Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Farewell to Vine and Bean

It’s always a good feeling to announce openings and new restaurant projects in the works. Happy to say I’ve been able to do a lot that the past few weeks. But reporting on a closing is sad, and that’s my job today. Heather Haviland, owner of the acclaimed and beloved Lucky’s Café in Tremont has decided to call it a day for her second satellite location Vine and Bean on Larchmere off Shaker Square. The sweet little spot had a good run, but it's time for the chef and her people to move on. This weekend will be the café’s last hurrah, and Haviland is making the occasion more of a party than a wake.

It’s business as usual on Saturday, but Sunday, Oct. 30 brunch will be served from
9 a.m. until 5 p.m. — just think, you can sleep in until some ungodly afternoon hour and still have a chance for one of her incredible breakfast burritos or some brie-laced mac n cheese. From 5-9 p.m., there will be all kinds of food and drink specials until supplies run out, live music, a yard sale of kitchen and tableware, and a raffle of Lucky’s gift certificates and other cool stuff.

Come say goodbye and send them off in style, with a toast to the future and whatever is next for this talented local chef who puts her heart and soul into everything she does and every plate she serves. It’s sure to be a fun time … and a chance to show support and give back to Heather who has always given so much to the community. 12706 Larchmere, 216-707-3333

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The ACCENT is on Euclid ... Or Will Be Soon

The good news just keeps on coming. Scott Kim, chef and owner of SASA on Shaker Square, called me last week to say that he and his wife, Brenda, have signed the lease for a second restaurant in University Circle. The building, part of the Uptown Development on Euclid Avenue at Mayfield, is still under construction, so it’s hard to pinpoint an exact opening date, but they’re hoping for late spring. I’ll keep you posted.

The Kims' restaurant will occupy the space adjacent to the Cleveland Institute of Art. Jonathon Sawyer, of Greenhouse Tavern and Noodlecat fame, has taken the opposite corner by MOCA. He’s keeping mum on his concept for it but had this to say: “I’m super excited to be neighbors with Scott. It’s going to be great.”

Kim, however, was more than ready to share. It is going to be a big place, about 300 seats inside and out, with a spacious bar the couple hopes will become a favorite happy hour gathering spot. The architect, Stanley Saitowitz, is designing a two-part interior: a playful lively lounge side with communal seating to encourage socializing and a quieter, more tranquil dining area.

The menu will be pan-Asian, reflecting Kim’s Korean heritage, his well-established expertise in Japanese cuisine, and his enthusiasm for Chinese and Thai food. But the talented chef doesn’t plan to let himself get boxed in by tradition or the quest to be authentic. The idea is to create original dishes that are inspired by this mix of styles and ingredients. The open kitchen will be outfitted with a high-tech version of robatayaki, popular in Japan, for charcoal grilling. Sushi won’t be available regularly, but he may offer some very unusual and original specials one night a week.

After wrestling long and hard with the question of what to call the restaurant, Scott settled on the name Accent. “I was inspired by the idea that we all come from someplace and everyone has their own way of speaking,” he explains. “The idea is that here, all people can come together, feel welcome, and get a better understanding of the food from these four different countries."

This is definitely going to be exciting for them ... and the rest of us!

Monday, October 17, 2011

A Christmas Ale Ice Cream Story

As if Clevelanders needed another reason to drink Christmas Ale, Great Lakes Brewing Co. and Mitchell's Homemade Ice Cream are teaming up to bring sweet-toothed beer drinkers a little something extra this holiday season.

Great Lakes' highly desired holiday brew will be the primary flavor in Mitchell's Christmas Ale Ginger Snap ice cream.

"The ice cream definitely tastes like Christmas Ale," says Mike Mitchell of Mitchell's. "But it doesn't taste like you're drinking a frozen beer."

The ice cream maker is taking the small amounts of ale left over from the bottling process and adding more organic honey, Vietnamese cinnamon and homemade ginger snaps — flavors and ingredients already in the brew — to enhance the taste.

"It's a really good beer base for an ice cream because it has those Christmas and holiday flavors: honey, cinnamon and ginger," Mitchell says.

The ice cream will be available Nov. 1 at all Mitchell's locations as single scoops ($2.99), pints ($6.50) and quarts ($10.75). It will also be available at GLBC as a brewpub dessert ($5) or take-home pints ($6.50). The plan is to keep it around until the end of the year, but with Christmas Ale as an ingredient, supplies may dwindle fast.

Just in case that still isn't enough Christmas Ale, Lauren Boveington from GLBC suggests a pint of the beer as an ideal pairing for the ice cream.

"That's the best way to savor it," she says.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Spicing Up the Options

I’m happy to be the bearer of some really good news. The recently formed culinary dream team of chefs Ben Bebenroth and Andy Strizak, both highly regarded champions of sustainable agriculture and the local food movement, are going beyond the catering they’re known for and the on-farm dinner series Plated Landscapes that’s done nothing but grow since Bebenroth launched it five years ago. The duo is starting a restaurant, a first for both. But the vision is for something that goes way beyond the ordinary arrangement of tables and chairs. Over drinks at Flying Fig, Ben and his wife, Jackie, shared the details of the multi-part, multi-phase project.

Spice Kitchen + Bar will open, once renovations are completed, in the spot at the corner of Detroit and West 58th Street that has recently housed a succession of restaurants (La Boca, Roseangel, and the short-lived La Boca Barrio). No date yet. But you can follow the progress of the transformation at The space became available unexpectedly, and as Ben tells it, “We saw this as an incredible opportunity that fell in our lap. But we had only seven days to react and make a decision.” They went for it. In keeping with the philosophy and made-from-scratch style the chefs are known for, expect a menu of simple, familiar dishes rooted in the best of what’s grown and raised in Northeast Ohio. Think of it as good in every way: good tasting; good quality; good for your health, the environment and the community.

In stage II, sometime in 2012, The Spice Rack, inspired by Karen Small's Market at the Fig, will be doing business in a small connected storefront, offering a selection of local, artisan food products, prepared items from the restaurant and maybe even some supplies for home gardeners. Conceivably, you could stop in to pick up a lunchtime burrito to go, a jar of salsa plus a pound of stone-ground cornmeal to use later that night and a package of heirloom tomato seeds. Then there’s the plan to reinvent the patio with edible landscaping in containers and raised beds so it can accommodate diners and also supply the kitchen, with more ingredients coming from a plot of land behind the parking lot that they’ll put under cultivation and the 10,000-square-foot garden, complete with two hoop houses to extend the growing season in Ben and Jackie’s backyard. All these agricultural efforts are grouped under the name Spice Acres.

This location is also going to be headquarters and home base for Spice of Life, the parent company for this whole family of brands and projects, including the well-established catering operation, Plated Landscape events, and farmers market food stands.

They acknowledge that their undertaking is an ambitious one. It’s going to be a slow, incremental, step-by-step process. Let’s wish them well, show our support by showing up when the lights go on and count ourselves lucky that these people are committed to pursuing their dreams here.

Image by Bloom Photography, courtesy of Spice of Life

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Hippest Parking Garage In Town

When you're planning your Saturday night, a parking garage is usually just a place to put your car. This Saturday, the Cleveland Urban Design Collaborative hopes to change that. For one night, the parking garage at 740 Euclid Avenue will transform into the Hipp Deck, an open-air performance venue.

From 6:30 to 9:30 p.m., Hipp Deck will host performances by electronic musician Freeze-Tag, local band Tastycakes and opera students from the Cleveland Institute of Music dressed in historical garb. A huge inflatable art installation by Jimmy Kuehnle may be visible from the street.

The event is also a book release party for the CUDC’s publication Cleveland Stories: True Until Proven Otherwise, which tells the narrative history of Cleveland’s architecture. The book will be available for half-price, $10. Food vendors such as Campbell’s Popcorn Shop and Tremont Scoops will serve treats.

The garage was built on the site of the historic Hippodrome Theater, nicknamed “The Hipp,” a nationally renowned venue demolished in 1981.

Hipp Deck is part of the CUDC’s Pop Up City initiative, which looks to use vacant or unusual spaces around Cleveland in inventive ways. The CUDC has been looking to do an event in a parking garage for some time, says David Jurca, a senior urban designer with CUDC.

“They’re kind of these spaces that are underused and maybe under-appreciated,” Jurca says.

The CUDC hopes to inspire others to hold events in surprising places.

“There’s a lot more potential here than we’ve really explored,” Jurca says. “There’s so much parking. Maybe we can collaborate with it instead of fighting it.”

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Lake Erie Monsters Look To Start Season Hot

Wednesday at the Q, the silence between pucks tinking off the goal posts and clacking onto sticks was filled with the sound of fans. These fans were whirring, though, not cheering.

I was the lone spectator for the Lake Erie Monsters’ morning practice, and while there were some nasty glove saves and wrist shots, I would have felt awkward cheering.

The Monsters, Cleveland’s American Hockey League team, are returning to the ice this weekend after the four-year-old franchise’s best season. From their first-round playoff loss last year, they are moving forward—and with great speed.

Center Ryan Stoa says the coaches have been “harping on us to do everything fast.” Shooting and passing drills were so rapid that by the time I located the puck, it had already visited five players and been kicked by a left pad.

Stoa, drafted in 2009, has played 37 games with the Monsters’ parent club, the Colorado Avalanche. The 24-year-old is one of the 12 players from last year’s Monsters roster to stay with the team for the start of this season. When more than half of your 22- or 23-person roster is made up of guys the veterans haven’t played with before, it takes some adjusting.

Trevor Cann, in his third season goaltending for the Monsters, says the team is “jelling” during practices. As the players work on power plays, breakouts, faceoffs, defensive and offensive zones, coaches are developing the lines and seeing who works best together.

This kind of team development led to a standout 2010-2011 season. The Monsters finished second in the North Division with a franchise-best 44 wins. The team’s popularity among Clevelanders grew. The Monsters had an average attendance of 6,568, sixth out of 30 AHL teams, and a league-best average playoff attendance of 8,069.

Players say they’re excited for the season opener against the Abbotsford Heat Friday night. “There is no better feeling than getting a win and hanging out with the guys afterwards,” says Cann.

After two hours of practice, some stragglers were still skating and taking turns shooting at one of the goalies. Team communications manager Sarah Jamieson told them it was time to quit.

Like the child who doesn’t want to come in at dusk, a player skated up to the bench and pleaded, “Just one more drill?”

The Monsters start their season at Quicken Loans Arena on Friday night. The puck drops at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Restaurant Scene-Ery

In terms of settings to eat and drink, the landscape has gotten much more exciting in the past week. Dante Bocuzzi and Steve Schimoler, the bold, visionary impresarios of these two new restaurant productions, each deserve a round of applause. I'm not talking about the food. What has me so jazzed at the moment are the places, not the plates. Both are something special and they couldn’t be more different.

I got my first view of Ginko, Bocuzzi’s Tokyo-style sushi lounge in Tremont, at a kickoff event last Wednesday night. I was last in here over a year ago, when construction upstairs was still in progress. This was a dark, dirty basement with a toilet in the corner. It’s hard to believe the transformation. The look is not like anything else in the town and hard to describe. My best shot: bento box, the tidy little Japanese compartmentalized container, meets Dr. Seuss … in the 22nd century. The small underground spot, tucked under Dante Restaurant, suggests a futuristic fantasy funland. One wall features irregularly shaped and back-lit glass panels in bright reds, blues and creams. It was designed by Giancarlo Calicchia, a multi-talented sculptor and painter and Bocuzzi’s business partner, and fabricated by Streets of Manhattan, a local studio. Another is covered in textured red paper that looks lacquered with black trim. Other areas are done in glossy white and black subway tile for a sort of uber-modern yin and yang effect. A couple of flat screens showed a steady stream of anime.

The room is dominated by a curving concrete sushi bar where water flows under glass. Suspended above it is a silvery drop ceiling in what I call a “fish breath” motif. It’s dotted with bubbles like the surface of a lake when the residents are biting. More counters and stools rim the perimeter. There are two spacious booths. A panel in the table can be removed and a hibachi set in the opening for on-the-spot cooking. That should make for a good time.

Over in Ohio City, at the corner of Lorain Avenue and West 25th Street, Crop, the next generation of Schimoler’s popular Warehouse district bistro and bar which closed in the spring, begins serving tomorrow night. I was there on Monday for a “housewarming” party. Housed in a former bank, built back when they were housed in palatial digs, it is without a doubt the grandest, most imposing and striking dining room in the city. My reaction on walking in midway through the remodeling was a deep inhale and an “oh my god” exhale.

The scale is over-the-top awesome. A high and ornate coffered ceiling, huge arched windows, fat columns and 1925 mural dominate. The restoration work has been meticulous, and the redesign inspired. There’s a bar at one end and space for a coffee shop and artisinal foods mini-market and wine store at the other where you can buy some of the products you taste. In between is an open kitchen with chef’s table seating at a counter. Theater lighting adds drama. Downstairs, the former vault, with its “don’t-even-think-about-breaking-in steel doors (one weighing 70,000 pounds, the other 90,000) and bronze gates, will be used for private (and surely memorable) gatherings.

And after long waits and more work than most of us can imagine, Ginko and Crop are ready for guests. So go and see what I’m talking about for yourself. Both are pretty much guaranteed to knock you out before the first bite.