I don’t like pink drinks. When a cocktail has a magenta or bubble gum hue it usually signifies the cloying sweetness of a drink for those who want all the fun of booze without actually ever having to taste the alcohol. However, last night I found a tremendous exception to this rule. Johnny Mango in Ohio City has concocted a Watermelon Margarita that truly embodies summer. Rimmed with salt, this libation brings back memories of seed spitting contests in the back yard, but with the adult touch of lots of tequila. It is made with real, freshly juiced watermelon and no artificial flavors or sweeteners. I would still be very wary of a similarly tinted beverage at other establishments but I know that they specialize here in fresh squeezed juices and pride themselves on not using artificial flavors or mixers, and have never disappointed with their cocktails. Their Watermelon Margarita is not only a drink that I enjoyed, but one I will definitely be going back for. by Nathan Taxel
Monthly Archives: May 2009
Driving up Mayfield Road through Little Italy yesterday I noticed that a new restaurant has opened in the corner spot formerly occupied by Valerio’s (which moved up the street to what was once Battuto). It’s called Etna Ristorante. Anyone tried it or know anything about it?
Speaking of changes, I just heard that Frankie’s Italian Cuisine on Detroit Road in Westlake has relocated to the old Bovalino’s building on Center Ridge Road. That was fast – I blogged about Bovalino’s closing in April.
A fellow blogger and eating enthusiast posted a detailed, thoughtful and made-me-blush citizen’s review of Cleveland Ethnic Eats this morning. Read what he has to say at Exploring Food My Way, and while you’re there check out the many other fascinating posts on all things edible.
My son, Nathan Taxel, enjoys cooking and eating as much as I do. After living in various places around the country, he’s come back and settled in his hometown and I’ve invited him to post here about his Cleveland ethnic eating and shopping adventures whenever the spirit moves him. This his first contribution:
As a foodie, who grew up in a house of foodies, I am excited and turned on by trying new things. But as it turns out, after 24 years of eating there isn’t a whole lot of typical or “normal” foods left to try. In order to experience the rush of an unknown ingredient or combination I am forced into a realm of things that might well find themselves on some TV show about “bizarre” foods. However I find the Travel Channel’s Bizzare Foods with Andrew Zimmern to be somewhat offensive. What gives us the right to call the foods of other cultures “bizarre” just because they are not something we eat here? I’m sure some traditional North American dishes would seem just as weird to someone from the other side of the world. I enter into the world of unkown mouthfulls in a spirit of adventure rather than as some kind of side show freak looking to shock an audience.
My latest foray into the unknown came recently at a non-descript little Chinese restaurant called Wonton Gourmet and BBQ at East 32nd and Payne Ave - a true diamond in the rough. It is one of the most authentic Chinese restaurants in the area. On my last visit I had their cold jellyfish salad. I ordered it having no idea what to expect and was thrilled with the outcome. It looked like a plate of rice noodles with sesame seeds, flecked with bright green herbs. The taste was sweet and tangy with just the mildest hint of the ocean. The only indication that I was not just eating noodles came from the slight chewyness of the jellyfish. It is a light summery appetizer that I will definitely be eating again.
Just as an athlete looks to push their limits and get to the next level, I am always looking for something new to try. I don’t eat for the challenge or the glory, just the hope of a great new taste.
Americans have fallen in love with Asian cuisines, one at a time. First there was Chinese, which has become as familiar as burgers, next was Japanese now so Main Street that you can buy sushi at many grocery stores, and then there was Thai,. I’ve been seeing a lot of buzz lately suggesting that Korean food is fast on it’s way to becoming the next object of our dining affections. Headlines like these are cropping up in all kinds of publications:
Korean Food, America‘s Next Favorite ‘Asian’ Grub? (Korea Herald)
Why its flavors are cropping up everywhere from haute cuisine to fast food (Wall Street Journal)
(Asia News Net)
On their latest list of the top fifty new restaurants in the country, Travel and Leisure included a place in Chicago called Urbanbelly that serves Korean street food.
The Korean government’s launched a well funded and ambitious initiative to make the country’s culinary stylings- called hansik- one of the top five ethnic cuisines in the world. An article about the plans to go global appeared in an April issue of The Korea Times.
Are you already a fan of kimchee, bulgogi, and buckwheat noodles in broth? If you’re not familiar with the spicy pleasures of Korean fare, now’s the time to get acquainted. By my count, Cleveland currently has four Korean restaurants, plus two Japanese places that also offer some Korean specialties, and ten markets that sell Korean ingredients and packaged products. Find out if you agree that we’re ready as a nation to go steady with Korean cuisine.
I had already finished the manuscript for the latest edition when Grotto, the Italian inspired wine bar opened on Shaker Square so you won’t see it in the book. But it’s definitely worth a visit, especially you enjoy pours of prosecco, Chianti Classico, or Barolo. This is a third dining venture for the Salerno family who also own Gusto in Little Italy and Lago in Tremont.
The Grotto wine list is extensive and reasonably priced, with reds and whites from North America, Europe, and Australia but with special emphasis on what comes from vineyards in Italy. You can pair up with a selection of small plates-veal wraps, ossobucco sliders, risotto balls, and bruschetta- or full size entrees of penne with broccoli rabe, linguine with clams, and Brunello braised short ribs. The polpette (meatballs) are unusually light and airy. I was told the “secret” ingredient is bread soaked in milk, part of an old family recipe. I tried to duplicate them at home- but clearly still have much to learn. Three of the four pizzas are named after chef and co-owner Fabio Salerno’s kids (he ran out of children befoe the kitchen ran out of ideas I guess)- the Sofia (olive oil, garlic, sea salt and fresh chiles), Dominic (ground meatballs, banana peppers, pickled jalapenos and fennel), and Gianni (tomato, bufala mozzarella, basil).
This is a good choice if intimate conversation or late night lingering is on your agenda. Sit at the ba if you’re alone and you will likely soon have someone beside you who might enjoy exchanging tasting notes.
A great deal of effort went into creating a space that has a traditional Old World feel. A soaring coffered ceiling, massive iron and glass chandeliers, columns, arches, and a décor featuring lots of wood, stucco, and brick make it look as though it’s been there for close to a century. One modern touch is the glass walled wine “cellar” behind the bar. There are a few tables clustered near the fireplace in back but the warm weather spot of choice is on the sidewalk patio out front.
Thai Orchid was a wonderful restaurant on Mayfield Road in Lyndhurst. It appeared in the first edition of Cleveland Ethnic Eats. Here’s what I had to say about it.
This is a nice place to enjoy real Thai food. There are curries, many seafood dishes, and full-flavored noodles. House specials have musical names: River and Land (a stir-fry of shrimp, chicken, and beef with mustard, cabbage, and mushrooms), Fisherman’s Party (a mix of sautéed scallops, shrimp, squid, and crab claw with vegetables, red pepper, and basil leaves), and Chicken Mango Lovers (chicken and mango with fresh garlic, onions, ginger, roasted chili, hot peppers, water chestnuts, red peppers, and scallions). A surprise is that some dishes are made with brown rice, which is also available as a side order. Owners Payao and Lek Sriweawnetr ran a restaurant in Boston before relocating here, but the couple are originally from Bangkok, where Lek was sous chef for a large hotel restaurant.
But redevelopment plans for its strip mall location put the place out of business two years ago, and so it isn’t included in the current book. What I didn’t know was that the owners had relocated to new digs in Points East Plaza in Mentor (7329 Mentor Avenue, 440-942-6752). A friend just rediscovered the restaurant there and tells me the food’s the same and as good as before. Anyone else been there?
According to food industry analysts, an enthusiasm for ethnic flavors is influencing American consumer behavior. But according to the experts and their research, we’re getting more sophisticated and choosy. Just eating Asian, or even Chinese is not enough for some of us culinary explorers. We want to delve deeper into the unique and distinctive styles of specific countries and regional cuisines.
Cleveland is rich in opportunities to do exactly that. Here are a few from the book off the top of my head. Michaelangelo’s Italian menu features Piedmontese cuisine from the northern part of the country. The all vegetarian food at Udupi Café is what you’d find in a coastal town of the same name in southern India. Henry’s at the Barn specializes in the Low Country cooking of South Carolina and you can taste Taiwanese at Garden Café. At Luchita’s, a different regional Mexican cuisine is spotlighted every three months.
Anyone have any others to suggest or any dishes from the places above that you think are truly outstanding?