Monday, October 31, 2011

Dinner At Beau's Grille

Last December, I wrote about a lunchtime visit to Beau's Grille located in the Hilton Hotel Akron Fairlawn. I had made a mental note to myself while researching the menu online that dinner seemed a bit pricey and that lunch was much more reasonable. Having had a successful lunch visit, I decided that a return visit for dinner was in order. Clearly my mind must have been preoccupied with other distractions for the last eleven months because my follow-up visit didn't happen until just recently.

In fact, it was completely spur of the moment. On a Thursday night with literally nothing better to do, I pulled out of the parking lot at work and as I drove east on West Market Street, the Hilton's illumination gradually became visible through the falling rain. Taking just a moment to decide, I pulled off into the parking lot for the hotel, grabbed an umbrella and my camera bag, and walked towards the hotel's main entrance:

Entrance to Hilton Hotel in Fairlawn, Ohio
Once inside the main door, a door bearing Beau's name on it was on the left:

Exit from Beau's Grille
This was the exit from the bar area and not really the proper entrance to the restaurant. For that, I walked into the main lobby, made a left turn, and approached the hostess waiting just beyond the opened double doors. I was a little worried they might be too busy to accommodate a walk-in on a Thursday night, but as the restaurant was only about half full, she greeted me cheerfully and led me to a two top and left me with the menu to peruse:

Beau's Grille Menu Front
Beau's Grille Menu Specials
Beau's Grille Menu Page 1
Beau's Grille Menu Page 2
Beau's Grille Menu Page 3
While Chef Beau Schmidt may indeed rotate seasonal item on the daily specials menu, the printed menu looked eerily familiar to the one I had used during my last visit. If the menu items looked similar, then it didn't surprise me to see the same high prices for the food. I don't mind paying for value, but when appetizers start climbing past the $10 price point, I start to sit up and take notice.

In a rather unusual move, when my water came to the table to take my order, he didn't remove the napkin, silverware, glass, or side plate at the setting across from me, which is usually standard at most restaurants (it frees up the table from unnecessary clutter). Seeing as I needed the extra space to set up my camera in order to get the shots I would need for this review, I moved some of these items to the side of the table and actually stacked the other side plate on top of mine to make room. In an even more unusual move, when he saw that I had moved the other setting, he actually reset the opposite side of the table right in front of me. That was the first inkling I had that something odd was up with the service.

Regardless, after placing my order, my server returned with the Bread Service:

Basket of Dinner Rolls
And accompanying the warmed rolls were cold pats of butter:

Pats of Butter
Generally speaking, I prefer butter being softened when it arrives at the table, even if the bread is warm or hot. While the rolls and butter were good in both flavor and texture, having to wait for the butter to melt on the bread was a minor inconvenience. Were this an establishment that was less expensive, I probably wouldn't have given it too much thought. At Beau's Grille, all of these little details should have already been anticipated.

For my appetizer, I decided to start with the Fried Green Tomato "BLT":

Fried Green Tomato 'BLT'
As the food runner approached my table with this nearly toppling tower of tomatoes, I thought to myself that this couldn't possibly be my appetizer as it was large enough for an entire meal. Sure enough, it was mine. In addition to the fresh red and yellow heirloom tomato slices, green tomatoes had been sliced, dredged, and fried to a golden brown. The entire stack had been skewered in order to provide stability and then placed on arugula. Two separate aiolis, basil and red pepper, dressed the salad and crispy pancetta was strewn throughout.

As I removed the skewer and allowed the contents to topple down onto the plate, I began to remember my previous experience during lunch. Yes, Beau's prices are high, but the portion sizes are ENORMOUS, each easily split between two or three diners. Like I mentioned earlier, had this been all I ordered, I probably wouldn't have needed anything else for dinner. Right away, I decided to only eat about one-third of the dish in order to save room for future courses.

As for the appetizer itself, it was quite tasty. The heirloom tomatoes had flavor and just a bit of sweetness to them and the fried green tomatoes were crispy on the outside -- having just a bit of snap on the inside with acidity that balanced out the other sweet flavors on the plate. The arugula added a pepperiness, the pancetta added both salty, chewy and savory elements, and the aiolis provided creaminess. Did it really need two aiolis to be a successful dish? No, not particularly, but other than not being able to separate the flavors in my mouth when eaten together, it didn't detract from the overall deliciousness of the dish.

Since I had ordered an entree, I had the option of either getting a free basic side salad or I could add a half-portion of one of the more "plated" salads from the menu for a small upcharge (I believe it was roughly $3). Since I had been eying one of those salads from the get-go, I decided to go ahead and add it to the line-up for tonight.

Here was the Baby Green, Sun-dried Tomato, Artichoke, Buffalo Mozzarella Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette:

Baby Greens Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette
First off, again with the portion size: this was a HALF portion of a salad. I suppose it could've been because I had already eaten so much of my appetizer, but I could've probably done better with half of this "half." I tasted each of the elements on the plate before combining them together into one unified bite. The sun-dried tomatoes, artichokes, and mozzarella were quite tasty (the softness of the cheese was especially gratifying). The baby greens were fresh-looking and crisp. The balsamic vinaigrette, however, really disappointed because it was incredibly sweet. I understand that balsamic vinegar has an inherent level of sweetness to it by nature, but this vinaigrette had been sweetened quite a ways past that. If you like sweet, gentle reader, you might like this. Personally, I found it unbalanced and unsuccessful for this very reason.

After eating about half of my salad, I pushed it away to wait for my final course. The standard table setting at Beau's Grille was two forks, one knife, and one spoon. I had used the first fork and my knife during the appetizer. When I got my salad, I used the second fork. By this point in the meal, I was only left with my spoon. No problem, I figured. When my server brings out the entree and sees I am missing silverware, he'll get me the appropriate pieces.

Sadly, what actually transpired after he brought me the Cavatappi with Grilled Chicken, Roasted and Fresh Tomatoes, Spinach, Garlic, Basil, Lemon and Olive Oil,

Cavatappi with Chicken, Tomatoes, and Spinach
was that he simply dropped the plate off and immediately walked away from the table without checking to see if I needed anything else. Being the ever resourceful foodie that I am, I reached across the table and with firm resolve, broke up the silverware set at the spot opposite me at my table. Having retrieved a clean fork, I dug into this dish. Some of the pasta at the rim of the bowl was a bit tepid in temperature, but the food in the center was still nice and hot. That was the good news.

The bad news, gentle reader, was that the pasta was way overcooked, one step below mush. The pasta was also quite bland. This trend seemed pervasive throughout the dish, actually. I tasted component after component and each was either completely unseasoned or grossly underseasoned. While the server had dropped off grated Parmesan cheese for me to apply to my taste, I knew that even with a generous sprinkling of the salty fromage, it would really only season the top of the noodles. Probably the only really assertive flavor in the dish was the garlic, which I couldn't help but notice because of its slight crunch and incredibly pungent flavor -- and indication that it probably hadn't been sauteed enough before building the rest of the sauce.

I probably don't have to mention this as well by this point in the review, but the serving of pasta was enormous.

In the end, I had my server box up the remainder of my appetizer (at least half) and the remaining pasta (at least two-thirds) and asked for my check. As I suspected after doing some mental math, the check with tax and tip came to roughly $31-$32. I wasn't sure if I was going to eat the rest of the pasta for breakfast or lunch, but I figured for that much money, I'd at least give myself the option.

I'm torn on Beau's Grille. The food and service during my first visit was fairly good. In fact, good enough to spur me to return for a dinner service. While the Fried Green Tomato "BLT" was definitely worth ordering, the cloyingly sweet vinaigrette on my salad and my way overcooked and underseasoned cavatappi left me quite a bit unsatisfied. That the server came off as quite aloof and not particularly helpful, I am only left to conclude that if the restaurant is having a good night, you'll receive the same in kind. If not, well then, I hope you enjoy your pasta mushy and with very little flavor.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

No "Mamma Mia!" at Gervasi Vineyards Italian Bistro

One of the benefits of living in east Akron and working in Canton was that I often stopped at restaurants along the way and was much more versed in the comings and going of Canton and North Canton eateries. Since then, I have moved to the west side of Akron and now live and work in the same vicinity. As a consequence, getting to dinner in Canton is a bit more of an effort for me than it has been in the past. However, after reading extensively about what can only be described as a "complex" due to its enormous size, I knew I had to check out the Italian Bistro at Gervasi Vineyard.

The entire complex was located at 1700 55th Street NE, Canton, OH 44721 and can be reached at 330-497-1000. Getting there was a bit time consuming from my origin, but surprisingly easy. Exit I-77 south at the Everhard Road exit and head east until you run into Cleveland Avenue. Make a left and then an immediate right onto Easthill Street. This will turn into 55th Street and within about ten minutes, you'll come upon the entrance to the vineyard. Turn into the driveway and take it all the way back to the large building at the back of the complex. Ample parking was available in front of the bistro:

Entrance to Gervasi Vineyards Bistro & Winery
Prior to going for dinner tonight, I had read their online menu with great interest and came prepared for the type of food being served. What I didn't expect was that simply showing up on a Tuesday night at 7:30 PM sans reservation was not as fabulous an idea as I had originally thought. Upon asking the hostess for a table for one person, she got a pained expression on her face and basically stated that unless I had a reservation, there were no tables available. There was, however, a communal table that was about half full of "people like me" (e.g., no reservationists) and several two top bar tables. Fortunately, one of the bar tables just opened up, so I took it.

At this point, even with servers passing by my table every minute or so, it took about ten minutes for someone to notice me and bring me a menu. Fortunately, once my server noticed me, service hiccups disappeared. Here was tonight's menu:

Gervasi Vineyards Bistro Menu Top
Gervasi Vineyards Bistro Menu Bottom
It was nice to see that the Italian Bistro was serving seasonal cuisine. The menu was appropriately sized with several selections in each category -- this made it feel uncluttered and not overwhelming. Seeing as there was only one of me tonight, I decided that instead of ordering a larger entree (at a larger price), that I would sample several of the smaller plates.

After placing my order, my server brought out the Bread Service:

Toasted Bread, Oil, Herbs, Salt
The bread had been sliced, oiled, herbed, seasoned and slightly toasted so that it had a crunch but wasn't completely dried out. Not wanting to spoil my meal, I had a slice or two, but pushed them aside in order to make room for the rest of the meal.

I decided to start my meal out with the Butternut Squash Soup:

Butternut Squash Soup
When someone other than my server (who I assume was a food runner) approached my table with an extremely shallow bowl with several toasted hazelnuts in the bottom, I was a bit confused. He set the bowl down in front of me and produced a pitcher from which he poured the soup into the bowl, covering the nuts. Sadly, the effect was a bit lost because the soup was so thick that as you can see in the above photograph, it didn't even cover the entire bottom of the bowl.

The flavor of the soup was a bit on the sweet side, but I expected that as the menu listed "truffle honey" as one its ingredient. That being said, only one bite of the many I took did I get the remotest hint of truffle flavor. The hazelnuts added a nice textural contrast to the smooth, thick soup and the fattiness from the heavy cream used to enrich it would have been well served by an acidic component to the dish to help cut through it. Overall, I thought the soup was decent.

As I was originally looking through the menu, I noticed that it had four pasta dishes listed. I asked my server if the pasta was made in-house. After checking with the kitchen, she returned and told me that none of the pastas were homemade save the ravioli on the appetizer section of the menu. A little disappointed that a place billing itself as an Italian Bistro didn't make their own pasta, I decided to order the one dish that featured said product -- Smoked Salmon Ravioli with Capers, Horseradish and Dill Creme:

Smoked Salmon Ravioli
At $12, this meant I was paying $4 per square of filled pasta. I first tasted the horseradish and dill creme. The horseradish flavor and heat were there, but was incredibly subtle. I then cut into one of the pasta squares. The ravioli had a good amount of filling in them, enough to get a substantial taste, but not bursting at the seams. The filling was actually a combination of mashed potato and smoked salmon. I dragged my forkful in the creme sauce and took a bite.

Two thoughts simultaneously fought for attention as my mouth starting sending warning signals northward. First, the smoked salmon was WAY too strong and pretty much the only thing I could taste was the smoke and the salt from the fish. Second, the filling was COLD! Whomever had cooked the pasta had not cooked them long enough. The pasta casing was fine, but the filling itself was at best, slightly colder than room temperature. Thinking I might have gotten a bad one, I cut into both of the other ravioli to discover that they were cooked exactly the same way. This dish was pretty much a fail -- unbalanced flavors that were not executed properly.

For my final course, I decided to try the Creme Anatra Pizza:

Creme Anatra Pizza
While I was pretty certain that the Italian Bistro was making their dough daily, I was curious to see if I could taste the effects of using a pre-ferment or any kind of aging in the dough. Seeing as the pizza oven was directly in front of me, I actually watched as they prepped and then baked my pizza. The pizza, at a $12 price point, seemed a bit on the small side, but came topped with some delicious looking toppings: pulled duck, garlic cream (Ed. Note: Every other time it was spelled "creme" on the menu except here. I wonder why?), mushrooms, spinach, fig jelly, ricotta, and aged provolone.

The crust was crisped nicely, although I would've have personally preferred a bit more color on the bottom. The crust had a nice balance of chewiness and crispiness, but I didn't notice any sourness to the dough's flavor on its own. This leads me to believe that the dough was made without the use of cold fermentation or a pre-ferment (like a biga or poolish). It wasn't until I got to my third piece of pizza that I finally got a slice that actually had all of the ingredients on it. When I finally bit into that piece, my mouth was quite happy. Prior to that slice, previous bites lacked a balance between all of the flavors of the toppings.

All said and done, my bill with tip and tax came to roughly $36-$37 and I left with a few slices of pizza remaining that I took home with me for a snack later on that night. Honestly, I'm a little torn about the Italian Bistro at Gervasi Vineyard. It aspires for greatness, that is for sure. However, the dishes I had tonight ranged from bad to so-so to good. The restaurant has been open for a while now, so I can't chalk up tonight's experience to breaking in a new restaurant staff. In the end, I would marginally recommend you check them out. At this price point, everything coming out of the kitchen, while maybe not fantastic, should at least be in the very good category. Hopefully they will get there soon.

Gervasi Vineyard and Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Wild Papaya And The Perfect Curry

I am continually amazed at how much I have learned about the restaurant industry from writing a food blog for nearly three years. Of course, it seems obvious that if you study something for that length of time, you would naturally pick up a few things along the way, but that honestly wasn't why I started Exploring Food My Way. One of the two most important lessons I've learned so far is that despite your server being the primary point of contact with a restaurant when choose to dine out, slow or "off" service can be caused by far more than just the server's lack of experience or enthusiasm. Knowing when to legitimately gripe about service takes time to develop.

The other important lesson I've taken away from this experience is the extreme volatility of the food service industry as a whole. Servers, cooks, chefs, heck, even the restaurant itself can be there one day and gone the next. I know a server who in one year worked in thirteen different restaurants. That isn't to say that there aren't some longtime stalwarts that have been around for forty, fifty, or even one hundred years (restaurants, not servers). These are clearly the exception to this generalization.

Back in February of this year, fellow photographer and camera salesman extraordinaire Dan at Campus Camera, upon finding out that I write restaurant reviews advised me about a restaurant that was serving up great food, Shorty's Subs and Salads. Even better, the restaurant was just down the road from the camera store. I didn't have time to try it that day, but I returned with a few days to find the restaurant oddly dark at a time when it should have been open. Between the time Dan had told me of the restaurant and a short while later, they had closed up shop.

Fast forward eight months later, I happened to be driving down Main Street in Kent when I drove by the old Shorty's location only to discover something had opened up in its place. Curious, I pulled in to discover Wild Papaya Thai Cuisine. My attention firmly gotten, I noted that it was roughly 5:30 on a Sunday evening and I was suddenly hungry ... for Thai food. I parked my car and approached the main door:

Wild Papaya Thai Cuisine in Kent, Ohio
Wild Papaya Thai Cuisine was located at 1665 East Main Street, Kent, OH 44240 and can be reached at 330-677-0916. Parking was in the large lot in front of the building. You can check out their web presence by visiting their website or their Facebook page.

Since I never managed to eat a meal at Shorty's, I was unfamiliar with how the interior looked before Wild Papaya took over, but I have to say that the decor was quite contemporary with a bit of traditional Thai art thrown in for good measure. When I arrived, I was one of only two tables that were occupied. I'm happy to say that within thirty minutes, another six or seven tables were seated.

My server left me with the rather sizable menu in order to take care of recent arrivals at the hostess stand:

Wild Papaya Dinner Menu Page 1
Wild Papaya Dinner Menu Page 2
Wild Papaya Dinner Menu Page 3
Wild Papaya Dinner Menu Page 4
Wild Papaya Dinner Menu Page 5
Wild Papaya Dinner Menu Page 6
Wild Papaya Dinner Menu Page 7
As I looked through the menu, I saw a lot of the usual suspects: Pad Thai, Tom Yum Goong, Chicken Satay, just to name three. But I also saw some dishes that were more indicative of a serious commitment to stay true to traditional Thai cuisine. While the menu also listed several Chinese dishes (to be more accurate, I should call them Americanized Chinese), the Thai dishes looked far more interesting. I decided to start out my meal with the Tom-Sum (papaya salad):

Tom-Sum (Papaya Salad)
Staying with the traditional version of this salad, tonight's dish was made with green papaya which had yet to ripen. Thus, the fruit wasn't particularly sweet (think green tomatoes versus ripe tomatoes). The papaya had been shredded thinly along with carrots and had been dressed in a dressing of nuoc cham -- typically a mixture of lime, fish sauce, chile, cilantro, sugar, and rice wine vinegar. This combination of flavors gave the papaya "slaw" the qualities of sweet, salty, spicy, and acidic. All of the flavors were nicely balanced and the spiciness of the chile was quite subtle, yet still present.

The two yellow hunks of meat placed on top of the salad were chicken that was hot, juicy, and nicely grilled. I could tell based on the flavor of the chicken that this was the same protein used for the satay appetizer. The salad was actually quite large and could definitely be split among two or three diners. My only complaint was that two pieces of chicken seemed a bit light for the amount of salad on the plate. A third piece would have rounded this salad out to the point where one person could eat it for their entire meal.

As I was contemplating what to order for my entree, my server helpfully suggested the Siam Duck. She indicated that it was one of the cooks specialties. While I was a little leery of the $17 price tag, I decided to go ahead and trust her suggestion. A few minutes after finishing my papaya salad, this appeared at my table:

Siam Duck
Accompanying my entree was a bowl of Brown Rice:

Bowl of Brown Rice
Before I talk about the Siam Duck, I would just like to go on record as saying I really appreciate an Asian restaurant having both steamed white AND brown rice available for diners. While I certainly don't mind white rice, I know that brown rice is slightly better for me and knowing that it is available, I will always order it over the white. To make it even more enticing, Wild Papaya gave me the choice of either to accompany my meal at no extra charge.

Anyone who has ever watched me evaluate a meal for the blog knows that I rarely dig into a dish thoughtlessly. If the protein has a sauce on it, I taste it. I tend to taste components of the entree before taking the all-inclusive bite. I had been hesitant to order an expensive entree (one of the most expensive on the menu), but upon getting my first taste of the yellow curry, my taste buds exploded with nervous energy signalling the "YUM!" center in my brain. I suddenly realized I was in for a epicurean roller coaster ride.

The sauce was complex, sweet and salty with a hint of vinegar to balance it out. While the menu listed the dish as being served at "one chile pepper" which meant hot, I asked for the dish to be served at "two chile peppers" meaning hot and spicy. While I certainly could've handled much more heat, the spice level was a nearly perfect match for the extraordinary savoriness of the sauce. Honestly, gentle reader, you could have put that sauce over a leather boot and it would've been good.

The duck, which had been clearly finished in the deep fryer due to the crispiness of the skin, was moist and juicy and the skin was crispy without being greasy. Because duck has a thick layer of subcutaneous fat, it must be rendered off during the cooking process or else the result is chewy, rather unpleasant fat that is often better removed than consumed. Tonight's duck wasn't the best I had ever eaten, but I would say it was deftly prepared and tasted very good. Combined with the yellow curry, it was an absolute home run. The broccoli, while steamed, was a bit on the lukewarm side and while the squash and zucchini were softened from the steaming process, the carrots were crunchy to the point of being noticeable.

Those minor quibbles aside, whatever I didn't finish at the restaurant (which was about half), I took home with me and eagerly consumed the next day for lunch. While not as good cold as it was hot, just the thought of the curry sauce accompanying the Siam Duck made my mouth water like the unwitting subject of a Pavlovian experiment.

Dinner tonight at Wild Papaya Thai Cuisine wasn't inexpensive at roughly $28 for my meal with water and tax. That being said, I had enough food for two complete meals at $14 each which isn't bad if you are watching your wallet and need a place to split dinner for two. While this might be a tad on the pricey side for your typical Kent State student, it also means that the place won't be overrun with college students looking for food on the cheap.

Needless to say, I recommend that you give Wild Papaya Thai Cuisine a visit to try out the Tom-Sum and Siam Duck for yourself. I currently live on the west side of Akron and I would be more than willing to drive the thirty minutes each way just to have another dinner there. Of course, now that I have tasted this amazingly wonderful curry, in order to try other items from the menu I will undoubtedly have to bring friends with me when I return; hopefully they'll be willing to trade a bite of heaven from my plate for a bite of theirs.

Wild Papaya Thai on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 14, 2011

Grabbing A Nosh At Nosh Eatery

I first learned of Nosh Eatery & Creative Catering many months ago from my longtime friend and partner in the Veggie-Vegan Project, Paul. We had been discussing potential restaurants to include in the project and Paul had heard that Nosh was to have a fairly good vegetarian and/or vegan selection. He also knew that they would be based out of Hudson, but unfortunately, that was the extent of his knowledge. Fast forward to Labor Day at the beginning of September and I found myself at the annual Taste of Hudson again. Per usual, I made my cursory walkaround of the entire event before deciding which booths I would visit. Wouldn't you know it? Nosh was one of the booths.

Based on the strength of the food at the Taste of Hudson, I finally got around to stopping in for a bite to eat at their actual location. Their storefront was south of downtown Hudson quite a bit and located at 5929 Darrow Road, Hudson, OH 44236. They can be reached at 330-650-6674 and they have the usual trio of a website, Facebook page, and Twitter account so that you can keep track of them.

Nosh Eatery was among a group of four businesses occupying a small building. As usual, the shared parking lot was more than ample and I had little difficulty finding a parking spot. Here was a shot of the storefront for Nosh Eatery:

Storefront to Nosh Eatery in Hudson, Ohio
Once inside, I was asked if my order was for eating in or taking out. After indicating that I would like to eat in, the woman behind the counter gave me a paper menu and told me I could sit wherever I'd like. I picked the table furthest from the front door (to minimize the mixed lighting), sat down and proceeded to study the menu:

Nosh Eatery Menu Front
Nosh Eatery Menu Back
In addition to the options on the menu, daily specials had also been chalked onto a board hanging above the coffee machine on the back wall.

I decided to start out my meal with one of the soups du jour, a Bowl of Tomato and Basil Soup:

Tomato and Basil Soup
The soup was piping hot, had just a bit of texture to it, and had a deep tomato flavor. The soup had been pureed, but not completely as there were still small bits of tomato to be found within. The garlic and basil flavors complemented the soup nicely. In lieu of crackers, the soup had come with a small grilled flatbread quarter that had been seasoned with salt, herbs, and of all things, caraway seeds. It was inventive and delicious and if there was anything to complain about for this dish, it was that the dish only came with one of the "crackers."

While many of the sandwiches caught my eye on the menu today, when I saw that today's special was a Philly-style Cheesesteak, I decided to throw caution to the wind and give it a try:

Philly-style Cheesesteak
Filled with luscious expertly grilled cuts of beef shoulder, caramelized onions and peppers, sauteed Chanterelle, fresh thyme, and Havarti and Gruyere cheeses, this was a sandwich with which to be reckoned. The roll (part of a baguette from Great Lakes Baking Company just up the street) was split, buttered, and then grilled to not only give it texture, but also prevent the roll from "sogging out," a dilemma many other sandwich places have yet to solve. From my first bite to my last, I enjoyed this sandwich immensely. It was hot, melty, chewy, earthy, beefy, and savory. If someone had said, "make a Philly-style inspired sandwich but elevate it," this would be the result. The only criticism I might levy would be that the portion size seemed a little small for $7.75.

Inspired by the flavors up to this point and noticing that Nosh's Facebook page had advertised fresh cobbler today, I asked about the dessert selections. Indeed, fresh Strawberry Cobbler had been baked earlier in the day:

Strawberry Cobbler
Rewarmed and plated, the cobbler was accompanied by fresh chevre-infused whipped cream and a small scoup of buerre noisette ice cream. The plate was finished with some powdered sugar and small streaks of raspberry coulis. I remember the whipped cream from the Taste of Hudson and while you could taste the goat cheese flavor in that version, today's whipped cream was a bit lacking. The brown butter ice cream, however, was heavenly. The cobbler itself was infused with lots of strawberries and if the cobbler topping had been a bit more cake-like in consistency, it would have reminded me more of a clafoutis than a cobbler.

Overall, I found the cobbler to be just borderline on the sweet side -- a cup of black coffee or an espresso would have cut the sweetness to the perfect amount. That being said, I finished the entire portion and would have no qualms ordering -- or recommending -- this dessert again.

My meal at its inevitable conclusion, my server brought me the check and before tip, it came to $16. While I did question the value of the cheesesteak sandwich, everything I had eaten today at Nosh was fresh, hot, and quite frankly, delicious. As was made evident on the daily specials board, today marked the fifty-fifth day of operation. I'd suggest you give them a visit soon so that they can add many more numbers to that ticker.

Nosh Eatery on Urbanspoon

Monday, October 10, 2011

Authentico Mexicano, Por Favor, Sin Queso

People often ask me where I get the inspiration for the restaurants I review. Most often, I review what is around me: where I work, where I live, where I go on vacation. Sometimes I stumble upon a restaurant out of sheer dumb luck. Other times I have readers email me and tell me of a place that I haven't reviewed that I just have to try. A very important part of my information gathering process is reading other food blogs. You may have noticed the list of blogs I follow on the right hand side of this blog. I link to those blogs because I think the authors have something interesting and relevant to say and want to encourage you to them out for yourself.

Just recently, I came across a food blog started at the end of June, Dreaming of the Next Bite, that I hadn't linked to and when I went to check it out, I discovered a fellow native Akron/Canton blogger who is interested in covering the local restaurant scene. As I dug into Yvette's blog, I stumbled across several restaurant reviews that she had done in the North Canton area that sounded very interesting. But it wasn't until I came across her review of Jojutlas Mexican Grill that I sat up and took notice.

What caught my eye were two very important distinctions between Jojutlas and nearly every other "Mexican" restaurant in the area: fresh corn tortillas grilled in-house and the very prominent lack of cheese melted over every single menu item. Now, don't get me wrong, gentle reader, I love Mexican American as much as the next gringo, but I know better (and when pressed, most servers of Mexican/Latino/Latina origin will admit) that using gobs of melted queso fresco is an American adaptation.

My whistle thoroughly whetted by the idea of a queso-free meal, I made the trek down I-77 to the Portage Street exit (The "Strip" is off of Portage Street). You will want to go west on Portage Street until you see the Rockne's road sign. Jojutlas Mexican Grill was in the building directly behind Rockne's. Technically the restaurant was located at 4934 Portage Street, North Canton, OH 44720 and can be reached at 330-470-0037. In addition to their website, they also have a Facebook page.

After parking in the ample lot out front, I approached the front of the restaurant:

Jojutlas Mexican Grill in North Canton, Ohio
Inside, I discovered another refreshing surprise: a menu consisting of just a few choices that were simple and straightforward:

Wall Menu Left
Wall Menu Right
Most Mexican American menus that I've seen are usually loaded with a myriad of options from which to choose. Tonight, the decision was narrowed down to between the fish tacos that Yvette had tried in her review and the Tacos al Pastor. Ordering at Jojutlas was a cross between a Chipotle-esque process and a full service restaurant. I placed my order at the window under the hanging menu and told her which sides I wanted along with any additional condiments (e.g., salsas). I then paid for my meal at the other end of the line, took my drink and receipt, and sat at the table of my choice.

Within just a few minutes, one of the servers ran my food to the table and checked to make sure there wasn't anything else she could get me. Here were the Fish Tacos with my included side of Mexican Rice:

Fish Tacos, Mexican Rice
Here is a closer shot of the Fish Tacos:

Fish Tacos, Jicama Slaw, Chipotle Mayonnaise
The whitefish had been breaded "Azteca" style, fried until golden brown and crispy, sliced and stuffed into the homemade corn tortillas along with a jicama / red pepper / radish slaw, greens, and a drizzle of chipotle mayonnaise. Although the tortilla near the edge of the plate was a bit torn up, the other two were perfectly round and pliable. I picked one up, took an enormous bite and began to chew, allowing the ingredients to roll around in my mouth.

The heat from the fried fish was nicely balanced with the coolness and crispness of the slaw. The mayonnaise added a little bit of creaminess and spiciness to complement the other flavors. The tortilla was expertly made, adding a subtle "corniness" and was amazingly tender. Honestly, the only criticism I had was that the taco could've used just a touch of lime juice to really make it sing. Something as simple as including a lime wedge with the plate would've taken this from good to great.

For my included side, I decided to go with the Mexican Rice:

Mexican Rice
"White" rice was also available, which according to the woman taking my order was white rice with lime and cilantro. The Mexican Rice was fresh and each grain was tender and had a flavor that was unlike the versions of this style of rice that I've eaten at other Mexican restaurants. I quite enjoyed it.

Since additional sides were minimally priced, I decided to add beans to my dinner, too. My choice was between black beans and pinto beans ... I went with Black Beans:

Frijoles Negros
The beans were whole and as such, had a textural element to them (as opposed to the more traditional frijoles refritos). The taste was also quite good, again a bit unusual but delicious. The beans had a rich earthy flavor that can only come from a long cooking process. Between the rice and beans, I managed to finish all three tacos and about half of each side.

In the end, my meal with the extra side of black beans and a bottled water came to roughly $10 before tip and tax. I should mention that because you pay after you order and before you sit down, it was a little weird leaving a tip before I actually had service. I paid with my credit card tonight, but if you have cash, you can leave a tip that is appropriate for the service you receive at the conclusion of your meal instead of prior to eating it.

So how would I rate this little out-of-the-way restaurant? Pretty highly, actually, and recommend that if you are in the mood for something a little more authentic and a whole lot less cheesy, drive down to North Canton and check out Jojutlas Mexican Grill for yourself. I know that I am already anticipating a return to try the Tacos al Pastor.

Jojutlas Mexican Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Making Time For Thyme

When I first heard John Kolar's name mentioned on the old Cleveland Plain Dealer's Food and Wine forum several years ago, it was being associated with a new venture out in Medina, Ohio, called Thyme - the Restaurant (warning: gratuitous use of Flash). I knew the eatery was an upscale kind of place, but unfortunately, I don't get out to Medina all that often (which is a shame, really, since there are so many great places to eat there). Happily, as I collected my camera bag and walked out to my car after work last Friday, for some reason, it seemed time to finally check out Thyme.

Reservations are a mixed bag with me. When it is just me going out for a meal that I intend to review here on the blog, I tend to eschew reservations if I think I can get away with just showing up unannounced. This ensures complete anonymity and impartiality. However, if I think I might have difficulty getting a table (Friday night at 7 PM qualifies), I will go ahead and make a reservation, sometimes under a different name. Knowing that the chef or general manager often checks the reservation books before dinner service starts, my last minute decision at 6:30 PM on a Friday night to eat at this time made this last point moot since unless the person answering the phone knew me by name, it wouldn't have changed my experience.

Thyme was located about a thirty minute drive from Montrose at 716 North Court Street, Medina, OH 44256 and can be reached at 330-764-4114. When I saw the street sign for the restaurant,

Streetside Sign for Thyme Restaurant in Medina, Ohio
I pulled into the moderately crowded parking lot. Having been around in the mid 70s to early 80s, I immediately recognized that the building was a converted and modified Red Barn restaurant. The entrance to the restaurant was actually facing the parking lot:

Entrance to Thyme Restaurant
Once inside, I marveled at the re-purposed space. Through the main doors to the left was a small bar area. The rest of the inside space was devoted to tables, which while cozy, didn't give you the feeling that you were sitting on top of your neighbor. During better weather, a covered patio was also available. Lighting was pretty dim, but fortunately the hostess sat me at a table with a small, but bright incandescent lamp pointed straight down onto my table. She left me to look through the menu:

Thyme Menu Logo
Thyme Menu Left Page
Thyme Menu Right Page
After taking my order, my server promptly returned with several items for me. First up was a basket of herbed focaccia and a ramekin of softened butter:

Basket of Herbed Focaccia
The focaccia was fresh and delicious. I didn't bother to ask if the focaccia was house made, but it didn't particularly matter since it was so tasty. The softened butter had a slight sweetness to it and while it matched the slight saltiness of the bread, wasn't required to elevate the flavor of the bread.

The kitchen also sent out a small starter, an amuse bouche, to get my meal off on the right foot:

Amuse Bouche: Hot Potato and Leek Soup, Chive Oil
This was a warm potato and leek soup that had been drizzled with just a touch of chive oil. I raised the glass to my mouth, tipped it back, and drank the entire contents in one gulp. While nothing fancy, it was seasoned properly and the flavor had a pronounced potato and leek essence to it. The chive oil added a small amount of spiciness, but nothing overwhelming. This was definitely a nice way to start the meal.

Always a sucker for gnocchi, especially homemade gnocchi, after seeing that an appetizer-sized portion was available on the menu, I decided to start my dinner adventure with a pasta course:

Porcini Gnocchi, Spinach, Mushroom, Porcini Cream Sauce
This was Porcini Gnocchi with Sauteed Spinach, Mushrooms, Porcini Cream Sauce, and a Balsamic Vinegar drizzle. The texture of the gnocchi were ethereally light, occupying that wonderful spot between having a satisfying chew versus dissolving in the mouth. On some of the less coated pieces, I could taste the potato, another great indicator of being freshly made. The mushroom flavor was quite pronounced and while the fattiness from the cream sauce coated my tongue, the acid from the vinegar helped to cut through it. My only complaint was that when I finished the pasta, I was about to reach for a slice of the focaccia to mop up the remaining sauce when one of the food runners swooped in and removed the plate before I had a chance to do so.

Interestingly, my gnocchi had shown up mere minutes after placing my order. In between my appetizer and my entree, however, the wait was a bit longer. It probably only seemed excessive because the gnocchi had come out so quickly. Soon enough, my server returned with my main course, the Double Cut Grilled Pork Chop with Poblano and Bacon Macaroni and Cheese, Asparagus, and Smoked Onion BBQ Sauce:

Double Cut Pork Chop, Poblano and Bacon Mac and Cheese, Smoked Onion BBQ Sauce, Asparagus
I had asked for the pork to be cooked to a "medium" temperature and it was. The pork was flavorful, juicy, and seasoned properly. While some of the asparagus spears were a bit thin and wispy, overall they were grilled and seasoned nicely. The smoke flavor in the BBQ sauce was nicely present, but not overwhelming. The pork was nicely complemented by the sauce. However, the big winner on this plate was the poblano and bacon macaroni and cheese. Nice and crusty on top and creamy everywhere else, this was an incredibly delicious version of this American staple. The pasta -- straight up macaroni noodles -- was perfectly cooked and wasn't mushy in the least. While I know that most anything is better with bacon, the addition of the roasted poblano added a subtle sweet and spicy element that really worked.

Having nearly cleaned my plate before indicating that I was finished, my server asked if I was interested in seeing the dessert menu. I figured that since I had already experienced such great success with the regular menu, the desserts must be on par. Right? Here was a shot of the dessert menu:

Thyme Dessert Menu
When I looked at the menu and realized that Thyme only had four desserts, two of which were pretty routine -- namely the creme brulee and molten chocolate cake -- I was actually a bit disappointed. Coming to grips that my choice would be between a cheesecake and a pumpkin mousse, I figured that the Toffee Cheesecake with Candied Almonds, Bruleed Banana, and Toffee Sauce would be the more interesting of the two.

As I've mentioned before, when I anticipate eating something sweet, I will often pair it with something bitter, like espresso or coffee, which was exactly what I did tonight:

Cup of Espresso
The espresso was properly brewed, with full crema floating on top of the murky, bitter liquid sitting below the surface. While I appreciated the raw sugar cube, I skipped it and went straight for the twist of lemon.

Fortunately, only a few moments after my espresso arrived, my dessert made its way to the table:

Toffee Cheesecake, Bruleed Banana, Toffee Sauce
While the plate definitely gets props for verticality and use of multi-textured components, sadly, this plate could've done with a color outside of the "brown" family -- a sprig of mint would've done wonders to break up the monotone theme. The toffee sauce was pleasant and tasted like, well, toffee. The bruleed banana was nicely caramelized. The candied almonds added a nice textural element.

The toffee cheesecake had its good and bad points. While not overly sweet, it was also a bit "vanilla." I didn't get a whole lot of toffee flavor in the cheesecake and honestly, it needed something to counterbalance the sweetness of the dessert -- perhaps sour cream would have helped. Maybe if the caramel on the banana had been cooked a bit darker, the inherent bitterness would have contrasted better with the sweetness. It just needed ... something. Don't get me wrong, gentle reader, it wasn't a bad tasting dessert. It was just kind of unremarkable considering the level of food I had enjoyed until that point.

The check with tip and gratuity came to just under $50 tonight. Was it worth it? Yes, I think it was. Given that the only non-stellar part of my meal was the dessert (and by non-stellar, I don't mean bad), I would definitely return for another meal at Thyme - the Restaurant. I don't know that Medina has any other restaurants within city limits that are executing food at this high of a level. If you live in Medina and want a wonderful dining experience, definitely check out Thyme. If you live outside of Medina, I still think it is worth the trip.

Hopefully the desserts will attain the same level as the rest of the food in the future.

Thyme on Urbanspoon
Related Posts with Thumbnails