Friday, July 19, 2013

Rosewood Grill: Where Do The Desserts Come From?

I'll be the first to admit that sometimes it takes a little push to get me going. I knew that Turner's Mill had transitioned into Rosewood Grill several years ago. I also knew that they were serving upscale cuisine and that initial wait times for a table were crazy long. So I kept putting it off and off until I finally forgot about it. That is, until two friends and fellow photographers told me that they had gone for a meal to celebrate their anniversary and loved it.

Seizing the opportunity, I stopped out for two meals, after work, both weeknights. Fortunately, weeknights seem to be the time to go in order to assure a table with minimum wait. After being seated, handed the menu, and told about the specials, I only had to deliberate for a short time before the server came back to my table to take my order and deliver the standard Bread Service:

Bread Service

The butter was cold and firm, but the hot, salted bread more than made up for it. The cold nuggets of dairy that I dug out of the ramekin with my knife melted easily into the bread and I was rewarded with a delicious starter to my meal.

Hearing that one of the specials for the night was a Salad Caprese, I knew that a simple salad like this could easily be terrific or terrible. Shortly after the bread arrived at the table, my salad was delivered:

Salad Caprese

I've had many a salad caprese in my days and this one was right up there with the best of them. Really, it is a salad that is only as good as its ingredients. The mozzarella was tender and soft, the tomatoes were perfectly sweet and acidic, the fresh basil added a great herbaceous quality to the dish, and the balsamic vinaigrette tied all of the flavors together to bring home a true taste of summer.

While there were lots of interesting choices on the dinner menu, for some reason the Lobster Ziti was speaking to me tonight:

Lobster Ziti

The ziti was cooked perfectly al dente and the sauce nicely coated the pasta. I would've liked a bit more lobster meat, but generally this was a pleasing and filling dish. The spinach was a nice touch in terms of color, texture, and flavor. The mushrooms and grated cheese added a bit of earthiness and body to the pasta. Overall, a very good dish.

I decided to entertain the notion of dessert and thus took a look at the four item menu. When my server handed me the menu, as I quite often do, I asked her which desserts were made in-house. She declared that only the first two, the creme brulee and the chocolate "moose" were done on premises. Seeing as the creme brulee was straight up vanilla (and by vanilla, I mean both in flavor and excitement level), I ended up choosing the Chocolate "Moose" along with a cup of decaffeinated coffee:

Chocolate "Moose"

The Chocolate "Moose" was a parfait-like concoction of chocolate mousse and crushed oreo cookies with moose antler cookies sticking out of the top. While definitely a tasty dessert, there were a couple of items with which I took issue. First, this seemed like an awfully simple dessert for a restaurant of Rosewood Grill's caliber. It felt like a dessert a non-pastry person would have come up with. Second, and the more important of the two items, was that the mousse itself had been overwhipped slightly and the result was a slightly grainy texture. Sort of like little nuggets of butter had formed throughout the mousse.

For my second visit, I decided to skip the bread service and go with one of the on-menu salads, the Berry and Bibb Salad:

Berry and Bibb Salad

I love the theory of this salad. Combining Bibb lettuce with strawberries, raspberries, and blackberries, crumbled goat cheese, toasted almonds and dressing the whole thing in a citrus vinaigrette sounded delicious in my head. However, the execution was a bit off as most of the Bibb lettuce wasn't coated with any of the vinaigrette. This undressed lettuce had a serious bitterness that the sweetness from the vinaigrette would've gone a long way at alleviating. That being said, were this salad more properly tossed, I think it would've been a hit. I did enjoy that the toasted almonds added a lovely little crunch to each bite.

After hearing about one of the nightly entree specials, I found myself waiting with anticipation. Fortunately, I didn't have to wait long as the Pan-Seared Salmon with Asparagus and Red Lentil Hash arrived shortly after my salad plate was cleared:

Pan-seared Salmon

The preparation of the salmon was executed with immaculate textbook-like precision, seasoned perfectly and pan-seared with a crisp exterior and a melt-in-your-mouth medium rare interior. The skinny asparagus and the accompanying buerre blanc added a further lusciousness to the dish. The red lentil hash was a nice idea on paper, but it felt a bit too overworked in the ingredient department. It definitely didn't need the added pop of color from the spinach. The rather large onions (compared to the small lentils) felt out of place. Perhaps had all of the ingredients been cut to the same size and the resulting mixture been pressed into a ring mold, this might have worked better for me.

Dessert during my second visit to Rosewood took an unexpected turn. After handing me the dessert menu, I asked my server which of the desserts were made in-house, the very same question I asked the other server I had during my first visit. Expecting him to point out just the creme brulee and the chocolate "moose", I was a bit surprised when he claimed that all of the desserts (with the exception of the Mitchell's ice cream) was made in-house. When I told him what my previous server said, he claimed that she was misinformed. In fact, he had personally witnessed one of the items previously considered out-of-house being made on premises.

With that new nugget of knowledge, I decided to continue with my chocolate dessert theme and ordered the Chocoholic:


The menu didn't lie. For $6, I received an enormous portion that could've easily fed two people. Positioned between thick creamy layers of dark chocolate ganache were a brownie with nuts layer and a chocolate cake layer. Additional chocolate sauce was drizzled over the top and the plate was dressed with slightly sweetened whipped cream and macerated cherries.

I had decided to forego the usual cup of unsweetened decaffeinated coffee that I often use to cut the sweetness of desserts. My server had asked me if I wanted a cup of Mitchell's vanilla ice cream to accompany my dessert and I said, "No," thinking that I really didn't need the additional sweetness. That was a mistake on my part because you need something, ANYTHING, to help cut through the incredible chocolate flavor avalanche you are about to embark upon. I actually liked the Chocoholic quite a bit, other than there was just too damn much of it. Fortunately, this wasn't my server's first rodeo and he graciously brought me a complimentary scoop of vanilla ice cream anyway. As odd as it sounds, the vanilla flavor was a welcome relief every now and again to the intense chocolateness of the dessert.

Like my previous visit, the check before tip and tax was roughly $40-$45. Despite the various quibbling over under dressed salads and dessert provenances, I rather enjoyed both of my meals at Rosewood Grill. The service was pleasant and (mostly) well-informed both nights I went and I was able to get a table within about ten minutes of arriving. I would strongly recommend calling for reservations if you are planning a visit on a weekend.

Rosewood Grill is definitely recommended.

Rosewood Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Goldilocks Rebooted

Come, gentle readers, gather 'round. It's story time and I have one that will be right up your alley. Er, or maybe not.

As a result of my multiple trips up to dine at Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen and gather intel for my review on them, I noticed a restaurant called Clearview Inn on the corner of Cleveland-Massillon and Everett Roads. Should you go to the almighty Google to locate them on Google Maps, DO NOT believe the results. Google Maps puts the restaurant about a half a mile further south on Cleveland-Massillon Road than they actually are.

Having driven past the restaurant enough times, it finally piqued my curiosity enough to actually look them up online. Interestingly, while they do have a perfectly fine and functioning website, when it comes time to take a gander at their menus online, while there is a landing page for both the lunch and the dinner menu, links and/or PDF files are suitably missing. Sadly, no amount of digging around the Internet would yield anything other than the fact that the Clearview Inn specializes in steaks, chops, and seafood. I decided to remedy the situation with a visit.

My first visit was on a Thursday night, around 6:30, on a night when there wasn't any entertainment (which according to my server is a big thing at Clearview Inn). When I walked in, I discovered more of a bar-like atmosphere than a restaurant, although there were plenty of empty linen-covered tables. The woman tending the bar told me I could sit wherever I'd like. A glass of water and a menu followed shortly thereafter.

Here was the Dinner Menu:

Dinner Menu

Based on how much the print had faded on my menu, I'm guessing the menu didn't change very often. I also noticed that most of the steaks, chops, and seafood were in the $20-$30 price range, a touch on the pricey side for the Akron area. However, with Ken Stewart's two joints just down the road, the Clearview Inn seemed in-line to compete with them. On the last page was a section called, "On The Lighter Side". Reading the items in this section (Southern Fried Chicken?), it occurred to me that "lighter" must refer to the price points rather than the calorie counts.

While I wasn't quite in the mood for a steak, the scallops sounded like a lovely choice. After placing my order, standard bread service arrived a few minutes later:

Dinner Roll and Butter

The roll was fresh and warm and the butter soft. What can I say? It was a good roll.

In addition to my entree, I decided to start my meal out with a cup of the Shrimp and Corn Chowder:

Shrimp and Corn Chowder

While the soup was hot and had a nice flavor, the two items that I noticed right away were the thinness of the soup (almost a broth) and the lack of actual shrimp in the soup. While I wasn't expecting whole pieces of shrimp to be floating in the soup, by the time I reached the bottom of the bowl the only shrimp I found was a few links of the tail-side end of the shrimp ... sans shrimp! I don't doubt that shrimp and shrimp shells were used to flavor the soup, but it'd be nice to see a bit of the actual shellfish given its use in the description.

My entree came with a rather standard garden salad. I asked for mine with the homemade White French Dressing on the side:

Garden Salad with White French Dressing

Containing an assortment of iceberg lettuce, grape tomatoes, cucumber slices, and red onion, there was nothing particularly special about this salad. The white french dressing added some necessary zip, flavor and seasoning. Sometimes you eat something because it tastes good; sometimes you eat something because it is (or at least you think it is) good for you. This salad falls into the latter category.

My entree, the Seared Sea Scallops with Asparagus, showed up just as I was finished my salad:

Sea Scallops

Let me break down the plate for you a bit, gentle reader. In addition to what appeared to be half a pound of asparagus, there were five scallops of various sizes arranged around the plate. Some were seared nicely to a golden brown and others, a tad more blonde. A sherry butter sauce lined the plate and a dusting of chopped parsley added a bit of color to the whiteness of the backdrop. At a $27 price point for the scallops, I expected quite a bit more in terms of uniformity of scallops, the inclusion of a starch of some kind, and honestly, just better plating. I'm not sure who decided that a half-pound of asparagus was a wise portion size for the average diner, but I would've preferred half the asparagus and the inclusion of some rice pilauf or maybe some mashed or roasted potatoes.

Regardless of the presentation, what really counted was how well the food was prepared and how it tasted. Sadly, like Goldilocks and the Three Bears, because the sizes of the scallops were all over the place, the smaller ones were overcooked and rubbery, the middle one was nearly perfect and the larger ones were undercooked and raw in the middle. The sherry butter sauce was tasty, if a bit on the thin side. I only managed to eat half of the asparagus, although it was tender and had good flavor. Overall, I'd say the dish was average, which is not what I expected for $27.

I decided to return for my second meal on the following Friday, this time for lunch. In addition to the dinner menu, a standard lunch menu was also available:

Lunch Menu

Having already experienced the dinner menu, I decided to focus on items from the lunch menu, starting with a cup of the Mushroom Bisque:

Mushroom Bisque

As opposed to the shrimp and corn chowder I had experienced during my previous visit, the mushroom bisque was thick, hearty, and full of not only great mushroom flavor, but also mushroom pieces themselves. A bowl of this and a nice salad and you'd have yourself a very filling lunch. Fortunately, the cup provided a lovely taste while still leaving room for more food.

For my lunch proper, after scanning the menu quite thoroughly, I opted for the Buffalo and Bird Burger:

Buffalo and Bird Burger

I am a big proponent of ordering straight off the menu when evaluating food for the blog. Sometimes the chef just knows better and I don't want to go mucking around with a recipe that was designed to be a specific way. However, when I saw that the egg was cooked over-medium, I asked instead if they would cook it sunny side up. I mean, isn't the runny yolk part of the appeal of putting a fried egg on a burger? Fortunately, my server said that it wouldn't be a problem.

When my burger finally arrived at the table, I used a steak knife to cut the burger in half to examine the middle. Knowing that buffalo meat could be fairly lean, I had ordered the burger cooked medium. Sadly, while the burger had been cooked closer to well done, at least it wasn't dried out. I also noticed that the burger meat was adulterated with bits of red pepper and onions strewn throughout the patty, presumably to add flavor and help keep the meat juicy. I was eating more of a meatloaf-esque buffalo burger than a straight up 100% ground buffalo patty.

As for the taste, it was a decent enough burger. The seasoning was right and the bun was toasted and substantial. It wasn't the best burger I've ever had, but it was far from being the worst. The menu indicates that the burger comes with lettuce, tomato, and onion, but my plate came devoid of any vegetation for the burger. I chose a side of the homemade potato salad which basically consisted of potatoes, celery, scallions, mayonnaise-based dressing and seasoning. It was potato salad, yes, but it was rather plain, to be honest.

Lunch was obviously far more economical than my previous dinner, coming it at around $15 plus the tip. I realized fairly early on in my experience with the Clearview Inn that this is the kind of dining establishment that would've appealed to my late grandfather. When he went out for dinner, he expected the steak to arrive on one plate with a sprig of parsley and the potato to come on a separate plate. Plate presentation was of little importance to him. That he could have ordered a Black Velvet manhattan and probably gotten one at this establishment says more about a previous generation of restaurant goers.

In the end, I was only moderately impressed with the food. However, the service when I went both times was responsive and pleasant. To be fair, I didn't go during a day when they had entertainment; your mileage may vary if you go then. For value, I'd recommend lunch over dinner and quite frankly, dinner only gets an average passing grade for the quality and execution of the food. If I had $27 to blow on scallops, I can think of several other restaurants who would get that business instead.

Clearview Steak & Chop House on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Serving Up Tasty Double Entendre From A Trük

As a restaurant critic, I try not to get too attached to either people or places. I am not always successful and that can put me in a bind when it comes to my subjective objectivity. I'll find myself either defending an opinion I wrote and published about a restaurant visit or realizing that in order to be fair to my readers, I must say something negative about someone's work whom I hold as a friend.

Enter Jeff Winer. When I first met Jeff, he had just opened up a small deli/cafe in Montrose called The Market Gourmet. Serving soups, salads, and sandwiches, what set Jeff's cuisine apart from nearly every other place in the area wasn't that it was fancy or expensive. The difference that set Jeff's food apart was how wonderfully fresh everything tasted. He roasted his own beef and turkey and you could absolutely taste it in every sandwich. Dressings and sauces were also homemade. Most importantly, Jeff had a great palate and knew how to combine flavors to get the best out of everything. I probably ate there three times a week. And I was in culinary bliss.

And then, with only a week's notice, Jeff gave me the unfortunate news that he and his landlord were at an impasse regarding his lease and that he would be closing down the store. I was devastated. Given the plethora of food options in Montrose and Fairlawn, it seems ironic that I would kvetch over this one tiny shop, but the notion of no longer having access to this kind of freshly prepared food just bummed me out.

Fast forward several years later and Jeff is now back, this time with partner Steve Sabo, to serve food to the public in a somewhat less orthodox vessel, a food truck. Specifically, The Orange Trük. No, gentle reader, that wasn't a misspelling; it actually is 'Truk' with the little dots above the 'u'. When I inquired about the reason for the misspelling, Jeff simply laughed and said, "You won't forget the name, will you?" Fair enough.

As opposed to some of the other food trucks I've written about, The Orange Trük is actually Akron-based as both Steve and Jeff are from the Akron area. As such, they have been pushing hard to help reform Akron's rather ancient law prohibiting anything larger than hot dog carts to sell food on public property. Currently, the truck has to park on property where they have been given permission to do so or drive up to Cleveland (which has more fully embraced the food truck concept).

The first time I saw the truck was in Fairlawn at Merchant's Square:

The Orange Trük

One of the wonderful partnerships that has grown between mobile and brick and mortal businesses is the one between The Orange Trük and Regency Wine Store located on the corner at Merchant's Square. After buying food from the truck, if you take it inside the store and purchase a lovely frosty beverage, they will be more than happy to let you sit down and eat your food. This has also been very helpful for me in my picture taking as I don't have to battle the elements while trying to balance food and beverage on my knees.

While the menu has changed over their first six months of existence, there have been some standouts and consistent dishes which I will share with you now. On the menu for quite some time was the Lobster and Shrimp Macaroni and Cheese:

Lobster and Shrimp Mac and Cheese

This dish just goes to prove that pairing cheese with seafood isn't a terrible idea, but a wonderful one! I've probably had this dish at least three or four times and every time I do, they've refined it even more. A four cheese blend coats lovely pieces of sweet seafood and was generously coated with toasted breadcrumbs. A splash of color from chopped parsley and, Et Voila!, you get the dish pictured above. Sadly, pastas have been dropped from the menu during the summer months as most people find the dish to be too heavy.

Another pasta that came and went, but is worth mentioning was the Penne with Three Meat Ragu:

Penne with Three Meat Ragu

This was another home run for The Orange Trük. The penne was cooked perfectly (i.e., not mushy), the pasta was drained properly and tossed with just enough of the pork, veal, and beef ragu to coat the pasta without drowning it. The shaved cheese on top offered a nice sharp, salty contrast to the creaminess of the sauce.

About the same time the guys pulled pastas from the menu, they started adding tacos. Specifically soft flour tacos filled with various tasty ingredients. On one visit, I decided on a pair of Mahi Mahi fish tacos with cilantro, queso fresco, Trük sauce, and a bit of homemade cole slaw:

Mahi Mahi Fish Tacos

Adorned with a squeeze of fresh lime, it felt like I was sitting on a beach in California enjoying the bright, crisp flavors of the sea. Before moving on, I should explain that once Jeff and Steve latched onto the word "Trük", they began using it any place they could. Thus, "Trük Sauce" was a red pepper and mayonnaise-based sauce that was fairly mild. They also have a "Bistro Sauce" which is a touch spicier, "HMT - Holy Mother Trükker" which has a nice kick and slow burn to it and if you are really in the mood for something spicy, get the "WTF - What The Fuck" which has some of the hottest chile peppers in the world in it. HMT is about as hot as I go.

On a separate visit, I went for another kind of taco, the Tequila Lime Chicken Taco:

Tequila Lime Chicken Taco

Topped with a mango pico de gallo and a homemade cole slaw, the pulled chicken was moist and juicy and the sweetness of the pico contrasted so nicely with the savoriness of the chicken. If you are worried about the tequila element of the dish, don't be. It was very subtle and greatly overpowered by the other elements in this delicious dish.

In addition to tacos being popular current menu items, sandwiches typically comprise the other fifty percent of the menu. Whereas Steve brings a lot of the Italian influence from his background, Jeff brings much of his sandwich-making skills when it comes to the building of a successful sandwich. Sadly, too many sandwich shops just don't understand that the basis of a great sandwich starts with great bread. Sourced from multiple bakeries, the one thing I have complimented The Orange Trük on again and again is their bread. The buns were always fresh, sturdy, chewy, and could stand up to very wet ingredients without sogging out and falling apart. Case in point? The Pulled Pork Sandwich with Homemade Cole Slaw:

Pulled Pork Sandwich

Topped with their homemade (are you starting to see a theme here?) BBQ sauce, this monster of a sandwich required at least three napkins and a fourth just to wipe off after hosing down. A single bite gave me creamy, crunchy, sweet, smoky, savory, and sour. Make sure to grab a fork when picking up your food ... you'll need it to eat all the filling that falls out while consuming the rest of the sandwich. Pictured above and below are the Trük Pickles. These were quick-curing cucumber pickles that Jeff and Steve invented early on that add a really wonderful brightness to heavy meat dishes. I usually chose to eat my pickle chip on the side as the sandwiches were already hard enough to get my big mouth around.

Another popular sandwich was the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich:

Buttermilk Fried Chicken Sandwich

This sandwich was topped with HMT Sauce, homemade cole slaw, and another one of the fabulous Truk pickles. It was one of the better fried chicken sandwiches I've had in a long time. The chicken was pleasantly juicy and flavorful, the fried coating wasn't greasy and didn't flake off, and the acidity from the cole slaw helped to balance out the fattiness of the chicken. More often than not, every time I have one of The Orange Trük's newest concoctions, I am always pleasantly surprised at how many of my gastronomic pleasure points all seem to be pushed at the same time.

Another chicken variation that has proven to be popular both with diners was the Chicken Piquante Sandwich:

Chicken Piquante Sandwich

Instead of being a fried chicken sandwich, the chicken was instead freshly ground, seasoned, formed into a patty and then cooked like a hamburger on the flat top. While it is topped similarly to the fried chicken sandwich in the last picture, because of the way it is seasoned and cooked, it had a wholly different, but still delicious flavor to it.

Burgers have similarly gone through various phases. Always made with ground Angus beef, the burgers started out their life as a nod to the Jucy Lucy/Juicy Lucey popular in the Minneapolis and St. Paul region of the country, with the cheddar cheese stuffed inside the patty. Over time, the cheese migrated from the inside to the outside until you got the following, the Big Trükken Burger:

Big Trükken Burger

I have to admit, I almost preferred the Jucy Lucy-style burger because they had to be cooked medium-rare to medium to keep them moist. Some of the post-Jucy Lucy burgers have been cooked a bit more on the medium-well side and although juicy, just feel more done than I would like. It should be stated that burgers are neither ordered nor cooked to a requested temperature. They come out as is. Regardless of where the cheese is located, good luck wrapping your mouth around this burger because it is big!

The last sandwich I would like to mention is the Scandanavian Shrimp Salad Sandwich:

Scandinavian Shrimp Salad Sandwich

Knowing that neither Steve nor Jeff had a Scandinavian background, I asked about the origin of the shrimp salad. Apparently, it was something that Steve's wife brought to the table ... well, at least her side of the family. Freshly cooked shrimp were lightly tossed in a mayonnaise-based dressing with fresh dill and celery and served with fresh greens on a toasted roll. Other than having carnage fall out of the bun with every bite, this was an unusual and satisfying sandwich on a hot day. This would be another example where having a fork to clean up the aftermath was a good thing.

So, at this point in the review, I have demonstrated that not only did Steve and Jeff purposely misspell the word "truck", but they decided to use that word in many of the menu items. Apparently, that wasn't enough. They've decided that they are Beavis and Butthead, too. Complete with all the "huh huh ... huh huh ..." and the use of body part names.

On the menu since the very beginning were the Arancini (as they were originally called) and at some point renamed to "Trük Balls":

Trük Balls / Arancini

Generally speaking, arancini are fried risotto balls. Usually they are made from risotto that has been cooled, formed into a ball, floured and then deep fried until golden brown. This makes them crunchy on the outside and soft and creamy on the inside. Topped with Trük Sauce, The Orange Trük's version were quite delicious. Originally, Steve was going to rotate the ingredients in the risotto so that they'd be different every time. Eventually they settled on the multi-cheese blend that currently inhabit these fried balls of gooeyness.

Another of the fried sides that was on the menu for quite a while were the Onion Petals (aka "Trük Petals"):

Trük Petals / Onion Petals

Anyone who has ever had a Bloomin' Onion from Outback Steakhouse should be familiar with the concept. These weren't bad, but I prefer a proper fried onion ring. You can top them with any of the Trük sauces or ketchup that was available on a small table next to the order/pick-up window of the truck. During this visit, mine was topped with HMT sauce.

The last side dish to discuss were the French Fries:

French Fries

The fries have gone from the skinny cut you see above to a more naturally cut fry that was meatier and less crispy. They've always been seasoned well and never greasy. Of course, you can leave your fries as is or top with one of several truck-made sauces or truck-provided condiments.

Moving on to the sweeter side of things, we start out with another item that has been on the menu from the beginning, in one form or another, the Bomboloni or as the boys have named them, "Trük Nuts."

Bomboloni / Trük Nuts

I was unfamiliar with the word "bomboloni" and more familiar with "zeppole" to describe these small Italian donuts. I've looked up recipes for each and while there are similarities and differences, the terms apparently can be used somewhat interchangeably. What started out as basically fried dough tossed in cinnamon sugar has morphed over time into the rainbow jimmy, nut, and chocolate sauce-laden concoction pictured above. While I think the original version featured at The Orange Trük was probably a tad more authentic to the Italian tradition, I do have to admit that I do love me a sauce-covered Trük Nut now and again. Be careful as they are addictive.

While Trük Nuts have been on the menu for some time, an attempt to add more balls, this time sweet rather than savory, was made with the addition of the Sweet Apple Pie Balls:

Sweet Apple Pie Balls

Essentially risotto made with apple pie filling and cinnamon, these were sweet without being overly so and a pretty tasty way to end a meal. I will warn you that because they are essentially two large rice balls, they are REALLY filling.

A second variation on the sweet ball concept was the Sweet Blue Balls (yes, yes, gentle reader, I'm shaking my head back in forth in my hand as I type the very phrase):

Sweet Blue Balls

Instead of apple pie filling in the risotto, this time around it was blueberries. Topped with blue crystal sugar and a white chocolate sauce, this wasn't quite the success that the Sweet Apple Pie Balls were. They were a bit too sweet and to be honest, a bit too "blue". Like, food coloring blue. I have no worries, however. I know that Steve and Jeff are always thinking of new ways to flavor their balls.

So what, pray tell, were the downsides to the food truck? Well, the biggest one was finding a place where you can sit and enjoy your meal. Fortunately, many of the places where The Orange Trük sold food also had picnic tables nearby. As I mentioned earlier, if you caught them while they were at Merchant's Square, for the price of a frosty beverage, Regency Wine Store would allow you to either eat inside or on their patio. The other downside to a food truck was that when they were slammed with orders, it took a bit of time for your food to be ready. The lack of space inside the truck limited how many people could work the line at any given time. In general, expect to spend about $10-$15 to get a full meal: sandwich, side, and a drink. It wasn't as inexpensive as fast food, but it was FAR more tasty.

Many people still might have an antiquated view of what a modern food truck represents. I highly recommend you set those reservations aside, check The Orange Trük's menu and location on their Facebook or Twitter page, and discover some of the best and creative eats in Akron.

[Ed. note: If you are in the Norton area on Friday, July 5, 2013 from 4 pm until 8 pm, The Orange Trük along with six other food trucks will be gathered together at 4070 Columbia Woods. This is the second time the food trucks have participated in an Akron-based round up and promises to be a fun time with food for everyone's taste.]

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Dining On The Mezzanine

[Full disclosure: In 2007, I apprenticed (and got paid) at Mustard Seed Market in Solon in the baking department for two months. I also gave away several gift cards provided by Mustard Seed Market in my blog post about the grocery part of the Montrose store back in May 2012.]

I find it both odd and interesting that having lived and worked in and around Akron for much of my life that I really haven't spent all that much time trying out the cafe portion of Mustard Seed Market. With their recent acquisition (and subsequent departure) of one Mr. Lanny Chin, I decided that perhaps now was as good a time as any to investigate further. As when any new chef starts, he or she invariably takes control of his predecessor's menu and has to execute it until it can be replaced with something new. This was the role that Lanny played.

Fortunately for me, Mustard Seed Market prominently features not only their cafe and its mission but also the menu online for all to see. Given the variety of healthy choices (gluten-free, vegetarian, vegan, etc.), it was also nice to see that they offered something as hearty as a burger (grass-fed beef, bison, or veggie). Before each of my visits, I was able to study the menu in such a way that would allow me to try maximum tastes for minimum cash outlay.

First on the discussion block are soups. The Tomato Bisque was a member of the regular menu:

Tomato Bisque

Although I thought that the soup was a bit chunky to be called a bisque, the flavor of the tomatoes was pretty profound. The acidity of the tomato matched well with the cashew cream used to give the soup its body. While perfectly tasty on its own, don't make the mistake that I did and pair the soup with something equally acidic, like the whole wheat gemelli with marinara sauce.

While the other soup always on the menu is the Miso Soup, always be sure to check the daily specials. On a different visit, the Chicken Florentine Soup struck my fancy:

Chicken Florentine Soup

Rich and velvety, this was a hearty soup that satisfied. There was ample chicken and spinach in the liquid and the soup itself was the perfect consistency. The only real complaint I had about the soup was that since the chicken had been shredded, I pulled many a spoonful of soup out of the bowl where chicken was hanging over the edge of the spoon, mercilessly taunting the shirt I was wearing. Needless to say, the perilous trip from cup to mouth was fraught with danger.

While the soups were delicious and relatively worry free, both of my salads had me perk up and say, "Hmmm." One of the niceties of the cafe's current menu was that many of the salads were available in both half and full portion sizes. All the salads pictured here were of the half-portion size variety. First was the Avocado Salad:

Avocado Salad

The avocado was rich and buttery and the acidity of the dressing on the greens balanced the richness of the fruit. The bisected cherry tomatoes were a nice touch, but sadly, my salad came from the kitchen missing the fresh raspberries the menu promised. Unfortunately, I didn't realize that until after I had eaten most of the salad, so there was no sending it back to the kitchen. Regardless, it was still a tasty salad sans raspberries.

The more dubious of my salad experiences was when I ordered the Spring Panzanella Salad during a different visit:

Spring Panzanella Salad

With fresh peas, asparagus, and more bisected cherry tomatoes, this was a perfectly serviceable salad. Except no one bothered to tell the chef who made the previous menu that what he actually created was a garden salad with croutons, not a panzanella salad. Traditionally, a panzanella salad is made by taking day old cubed bread and tossing it with cut up tomatoes. As the mixture is tossed, the juice from the tomatoes softens the bread. Other ingredients can be added, of course, but clearly what I had been served was not panzanella.

Here was the conversation that ensued when I released the picture on Twitter with a comment:

Tom Noe @tnoe27 21 May
Listed on the menu as a Spring Panzanella Salad at @MustardSeedMrkt, Bzzzt, wrong! It WAS a tasty salad w/ croutons.

Mustard Seed Market ‏@MustardSeedMrkt 24 May
@tnoe27 We apologize for mixing it up and giving you the wrong salad. Mistakes do happen but not often in our Cafe. We hope to see you soon.

Tom Noe ‏@tnoe27 24 May
@MustardSeedMrkt So, based on the picture I posted, I am curious as to what salad you sent me instead of the Spring Panzanella Salad?

Mustard Seed Market ‏@MustardSeedMrkt 24 May
@tnoe27 Looks like a garden salad with croutons but let me check and get back to you. -Gabe

Mustard Seed Market ‏@MustardSeedMrkt 24 May
@tnoe27 It is our Panzanella salad but not a traditional Panzanella salad. I hope you enjoyed it and come back to see us again soon.

So, the basic point I am trying to make is that if you expecting a more traditional panzanella salad, I'd avoid the one at Mustard Seed Market. If you are looking for a tasty garden salads with croutons, this one's a keeper.

Now that we've covered soups and salads, we move forward to sandwiches and entrees. On my initial visit to the cafe, I decided to go with a plate of Whole Wheat Gemelli and Turkey Meatballs:

Whole Wheat Gemelli

The picture doesn't really do the platter of pasta justice. At only $8 on the menu, I EASILY received enough food for two meals (or two people). Honestly, they could've given me half the pasta, kept the two meatballs and only charged $6 for it. I had no problem with the texture of the cooked pasta, but as you can see in the lower bottom right corner of the plate, the kitchen hadn't drained the pasta completely before saucing it. The meatballs were tasty, but a touch on the dry side. Overall, this dish scored an average rating.

At Lanny's suggestion, I gave the Bison Burger a try on my second visit:

Bison Burger

The cafe has sort of a "build your own" burger philosophy. You pick the protein, the cheese (or soy-based alternative), the toppings, and the side and the kitchen will send you out exactly what you ordered. In this case, I went with grilled onions and a side of the house made cole slaw. I knew that bison was a lean meat, so I ordered my burger medium rare. And that was exactly how it came out of the kitchen. The burger was marvelous: juicy, seasoned properly, and cooked perfectly. While the house made whole wheat bun held up well against all the juices coming out of the patty, it was also just a touch stale. The cole slaw was a creamy salad, unusual in that it had large planks of colored bell peppers in it.

The first time I ordered chicken was as the Pan-Seared Chicken Breast:

Pan-seared Chicken Breast

Fanned over a savory fennel and tomato farro and adorned with a herb pistou, everything on this plate tasted fantastic. The chicken, sadly, was a touch overcooked and dry. The pistou helped in that regard, but too much pistou and it tasted like I was eating an herb garden. The whole cherry tomatoes were hot and when I bit into one, the hot cherry juice exploded into my mouth.

My second experience with chicken fixed one problem, but introduced others. Here was the cafe's take on Pasta Carbonara:

Bucatini Pasta Carbonara with Chicken

This time around, the chicken was seasoned and cooked beautifully. The chicken was actually an add-on to the base dish of bucatini pasta carbonara (which was vegan). Many of the dishes offered at Mustard Seed Market operated in this fashion. Start with a base and add whatever "topping" you'd like, for an additional fee. The problem with this dish, and I think it is pretty clear in the picture above, was that the pasta carbonara portion of the dish was just too much: too many ingredients and too much sauce. A traditional carbonara is made with pancetta, which is smoked. I wondered how that particular flavor profile would be recreated. It turned out that the mushrooms were lightly smoked and really infused a remarkably similar flavor to this vegan dish. While in the end this was a tasty dish, it just tried to be too many things to too many people.

Of all the entrees I tried during my visits to the Mustard Seed Market cafe, none were so perfect as the Black Pearl Grilled Salmon:

Black Pearl Grilled Salmon

Served exactly medium rare over a grapefruit quinoa salad that had been drizzled with a balsamic gastrique, this was heaven on a plate. The fish was eminently juicy and perfectly seasoned, the quinoa had amazing depth and was slightly chewy while still being cooked and the grapefruit supremes embedded in the quinoa matched the sweetness from the gastrique very well. Honestly, the grilled baby bok choy was cute and added a contrasting color, but was wholly unnecessary.

The final sandwich I tried during my visits was the good old Turkey Reuben:

Turkey Reuben Sandwich

Served with Kettle potato chips, a pickle spear, and a side of "1000 Island" dressing, this was a decent interpretation of the real thing. Actually, on the sandwich itself, the rye bread could've been a bit more toasted and the sauerkraut could've been a bit more tangy, but the quality of the turkey was quite lovely and the sandwich more or less worked. What didn't work so well was the vegan 1000 Island dressing. It was a bit on the thin side and just didn't pair as well with the sandwich as the real deal. The potato chips were salty and crunchy and tasted like, well, potato chips.

Lest you think the cafe doesn't have anything for your sweet tooth, I took a taste of two of their desserts. On my first visit, I tried the Warm Chocolate Chip Sundae:

Warm Chocolate Chip Sundae

The dish consisted of a scoop of vanilla ice cream that had two warm chocolate chip cookies pressed up against it, topped with whipped cream, sliced strawberries strewn among the plate and drizzled heavily with chocolate sauce. I'm not going to lie; this was good. But it was good in the way you'd expect a quality vanilla ice cream to taste. And homemade chocolate chip cookies to taste. In other words, the individual components were tasty, but put together, it wasn't really breaking any culinary ground.

The Knock Out Cake, however,

Knock Out Cake

elicited several moans of culinary ecstasy. With the cake layers and the mousse layers and the fresh raspberries and the generous chocolate ganache coating, it was all I could do to restrain myself from licking the plate clean. My server didn't indicate whether or not this cake was vegan. If it was, my hat is off to the baker who came up with this recipe. Even if this was a traditional cake, my hat still goes off. If you are in the mood for something sweet at the end of your meal, this is definitely the route to go.

I should also say a little bit about service. During all of my visits except one, service was prompt and efficient. The kitchen definitely wasn't cranking out dishes quickly, so I wouldn't advise the cafe for lunch if you have less than forty-five minutes available. The one service issue was the day when I ordered the Chicken Florentine Soup and the Black Pearl Grilled Salmon. After what seemed to be an enormously long time to get my soup, thirty seconds or so after receiving my soup, my server returned to my table to deliver the salmon. As he was setting the plate on the table, I was finishing my first spoonful of soup. He helpfully offered to put the salmon under a warming lamp, but realizing that would kill the dish, I moved the soup aside (I had tasted it after all) and accepted the salmon. I'm glad I did.

Overall, I think the cafe did a pretty good job. While there were a few nitpicks with the food here and there, (just like most restaurants), there were dishes that could've been improved upon (or simply renamed) and others that were utterly perfect just as they came out of the kitchen. While Lanny Chin has moved on, I'll be curious to see which executive chef they bring in next and the changes (or not) that get implemented. I recommend that you give Mustard Seed Market Cafe a chance the next time you are in Montrose and looking for a restaurant that can serve up food to folks with dietary restrictions and for folks who are just looking for something tasty.

Mustard Seed Market and Cafe on Urbanspoon

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Around The World And Back Again

The first time I met Brian Okin was at the very first Dinner In The Dark several years ago. It was actually hosted at his restaurant, Verve, in downtown Cleveland. I had never been to Verve before, but was impressed by the space as well as the dinner. Sadly, that first charity dinner was the swan's song for Verve and within a month or so, the restaurant had shuttered its doors.

Since then, Brian has gone on to work at both Fountain and then Luxe Kitchen, both of which benefited from his wonderful palate and attention to detail, but sadly, were owned and run by other people and in the end, things just didn't work out.

So when I heard that Brian would be partnering with Adam Bostwick (co-chef of the old Melange restaurant in La Place at Beachwood Mall) at a new restaurant in Broadview Heights called Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen, I was definitely intrigued. In an ironic twist, the location for the new restaurant was in the exact same space that he left, Benvenuti, several years before to start Verve. Apparently, when it was Benvenuti, there were only about thirty-five seats in the small restaurant. After Brian left, the new owners of Benvenuti bought the space next to the restaurant, opened up a wall between the two and essentially doubled the capacity.

Cork & Cleaver resides in a small plaza on the west side of Broadview Road, just south of Wallings. Once inside the main door, you are greeted by the hostess stand with tables to your right and a walkthrough to the bar area on your left. My first (of many visits) to Cork & Cleaver was for opening night and I was so impressed that I went back the next night, too. Truth be told, I've pretty much eaten my way through the entire menu by now.


Every meal starts out with a basket of bread and compound butter:

Bread Service

The pumpernickel bread has always been fresh and the compound butter is a combination of butter, garlic, spinach, and Parmesan cheese. Served soft, this complemented the bread well.

Now that the bread service is out of the way, let's focus our attention on starters and salads. First up is the Caesar Salad:

Caesar Salad

I never had the pleasure of dining on Chef Bostwick's food at Melange, but I am told that he has a playful side when it comes to interpreting the classics. The romaine hearts had been replaced with Mizuna and in place of the standard bread croutons were breaded and fried chicken "croutons." While the dish was clearly a bit unusual, it delivered in the flavor department. The dark meat chicken croutons reminded me of the chicken nuggets from my childhood and the creamy caesar dressing was enough to coat the greens without overpowering them.

If you are looking for a more refreshing, crisp salad, try the C&C Salad instead:

C & C Salad

Combining Bibb lettuce, house-pickled rhubarb, shaved fennel, and a raisin vinaigrette, this salad danced on my tongue with its balance of sweetness and acidity. I was expecting extreme sourness from the rhubarb, but the pickling process completely mellowed it out. The fennel added a nice, anise undercurrent to the dish.

Moving on to the appetizer portion of the menu, the Fried Tomatillos with Spicy Aioli did not disappoint:

Fried Tomatillos

As with anything spicy, balance is the key. The aioli added a definite zip to the experience without overpowering the delicate sour flavor of the tomatillo. Additionally, the tomatillos weren't fried to the point where they became mushy, and retained that wonderful meatiness.

Continuing on the successful frying theme, we move on to the Fried Chicken and Waffles:

Chicken and Waffles

There are many people out there who just don't understand how combining these seemingly incongruous foods would be desirable. They balk at the notion of combining breakfast with dinner. Cork & Cleaver's version, a thyme-scented waffle topped with expertly-fried and juicy chicken drizzled in warm syrup, was a real winner. My own preference would've been to splash a bit of Frank's Red Hot Sauce on top, but my mouth was happy enough.

Our final trip in the appetizer section of the menu would not be complete without talking about The Board:

The Board

The Board is a cardiologist's worst nightmare, a trio of artery clogging delights. Combining roasted bone marrow, long-braised pork belly, and quick-seared foie gras, this is a dish to be shared. Fortunately, there were five of us at the table when this was ordered, so I managed to only snag a bite of each item on the board. But, oh my, what a bite! Each of the fatty meats was delicious in its own way and each had an accompaniment designed to help cut through the fattiness. I've been told that people order The Board for themselves, but that seems a bit decadent for one.

Having walked our way through five of the appetizers and salads at Cork & Cleaver, it is now time to move on to the main event.

First on the entree docket is the Walleye with Himalayan Red Rice:


The twin fillets of walleye were seasoned and seared perfectly. One of my pet peeves is overcooked fish; fortunately, moist and juicy was the way it came out of the kitchen. Walleye can have a slightly fishy flavor and while this walleye did, it didn't detract from the flavor of the overall dish. The red rice was cooked, yet still toothsome, and the mushroom vinaigrette added a rich earthy flavor I enjoyed very much.

Flat Iron

You haven't heard me say much that has been negatively critical of the food so far in all of my visits. That's because for the most part, the food has been very well-seasoned, perfectly cooked, and plated with precision. Sadly, the Flat Iron steak, of all the dishes I've tried at Cork & Cleaver, didn't live up to the other dishes. The potato and mushroom hash the steak rested on was delicious. And the steak itself was also delicious (although a bit on the rarer side of the medium-rare I ordered it).

The problem was two fold. First, while I LOVE goat cheese, the large scoop of chevre sitting on the plate next to the steak felt out of place. While a lovely example of this tart fromage, it didn't integrate well into the overall dish. The other problem was the ramp pesto underneath the fanned steak slices. While an interesting idea to bring a herbaceousness to the dish, the incredibly strong garlic flavor from the ramps more or less killed the flavor of anything else paired with it.

On the opposite end of the spectrum from the Flat Iron steak were the Seared Scallops:


This quartet of bivalves was seasoned beautifully and seared until the outside was a lovely shade of brown leaving the inside still translucent and tender. The scallops alone were enough to knock this one out of the ballpark. What really surprised me, however, was the braised fennel that adorned the dish. Braised first in chicken stock until tender and then quickly pan-seared in butter for service, I don't know that I've loved a vegetable as much as this one. Combined with the white bean salad and haricot vert, this was a substantial amount of food.

Of course, being both a fried chicken fanatic and macaroni and cheese lover, this next dish, Fried Chicken with Macaroni and Cheese, lit up all the gastronomic lights in my brain:

Fried Chicken

Let's talk about the macaroni and cheese first. To date, my favorite macaroni and cheese has been Kim White's from Flury's Cafe. Finished to order, the stuff is perfectly cooked, creamy, cheese, and wonderfully dreamy. Kim now has some serious competition from Cork & Cleaver. The pasta was cooked but still had texture. The cheese sauce was creamy without being too thin or too thick. And most importantly, the cheesiness was right on the money.

The fried chicken was equally delicious. The two "must haves" for fried chicken are a crispy coating on the outside and juicy, tender meat on the inside. Cork & Cleaver scored a 100% on both accounts. It's probably a good thing I don't live closer to the restaurant; I'd be driving up there three nights a week for this dish alone.

The final entree I'd like to talk about is the Gnocchi:


I'm incredibly picky about gnocchi. Made the right way, they are ethereal little clouds of potato-based pasta. In fact, when I first moved to Akron and couldn't find any good examples of gnocchi, I decided to teach myself how to make it. Cork & Cleaver's gnocchi not only met my standard, it exceeded it. The gnocchi in this case were nestled among other delicious ingredients as well: braised lamb, tzatziki, and a cucumber slaw. When eaten together, it almost felt like I was eating a deconstructed gyro.

A meal would not be complete without sampling one of the restaurant's few desserts. On my first visit to the restaurant, one of the desserts sent out to our table (compliments of the kitchen) was this Pear Tart:

Pear Tart

Combined with fresh caramel corn and a scoop of real vanilla ice cream, this was a dessert that was well-balanced in the sweetness department. With five of us at the table, I only managed to snag a bite of this one, but it was well worth the effort.

Of all the desserts on the menu, the Root Beer and Malt was clearly the most unusual:

Root Beer and Malt

The root beer refers to the enormous meringue sitting on top of two scoops of chocolate malted ice cream. Chocolate-dipped and crushed pretzels adorn both the plate and the meringue. Having never thought about pairing root beer and chocolate malted together, I fearlessly dug in, cracking the meringue into more manageable sized pieces. It was, in a word, delicious. The meringue really did taste like root beer. And while the malt was somewhat subtle, everything worked beautifully on my tongue.

Another complimentary dessert that was sent out during my initial visit to the restaurant was the Country Fried Brownie:

Country Fried Brownie

This, to me, is akin to deep-frying candy bars and Oreo cookies. It occurred to me that this technique seemed a bit too decadent and ostentatious, but again, one bite and you'll be in chocolate heaven. The brownie came atop a rich caramel "Red Eye Gravy". The sour cherries served as a lovely counterpoint to all of the richness in the brownie and the sweetness of the sauce.

Of the four desserts currently being offered at Cork & Cleaver, my favorite is the Lemon and Coconut:

Lemon and Coconut

This dish is comprised of a coconut milk panna cotta topped with lemon curd, toasted homemade marshmallow, and crumbled shortbread cookies. Of course, these three components have been disassembled on the plate, allowing you, the diner, to assemble them at your pleasure. While the shortbread cookies are a bit rich, this dessert comes off as neither too sweet or too tart. The coconut panna cotta is soft and silky and the bite from the lemon curd helps to tie all of the ingredients together.

Exhausted yet, gentle reader? That or really hungry, I'm sure.

The bottom line is that over a half-dozen visits, Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen scores nearly perfectly in my book. With the exception of one dish, everything else has been spot on. The service has consistently been good. And honestly, the prices on the menu are entirely reasonable for the quality and quantity of food you are getting. Chefs/Co-owners Brian and Adam have put a lot of work into the entire dining experience and it really shows. I wish them much luck in their new (or old?) space and I plan on returning again very soon. I highly suggest that you do the same.

Cork & Cleaver Social Kitchen on Urbanspoon
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