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Restaurant Review: Fire Food and Drink in Shaker Heights, Ohio

Let me start off this review by saying that we have eaten great meals at Fire many times in the past and therefore have an expectation of very good food when we dine there. That being said, for some reason we have only been there once in the past year. I blame our toddler, sorry buddy.  That’s one of the side effects of having young children: driving anywhere to dinner that is more than a half hour away is just dangerous. In that time, babysitters could melt down and rivers of tears could wash through our living room. Fortunately that never happened, but it was always in the back of our minds. My wife and I have both agreed that it is time to put some of our old favorites back into the rotation. Fire was near the top of the list of places to revisit.

On one particularly gray and drab Cleveland afternoon, a friend of mine suggested that we head down to Fire for lunch after we finished a meeting. Perfect coincidence that he would mention this restaurant. I said that it sounded great, particularly because it was Friday and that meant getting a free dessert with our lunch (Friday’s and Saturday’s- free dessert with any entree ordered). He smiled at that and the plan was set. Who doesn’t want a free dessert?

Fire Food and Drink is a unique restaurant, to say the least. You can simply feel the energy in the air when you walk into the establishment. The bar is fun and friendly, stashed off to the right of the entrance consistently filled with people engaged in conversation and libations.  The main dining room has an open, welcoming feeling to it. There are areas of exposed brick through the plaster and huge mirrors hang on the walls, which tends to make the space feel bigger and gives ample people watching opportunity. The artwork is fun and fresh with macro shots of produce such as mushrooms and wild ramps. Anchoring the rear of the restaurant is the open kitchen where the chefs are busy cooking up delicious dishes.

As we entered the restaurant, we were greeted by the hostess and directed to our table. Along the way, we passed four servers and each one of them said hello to us. Strange that this would stand out to me, but it did. It was really nice. We were seated at a table very close to the kitchen which gave us a great opportunity to check out what was happening in there. The tables around us were almost all full with people immersed in conversation and smiling. Always a good start to a meal to see a packed house full of happy patrons.

We looked over the menu and there is a tremendous amount of diversity. With unique salads like the Crispy Duck, Mushroom and Arugula Salad with a braised leek vinaigrette to the Mushroom Flatbread with gruyere and caramelized onions. Yum. There is a shrimp fried rice (this looked delicious coming out of the kitchen) and one that I am going to have to order in the future: gnocchi with hanger steak, mushrooms and spinach ragout. Sounds incredible. I was torn between all of these and, of course, my Achilles heel, the burger. The burger is a local grass-fed beef burger (from Miller farms) with cheddar, tomato relish, mustard aioli and garlic herb fries. There is an option for a local fried egg as well. The price was steep at $17 for the burger and fries and another $3 for the egg. It’s been a while since I have spent $20 or more on a burger- the last time was in New York City at the 21 Club for lunch. That was a really good burger, so I figured that I would give this one a shot with all the fixings.

The Fire Burger- grass fed beef, cheddar, mustard aoili and a fried egg. Outstanding! Photo by Jamie Ginsberg

I’ve been fairly disappointed with the burgers around Cleveland. So many places lay a claim to fame with excellent burgers that are simply mediocre. The first thing that I will say about the Fire burger is that there is nothing mediocre about it. The burger arrived piping hot, offering an incredible aroma that was full of promise. The plate was chock full of the housemade garlic-herb fries that were just crying out to be eaten. My friend at lunch answered the cry and responded with an immediate smile. The fries are really terrific- crispy on the outside, soft in the middle with just enough seasoning as to not overpower the palate but make you want more. These are some good fries. The burger was really large and the juices were flowing. We snapped a couple pictures and I cut into the beast. The center was a perfect medium, with a rosy pinkness that begs to be devoured. No gray burger here! I’m not quite sure what Chef Doug Katz has done to make such a good burger, but there really are no words to describe how good it is. Let me say this alone- I would pay $20 for this burger anytime. I was actually a little sad to eat the last bite, knowing there would be no more after it. What a terrific burger. Needless to say, no fries were left on the plate either.

Perfectly cooked medium burger. Just looking at this makes me want another one. Photo by Scott Groth

My friend ordered the On the Rise Hoagie with Shaved Proscuitto and Melted Burrata Cheese ($11). Well, he’s a vegetarian and didn’t want to order the Tawny’s Vegan Vegetable Plate so he asked our server if they would substitute the proscuitto on the hoagie with some mushrooms or something. She said she didn’t think that would be an issue and headed to the kitchen with the order. Sure enough, his hoagie arrived with some balsamic reduced mushrooms in the place of the proscuitto. Now, you’d think after such a glowing review of the burger that there would be no place left to go for a hoagie. Well, this was probably the best vegetarian sandwich I have ever tasted (and I’ve had quite a few). The burrata cheese with the mushrooms and tomato relish harmonized together. I think that it may have been a happy accident that this sandwich came together so well. My friend was thrilled with the hoagie and the wonderful housemade potato chips that it came with. I have to admit that warm, nicely salted chips are a really nice touch with any sandwich.

The Hoagie. Fresh and tasty. Those housemade warm chips are incredible. Photo by Jamie Ginsberg

We ordered dessert and while we were waiting Chef Ian came out from the kitchen, introduced himself and chatted with us for a few minutes. We had noticed that Chef Doug was not in the kitchen and were happy to speak with Chef Ian. My friend thanked him for substituting the mushrooms and told him what a wonderful sandwich it was. I told him that the burger was cooked perfectly and the flavors were a knockout. You could tell that he is proud of the food that comes off the line while he is in the kitchen. It was good to speak with him and another nice customer service point that he made it out of the kitchen to speak with many of the tables.

Dessert came next. We both ordered the chocolate bread pudding that has white chocolate chunks, bittersweet chocolate sauce and housemade coffee ice cream. The ice cream is very tasty and I thought that the bread pudding was pretty good. When I ordered it, I asked for it to be really warm because I had heard from a couple other people in Cleveland that theirs were just lukewarm (sigh). Mine showed up lukewarm as well, which doesn’t do this dessert justice. The outside has a nice crust and just inside that crust there is a nice gooey layer. In the middle, it just feels dense because it isn’t hot enough. The flavors are spot on and I was glad that I ordered it anyhow.

Bread pudding with a coffee ice cream top hat. Photo by Jamie Ginsberg

Fire is a place that has had a lot of thought put into it. From the staff to the menu and all the way to the decor, each area works in concert with the other. The food is delicious, the service is spot on and the atmosphere is warm and inviting. This is the recipe for restaurant success and it shows. If you choose to dine here for lunch (only open for lunch on Friday and Saturday) and love a good burger, this is one to try for sure. The hoagie was delicious, too, and make sure that you get the fries. Really tasty. From what I saw, all the other diners were thrilled with their dishes as well, so my guess is that you are going to enjoy whatever it is that you order. I’m looking forward to coming back with my wife for dinner sometime soon- the tandoor roasted organic prairie pork chop with jalapeno spoonbread is calling my name already… and I can’t wait to dig in again.

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Restaurant Review: Downtown 140 in Hudson, Ohio

It seems for some reason that weekends are a blur during the holiday season. There’s just constantly stuff going on, people to see and big meals to make. In the greater Cleveland area, the weather is cold and we see the first inkling of winter with a dusting (or more) of snow. This year has been no exception- December is flying by like a high speed train trying to reach 2011 as fast as possible. Well, every now and again, people need to take some time, slow down and enjoy themselves. That’s what happened this past Saturday night at Downtown 140 in Hudson.

It’s hard to make plans with friends in December- it seems as though every weekend night is reserved for a holiday party of one form or another. When our friends suggested that we all go out to dinner, we settled on a night and started hunting around for a restaurant. After a little deliberation, we all agreed that the new menu at Downtown 140 looked appealing and we were all interested in sampling some of Chef Triskett’s food. So on a cold, blustery night we piled into the car for the trek to Hudson.

Downtown 140 is in an intriguing location in Hudson. It’s in the basement of a building with no windows. At first blush, you might think that this would detract from the dining experience, but I think that it leads to part of the charm of the location. As you enter through the front door, you are greeted by a small bar that is heavily stocked with excellent bottles of wine along with the full compliment of craft beers and liquor. The dark leather chairs are inviting (I know, I’ve sat in them a time or ten in the past) and are typically always occupied. The dining room has a nice layout with enough room between the tables to have an intimate experience but close enough that the conversations throughout the room tend to meld into a lively cacophony of voices. One of the most unique features of the restaurant is the massive, rough hewn stone wall that offers a strange sense of security to the atmosphere – it is truly something that you simply do not see in many restaurants. As with many dining venues, there is an open kitchen where one can watch the chefs ply their trade.

Tender and tasty longstem artichoke fritto. Photo by Scott Groth

This restaurant has typically been known for its Smallest, Small and Not So Small plates. The Smallest bites being single tastes of something, almost like an amuse buche. The Small plates are typically appetizer portions and the Not So Small being moderately sized entrees. Chef Triskett has changed up the vernacular a bit to First, Segue, Mid and Main. There were at least two items in each section of the menu that appealed to me enough to want to order them both. Fortunately, all the items I was interested in were ordered by other people at the table who were willing to share. Excellent- right? Kinda like having your cake and eating it too, but instead of cake it would be braised short ribs.

For years Downtown 140 has been known for its excellent wine list as well. On this particular evening, we brought our own bottles since we are members of the Downtown 140 wine club. We did peruse the wine list and there is something for everyone on the list. The wine club is something that people should inquire about if they are in the area. It’s a good deal and we always enjoy bringing wines from our cellar to pair with specific dishes.

A quick note about the service: our server, Steve, was spot on throughout the night.  It never felt as though he was encroaching on conversation and had the timing down just right between courses. Our dishes were all expedited at the same time which is always nice… I can’t stand it when one person at the table is left staring at the table cloth with no food, feeling like there is something wrong with their dish. This seems to happen more and more at restaurants these days, but not at Downtown 140. Between dinner and dessert, the table was cleared and the crumbs removed which you just don’t see at many restaurants anymore. It’s a nice touch.

Let’s get to the food. The meal started off with an offering of fresh breads. From what I remember, there were four kinds of breads but I think that only one was tried by everyone at the table: the mushroom gruyere. Wow- this was some seriously good bread. As always, it was accompanied by some fresh butter, reduced balsamic and a nice olive oil. Our table started off by ordering two of the Phyllo Spring Rolls ($3.50/piece) and Citrus Poached Gulf Shrimp ($3.50/piece) from the First menu. The spring rolls are filled with forest mushrooms, goat cheese and asparagus. The idea is solid and well thought out, however they were a little salty.  Not to the point of wanting to put it down, but just a little heavy handed.  The gulf shrimp were large and well cooked but seemed somewhat uninspired on the plate.  The consensus was that we should probably have tried the Ahi Tuna.

Next up was the appetizer course which was ordered from either the Segue or Mid portion of the menu. Our friends ordered the Lump Crab Cakes ($13) and the Soup du Jour ($7) which was cream of garlic and potato with a pan seared scallop. The crab cakes are served with crisp capers and a red pepper sauce that was very tasty. The cakes themselves were made well with a good balance of crab meat to filling and they were cooked perfectly.  I liked that there were three on the plate making it a nice appetizer portion.  We were told that the soup was delicious with a nice consistency. The pan seared scallop looked tender and juicy.  I smelled the soup and it did please the senses.

Angus beef filet- cooked perfectly but there is a lot of stuff happening on this plate. Photo by Caroline Groth

Caroline ordered the Warm Poached Pears ($8) salad which was plated beautifully. The endive was fresh and crisp, the pears were executed perfectly and married well with the dressing. My favorite component on the dish was the smoky blue cheese which elevated the flavors on the plate.  This is a dish that will be ordered again when we return.  I couldn’t resist trying the Longstem Artichoke Fritto ($9) with pepperoncino gremolata and lemon aioli. Just the description alone makes my mouth water. The last time I had fried artichokes was at Zack Bruell’s Chinato restaurant (read the review here) in downtown Cleveland- at the time he was calling them Fried Artichokes Roman Ghetto Style. Chef Triskett’s are more delicate and tender than what we had at Chinato.  Everyone around the table enjoyed the crispy, flavorful bites.

The big dilemma came with the decisions about our main entree selections.  It seemed as though everyone was hung up on at least two dishes and I was having a hard time deciding between three.  Steve told us about the specials which was akin to throwing a monkey wrench into my decision. Four dishes to choose between now.  The sound of braised shortribs with a nice glaze served with brussels sprouts was music to my ears.  But, I also wanted to try the Veal Osso Buco, the Ohio Pork Chops and the Angus Strip Steak with the truffled mushroom ragu.  Decisions decisions.  I made my decision on the fly after everyone else ordered.

Our friends ordered the special Short Ribs ($28) and the Veal Osso Buco ($28) served with a very good saffron and goat cheese risotto, balsamic red onion jam and some jus.  The bite of short rib that I tried was tender and delicious with a nice glaze.  The meat was cooked perfectly.  It is easy to overcook short ribs and they start to break down too much resulting in a strange texture in your mouth.  These were cooked spot-on and I was told that it paired well with everything on the plate.  The veal we tried was tender with a light and flavorful sauce.  It paired very well with the saffron risotto which had just a hint of saffron that didn’t overpower the dish.  It tasted fantastic.  From my vantage point, both dishes had comfort food written all over them and boy did they deliver.

Tender and delicious spare ribs- perfect on a cold, winter night. Photo by Scott Groth

The Angus Beef Filet ($30) Caroline ordered comes with haricots verts, potato fondue and a potato chip salad with some red wine syrup.  I picked the Ohio Pork Chops, lured in by the promise of crisp pork belly, brussels sprouts and a cider reduction.  The filet was cooked to perfection- rare plus just as she ordered it.  All the elements on the plate were executed well, which speaks highly of Chef Triskett’s abilities in the kitchen.  The one complaint my wife made was that there are simply too many components on the plate.  The focus of the dish was confused and the meat kind of got lost in the shuffle.  For the money, the meat should be the star of the plate.  Finally, my pork dish left me wishing that I had ordered the Short Ribs, the Osso Buco or the Strip Steak.  Although the plating was nice, the pork itself was overcooked and as a result was pretty dry with some chew to it.  In my estimation, the dish was light on the crispy pork belly and heavy on the acids with both the cider reduction and the addition of fine julienne cut Granny Smith apples.  I found that even though the meat was a little dry, I would rather eat it without the sauce because of the sharp taste.  The brussels sprouts and smoked sweet potatoes were prepared nicely.  I did enjoy the pork belly which was crisp and succulent.

Ohio Pork Chops with brussels sprouts and crispy pork belly. Photo by Scott Groth

After the meal, we took a breather and gabbed with our friends for a while before ordering dessert.  Our friends both ordered the House-made Donuts ($8) with a trio of dipping sauces.  They were definitely freshly made and smelled wonderful.  Although I did not try them, the reports were unanimous: two thumbs up.  Caroline ordered the Lava Cake and a cappuccino.  The lava cake, unfortunately, was more like a cupcake.  The center was almost solid and the outside was a bit dry.  I have a feeling that the lava cake was fired first and had to wait for a while until the donuts were ready.  The cappuccino was massive and delicious.  For me, well, I had a full glass of wine left and went for the cheese plate which had some quince puree, natural honeycomb and candied nuts alongside some pretty darn good cheese.  Unfortunately, I didn’t write the names of the cheese down so I can’t pass along my recommendations.

All told, we left Downtown 140 happy.  The kitchen had a good showing, with the overwhelming majority of the dishes ordered well executed and tasting like a professional Chef was at the helm who takes pride in his food.  The menu speaks for itself when everyone at the table has a hard time trying to decide between several dishes they would love to try. Personally, I would like to try their strip steak and several other Segue and Mid choices. If they have a short rib special again, that will be ordered hands down. Overall, if you’re looking for an inviting restaurant, good tasting food and a well developed wine list, Downtown 140 would be a solid choice any night of the week.

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Restaurant Review: Light Bistro in Ohio City (Cleveland)

The day started off really well for me, riding along with a friend for 9 holes of golf (my neck was screwed up for some reason), enjoying the sun and fresh air.  There’s nothing quite like the air in Cleveland in the Fall.  Just feels right to be here for some reason.  The day turned into a perfect afternoon and on into a beautiful Thursday night in Cleveland: 55 degrees in mid-November.  The babysitter was at the house and we were running downtown to eat at the Light Bistro before heading to the Opera to watch my father-in-law in his first operatic debut.  Quite a night.

Light Bistro is nestled in Ohio City, very near to Great Lakes Brewing and the Flying Fig.  Their location is where Parker Bosley used to have his restaurant for many years.  Since it was a Thursday night, we found parking very close to the restaurant, but I bet during a busier night of the week or a weekend you would have a really hard time locating parking.  It didn’t appear as though there was a valet service, but there might be on the weekend.

When we walked inside Light Bistro, we were greeted by a really nice guy who seemed genuinely happy to see us.  We were seated quickly next to a huge window.  Normally, this would be great- but the nice afternoon turned into a chilly evening at 33 degrees. The single paned glass really made the seats next to the window chilly.  The decor tries hard to be hip, with copper painted corrugated steel fringed with fake grass butted up to a distressed leather bench.  I liked the look overall, but have been in some places recently that are more appealing.

Our waiter, Jack, was there to greet us quickly and was good for the first half of service.  During the second half, he disappeared for really long periods of time- long enough that we didn’t have time for dessert even though we were finished with our meal for about 20 minutes.  Jack had explained to us that all the desserts take about 10 minutes to prepare and with our deadline for the Opera, we were just out of time.  That was a real bummer because to that point- and here’s the spoiler- the food was excellent.

Bacon. Dates. Cheese. Photo by Scott Groth

Our table of five started off with the house made olives, the lamb meatballs and the bacon wrapped dates.  The olives had an excellent flavor: just piquant enough to stimulate the palate.  These were gone in a flash.  The lamb meatballs on their own were nothing to write home about.  When I put half of one on top of the Parmesan bread, the flavors came together and took off.  Without the bread, I would have knocked this dish, but with the bread- really good. The plating could have used a little bit of work as well.  In my opinion, the verdict is still out on the bacon wrapped dates with almonds and Valdeon cheese.  Pretty much everyone loved them but me.  I found the consistency too mushy overall.  I’ve had a number of bacon wrapped dates stuffed with a lot of different things that have had a little more structure.  The flavor was nice- maybe just crisp up the bacon a little for a contrasting texture.

Nicely cooked shrimp with some delicious white bean and toasted garlic puree. Photo by Scott Groth

Just about everyone was going to order a couple more things from the menu- there are so many good things to choose from.  As a side note- they have a very nice wine list that is comprehensive but not intimidating.  Nicely done.  Now back to the food.  Three people at the table ordered the sauteed rock shrimp in white bean puree with toasted garlic.  I had a bite of one- the flavor of the garlic was bold but not overpowering.  The shrimp were cooked perfectly and the dish was well balanced.  All those dishes were clean when they headed back to the kitchen.  My father-in-law and I both ordered the braised pork belly with cabbage, grain mustard and apples.  Here’s the thing about pork belly- you either cook it well or you don’t.  In my opinion, there’s really no “in-between.”  Chef Matt certainly knows how to make a mean pork belly dish.  I compared it to the pork belly Caroline and I had at Perilla in New York several years earlier.  Perilla is owned by Harold Dieterle, the winner of Top Chef Season 1.  Dieterle’s pork belly was just about perfect, which is why I remember it.  Chef Matt’s dish was right up there with it.  The pork was succulent with the sweetness of the apple, slight acidity of the braised cabbage and the punch of the grain mustard.  Awesome dish.

Mmm... Pork belly. Perfectly cooked. Photo by Scott Groth

The ladies at our table both ordered different pizza-type dishes.  One was the grilled flatbread with wild arugula, goat cheese and lemon.  It was a good sized portion and the crust was cooked really well.  I’m not a huge fan of wilted greens on any kind of bread, but the lemon and goat cheese really paired nicely.  The arugula wasn’t soggy, it was just about right for greens on a flatbread.  The bite I had was laden with goat cheese and had just the right amount of lemon.  I decided to take another just for good measure.  Pretty good stuff.  The other pizza was the Potato Pie.  This was recommended by our server.  It comes with gold potatoes, rosemary, garlic, crispy shallots and panchetta.  Lots of panchetta.  Everything on the pie went well together.  I was thinking that the potatoes would lend a heavy feel to the pie overall and am not exactly sure how Chef Matt was able to pull off a light tasting potato pizza, but he did.  The portion size was too much for my wife to finish after all the other dishes but the leftovers didn’t go to waste the next day.  Two more very successful dishes.

Crispy crust, fresh goat cheese, lemon and arugula. Tasty dish. Photo by Scott Groth

There were two entrees ordered at our table.  One of them was the bison strip loin with green beans and potato confit.  This is the only dish that I didn’t sample, but I was told that it was excellent.  The confit potatoes were fingerling, which was really interesting to me.  Next time we visit, I’d like to get a side of these potatoes if possible- they looked and smelled great.  I went with a duo of pork for the evening- starting with the pork belly dish already reviewed and ending with the Roast Kurabuta Pork with candied sweet potatoes, bacon and pickled banana peppers.  I’m a huge fan of Kurabuta pork since my friend Norm sent me about eight chops from Naples over the summer.  It’s heirloom pork and should be nicely marbled.  The pork that I received didn’t have the appearance of Kurabuta, but it was still pretty tasty.  I’ve never had banana peppers with pork before- with a forkful of pork, sweet potato and a piece of the banana pepper I couldn’t have been happier with the dish.  Just terrific.

The banana peppers with candied sweet potatoes made this dish special. Photo by Scott Groth

Something unusual happened at the Light Bistro this past Thursday night.  It was a clean sweep of delicious dishes all around.  The food showed thought and appropriate restraint to keep the flavors simple and pleasing to the palate.  There wasn’t a need for anyone to use any additional salt or pepper because each dish was nicely balanced.  I may not have liked the texture of the bacon wrapped dates, but the flavor was spot on.  Almost every dish presented was tasteful and artistically plated.  All of the senses were satisfied.  I think that perhaps now you can understand a little better why it was disappointing that Jack disappeared for so long, essentially eliminating the chance of having a taste of what might have been an excellent dessert to top off our meal.  In hindsight, perhaps it was for the better- we all left with big smiles on our faces and the desire to want to come back and sample other items from their menu.  My compliments to the Chef.

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Restaurant Review: Rosewood Grill in Hudson, Ohio

Recently, there haven’t been too many nights where Caroline and I get a chance to go out without our son, but this past Saturday happened to be one of those nights.  We made dinner plans with another couple to head to the Rosewood Grill in Hudson.  I had heard some good things about this restaurant that resides where Turner’s Mill used to be and was looking forward to a great night out.

I have to start off by saying that as we walked down the steps to the restaurant, there is a cool outdoor patio that has some gas burning fire pits along with outdoor furniture.  It had several smokers hanging around but would most likely be a cool place to sit in the summertime.  When we entered Rosewood, we were greeted by two or three people at the front desk.  The restaurant was packed up- the bar was full and just about every table was occupied.  One of the people asked to take our coats, another was asking my wife if she “called ahead.”  I ignored the coat person to listen in on this call ahead bit.  Let me explain.

Because it is a night without kids, both couples had babysitters which adds to the overall cost of the evening.  Of course we tried to get a reservation so we could enjoy the night without having to mill around.  We “called ahead” on Wednesday to get a reservation, but the recording at the restaurant says they don’t take reservations.  As soon as my wife heard this, she hung up.  Turns out if she had stuck around she would have heard the option to call up to two hours ahead of when you would like to dine.  I don’t get it- isn’t calling ahead the same as making a reservation?  You talk to someone, they write your name down.  Sounds like a reservation to me.  For a restaurant of this caliber to not have the ability to make reservations is a little ridiculous, but then to have this call ahead system is downright laughable.  We were told that the wait would be an hour to an hour and a half for a table.  Oh well, we headed to the bar to elbow our way into some seats.

Although I was a little aggravated about the call ahead nonsense, the bar staff was nice, quick and efficient.  I ordered a Christmas Ale simply because they had it on tap and our friends ordered cocktails.  Next up for me was a dirty martini, on the rocks with three blue cheese stuffed olives.  They had overstuffed olives and made the martini extra dirty, which was a huge bonus for me.  That drink disappeared quickly and another arrived soon thereafter without having to offer my first born to get some service from the bartenders at a packed bar.  It just kinda appeared, which was absolutely perfect.  High marks for their bar staff.

From the bar you can peer into the various areas of the restaurant.  It’s a cool restaurant with an open kitchen and a long communal table in the bar area that is first come, first served.  The dining room is well lit and decorated in earth tones that compliment the massive stone walls in this old building.  I actually didn’t mind standing in the bar for a while because I could watch what was happening in the kitchen and which dishes looked good.  The Executive Chef, Scott Bambic, was expediting plates which were firing out of the kitchen at a rapid clip.  After just shy of an hour, we were seated at a table in the main dining room.

It's a cool restaurant with a well stocked bar and very open kitchen. Photo by Scott Groth

As we sat down, it was clear that there was an acoustic issue in the dining room.  It was incredibly noisy and it probably didn’t help that we were seated in a corner.  Voices were bouncing off the stone walls and wooden ceiling, which necessitates you talking more loudly for the people at your table to be able to hear.

The server arrived quickly- she was good throughout the whole meal.  I didn’t catch her name because it was loud and she was a little quiet given the overall volume of the restaurant.  Due to my tour of duty at the bar, I had a pretty good idea of what to order, but the menu has a lot of familiar dishes to offer and most look really good.  It was certainly hard to choose from the different items, even after watching dishes come off the line.  After deciding, I looked over the wine list.  It was priced well with glasses from $5 to $20 and bottles from about $30 to $100.  The list was well rounded and not intimidating at all.  Most of the bottles would compliment the dishes they were serving on the menu- I can appreciate a well thought through wine list.  There’s something for everyone on this list.

To start off,  my wife ordered the fried calamari, one of our friends ordered the soup du jour, which was a potato bacon, and I ordered the spicy Carolina crab bisque.  It was a cold night, so soup sounded good.  The calamari showed up before the soup and looked wonderful.  They included some deep fried pepperoncini rings which was a really nice touch.  There were two sauces: a honey mustard and a  garlic sauce with a splash of Sriracha tossed in.  The calamari was perfectly fried with a nice tempura style batter.  The sauces were nice individually, but once you dipped into one it was hard to move to the other- they just didn’t jive well together.  I was diggin on the garlic sauce with Sriracha and everyone else liked the honey mustard.  The plate was devoured before I got a chance to take a picture.

We destroyed the calamari. They had fried parsley on the plate which was great too. Photo by Scott Groth

The soups arrived.  Our friend’s soup was the consistency of a thin gravy and certainly had a down home flavor.  The potatoes were roasted before being put into the soup which was a nice touch- it added a little texture to the potato.  The good news is that our friend could easily exist on gravy so he was all smiles.  Caroline and I thought it was just a bit heavy handed, but good for a spoonful.

My soup, the spicy Carolina crab bisque looked a little muddled.  At first blush, it smelled pretty good.  When I stuck my nose right over the soup there was an overwhelming smell of sherry, not of crab.  I took my first bite and my suspicions were confirmed.  This soup was so heavy handed on the sherry that it was a little odd that they served it.  Made me think that perhaps the crab was a little off or something and they were trying to compensate for an overly fishy flavor.  There was no spice to this dish whatsoever.  Everyone had a spoonful and agreed that it was almost unpalatable.  Bummer.

Up next for the main course: My friend and I ordered the bone in strip steak with tempura green beans, rosemary roasted potatoes and a house steak sauce.  Caroline ordered the Lobster Ziti with cream sauce, English peas and wild forest mushrooms.  The last dish, ordered by our other friend, was the center cut filet with smoked gouda mashers and braised spinach.  Let’s start here- the filet was a good cut of meat and cooked to the appropriate temperature.  The spinach was nice but the mashers tasted like cheddar mashers more than gouda mashers.  Couldn’t detect that distinctive gouda flavor anywhere.  All told, this was a good dish that was well prepared..

This center cut filet was good. Photo by Scott Groth

When the pair of giant steaks arrived at the table, we were all smiles.  You don’t see many restaurants with bone in steak on the menu outside of upscale steak houses.  I’ve never seen tempura green beans and they were better than I had imagined.  Really exceptionally tasty and what a smart idea for a side dish.  The potatoes were great as well.  The problem was with the steaks.  We both ordered them rare plus, which is just between rare and medium rare.  The steaks were cooked to the appropriate temperatures, but it was clear they fired ours well before the rest of the dishes were complete.  Mine was luke-warm and my friend’s was just about cold.  The tempura was hot, the potatoes were hot- the steak, not.  They took his back and I worked through mine as it was served, opting for luke warm steak rather than overcooked.  When his steak returned, the potatoes and beans were charred up pretty good- it looked as though they put the whole plate under the salamander.  He was happy though, so I guess it all worked out for him.  The meat also wasn’t the caliber of the price tag on the dish.  It was a little too sinewy and chewy on both our plates.  Although he was happy they fixed the temp, he mentioned at the end of the meal that the cut was disappointing.  

Although the meat was cold, it was cooked to the right temp. The tempura green beans were awesome. Photo by Scott Groth

The biggest problem of the evening came with my wife’s Lobster Ziti.  When you read that it is a ziti in cream sauce, a picture should pop up in your minds eye of well coated noodles in a light pink sauce with chunks of lobster studded throughout the dish- right?  What she got was a watery brown mess on the plate.  The noodles were overcooked and completely devoid of any hint of sauce.  Check out the soupy consistency of the “sauce” that was delivered- it was so thin and really did not taste good.  Where’s the cream and body to this sauce?  What’s with the brown color and the strange flavor to the whole dish?  Everyone gave this dish a shot and nobody liked it at all.  There was a comment that it should be delivered with a soup spoon, but even then it isn’t edible due to the sewer pipe sized noodles.    She asked for it to be boxed up thinking I would eat it the next day at lunch or something- I made sure that we left the box at the table.  If it’s not edible the night of, it’s going to be terrible the next day.  This dish is one to avoid if you go to Rosewood Grill.

The Creamy Lobster Ziti should be renamed Brown Watery Mess. Unappealing on all fronts. Photo by Scott Groth

We ended the evening with coffee all around and one chocolate “moose” for my wife.  What showed up was an odd looking dessert with tuile antlers.  I could tell that it would taste like refrigerator before the first bite was taken.  The top had that refrigerator skin on the ridges.  Sure enough, refrigerator taste is what everyone said straight off the bat without me saying anything.  The consistency was nothing near what a mousse should be- it was freezing cold, dense and cloyingly sweet with a layer of crumbled Oreo cookies in the middle.  Our friends said it was like a cold butter cream frosting rather than a mousse.  The tuile cookies had an odd flavor as well.  Two thumbs down on this dessert.

So for my wife’s birthday dinner she at least got to enjoy her calamari- one dish out of three.  The rest of us enjoyed 50% of our meals straight from the kitchen.  Not a great track record for the food.   I was more than a little surprised by snafu’s from the kitchen.  I met Chef Bambic a couple months ago at the Stow County Dessert Extravaganza and learned that he was the Executive Chef at Blue Point before moving to Rosewood.  We’ve eaten at Blue Point many times, most of them while he was there and each time the food has been spot on.  Makes me wonder what happened when he switched restaurants.  Although the restaurant is a little noisy, by the end of the meal you are accustomed to the volume.  The service is top notch including the bar staff, servers, expediters and the managers on the floor.  They run a tight ship and it shows.  Most likely we will come back here during off-peak hours because of the ridiculous non-reservation reservation system they have and order a more casual dinner.  I’m pretty sure that for casual dining, this place would make a burger that would make a tadpole want to smack a whale.  We’ll see what happens next time.

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Restaurant Review: One Red Door in Hudson, Ohio

Recently I had the opportunity to eat at One Red Door in Hudson, Ohio.  This is a relatively new restaurant that took over the space where the ailing Vue Restaurant & Lounge once resided.  I had the misfortune of eating at Vue twice, both times for wine and appetizers.  The overpriced Vue wine list was relatively boring.  Ho hum.  In my opinion, appetizers are supposed to set the stage for the meal.  My memory of the apps at Vue were far from complementary.  When I heard that Shawn Monday had moved from Downtown 140 and opened a new shop in the old Vue location, it definitely peaked my interest.   I’ve always been a big fan of Downtown 140.

One Red Door is a really interesting place.  The best way the decor can be described is rustic industrial.  They have massive rough-hewn beams throughout the restaurant with complementing black metal brackets sporting over-sized bolts holding everything together.  The bar is contemporary with industrial style light bulbs and leather wrapped chairs.  One of the most impressive features is a massive wall covered with a meticulously arranged tapestry of stacked rough-hewn wood.  It adds depth and texture to the entire restaurant.  I found the place very inviting.

Our server, Chelsea, was definitely helpful and we could tell that she enjoyed working at One Red Door.  That’s a really important piece of the puzzle to ensure great service.  She was relatively knowledgeable about the menu and let us in on the secrets to which dishes are most popular.  She was quick with the drinks and very attentive throughout our two hour lunch.  She never rushed us; something that I appreciate in the turn-and-burn restaurant world we have become accustomed to.

The lunch menu has a rich depth but smacks just a little too closely of the Downtown 140 menu.  The second item on the menu are the bacon wrapped dates which were a favorite of mine at Downtown 140.  They are absolutely delicious, but I know that Chef Monday has a ton more to offer.  The confit of all natural chicken wings looked awesome, but not suitable for this particular lunch outing.  Instead, I opted for the warm Mediterranean olives with citrus, herbs and red wine.  They were incredible.

Citrus and herb scented warm olives. Really tasty. Photo by Scott Groth

My company at lunch chose two cheeses from the cheese board which came served with crispy baguette slices, a fresh fig, cashews and a blueberry mustardo.  I’m not sure that I have ever tasted anything like the blueberry mustardo, but it was just divine with the cheese.  The fruit from the blueberry hits the front palate, the cheese coats the mid-palate and the kick of the mustard hits you on the back of your palate.  It’s a really incredible condiment they have come up with.  When I return, that will be one dish that we order, most likely for after the meal with a good glass of red wine.

Figs, cashews and blueberry mustardo with the cheese. Incredible. Photo by Scott Groth

The rest of the menu looks excellent and I had planned on ordering the burger to give it a run against some of the other burger giants arriving in the greater Cleveland marketplace.  Most notably, I wanted to compare it against B-Spot to see if it would be better.  Unfortunately, we ran out of time and needed to order some items to go.  My second choice was the wild mushroom pizza with caramelized onions, gruyere and truffle oil.  Mmm… that sounds good… I’ll have that.  Bang.  It arrived in a to-go box and I could smell the aroma of the truffle oil escaping the confines and making my taste buds kick into overdrive with anticipation.

Mushrooms, caramelized onions, truffle oil and thin crust. Order this pizza. Photo by Scott Groth

I ate the pizza in the car on the way to my next meeting.  It was delicious.  Thin crust that tasted like it was cooked in a wood fired oven.  The mushrooms were perfectly prepared and the onions weren’t cloyingly sweet like they sometimes are on a pizza.  The truffle oil was just enough to let you know it was there but didn’t take over the entire pizza.  Definitely a skilled preparation.  Very enjoyable.

My only point of contention with One Red Door doesn’t actually hit the restaurant or food itself but the website.  I visited their site to see if I could pull a picture of the interior of the restaurant for this review and the speakers at my desk jumped alive, scaring the crap out of me. Maybe it is a pet peeve, but I think that it is obnoxious for websites to have looped elevator music playing.  I bet that they have never loaded this site on a smartphone either… the music plays immediately through your phone’s speaker. Also, because the site is setup in Flash, it’s really hard to navigate on a phone.  You won’t find any clear shots of the awesome interior of the restaurant anywhere on their site either.   No bio’s on the staff to boot.  Oh well, it’s a small point and something they will hopefully work on.

Overall, I give One Red Door an enthusiastic endorsement for their lunch menu.  Looking forward to returning for dinner.

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