu I had taken earlier on my smartphone camera and the menu listing said nothing of truffled fries, even though they were available as a side item.

The mystery was solved when she returned with my house salad with mustard vinaigrette:

House Salad with Mustard Vinaigrette
It seems that when she took my plate back to the kitchen, she actually asked the chef and he confirmed that the fries served with the mussels were simply seasoned with salt. Phew! I thought my taste buds had taken a hiatus on me. As I turned my attention to my salad, I was happy to see that the greens were only lightly dressed. The croutons appeared to be a small dice of the focaccia I had eaten earlier and then toasted. Several thoughts popped into my head when I started to eat the greens.

While I could definitely tell that the greens were dressed, I got almost no flavor from the vinaigrette. This let the bitterness from the greens shine through. The olives, a welcome addition, added mouthfuls of more salt. On the occasion when I would get a crouton or two, I would get more hits of salt and rosemary. So, as I sat there and ate the salad, the two flavors that kept returning to me were bitterness and salt (there it was again). I don't know that I would call this salad unbalanced, but it definitely could've used a sweet component to it, perhaps some dried fruit.

When my server stopped to check in on me, I asked her which of the gentlemen in the kitchen was in charge.

"Oh, that would be Eric."
"Eric?" I responded. "I thought Mike Mariola was the chef."

She then proceeded to tell me how he rarely spends much time in South Market Bistro anymore after their sister restaurant The City Square Steakhouse opened up two years ago across the street. And, in fact, the chef wasn't spending much time there either since he was looking to open up a new venture, a beer and burger joint, in Fairlawn fairly soon. So, it seemed that he left Eric in charge of the kitchen at South Market Bistro with Eric's wife Liz taking care of various front of house tasks (bartending, hostessing, managing).

She returned just a few minutes later with the risotto I had ordered for my entrée:

Vegetarian Risotto
Layered into the risotto were some of the same Killbuck Valley shiitake mushrooms I had eaten before at the AMP 150 Mushroom Dinner, fresh spring peas, corn, Mascarpone, garlic, and Parmesan. In addition to the ingredients listed on the menu, fresh greens and carrots had been folded into the risotto as well and it had been topped with a fine chiffonade of fresh tarragon. While I could have had the kitchen add some grilled shrimp for a small upcharge, I decided to go with the vegetarian version that was listed on the menu.

Texturally, this risotto was about as perfect as they come. Creamy, rich, and with just a little resistance in the rice, the bowl of starchy goodness didn't fail to deliver. The individual components such as the corn and green peas exploded with just a bit of vegetal sweetness when I tasted them. This sweetness was critical because as my previous two courses had been, the risotto was once again aggressively seasoned. At first I thought it was okay, but as I dug around to find one of the mushrooms to try on its own, I realized that it had given up its own earthy flavor and had been overtaken by salt.

While I had been fine with the prominence of salty flavor in my first two courses, by this point, I think my tongue must have been suffering from salt fatigue as I only managed to get about half-way through this, even with multiple refills on my water. Of course, the risotto had been quite filling, too, but I knew that I could've eaten more. I chose to stop on purpose because I didn't want to be chugging bottles of water after leaving the restaurant.

I chose to skip dessert today, but managed to get a photograph of the dessert menu so that you could see what was available:

South Market Bistro Dessert Menu
It seemed that Jenis ice creams and sorbets were featured prominently on the menu and while I am a HUGE fan, knowing that I will be stopping in for my yearly fix at the upcoming Ohio Linuxfest in Columbus coming soon, I declined to indulge tonight and simply asked for my check instead. My meal tonight, with tip and tax, came out to roughly $35. Which, for a three course meal, wasn't a terrible deal. I will proffer that I selected one of the more inexpensive entrées, however, and the meat courses will run you about $10 more.

It was clear from my meal that Chef Eric was not afraid of using salt; indeed he was incredibly consistent with it. While this works well for some chefs (such as Jonathon Sawyer at the Greenhouse Tavern), tonight's dinner was truly teetering on the precipice of excessiveness. Which was a shame because the flavors and textures of my food were simply marvelous and were it not for that one issue, I would be jumping up and down, flagging down complete strangers on the street, telling them to make the drive to Wooster to check out this quaint little bistro with its big flavors and seasonal menu. While every other part about my experience tonight was excellent, timidity with seasoning in the kitchen will get you about as far as excessive boldness; a happy medium should be where the restaurant needs to strive.

South Market Bistro on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Extra Helpings: 2010 March of Dimes Auction

The 12th annual March of Dimes Akron Signature Chefs Auction has come and gone for year 2010. For myself and lucky reader Cheryl, who happened to win two free tickets for herself and a guest courtesy of the March of Dimes, we got to experience some of Akron's finest food and wine purveyors in a casual and fun setting. While the doors opened at 5:00 PM and didn't close until the auction was over around 9:00 PM, my primary role as co-judge today took place mainly between 6:00 and 7:30 PM, where we tasted, sampled, and tasted again some thirteen different dishes from various restaurants and catering companies.

Some of the usual suspects that I've already reviewed were there: On Market Catering / Market Gourmet at Montrose, Olde Harbor Inn, Old Carolina BBQ, and Chowder House Cafe. Others, such as The Rusty Nail, Mr. Zub's Deli, Nick Anthe's, and The VegiTerranean are definitely now on my "To Eat" list. While I am not going to go into too much critique about the food here on the blog, I definitely wanted to showcase the dishes that each vendor brought to the table. Literally.

Plus, in an effort to continually improve my food photography, I have recently invested in a new digital camera, a Canon PowerShot G12. Technically still a point-and-shoot, it has some really nifty features and represents a major step up from my old standby, the built-in camera on my HTC Incredible Android phone. While there are still quite a few blog posts queued up over the next month featuring images from the latter, today's entry will be an introduction to the incredibly advanced image quality of the new G12. If you feel so inclined, leave me a comment and let me know what you thought of the photography (or anything else for that matter).

Before I start talking about the food, here was a three panel board talking about the services and the critical mission of the March of Dimes:

March of Dimes Poster

So much has been accomplished over the years, but there is so much more to do to eliminate birth defects in babies.

Without further ado, on to the food!

First up was Chef Louis Prpich from the Chowder House Cafe:

Chowder House Cafe

This was his Three Little Piggies, a whimsical dish of bacon wrapped pork tenderloin over pulled pork. This is currently available on Chowder House Cafe's menu.

Next was a selection of cheeses from Lucky Penny Farms:

Lucky Penny Farms

Lucky Penny presented us with two kinds of goats milk cheeses tonight: Greek Feta and Chevre. The Feta was tossed with herbs in olive oil and the Chevre was smeared over an almond biscuit and topped with a little local honey and salted almonds.

Chef Mary Wills from The Good Fork brought us two tastes tonight:

The Good Fork

The first taste was the modicum of simplicity: Mustard greens with Greek Feta that had been dressed with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

The second dish was butternut squash soup that had been adorned with a small strip of crispy New Creations Farms bacon:

The Good Fork

Chef Scot Jones from The VegiTerranean couldn't be at the event tonight, but he sent his Sous Chef in his place with this lovely soup:

The VegiTerranean

Butternut seemed to be the vegetable of the evening tonight! This was a Butternut Squash Bisque infused with roasted shallot, Vidalia onion, and rosemary which was then topped with a local apple cider reduction and a sprig of fresh sage.

The chefs from Olde Harbor Inn brought this exciting rolled savory dish to our table next:

Olde Harbor Inn

This was a sweet corn lobster crepe filled with mushroom and topped with a bit of micro-greens and a perfumed drops of white truffle oil. I could smell the truffle oil way before I tasted the dish.

One of the few female chefs at the event tonight, Tera Long from Nick Anthe's, presented our only pasta course for the evening:

Nick Anthe's

She presented us with a chargrilled halibut ravioli with lemon-infused pesto, Asiago and Parmesan cheeses, and shallots.

Chef Jeffrey Winer from On Market Catering / Market Gourmet at Montrose, made quite a showing with this small, but powerful bite:

On Market Catering/Gourmet

Chef Winer gave us a Persian Shiraza salad in a small pretzel cup dressed with a bit of grapeseed oil and topped with a lusciously creamy yogurt and mint sauce. (This was actually one of my favorite pictures from tonight.)

Mr. Zub's Deli, a restaurant recently added to the Akron scene, decided to submit one of their homemade soups:

Mr. Zub's Deli

Mr. Zub's Deli was actually serving six of their soups tonight, but the one presented to us was a Spicy Tomato Bisque. With spice from both Jalapeño chilies and cayenne powder, this caused a mild two-alarm fire in both the front and the back of my mouth.

The chef from The Rusty Nail presented us with a lovely seafood course:

The Rusty Nail

This was a perfectly a la minute seared scallop seasoned with dried sage over a roasted butternut squash puree and brown butter sauce.

For our final savory course, the folks from Old Carolina BBQ Company gave us something not particularly BBQ-y:

Old Carolina BBQ Company

On the plate was a soft flour tortilla containing a Baha-style mahi mahi that had been prepped in a spicy citrus rub before being grilled and accompanied by a garlic aioli (which, yes, gentle reader, I realize is redundant), corn, cilantro, and a wedge of lime.

Our first dessert course today came from Chocolate Mischief:

Chocolate Mischief

From noon going clockwise were the pumpkin tart, the coconut walnut brownie, the cinnamon buttermilk cookie and the gingerbread cookie.

Jenn Thomas from presented a second round of cookies with her entry:

Again from noon going clockwise, this time we had the peanut butter blossom, the coffee caramel chip cookie, and the hazelnut orange peel cookie.

Our final sweet and overall course was from the West Side Bakery on Market Street:

West Side Bakery

This final bite of the evening came on a stick. Specifically it was an incredibly moist spiced cake ball that had been coated (a la chocolate truffle style) in milk chocolate and then drizzled with decorative swirls of additional chocolate.

So there you have it, gentle reader: a full stomach and a look at all of the food the judges had the privilege of tasting tonight. After tallying and averaging out all of the scores (which ended up being handled by yours truly), it turned out that Olde Harbor Inn, with its Lobster Crepe took top billing. Following closely behind in second place with their Butternut Squash Bisque and Apple Cider Gastrique was The VegiTerranean and in third place with their Baha-style Fish Taco was Old Carolina BBQ Company. While my personal favorite didn't make it into the top three (On Market Gourmet, if you were wondering), at least my personal score for spot number two matched the final outcome.

I'd also like to take this opportunity to thank both Nici Hefflefinger, who helped to organize the event and the judges; Joe Harvey, who seems to curiously have his hand in anything culinary related; and my fellow judges: Jane Snow, Lisa Abraham, Catherine St. John, and Michael Ferris, previously the Executive Chef at Vaccaro's Trattoria in Akron and who has now opened up his own company, Gourmet By Design Catering. It was truly an honor and a privilege to have my name next to those gastronomic stalwarts.

So that's all for this year's event. I hope you enjoyed eating vicariously through my photos and I am eagerly looking forward to next year's gathering. Hopefully, I can return as a judge and get to relive this wonderful and important event all over again. If you weren't able to attend the auction this year but would still like to make a much needed donation to the March of Dimes, please feel free to click here.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

An Investment In Yourself: Culinary School Debt

I never thought I would ever be the kind of person to rail against the educational system. I firmly believe that education can be a great way to invest in yourself and your future earning potential. But sometimes the investment can be so expensive and the return on investment so minimal, that any seasoned daytrader would look at the numbers and simply walk away.

My sister has decided to take advantage of a unique opportunity to further her education. She has been involved in the restaurant industry now for a decade and a half. What started out as a job at pizza places during high school transformed into working almost entirely as a front of house server and bartender at some fairly swanky restaurants and clubs in Boston, New York City, Miami, and Nashville, where she currently resides. Having gained so much experience in the food industry over the years, she knew that unless she wanted to waitress into her golden years, she needed to take charge and go back to school. In a serendipitous twist, my father happens to be teaching business courses at the Nashville branch of the Art Institute, which also provides curricula for several culinary arts programs. One of the perks of teaching at the school is that up to two direct relatives can attend the school tuition free. The only stipulation is that they must attend the same location as the employee* (there are branches nationwide).

While I've always toyed with the idea of going to culinary school, one of the bigger obstacle's in the way of me taking advantage of this is simply that I don't want to relocate to Nashville. While this doesn't track my current path in life well, it was a great fit for my sister. I don't think that she ever really had some grand notion of running her own kitchen, but management is definitely something on her mind and thus, she has enrolled in the Bachelors of Science Culinary Arts Management program. Because all of the programs require some kitchen training, every new student is required to purchase a start-up kit. This kit includes a set of knives, uniforms, and other key items needed by someone starting out in a professional kitchen. The kits aren't cheap at $1000, but since this is an investment from which she will get years of use, it seems a worthwhile expense.

Curious about her other start-up costs, I decided to visit the tuition and fees page on the Art Institute's website. After selecting her program and degree path, the page helpfully informed me of the cost for a successfully completed program. I thought I would post the information here for you, gentle reader, to consider as well:

Quarters: 12
Credits: 192
Cost Per Credit: $472.00
Tuition Per Quarter: $7,552.00
Total Tuition: $90,624.00
Application Fee: $50.00
Tuition Deposit: $100.00
Lab Fee: $285.00
Starting Kit (first quarter only): $1,000.00

I already knew about the cost of the Starting Kit and while the Lab Fee seemed like something that should already be part of tuition, I remember paying similar fees when I went to Case Western Reserve University back in the mid 90's and just accepted that they were part of the college experience. However, when I saw what the cumulative cost of tuition was for the entire program, my jaw just hit the floor: NINETY THOUSAND DOLLARS!

I do not doubt the quality education one can receive at the Art Institute. But the reality of the matter is that despite what the recruiters tell you and the glamorousness of chefs like Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, and the cadre of other TV chef personalities, NO ONE graduates a culinary school program and makes that kind of money right out of the gate. Those chefs make serious bank because they have invested decades of time into building up not only good restaurants, but also their own individual brands.

So, I had to ask myself, what kind of jobs can a recent graduate with a BS in Culinary Arts Management expect to get? Once again to the rescue was the Art Institute's very own website with a list of suggestions:

* Management trainee
* Kitchen manager
* Assistant pastry chef
* Banquet chef
* Sous chef
* Assistant purchasing manager
* Prep cook
* Line cook
* Catering assistant

Not a bad list of professions, if you ask me. That being said, what type of pay range can these professions expect to make right out of school? Well, of course it will depend on the area of the country and the job role itself, but here is a list of median hourly rates by job:

* Line Cook - $11 per hour
* Sous Chef - $12-13 per hour
* Head Chef/Cook - $12-13 per hour
* Cook, Restaurant - $10-11 per hour
* Kitchen Chef - $11 per hour
* Pastry Chef - $13 per hour
* Executive Chef - $15 per hour

So that means, given a 40 hour work week (which no restaurant professional ever works) over a 52 week year, that means a potential graduate can earn between $22,880 and $31,200. For the sake of my argument, I'm going to split the difference and say that our recently graduated culinary arts student has a potential earning income of $27,040. After taxes, let's say of roughly 25%, the take home pay is now $20,280 or $1,690 per month. Let's just consider this to be the best case scenario.

So here we are, three years invested in school with student loans taken out for $90,624. Once graduated, you will need to start paying those loans back. According to the fine people at FinAid, I plugged in the principal amount, selected a payback schedule and interest rate that match one of the most popular student loan programs, the Stafford loan, and clicked on "Calculate." To my amazement, here is what popped out of the calculator:

Loan Balance: $90,624.00
Adjusted Loan Balance: $90,624.00
Loan Interest Rate: 6.80%
Loan Fees: 0.00%
Loan Term: 10 years
Minimum Payment: $50.00

Monthly Loan Payment: $1,042.90
Number of Payments: 120

Cumulative Payments: $125,148.69
Total Interest Paid: $34,524.69

So based on these numbers, of my $1690 per month in take home pay, $1043 of that is already earmarked for loan repayments? That means the newly employed culinary professional will have a measly $647 for rent, food, utilities, a car payment, insurance, gas, clothing and other sundries. Heaven forbid that the individual have any other debts, too, like credit cards. By my calculations, ($1043 / $1690), that's a debt-to-income ratio of 62%. Most financial advisers I've ever read suggest that you should never carry more than a 33% debt-to-income ratio. And that's a payback period of TEN YEARS. Of course, your earning potential will hopefully go up over ten years, but I doubt it will be to the point where your ratio will fall below that 33% figure.

Now, of course I've made some general assumptions here. Very few students would find the need to borrow their entire tuition. Most will have jobs on the side, either part or full-time. That being said, the $90,624 figure is just for tuition. Students still have to pay for their own housing, meals, books, and extras, so a job doesn't necessarily mean that they'll be able to make a dent in their tuition payments every quarter. And coming from a position of knowing exactly how easy it is to accept as much assistance as possible when you need it without thinking about the long-term consequences, I can definitely see many students racking up a mountain of debt before graduating.

I was fortunate to be in a career field where explosive job growth (and earning potential) was the norm, not the exception. While I graduated with some $50,000 in school loans myself, I was making enough money within a year or two of graduating college that my monthly loan payments might have been annoying, but they were still manageable and I didn't have to subsist living in torn rags and eating dried Ramen noodles every day. For every famous celebrity chef who is making millions of dollars per year, how many hundreds of other culinary professionals are out there that will never have that kind of earning potential? The kind that dutifully show up day after day and perform to the best of their ability, but at the end of the day, still make a pittance compared to what Wolfgang Puck makes every minute?

I think it is fantastic that the programming on cable channels such as the Food Network and the Cooking Channel has inspired a renewed interest in cooking and food. And I think it is great to celebrate those individuals in the restaurant industry who have truly made a name for themselves. However, I think we are doing these potential culinary arts students a great disservice by not being completely honest with them about the financial reality that they will face for up to ten years after graduating. Am I suggesting that going into a culinary arts program is a bad thing? No, not at all. But I would suggest that students be aware (and one would hope that the school's recruiters would mention this during the information gathering phase) that they could potentially be paying back $125,000 over ten years during the point in their careers where their earning potential is most likely at its weakest.

If you find yourself without a way to afford your schooling and you don't have an "in" such as a family member already teaching at the school (such as in my sister's case), you may want to really consider whether the investment you make now will have a worthwhile return on investment. If you are entering the culinary professional with hopes of fame and fortune, you will more than likely be quite disappointed (and broke). If you do it because you love the profession and are willing to put up with all of the sacrifices that the industry requires, then by all means, feel free to sign on the dotted line.

[*Update: It appears that there is some question as to whether as a a child of an employee, you have to attend the exact same Art Institute as the employee to qualify for the tuition waiver. While I based this statement on what my father told my sister, apparently further digging into the issue will be required. When I have a definitive answer to this question, I will post it here. Regardless, the point of this essay isn't tied to that bit of information.]

Monday, October 25, 2010

Hodge's Cafe And The Cheeseburger Basket

Sometimes all I need is just a little push in the right direction. As someone whose dining dollars aren't unlimited, most of the time when I choose to review a restaurant's food, I try and do a bit of research before going. Unfortunately, even with the information gathering I attempt to do before actually going to the establishment, the resulting experience can still be iffy to bad. So when an actual reader took the time to write to me and recommended that I give a restaurant a try that had already been on my radar, but not necessarily made it to the "To Eat" list yet, I took this as an opportunity to move it to the front of the queue.

The restaurant in question was a Barberton staple for many years, Hodge's Cafe (warning: gratuitous use of Flash), and as soon as I read the reference in the email, a visual map formed in my mind and I knew exactly where it was. Hodge's Cafe was located at 897 Wooster Road West, Barberton, OH 44203 and can be reached at 330-825-6073. There was ample parking both along the side of the building facing 15th Street as well as in a lot just opposite the bar and cafe.

When I pulled into the lot, I immediately recognized the mural on the side of the building as well as the marquee in front of the building:

Exterior Sign for Hodge's Cafe
I had seen this image countless times when driving from Barberton to Wadsworth during my high school years; however, this was the first time that I would be seeing whether the sign lived up to its promise. After walking in the front door, I found a small bar and cafe that looked like it would seat about forty patrons or so when it was full. To the right was a bar replete with counter and stools. A large communal table was situated just inside the door and behind that were a number of smaller tables sitting on a dais.

My server motioned that I could sit anywhere I wanted, so I chose the first table on the dais. There was no need to drop off menus as they were already on the table:

Hodge's Menu Page 1
Hodge's Menu Page 2
In addition to the laminated menu, there was also a dry erase board hanging on the wall indicating what the daily specials were for each day of the week:

Whiteboard with the Daily Specials
Two items of interest to note on this board. First, on Mondays, hamburger and cheeseburger baskets were available all day at a reduced price of either $5.95 or $6.25, respectively. The second item to note was at the bottom of the board. In case it is illegible, gentle reader, let me translate for you: "Krispy Kreme Donut Burger As Seen On TV's Travel Channel Man vs. Food - Ask Us About It." When I asked about it, I was informed that the glazed donut was bisected laterally and the burger was placed on top. When I asked if it was any good, my server got a pained expression on her face and quietly mumbled, "Not particularly." Fair enough, I wasn't here to try this slightly repulsive sounding combination anyway.

What I discovered when I asked about the burger basket combination was that you had your choice of either the hamburger or cheeseburger; other burgers on their regular menu need not apply. Since the only thing I wanted extra on my cheeseburger was bacon, I asked if I could add it for the $0.75 listed on the menu and my server nodded her head in agreement. While I thought about trying to substitute something for the fresh cut fries, my server didn't appear to be in a super friendly mood and I chose not to push my luck. I was a bit disappointed that while the menu states that baskets come with a choice of one other side, I was never given this opportunity (other tables were) and within a few minutes, this appeared at my table:

Side of Coleslaw
As it turns out, I probably would've ordered the coleslaw anyway, but had I wanted applesauce, cottage cheese, or a side salad instead and found out only afterwards that I could've had it instead of coleslaw, I would've been a bit miffed. In any event, I tried the coleslaw and found that it was actually pretty tasty. Creamy and a little sweeter than what I am used to, Hodge's version was nicely balanced, without a single flavor overpowering any other.

In what seemed to be only minutes after my coleslaw arrived at my table, my burger basket came to my table courtesy of one of the other servers:

Cheeseburger Basket
First, I should mention two important items about my burger. I asked for "everything" which means ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise, lettuce, tomato, onion and pickle. Since I don't care for what raw onions do to my stomach (surely a sign I'm getting old), I asked for "everything minus the onion" and they dutifully complied. When I ordered my cheeseburger basket, I asked if the burgers all came out one temperature (i.e., well done) or if I could order it medium. My server indicated that medium wouldn't be a problem at all.

Here was a close-up shot of my burger today:

Bacon Cheeseburger
This was a good sized burger being neither mammoth nor minuscule. I cut the burger in half with my steak knife to see if it was indeed cooked medium:

Side Shot of Bacon Cheeseburger
Bzzzt! Wrong! This was clearly cooked someplace between medium well and well done, with the emphasis being more towards the well done side. Hodge's Cafe wasn't the first restaurant, and I suspect won't be the last, to cook their burgers past the requested temperature when the server indicates that the kitchen can accommodate such requests. Okay, that issue aside, how did it taste? Actually, quite good. It clearly beat anything that a fast food joint could put out, but compared to other better known Akron and Cleveland based burger joints, it just didn't quite live up to the hype of the tagline of the mural outside the restaurant. Even though the burger meat was a tad dry if eaten by itself, because of the juiciness of the tomato slice and the trio of condiments already on the burger, the experience of taking bite after bite of the burger actually wasn't all that bad. I did enjoy the fact that with all of the toppings on my burger today, no one flavor seemed to overpower the burger meat; you didn't forget that you were eating a hamburger. The bacon, especially, was nicely crisped and not too salty.

The other player on the plate that I was so worried about, the fresh cut fries, were actually refreshingly crispy and not the least bit greasy:

Fresh Cut Fries
These were a little thicker cut than shoestring fries, maybe about the same thickness as a McDonald's French Fry. And while the texture was absolutely great, these poor guys had come out of the fryer and onto the plate without a lick of salt added, so they were very bland. A bit of corrective seasoning from the salt shaker on the table and some added ketchup fixed these small shortcomings, but had they been salted properly after leaving the deep fryer, I think they would've really hit the spot and not needed any ketchup at all.

My meal now finished, I requested the check and ponied up the $9, tax and tip included, to settle my debt at Hodge's Cafe today. Having tasted a wide variety of burgers in the northeast Ohio area, I think the burger I had today was just above middle of the road. It wasn't quite as good as Louie's in Akron or Whitey's in Richfield, and definitely fell short of the all-time greats of B Spot in Woodmere and Greenhouse Tavern in downtown Cleveland. That being said, if this restaurant was suggested as a common meeting spot between friends, I wouldn't hesitate to go back and have another burger.

And in an odd twist of fate, that's exactly what I did two weeks later. After posting a personal Facebook status about my original trip to Hodge's Cafe, a number of high school friends began a lengthy discussion about how in their minds, Hodge's had, hands down, THE best burger in all of Northeast Ohio. In fact, they were so adamant about this fact that they insisted that we convene for dinner to back up their theory with hard evidence. I'm always looking to validate my results and even though I had written up the review prior to this paragraph, I decided to go back and have another go to see if my first experience was an accurate one.

This time we met up at the bar around 7 PM. I was concerned that it would be full and we'd have a wait, but fortunately, it was pretty empty when we got there. We sat at the large communal table at the front of the bar and within minutes, our server was delivering drinks and taking our order. There were no specials tonight, so we simply ordered right off the menu. For my burger, I decided to order the exact same one I had last time in order to do a direct comparison of the two experiences. While my other friends simply ordered a burger, no temperature given, when she got to me I again asked if the burgers came out cooked the same way from the kitchen or whether they could be cooked to order. This time I got a slightly different answer: "Oh, they all come cooked medium."

Which, being the temperature for which I would have asked anyway, went ahead and ordered the bacon cheeseburger with everything minus the onion for a second time. When the burgers finally arrived, something seemed amiss as the American cheese had been replaced by Swiss. It didn't immediately send up any red flags because there was definitely bacon on my burger, too. It wasn't until I cut the burger in half and took a look at the side shot that it became evident that there was a problem:

Side Shot of Mushroom Swiss Burger
What had come from the kitchen was a mushroom swiss burger with bacon and all the burger toppings INCLUDING the raw onion. My friend Jodi looked at my burger and said, "Didn't you order a bacon cheeseburger?" Why, yes. Yes I did. By this point I was starving and while I'm not a huge fan of the processed rubbery mushrooms present on my burger, I made the decision to go ahead and eat it anyway. Other than the slight difference in toppings, the experience and flavor this time around was pretty much the same as last time. It was a good burger and I'd go back for another, but this definitely was not a candidate for best burger in Northeast Ohio. Looking at the side shot of the patty, I could tell that the burger was cooked to well done. I asked my two companions how their respective burgers had been cooked. "Medium well" and "Well done" were the responses I received.

Gauging their reactions, my dining companions enjoyed their burgers, but I think I may have sown the seeds in their minds that there is better out there. I named several restaurants (already named above) that I thought had superior burgers and I have a funny feeling that I will be making pilgrimages to one or more of them with my friends soon to prove my point.

Along with our burgers, my other dining companion, Bob, and I split a 50/50 basket of the fresh cut fries and onion rings:

50/50 Basket of Fries and Onion Rings
While I had already tried the fries, I was interested in the trying the onion rings this time. While the fries had been nicely crispy last time, this time around they were a bit more limp and greasy. Not terribly so, but definitely noticeable. The onion rings were decent enough, fried so that they weren't overly greasy, but they were a bit high in the batter to onion ratio. Additionally, a bite into the ring and the onion detached from the crust and slid out in one gentle pull. I suspect that while the fries might be freshly cut, the onion rings are more than likely to be fried from frozen.

So, in the end, how did my second trip at Hodge's Cafe turn out? Much like the first, actually. The burger was good (if incorrect), but not great. The fried items were fairly mediocre this time around, but still palatable. I'm sure given the level of enthusiasm for this Barberton cafe and bar shown by my friends, another trip will undoubtedly be in order. As stated previously, I would be happy to return for another burger and I suggest you give them a try, too.

Hodge's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 22, 2010

A Southern Tea Room For Asian Food?

When friend and faithful blog reader Amy recently sent me a rather unusual email link, I have to admit, I was a bit stymied at first. She had been perusing CraigsList when she just happened to see a post that caught her eye. Not being a prolific CraigsList user myself, I had only ever considered the website to be useful if one was selling something on-line or looking for a roommate. Apparently, Southern Gardens Tea Room had used it to promote not their traditional menu of scones, quiche, and chicken salad, but admonished readers that good versions of Asian specialties such as Pad Thai and Pho, that Vietnamese beef noodle soup that I do so much love, can be had right here in Akron. According to the restaurant, there was apparently no need to drive all the way to Cleveland anymore to experience these delicacies yourself.

I immediately went to the Internet and pulled up the website for the restaurant. Sure enough, they really were a full service tea room. However, nothing on their website said anything about Asian foods. Thinking that this might be a prank, I sent off an email to the "info@" account associated with the restaurant essentially asking, "For reals?" I didn't think much about it until several days later, I actually received a response from Joe, new manager of the restaurant (edited slightly for spelling):

"Yes it is true. My wife and partner is of Laos nationality, and she is very good at cooking her ethnic foods. So as an experiment, we decided to include some of them on our new dinner menu. We have expanded our hours to include Friday and Saturday evenings (till 9pm) and Sunday 12 to 5pm. We have not changed any of the existing lunch and tea theme that has made the Southern Gardens so popular, except to add a few more items to the lunch menu.. i.e. bacon and broccoli quiche, vegetable and shrimp summer rolls. Please stop by and see what's new.

Joe and Lita"

So, I did what any curious Asian food-loving epicurean would do: I contacted Amy and a few other friends and we decided to go down for a dinner on Friday evening to check it out for ourselves. I had asked Joe if he could send us an email with the menu ahead of time so we could take a look before showing up at their doorstep. He did send me the requested email, but unfortunately, the menu had been created in Microsoft Publisher and since the only program that can open Publisher files is ... wait for it ... Microsoft Publisher*, we ended up going into the restaurant having no idea what Asian specialties awaited us this evening.

Southern Gardens Tea Room was located at 497 Portage Lakes Drive, Akron, OH 44319 and can be reached at 330-644-8363. Parking was in front of the restaurant in a small lot.

Here was a shot of the front of the restaurant:

Entrance to Southern Gardens Tea Room
Once inside, we found ourselves smack dab in the middle of what appeared to be a flowery, lacy, porcelain laden tea room. That this restaurant was also serving Asian food seemed incongruous with the decor. Nevertheless, after being seated at a larger table towards the front of the restaurant, we were handed our menus while our server went to get us a round of waters.

Here was a shot of the front of the menu:

Southern Gardens' Menu
What we quickly discovered as we opened the menus up was that the current tea room menu was offered at the same time as the new Asian dishes. And speaking of Asian dishes, there were three appetizers:

Southern Gardens' Asian Appetizers
And five entrées:

Souther Gardens' Asian Entrées
According to our server, the new dishes had been on the menu for exactly two weeks. With so few items from which to choose, I found it interesting that one of the five entrées was chicken wings served over sticky rice. I'm not sure if that was supposed to appeal to the American diner who just had to have his order of chicken wings regardless of where he ate, because in all of the Asian restaurants at which I've ever eaten, I've never seen this dish appear on a menu.

Unfazed, I decided to start out with an appetizer, a summer roll with shrimp filling:

Summer Rolls with Dipping Sauce
Here was a shot of the interior of the roll:

Interior of Summer Roll
As soon as the dish was placed in front of me, I took my fork and tasted a bit of the dipping sauce by itself. It turned out that the sauce was straight up sweet chili sauce, like this brand, straight out of the bottle. While I personally love sweet chili sauce and use it quite often in my own cooking, I rarely use it directly as a condiment. It is usually used as an ingredient to a sauce, not as the sauce itself. The rolls were fresh and tightly rolled. The fresh mint and cilantro used in the filling added a nice herbaceous flavor that complimented the cold shrimp well. Other than the rather uninspired dipping sauce, this dish was fairly decent.

Our appetizers now out of the way, our server brought out the plate of pho "fixins" for both Amy and myself:

Plate of Pho Fixins'
On this plate were the usual Vietnamese suspects: fresh basil and mint, lime wedges, and mung bean sprouts. The only thing missing that I've seen at other restaurants were freshly sliced chili peppers, usually Jalapeños. In addition to this plate, our server also brought out a plate with various condiments, including Sriracha and fish sauce. While there were lots of ways to spice up the broth, I was certainly happy to see my all time favorite, Sriracha.

Soon, our entrées arrived. Here was my pho:

Big Bowl of Pho
What was unusual about this version of pho was that in addition to the sliced beef and beef meatballs that would definitely appeal to most carnivorous Americans, beef tendon had also been added. While this certainly makes this version of pho more authentic, most American diners would find the texture of beef tendon to be off-putting. While you normally see me championing the case for authenticity, one of the other dishes available on the menu, Sesame Chicken, seemed more Americanized Chinese than authentic, thus making me question the inclusion of the beef tendon.

I tasted the broth twice, as it came from the kitchen and after I added sauces/fixins. The remarkably clear broth had a slightly beefy flavor, but was missing some of those exotic warming spices that I have really learned to enjoy in other versions. The sliced beef was cooked completely, but was still relatively tender. The meatball was slightly chewy, disheartening to a diner used to Italian-style meatballs, but perfectly in line with other versions of pho that I've had. The rice noodles were also nicely cooked and I knew that I would be in danger tonight of saucing my shirt as I slurped these long strands up from my bowl. Overall, it was actually a decent bowl of pho. It certainly wasn't as good as say, Superior Pho in Cleveland, but more importantly, it wasn't as good as the version you can get at Siamone's Thai Pub right here in Akron.

The other two dishes that were ordered tonight were the aforementioned Sesame chicken and a plate of Pad Thai. While I tried neither, I did get feedback from the other diners that their dishes were just average. They weren't bad, but they weren't exceptional, either. I definitely feel that Amy and I lucked out tonight with our orders of pho.

Based on just the food I tasted tonight, I wouldn't hesitate to suggest that you give this establishment a try. However, given the very small number of Asian items that are available, coupled with the fact that they are only offered on Friday and Saturday evenings as well as on Sundays, and the fact that the Asian menu has only been in place for just two weeks, it wouldn't surprise me if at some point the restaurant abandons this concept and returns simply to serving just the food for which it was originally known. While the pho wasn't bad, you certainly don't have to travel to Cleveland to get a version that is superior in Akron.

* Yours truly uses a free office suite called OpenOffice that can successfully read and write Microsoft Word and Excel files. Unfortunately, there is no free equivalent for Microsoft Publisher.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Another Zach Bruell Eatery: Table 45

Like many of Cleveland's successful chefs and restaurateurs, Zach Bruell has established a number of upscale eateries that cover a wide range of ethnicities and price points. Having already eaten at his two latest establishments, L'Albatros and Chinato, I decided to turn my attention to one of his earlier creations, Table 45, located on the first floor of the Intercontinental Hotel on the Cleveland Clinic's main campus very close to the University Circle area. Because I work fairly close to this location, I'm actually a little surprised that I hadn't gotten there sooner, but I find that sometimes the restaurants that are very nearly under your nose are the ones you don't see right away.

Since I was staying a little later in the office today in an attempt to avoid the afternoon traffic from Cleveland to Akron, I figured I would pop in at an early time on a Monday evening. Mondays are typically very slow restaurant days to begin with, so I was surprised to see that their website listed them as being open. At about 5:15 PM or so, I tidied up a bit at my office and walked the two blocks to the front of the Intercontinental Hotel at 9801 Carnegie Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106. Of course, should you require reservations, you can reach them at 216-707-4045 or make reservations using a link on their website. (Website Alert: Flash content is the least of your worries on this site. It will also resize your browser window. Quite annoying!) While there was valet parking available, since my car was already parked in one of the garages on East 93rd Street and I had walked, I had little use for this service.

Once inside the main door, I walked towards the rear of the building and was soon greeted with a pillar upon which these plaques had been placed:

Decisions, Decisions
At least I knew I was in the correct place. Should one turn to the right, you would end up at the North Coast Cafe, which conveniently enough happened to be closed on Mondays. Turning to the left yielded a much better result, the front door to Table 45:

Entrance to Table 45
As I had suspected, the restaurant was fairly dead so early in the evening on a Monday and after the hostess more or less gave me the tour of the bar area and sushi bar, we ended up in the back of the restaurant where for a time, I was the only diner. After seating me at a table with a decent light source nearby (as luck would have it), she left me with Table 45's menu:

Table 45's Menu Page 1
Table 45's Menu Page 2
Table 45's Menu Page 3
Table 45's Menu Page 4
Upon examining the menu, it was obvious that the restaurant's offerings were heavily seafood based. While I do love seafood, I've always been wary of ordering it on a Monday after reading Anthony Bourdain's scathing expose of the restaurant industry in his book Kitchen Confidential. My server promptly introduced himself to me and told me the two daily specials, neither of which were seafood-based. Looking at the fifteen or so appetizers alone, there were at least twelve that contained seafood. It seemed that since this aquatic ingredient was so prominently featured as part of the regular menu, perhaps I would overlook Mr. Bourdain's admonition. I can't imagine Chef Bruell would feature an entire class of ingredients if he couldn't get good versions for a Monday night service.

The other discovery I made as I studied the menu was the breadth of the range of world cuisines being offered at Table 45. While pure authentic dishes weren't being offered, what appeared on the menu were more of a world fusion between classic French technique and other food cultures: Italian, Greek, Portuguese, Moroccan, Indian, Korean, Vietnamese, and Japanese, just to name a few. I'm sure that this was a deliberate effort in the design of the menu in order to appeal to the diversity of the patients and families who fly in from around the world to consult with doctors at the Cleveland Clinic.

While I pondered my choices, another server brought me a basket of bread:

Basket of Fresh Bread
He also poured some olive oil into a small serving dish that was already sitting on the table when I had sat down:

Olive Oil
Neither the bread nor the oil was anything particularly special. That being said, the two types of bread in the basket were fresh and the olive had a very subtle pepperiness and fruitiness that I appreciated during my pre-meal snack.

I quickly came to the conclusion that I wanted to try three items off the menu tonight. I would start out with an appetizer, follow it with a simple salad, and finish off my meal with a main course. There were more robust salads on the menu, but I figured between an appetizer and a main course, a simple salad would fit the bill a bit better (and make said bill a tiny bit cheaper, too).

For my appetizer, I decided to go with the Rice Paper Wrapped Crab Cakes with Spicy Asian Remoulade:

Rice Paper Wrapped Crab Cakes
Here was a shot featuring just the crab cakes:

Close-up of Crab Cakes
After cutting one of the cakes in half, I took a close-up shot of the interior of the cake:

Interior of Crab Cakes
Of course, with multiple elements on the plate, I made sure I tasted all of the components separately before starting to combine them. First I tasted the remoulade. It was creamy, just a tad spicy, and had a nice acidic zing to it that tasted like it came from a lemon. However, I'd be willing to bet that instead of lemon it was actually ponzu (remember, spicy ASIAN remoulade). I then tasted the finely shaved and pickled carrots and daikon that were neatly twirled into a little nest at the front of the plate. The minute I put a small bite into my mouth, I instantly puckered and thought to myself, "YOWZA! That is really sour!" By itself, this garnish was entirely unpalatable. And for those who might be thinking, "Well, gee, Tom, maybe that was supposed to just be a garnish," I have two responses to that line of thinking. First, nothing should ever go on a plate that isn't supposed to be eaten. Second, if it was just a garnish (for color, say), then why bother to pickle them first?

The final piece to this seafood appetizer was the rice paper wrapped crab cake itself. While the rice paper did a good job of browning and holding the lump crab meat together into a patty (which I suspect might be why the wrapper was used in the first place), the drawback was that it was a little difficult to cleanly cut through both the top and bottom layers of rice paper without destroying the integrity of the filling. But, I persevered and was rewarded with a mouthful of subtle crab meat, assertive ginger, and the herbaceousness that can only come from cilantro. The crab didn't taste particularly sweet to me, but it also didn't taste "fishy" either: A good sign. Having tasted all three components, I began to play with my food, combining various tastes together on my fork before transferring the bite to my mouth. While I had thought that the pickled vegetables were too strong on their own, by combining them with some of the fatty remoulade and the richness of the crab cake, it turned out that only with the trio of flavors in one bite were the flavors more balanced.

Having finished both my cakes and most of the remoulade (obviously I left the unused portion of the pickled carrots and daikon), my server soon returned with my next course, a simple dish of salad greens dressed with the most basic of all vinaigrettes, the Balsamic:

Salad Greens with Balsamic Vinaigrette
First the positives. The salad had come dressed perfectly, with just enough vinaigrette to coat each leaf and not leave a puddle at the bottom of the bowl. In my first bite, I managed to get a leaf that had been fully coated with the dressing and the dressing by itself was nicely balanced. Second, the negatives. While nicely dressed, the vinaigrette by itself may have had enough salt, but throw in a handful of greens and it wasn't enough to season the entire salad. Fortunately, there were salt and pepper shakers on the table, so I sprinkled a small amount of salt into the palm of my hand and used my other hand to add a few pinches of salt to the top of the salad.

I then re-tossed the greens with my fork and knife and took another bite. Yep, my brain registered, just that pinch or two more of salt was what the salad needed. Another negative was the amount of salad greens I received. While what I received was the right size for a three course meal, at $7 for a basic bowl of greens and a Balsamic vinaigrette this seemed overpriced to me. For $7, I should've gotten an entire plateful of dressed greens. For the amount of salad I received tonight, I think a fairer price would have been closer to $4, not $7. Especially given the fact that the farmer's markets were currently overflowing with greens at the time of my visit.

After clearing away my salad bowl and replacing the necessary silverware, my server returned a few minutes later with my main course:

Pappardelle with Grilled Octopus
This was a homemade pappardelle with grilled octopus, Kalamata olives, Feta, mint, and preserved lemons and had been topped with a bit of freshly shaved aged cheese. I had decided to order this dish not just because it sounded good, but octopus is an extremely difficult cephalopod to cook correctly. Just like it's cousin squid, you either cook it for 30 seconds or braise it for hours in order to get it to come out tender. When done correctly, the texture is sublime. When done poorly (which sadly is more often the case), it's like chewing on a mouthful of rubber bands. I tried several pieces of the octopus from various spots on my plate. There actually was a range in textures between the pieces. The best pieces were only slightly chewy and pretty darn good. The worst pieces were a bit harder to chew. Nothing at the level of rubber bands, but not ideal either.

The pappardelle was tender and sauced well. The preserved lemon and mint added a nice bit of freshness to the dish. While the Kalamata olives and Feta were prevalent in the taste of the pasta, the problem was that this dish had a lot of salty ingredients in it: olives, cheese, and preserved lemons. While the mint helped to offset some of that saltiness, I found myself drinking several glasses of water as I ate this. I know it may seem unfair to zing the kitchen because the overall dish was too salty when I clearly knew that the dish came with those specific ingredients, but that's the job of a good chef: to balance the flavors. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't too salty, and for those of you salt lovers out there, this dish would really appeal to you, but for me, it was a tad too much.

The one item that I didn't see right away in my pasta was the preserved lemon. I could taste it, just not see it. That is, until I got to the bottom of the bowl and spotted a few slivers of the rind:

Preserved Lemon
A flavor traditionally used in the cuisine of North Africa and specifically Morocco, I took a bite and was rewarded with this most unique flavor. I didn't think to ask if the lemons were preserved in-house, but by the time I had finished with my main entrée, my side of the restaurant had gone from myself to a half-filled room of diners.

My total tonight at Table 45 with tip and tax came out to an even $50 (that included me having water to drink). While I didn't indulge in anything from the sushi bar tonight, both the crab and octopus used in my appetizer and main course were enough to convince me that my worries of ordering a fish dish on a Monday were unfounded. While my main course made up for the lack of salt in my salad, overall I liked the flavors I ate tonight. While I still question the value of a simple salad costing $7, this visit has piqued my interest in returning to try out more of Table 45's diverse cuisine. While I know that $50 per person can be out of reach for some, for those special occasions where spending a little more to dine out is acceptable, I would recommend that you check out Table 45.

Table 45 on Urbanspoon
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