Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Finding Southern Hospitality At SOHO

Nolan Konkoski first entered my gastronomic world view earlier this year at the Dinner In The Dark Special Edition event that was held to raise money for a scholarship in memory of Matthew Finkel. At the time, SOHO Kitchen & Bar was just an idea that had yet to come to fruition. Regardless, Nolan's concept of "Southern Hospitality" food was warmly embraced by the crowd that evening and many of my fellow food enthusiasts were greatly looking forward to the addition of this unique concept to the Cleveland dining scene.

Fast forward a few months later when I learned that not only was the Cuban-inspired Lelolai closing, but also SOHO had found its home at the same location as the failed bakery and cafe. While there was still no immediate opening date scheduled, I did manage to keep it simmering on a rear burner, ready to descend upon the restaurant once the doors officially opened for business. Which was exactly what happened several nights ago on a Friday night.

Not knowing what kind of crowd to expect on a Friday night in a recently opened restaurant, I called at around 5:30 PM to see if it would be possible to make a reservation for the same night. I was a little surprised that it was no problem at all to get a four-top table at either 7:30 or 8:00 PM -- my choice. I went with 7:30 PM and actually left my real last name to hold the reservation. I normally try to avoid reservations in order to not tip off the restaurant that I'm coming in for a review, but since there would be four of us tonight, I wanted the security of knowing there would be a spot ready for us when we arrived.

SOHO was located at 1889 West 25th Street, Cleveland, OH 44113 and can be contacted at 216-298-9090. Parking was wherever you can find it and fortunately since our four-top came in one car, we needed to only find a single parking spot. SOHO currently does not have valet (at least they didn't that night).

Once inside, the hostess promptly seated us at a table by the front window and left us with the menu to browse:

SOHO Dinner Menu
I liked the fact that the entire menu fit onto one side of the page (the rear was cocktails and other beverages). The menu seemed nicely divided into several sections with each grouping having five or six selections. It didn't feel overwhelming, but at the same time, there was a decent number of choices to fit any appetite.

After our server introduced herself and took our initial drink and appetizer orders, a complimentary basket of fresh biscuits appeared at our table:

Biscuits, Butter, Jam
Paired with the warm biscuits was a scoup salted honey butter as well as peach preserves. One of the diners at my table noted that the biscuits had a "floury" gritty mouthfeel to them. As far as I could tell, however, the biscuits were cooked all the way through. While I could see his point, it didn't particularly bother me too much. The salted honey butter wasn't particularly noteworthy, but the peach preserves were fruity and just a bit sweet, but not too much.

While the four of us at the table knew we would be sharing tastes all around, we each ordered an appetizer to start. I ordered the Crawfish and Crab Fritters:

Crawfish and Crab Fritters
I'm not sure why these were called "fritters" as they weren't battered before frying. I suppose we are all guilty of casually using words in a way that can be deceptive, but what was put in front of me were crab cakes, pure and simple. They were placed atop a spicy slaw and then drizzled with both a green onion aioli as well as a blended pepper coulis.

I liked the slight spice to the slaw. I disliked the raw red onion flavor -- it was too strong and overpowered the dish. The crab cakes were just the tiniest bit overcooked, but had good flavor and worked well with the sauces on the plate. The caramelization on the cakes added a depth and intensity to the crab.

My compatriot across the table ordered the Low and Slow Lamb Belly:

Low and Slow Lamb Belly
Interestingly, the lamb was incredibly mild and didn't have the gamey flavor that lamb often exudes. The finished protein had been topped with collard greens and Benne seeds (aka sesame seeds). As can be expected from the belly of any animal, it was fatty and unctuous, but not over the top. The lamb was very flavorful and the collard greens on top added a brightness to an otherwise heavy dish.

The third appetizer we ordered was truly a southern staple, Pimento Cheese:

Pimento Cheese
Served with homemade BBQ potato chips, this was the clear winner so far (not that the others had been bad). The chips alone was absolutely fantastic and all of us agreed that they were dangerously addictive. I have to admit that I've never had pimento cheese before, but SOHO's version was nicely balanced between the small cheese curds and lots of tasty cheesy flavor. I was a little apprehensive about how much pimento cheese would safely transfer on the very thin chips, but there were no breakages from plate to mouth.

Our appetizers now finished, we moved on to the entrees. First up was my entree, the Smothered Pork Chops:

Smothered Pork Chops
Served with jalapeno hushpuppies, baby broccoli, and a rich brown gravy, this was a substantial dish. When my server suggested that the kitchen preferred to cook the pork medium, I was in complete agreement. While I will concede that the restaurant was too dark to tell if the interior of the chops were pink, I can tell you that the meat was rather tough and chewy. Not leather-like, but not particularly pleasant either. The hushpuppies were tasty, but a bit overfried and dried out. The gravy, again being tasty, was a bit one-note and a mixture of too thin in spots (which I am guessing came from juices coming out of the pork) and too thick in others. This dish was decent.

My dining compatriot across from me ordered the daily special, the St. Louis-style Ribs:

St. Louis Ribs
Accompanying his full pound of heavily spice-rubbed ribs was a potato salad. While I didn't have a chance to try the potato salad, my friend did share a rib bone with me. The meat was hot, but also a bit dry and the rub was very intense, to the point where it dominated my palate and the pork flavor was a bit lost.

The clear entree winner tonight was the Shrimp and Grits that the person to the right of me ordered:

Shrimp and Grits
Photo used with permission by Edsel Little. Original located here.

Sadly, I didn't take a picture of it at the time, but fortunately, my friend Edsel did. The shrimp were HUGE and cooked very well. The grits were creamy, corny, and seasoned nicely. As you can see from the picture above, the dish came with asparagus and mushrooms and added a nice complementary flavor. All of us agreed that this was the standout dish tonight.

When it came time for dessert, the four of us decided to split one. Here was the dessert menu for the evening:

SOHO Dessert Menu
There weren't a whole lot of choices on the dessert menu, but having just opened recently, I'm willing to concede that SOHO might want to start small and work their way up. We collectively decided to split the Crispy Beignets:

Crispy Beignets
Of course, when I think of beignets, the first thing to come to mind are the light, fluffy, pillow-like treats served at Cafe Du Monde in New Orleans. While tonight's version was similarly covered in powdered sugar, sadly the comparison between the two versions ends there. While still warm, these had been overfried and were a bit dry and lacked the tenderness I was hoping to find. The blackberry jam was a nice choice for a dip, but there were still smalls bits of blackberry seeds that had survived the straining process. This gave the jam a grainy mouthfeel for which I didn't particularly care.

I would like to mention that the service was very good. Our server was knowledgeable, prompt, and did a good job keeping us up to date on our order throughout the meal. One of my tablemates didn't care for the first cocktail she received and our server wasted no time in whisking it away and bringing her something else to replace it. As far as the service goes, SOHO gets a resounding recommendation.

Overall, however, for a meal that was over $40 with tip and tax, I was a tad disappointed. Of the four of us at the table tonight, one doesn't feel the need to ever return and the other three of us (me, included), felt that the food was just average tonight. I've heard wonderful things about the food, and I'm hoping that tonight was just a fluke. That being said, based on the strength of the meal we had tonight, I'm going to marginally give you a recommendation to check it out for yourself. I am looking forward, however, to returning for another meal at some point in the future to see if SOHO has managed to work out the kinks.


Jeremy said...

Ooo, you left your real last name??? No one knows who you are.

Unknown said...

You stated four diners but only three appetizers. What did the fourth order and how was it?

Tino said...

The fourth diner had the sweet potato bisque for her appetizer. However, since I didn't try it, I chose not to comment on it.

Related Posts with Thumbnails