Friday, February 11, 2011

Having A Nosh At Lolita

While I have eaten at all of the Michael Symon restaurants with the exception of Roast in Detroit, there has been one glaring omission from my reviews: Lolita Bistro. I have always been a big fan of the food at Lolita, but for some reason (and this might not necessarily be a bad thing) I just hadn't gotten around to reviewing the experience at Lolita until now. Lolita is like that friend that you haven't spoken to in six months and suddenly when the suggestion is made, everyone agrees that it is high time to catch up and see what is going on in each others' lives.

Being in Cleveland for an early afternoon movie, I found myself informally getting together with fellow food blogger and friend, Nancy, her husband Bob, and gastronome extraordinaire, Edsel. After finding streetside parking on West 10th in Tremont, I worked my way to the front door of Lolita, located at 900 Literary Road, Cleveland, OH 44113. They can also be reached at 216-771-5652. While valet parking was available, I have personally never used it and always managed to find a spot on the street with no more than a five minute walk.

Here was a photograph of the outside of Lolita:

Front Entrance to Lolita
Once inside, I was escorted to the table where Nancy and Bob had already been sat. I picked up a copy of their current menu and took two photos of the single page, top and bottom:

Lolita Menu Top Half
Lolita Menu Bottom Half
One thing I have consistently appreciated at all of the Michael Symon restaurants was the commitment to keeping the menu length sane. I'd rather have a small list of well-executed dishes from which to pick rather than a tome of mediocre-at-best entrées. Chef Symon seemed to understand this concept well and tonight's menu reflected that philosophy. When Edsel finally arrived, we decided to make up our meal tonight of shared items from the menu.

While we were deciding which appetizers and pizzas we wanted to share, our server dropped off some fresh French bread and dipping oil:

Fabulous French Bread
And the olive oil with some freshly cracked black pepper:

Dish of Olive Oil with Freshly Cracked Pepper
Being the bread lover that I am, I was happy to see Lolita serving absolutely fantastic French bread. It was crusty on the outside and still fresh and chewy on the inside. Paired up with the fruitiness of the olive oil and the spiciness from the pepper, it was an absolutely terrific way to begin the meal.

For our wave of appetizers, we started out the trio with one of my all-time favorites, the Crispy Chicken Livers served over a Creamy Polenta:

Crispy Chicken Livers with Soft Polenta
Had you told me as a child that one day I would crave chicken livers, I would've thought you completely nuts. The livers were battered and fried just until they were medium rare and while there was the tell-tale taste of liver, it was very controlled and not in the least bit objectionable. Paired with the earthiness of cooked mushrooms and the saltiness and smokiness from the bacon, these little nuggets of organ meat were heavenly. In true Michael Symon brilliance, pairing them with a soft polenta meant that you not only got a range of flavors with each bite, but also a range of textures.

Our second appetizer was the Chickpea Dip (also known as Hummos):

Chickpea Dip with Flatbread
While the chickpea dip was soft and creamy, it didn't have a particularly strong flavor to it. The flatbread, however, more than made up for that fact after it had been sprinkled with cumin and coriander. Long after the chickpea dip was gone, the four of us ate the remaining flatbread plain, right off of the plate. This brought up an additional point: the ratio of flatbread to chickpea dip was WAY off. We probably could've used another cup of the dip to match the amount of bread that came out of the kitchen. That being said, the flatbread truly was delicious all on its own.

To round out of trio of appetizers, we finished up with the La Quercia "Acorn Edition II" Prosciutto board:

La Quercia Proscuitto with Mustardo
In addition to the prosciutto, the board came with a pear mustardo, toasted baguette slices, and some pickled fennel (which was on the opposite side of the board). The prosciutto itself was salty and fatty and a pure pleasure for this admitted carnivore to eat. While someone at the table claimed that they could taste the acorns, having never eaten an acorn myself, I'm not sure I had a reference point with which to compare. That being said, it was delicious; paired with the sweetness from the mustardo and the tartness from the fennel it made a wonderfully balanced bite of food.

Here was a shot of all three of our appetizers on my plate:

Appetizer Trio
A little from columns A, B, and C ... Yum!

Appetizer plates now cleared, we prepared for the first of two pizzas. I have written before about Lolita when I ate at Bar Cento with my old friend Mike. While I certainly love the midwestern pizza sensibility that I grew up with here in northeast Ohio, I can't tell you how much I love a well-executed thin crust Neopolitan style pie. Between Bar Cento and Lolita, I simply cannot pick my favorite; it would be like picking your favorite child. People often think that toppings are the key to a good pizza. No, I say to you, gentle reader, it's the crust! Both Lolita and Bar Cento have managed to perfect a crust that is at the same time slightly charred, crispy on the exterior, and still chewy in the crumb. It is the perfect foil for whatever delicious toppings end up topping it.

For our first pizza (which the restaurant helpfully cut into four slices), we chose the homemade pork sausage with peppers:

Pork Sausage Pizza
A mixture of crumbled sausage, three colors of peppers, red sauce and cheese, this pizza seemed to cover all of the bases: sweet, tart, salty, and spicy. The sausage had just the right amount of chili kick to make my taste buds stand up and take notice. At the same time, the spice didn't overwhelm the other flavors on the pizza. This pizza would definitely appeal to those less adventurous eaters out there.

In contrast, the Duck Prosciutto Pizza definitely appealed to the adventurous foodie inside me:

Duck Proscuitto Pizza
Essentially a "white" pizza with thinly sliced duck prosciutto, Parmesan cheese, cracked black pepper, fresh rosemary and two freshly cracked and sunny side-up eggs, this pizza was all about the unctuousness of the fat from the duck and the egg yolks. That being said, the other flavors sang through beautifully and the prosciutto itself had a lovely clove spice to it that complimented the other flavors on the pizza. While having oozing egg yolks on a slice of pizza might seem strange to the uninitiated, I can assure you that it added a wonderful flavor and texture to an already outstanding pie.

To accompany our pizzas, we also decided to add two of Lolita's signature side dishes. First up was a dish I had yet to try, but about which had heard an awful lot of good press, the Fried Brussels Sprouts:

Side of Crispy Fried Brussels Sprouts
The Brussels sprouts had first been deep fried to give them their caramelized, crunchy exterior before being combined with capers, walnuts, and anchovies. Wait, wait, gentle reader! Before freaking out about the anchovies, know that no where in any of the multitudes of bites I took of this side dish did I detect a single fishy odor. The anchovy was used simply as a flavor enhancer, as a way to add depth to the finished dish. Even with the very strong salty and sour flavor from the dressing, the flavor of the Brussels sprouts never got lost. While I wouldn't say I was in love with this dish, I would definitely have this again given the chance.

My real infatuation would be with the Soft Creamy Polenta:

Side of Soft Polenta
Made from ground local Ohio corn, this was a full serving of the flavor I had briefly flirted with in the crispy chicken livers earlier in our meal. With an intense combination of corn flavor and the creaminess that came from the loads of Mascarpone cheese used, this was unlike most polentas I've ever had in my life. While perhaps not-so-traditional in an Italian household, Lolita's version sent my eyes rolling back into my head and sent my mind reeling over how delicious it tasted.

We briefly flirted with the dessert menu, but in the end all of us decided that between our appetizers, pizzas, and sides, we were definitely fully sated. While my companions decided to try out a few of the specialty bottled beers that Lolita offered, I simply opted to go with water and as such, when we split the food portion of our check four ways, tonight's meal had only come to an incredibly reasonable $15 (minus tip and tax). Had we managed to each squeeze an entrée in as well tonight, that would've only been an addition $15 - $19. For the level of food we enjoyed tonight, I would definitely go out on a limb and say that Lolita offers excellent value for the dollar.

I began dining at Lolita roughly four years ago and I have always had excellent service; tonight was no exception. The food at its worst was good and at its best was outstanding. If you haven't been to this Tremont gem, I can't recommend them enough. If you haven't been back for a while like myself and my visit tonight, put a visit to this restaurant onto your list of things to do for the spring season; you won't be sorry you did.

Lolita on Urbanspoon

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