Thursday, November 3, 2011

The New (and Improved?) Crop Bistro & Bar

The last time I wrote about Crop Bistro & Bar was nearly two years ago. Since that time, a lot has happened. I've been back numerous times, to enjoy both Sunday Supper as well as the Chef's Table. Steve Schimoler has also closed the original location of Crop and relocated to the gorgeous space on the corner of West 25th Street and Lorain Avenue, just catty-corner to the West Side Market inside a completely renovated space previously occupied by an old bank. If you've been to Restaurant Dante, you will have an understanding of how such a space is utilized since it, too, lives inside an old bank. However, I have to say, the new space for Crop will leave you pretty breathless -- it is amazing!

What brought our intrepid band of diners back to Crop tonight was two-fold. First, we were all eager to experience Steve's food after being without for many months while they relocated to the new space. Second, and more importantly, we were there to celebrate the anniversary of friends and fellow food enthusiast Nancy and her husband Bob. While you can certainly attempt to find parking nearby in Ohio City, we decided instead to valet at the front of the restaurant for a nominal fee. For those looking to plug directions into your GPS-enabled device, the new location was located at 2537 Lorain Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44113. They can still be reached at 216-696-2767 (CROP).

Once inside the magnificent space, we were escorted to the long table facing the open kitchen at the opposite side of the building. Whereas the Chef's Table at the old Crop had been limited to six chairs, the new space had two to three times as many seats. When all six guests had arrived, Steve came over, pleasantries were exchanged, and he offered (and we accepted) a tour of the basement of the new restaurant, which included the enormous vault guarded by a ninety ton door. A work still in progress, when the restaurant manages to finish all of the space on both floors, it will probably be one of the most visually impressive restaurants that Cleveland has to offer.

The physical tour now concluded, we all congregated back at the Chef's Table to begin the gastronomic tour -- the Tour de Crop. For $65 per person, you are treated to a multi-course bonanza of whatever the chef wishes to serve you. I must warn you at this point, gentle reader, as the pictures you are about to see are particularly drool-worthy.

First up was bread service:

Bread Service
The basket contained a combination of very fresh baguette, chewy on the outside with a wonderful crumb on the inside; corn bread sticks; and a slightly sweet compound butter.

Our first actual course was something I recognized from my previous Chef's Table visit at the old Crop -- Deviled Egg with Crispy Prosciutto, Balsamic Reduction and Beet Reduction:

Deviled Egg
Sprinkled with just a touch of chile powder for garnish, this hit a lot of notes on my palate, spicy, salty, sweet, tart and played the creaminess of the egg and filling off of the crisped Prosciutto adorning the top. This was definitely a nice way to start.

Next up was a dish composed of Raw Tuna, Heirloom Tomatoes, Basil Oil, Balsamic Reduction, and Chiffonade of Fresh Basil:

Raw Tuna, Heirloom Tomatoes
Anyone who has eaten and enjoys raw tuna (maguro for you sushi-lovin' folks) knows that it has an incredibly delicate flavor and can be easily overpowered by stronger elements. Steve showed a deft hand in combining the components on the plate: each flavor stood on its own, but at the same time helped to elevate the tuna even further and definitely made it the star.

Our third course was the Grilled Mission Figs with Goat Cheese, Honey, Hazelnuts, and Arugula:

Roasted Figs, Goat Cheese, Arugula
While it doesn't take much to put figs and honey together, adding the acidity from the slightly softened chevre and the bitterness and pepperiness from the arugula made sure this mouthful satisfied all the taste points on my tongue (beginning to notice a pattern here?). The ground hazelnuts added a nice textural contrast to the other soft components of the dish.

For our second salad, we were served the Roasted Beet Salad with Orange Supremes, Pistachio-encrusted Goat Cheese, Mixed Herbs, and Orange Basil Vinaigrette:

Roasted Beet Salad, Pistachio-Encrusted Chevre
This was another holdover from Crop's previous location and menu, but it was still a welcome sight. Having become a lover of roasted beets only in the last couple of years, these were flavors that were bright, fresh, and really went well together. If there was one minor criticism, the dish could've used just a touch more salt. Other than that, it was a delight to look at as well as eat.

Ever the one for a dramatic presentation, our next course actually came out in two stages. First, the kitchen staff set a small plate with a perfectly seared scallop sitting atop a wedge of roasted potato. Chef Schimoler followed quickly behind with an incredibly aromatic black truffle cream. Here was how the dish looked topped with the cream and finely minced black truffle:

Truffle Explosion
And here was a cross-section after I cut into it with my fork:

Side Shot of Truffle Explosion
What can I say about this dish? The scallop was cooked expertly -- translucent in the middle and incredibly tender. The roasted potato had a nice crust on the outside and was tender and yielding on the inside. The black truffle foam was rich and creamy and had the heady earthiness from the mushrooms. While certainly not the most colorful plating, the stark black and whiteness made me think of the way that by removing color from a picture, you are left to concentrate with your other senses.

It wouldn't be a Steve Schimoler dining experience if pork wasn't involved at some point in the meal. In tonight's case, the followup course to the truffled scallop was the Braised Pork Belly with Gigante Beans, Brunoise of Carrots and Peppadew Peppers, Confit Garlic, and Roasted Tomatoes in a Tomato Broth:

Pork Belly, White Beans, Tomato Broth
Whereas the previous dishes had been executed quite well, taking my first bite of this dish caused me to roll my eyes back into my head and for just a split second, enjoy culinary nirvana. The balance between sweet and savory was perfectly balanced in this dish. The pork belly was crispy and yet also amazingly creamy, the pork fat instantly melting on my tongue. The gigante beans, while not really contributing a flavor of their own, had graciously soaked up the tomato broth flavor. If you get one dish on your visit to Crop, this would be the one not to miss.

After such a rich and decadent dish, the next course was a very light and refreshing intermezzo of Lemon Sorbet:

Intermezzo: Lemon Sorbet
This was exactly what the doctor (or, rather, the chef) ordered and served its purpose in cleansing our palates. My only critique was that it was rather one note. Lemon combined with some type of herb (thyme, rosemary, or lavender) would have really elevated this dish and made it special.

Our final savory course of the evening was a play on Surf and Turf. The "surf" side was comprised of a Seared Tasmanian Salmon, Cauliflower Mash, Mushroom Jus, and Fresh Basil:

Surf and Turf: Tasmanian Salmon
Several others at the Chef's Table thought that this dish was underseasoned. While I agree it probably could've used a touch more salt, it didn't particularly bother me. The salmon was nicely grilled on the outside and moist and tender on the inside. The big hit of the dish for me was the cauliflower mash. The only two presentations of cauliflower I have ever really enjoyed are when it is either roasted or served baked in lots of cream and butter. Tonight's version was incredibly flavorful and dare I say it ... delicious! The fresh basil added a bright herbaceous note to the dish as well.

The "turf" portion of our final savory dish was Braised Beef Shortribs, Mushroom Barley, Carrots, Veal Demi, and Horseradish Cream:

Surf and Turf: Braised Beef Shortribs
The shortribs had been braised until they were incredibly tender -- no knife required. The mushroom barley was thoroughly soft and pliable under tooth, but not broken down or mushy. The carrot cut easily under the pressure of my fork, while managing to avoid the texture of baby food and the horseradish cream really brought a brightness and spice to the entire dish without overpowering it. Personally, I would've liked to have seen a sharper horseradish note to the cream, but as this was geared toward all diners and not just me, I felt that the level of heat worked very well. While I enjoyed the medium-rareness of the salmon, I also enjoyed the thoroughly braised texture of the shortribs.

The first of two desserts were now presented by Crop's newest acquisition, Pastry Chef Lauren Stephenson. First up was a duo of Banana Chocolate Chip Petit Four with Peanut Butter Mousse and covered in Chocolate Ganache and a Salted Caramel Affogato:

Dessert Duo: Petit Four, Affogato
Once the hot coffee hit the caramel and cream, it instantly mixed together. I did the affogato first and enjoyed the salty, sweet, and bitter combination of the ingredients. Were there alcohol in this, I probably would have felt like I was back in college. The petit four was clever, but I wished that it was a little closer to room temperature as I think the flavors would've sung together much better (plus you wouldn't have seen the chocolate sweating).

The other dessert, a Tarte Tatin with maple cream, wasn't served individually, but as one dessert for us all to share. Sadly, the tarte was more or less decimated by our group before I had a chance to take a picture of it, but I did manage to get a bite and can say that it was absolutely delicious. When caramel is involved, you worry about the dessert being too sweet. Lauren managed to balance the sweetness and tartness from the apples well.

Our meal now at an end, we each paid our checks, gathered our coats and bags and headed out into the now dark, cool Cleveland air. While there was a very minor issue with one or two of the dishes (slight underseasoning), I very much enjoyed the entire meal, the company, and the new space that Crop Bistro & Bar gets to call home now. As with past visits, Chef Steve Schimoler has a very thorough understanding of flavor and texture combinations and his food never comes across as too fancy or gimmicky, which can be a very hard line to walk. While I don't know that I'd want to do the Tour de Crop every time I go back, it's nice sometimes to let someone else make the decision of what you will be eating from time to time.
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