Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Eat, Drink, Learn

In his long and successful career chef Paul Minnillo has always been ahead of the culinary curve. He  was interested in the wines from Napa long before it was stylish and his relationships with some of the region's premier producers have deep roots. He celebrates one of those connections with a Burgess Cellars wine dinner on November  5 at Flour, his Italian inspired restaurant in Moreland Hills. Winery founder Tom Burgess and Minnillo go way back- both attended Miami of Ohio and before he relocated to the west coast, Tom worked for an Akron based company. His son Steve has taken over the label now that his father is retired and will host the five course pairing. 

The 2008 vintages will be featured including  Merlot, Cabernet and Syrah. Grapes come from the slopes of Howell Mountain, where the soil and exposure bring out the best in these red varietals. No doubt the menu Minnillo and Chef Matt Mytro create to accompany these wines, along with sparkling rose. an chardonnay to get things started, will be superb. The Monday night meal runs from 6:30-8:30 PM. The cost is $85 plus tax and gratuity and reservations are required.

Another event at Flour you might want to book is the brining class the two chefs are leading on Sunday, November 11, from 11 AM-1 PM. Using this technique is a near guarantee that your holiday turkey (pork roast and chicken too) will emerge from the oven moist and flavorful (unless you overcook it). Sip wine, snack and pick up some pointers from the experts. $75 per person. Call to reserve your seat.

And while you're in a reservation making mode, don't forget it's Cleveland Restaurant Week Nov 5- 19. Participating establishments offer prix fixe 3 course menus for $33, and you can see them online. It's always a great opportunity to support local independent restaurants. Think of it as your civic duty. So get out there and eat- you're sure to find bargains and you just might discover a new place that becomes a favorite.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Cavs Preview: Young Team Looking to Improve

On opening day for the Cleveland Cavaliers, there is one thing we know for sure about the hometown squad: They are a young team. You can see that just by looking at them, or by glancing at a roster and noticing they have four players born in the 1990s and only four born before 1987. It’s something that will certainly dictate this year’s level of success, but also provides ample opportunity for both development and improvement over the course of a full 82-game schedule.

“We have a young team and it's going to take some time for these guys to continue to grow and gel together,” head coach Byron Scott said at the team’s Flashes of Hope event last week. “They're gonna make mistakes, because they are young, but I'm excited about the direction we're headed. This team is better than the team we had last year, so we're growing.”

One of the club’s elder statesman is Daniel Gibson, born way back in 1986. He understands that having such a fresh and untested group of players makes it impossible to predict how things will play out, but that it can also be a positive thing in terms of exceeding expectations.

“When you have young guys, you really don’t know what to expect,” said Gibson. “But I think with the time that we’ve been putting in and the work that we’ve been putting in, I definitely think that we have an opportunity in front of us and enough talent to get out there and make some big things happen.”

Dion Waiters and Daniel Gibson

Anderson Varejao agrees, stating that he believes the team “can surprise a lot of people.” But for Coach Scott, entering his second season, he feels the most important thing is that the team remains focused and united, regardless of how that matches up with any outside projections.

“We're going to go through our ups and downs. That's what young teams do,” said Scott. “But I think as long as we stay together and understand that this is a process and we have to continue to stay on course, we'll be OK.”

The main guy setting that tone on the floor will no doubt be Kyrie Irving — the best and youngest player on the roster — slated by many around the league to join the upper echelon of NBA athletes in only his second season. He missed the team event due to having his wisdom teeth removed earlier in the week, but it certainly didn’t quell the expectations of his teammates that were in attendance.

“I can’t wait for people to see Kyrie. I’m just mad that people only get to see him 82 games when I get to see him every day in practice,” said Gibson, unable to contain the smile plastered across his face. “He’s improved, he works his tail off every day. I’m just looking forward to it. I mean I don’t want to give it away, but I just know he’s going to take the league by storm once again. I personally believe he’s a top five point guard already.”

The other young bucks sure to receive plenty of attention are the team’s two rookie first-round picks, Dion Waiters and Tyler Zeller.

“I went through the whole training camp, and it was tough, it was really tough,” said Waiters, who was drafted fourth overall after two years at Syracuse. “But I learned a lot, it's coming to me. You just have to take your time out there and let the game come to you. I'll be more than ready.”

Zeller has impressed early on as well, earning rave reviews from players and coaches,

“The guy that’s surprised me so far is Tyler. I knew he had talent, but in order to be successful in this league you gotta have toughness,” said Gibson. “We’ve been in practice a few times and he’s been ready to go to blows with a few guys. That kind of surprised me, but to see it is refreshing. You want young guys coming in to be hungry and to have that fire in them, and he’s definitely got it.”

“Tyler is a lot more aggressive and physical than people think he is,” added Scott. “He's one of those guys that just doesn't back down from anybody. The players are getting excited about him and the fiery passion that he has about the game.”

Cavaliers players and coaches

Scott was also thrilled by the evening’s event, hosted by the Cavs and Lake Erie Monsters, which is expected to have raised more than $500,000 for Flashes of Hope and the Children’s Tumor Foundation. The Willy Wonka-themed soiree featured a fashion show of the players and coaches paired alongside children affected by pediatric cancer, as well as plenty of food, cocktails and candy.

“I love it because of the fact that it involves kids,” said Coach Scott of the event. “Most of these kids have gone through so much at an early age, and for us to have the chance to put a smile on their face makes us happy.”

As for the kids on his own roster, the head coach is interested more in progression than fulfilling any outside expectations this season.

“Our goal is to get to the playoffs,” said Scott. “But we also understand that it is a steady progression of just getting better as a young team. I’m not going to put any expectations on our guys. I just want them to continue to work every single day and get better every single day, and the rest will take care of itself.”

Monday, October 29, 2012

Chuck Berry performs, honored as American Music Master

Chuck Berry on the State Theatre stage. (Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum/Janet Macoska)

“Very happy to be here,” Chuck Berry said to the crowd, the tribute concert to himself winding to a close. “I’m 86 years old. I’m happy to be anywhere.”

The sentiment was certainly appreciated by the sold-out crowd that packed the State Theatre on Saturday night, all of whom were there to see the living legend and pioneer of rock ’n’ roll live onstage. Concluding the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s weeklong American Music Masters celebration, Roll Over Beethoven: The Life and Music of Chuck Berry, the tribute concert featured a lineup of musicians playing Berry’s original songs in recognition of the hall’s flagship honor. Fellow Hall of Fame inductees Ernie Isley and Darryl McDaniels took the stage, as did Lemmy Kilmister of Motörhead, Ronnie Hawkins of the Band, country music legend Merle Haggard and many others over the course of three-plus hours. Each musician played one or two of their personal favorite Chuck Berry selections, covering the wide gamut of his massive song catalog.

“The Rock Hall’s first inductee” as stated by president and CEO Terry Stewart, Berry was a member of the initial 1986 induction class and performed at the museum’s opening ceremony. Stewart also told the crowd of Berry informing him earlier that day that he still had the shovel from the site’s original ground breaking, his longtime connection to the museum making the festivities all the more meaningful.

Each musician brought their own creativity and distinct voice to Berry’s many masterpieces, including a particularly enjoyable Ronnie Hawkins’ performance of “Roll Over Beethoven.” But Berry was the man that everyone came to see, earning a standing ovation when he was introduced as the night’s final musical guest. The toll of 86 years and rock deification were obvious during his two songs on the stage, fumbling through “Johnny B. Goode” and “Reelin’ & Rockin’ ” with a great deal of help from his backing band, which included his daughter on harmonica and vocals and his son on guitar.

Not that the crowd seemed to mind. There’s something undeniably special about seeing a legend like Chuck Berry perform live, regardless of how much Mother Nature has slowed him down. Time certainly hasn’t diminished Berry’s showmanship or sense of humor though, evidenced by him nailing the quippy one-liners during “Reelin’ & Rockin’ ” that had plenty of parents shaking their heads in shock once upon a time, or doing a toned-down version of his signature “duckwalk” across the stage to ruckus applause. All things considered, the fact that he can still get out there and tear through those seminal rock songs is award-worthy in its own right.

Stewart presented the American Music Masters trophy to close out the evening, with Berry walking off stage accompanied by his wife of 62 years, Themetta. He paused to wave back at the crowd one last time, cracking a wide, appreciative smile, before turning to make his final exit ­— arguably the greatest pioneer of rock music disappearing behind the curtain as the crowd stood and cheered.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Liking Luxe All Over Again

Brian Okin has been running the kitchen at Luxe since June. The husband and I were on hand for tasting last week of his new fall menu organized for staff and few friends of the house. After making my way through samples of fourteen sides, salads, small plates, pizzas and entrees it's quite clear to me that this skilled chef has settled in and hit his stride. He's putting his mark on this restaurant, which has been around since 2008, and diners have reason to rejoice.

 Okin likes to promote himself as a serious carnivore cook, with a special interest in a certain unconventional protein, and the braised pork shank osso bucco (with cheesy polenta) leaves no doubt that he knows how to handle a piece of meat to bring out its finest qualities. Pork belly and garlic sausage are used to good effect in place of duck in a riff on cassoulet. Earthy porcini spaetzle, made with a powdered from of the mushroom, are dotted with what Okin calls "his best friend," bacon. And the prosciutto and fresh mozzarella stuffed chicken breast is pure poultry comfort food. But what really grabbed my attention was his ability to add real va-va-voom to veggies.

I went crazy over the salads. Really, no exaggeration. The wedge features small baby head lettuces and a fantastic smoked blue cheese dressing made with creme fraiche and a malt vinegar aioli they prep in house. Another is a combination of roasted cauliflower, butter lettuce, chickpeas, and pickled red onion, all set off by a raisin-sherry vinaigrette. But my personal favorite, as well as the entire table's pick for best, was the winter squash. Slices are coated in panko and toasted in clarified butter, paired with arugula, and drizzled with truffle oil and a wonderful Gorgonzola fondue.

A cauliflower gratin in gruyere crema was rich and satisfying. Squash with risotto and raclette cheese finished with brown butter and sage was an autumn on the plate feast. And then there were the fried brussels sprouts tossed in a lemon rosemary vinaigrette with capers and toasted almonds. Simply and yet perfect. Possibly the best version of these little cabbage cousins I've ever had.

One feature of the menu I really like is the family meal option (minimum of two people): $28 per person gets the table a  customized, three-course selection of dishes for sharing. Another noteworthy aspect is the array of options for vegetarians and vegans. 

Luxe has been around long enough to be a Gordon Square neighborhood fixture. But there are all kinds of new reasons to check it out now thanks to chef Brian Okin.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Harvey Pekar honored with statue at local library

Cleveland finally has a fitting tribute to one of its comic book heroes. But this one isn't to the Man of Steel. It's to "Our Man," Harvey Pekar, who passed away in July 2010.

An event titled "Harvey Pekar: A Literary, Library Life" took place on Sunday in a standing-room-only presentation room at the Cleveland Heights/University Heights Library's main branch — Pekar's favorite — and was capped off with the unveiling of an interactive memorial to the writer that was funded by a Kickstarter campaign started by Joyce Brabner, his widow.

After a few announcements from library representatives and an introduction by Brabner, illustrator JT Waldman gave a presentation on what it was like to work with the writer on the posthumously released Not the Israel My Parents Promised Me. The new graphic novel centers on conversations Pekar and Waldman, both Jewish, have about the history of Judaism and of the current policies and situations in Israel. Much of their work was done in the library, and the building is featured in the book.

Following "American Splendor," a song written and performed by local musician Marissa DeSantis, the crowd was ushered upstairs for the unveiling. The statue is mounted on a wooden desk and is of a bronze Pekar essentially walking out of a comic panel.

On the reverse side of the panel is sections of chalkboard and pieces of chalk so visitors can draw their own comic, stories or notes. There's also a drawer in the desk with a glass top that contains Pekar mementos like his AARP card and eye-glasses.

The statue is near the newly enshrined Harvey & Friends Bookshop, which sells used books, DVDs and vinyl records, one of Pekar's favorite things to collect. The event also featured the dedication of a Literary Landmark plaque from Untied for Libraries in connection with Pekar's work and research done at the library.

An Uptown Accent

I challenge anyone to walk into the Accent, Scott and Brenda Kim's new restaurant in University Circle, and not give a little gasp of amazement, especially after dark. The space is dramatic, ultra contemporary, and unique. The red and black color scheme is sophisticated and intense. Lighting has been used as a design element and after the sun sets the place simply glows. The cumulative effect simply wows the eyes and announce that this is something special.

photo by Barney Taxel

The food I tasted last week at a private pre-opening event confirmed that impression. Building on the possibilities offered by two innovative pieces of high-heat cooking equipment-a Robata grill and a Josper oven (I described both in a previous post), Kim and executive chef Michael Lyons have crafted a menu of exciting dishes. For me,a big part of the excitement lies in their concept of making dishes that are not only delicious but also healthy. Drawing inspiration from the many and varied cuisines of the Asian continent, they're employing cooking techniques that require less fat and are using whole grains in place of white rice and other good-for-you ingredients. I sampled mung bean pancakes, turkey "ribs" and slaw, edamame hummus with vegetable chips, kimchee flatbread, and three versions of donburi (rice bowl): beef, chicken and sashimi (raw fish). There isn't anything I wouldn't eat again with great pleasure, and the miso soup was some of the best I've had ever and anywhere. Vegetarians and vegans will definitely have options here.

photo by Barney Taxel
But don't imagine it will be any sort of sacrifice to dine here. The menu offers a wonderful selection: steaks, short ribs, scallops, roasted potatoes and rich desserts. I had the house version of smores and have no doubt I'll be back for some more.

Big windows face a pedestrian friendly plaza. There are plans for a patio equipped with a fireplace. It  promises to be a wonderful gathering place, inside and outside the restaurant, in all seasons. Other restaurants are planned for this urban hub. Accent, opening to the public Oct. 29, is the first, and it will launch Uptown as a true culinary district, much like East 4th Street. Both projects reflect the vision of the Maron family and their development company MRN Ltd. The patriarch Rick and his wife Judy were also at the Accent event, and when were introduced, I  felt compelled to thank him for the way he's investing in and helping to transform this city.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Soho's Got Something to Cluck About

Wednesday nights used to be slow at SoHo Kitchen and Bar in Ohio City. But not anymore. Ever since Chef and owner Nolan Konkoski decided to offer fried to order chicken by the piece and a selection of a la carte sides at a bargain price, you could say customers are flocking in. And no wonder. The build-your-own dinners  offer something for everyone in terms of portion size, combos and price. Plus, everything is really delicious.

 The poultry is all natural and Ohio raised. It comes out of the bubbling oil juicy on the inside with a wonderfully crisped skin and can be ordered mild or spicy. You can get a plate piled with wings ($1.50 each), a bargain breast ($4.50), a duo of drumsticks ($2.50 each) or a trio of thighs ($3.50 each).  The "fixins" available are all $3.50 a portion. The only problem with this arrangement is choosing among smoky mac n'cheese, collards with kick, mashers with bourbon gravy and red-eye cole slaw.

I was in a couple of weeks ago for a late night meet and meal with Heather Haviland. The hard-working chef and owner of Lucky's doesn't get out much so this was her first visit. We paired up our bird bites with jalapeno hush pups, deviled eggs, and yam waffles plus some of the house's heavenly biscuits accompanied by soft sweet butter and fruit preserves. She was wowed by the concept and the food, and coming from an accomplished pro like her that's high praise indeed.  We both left happy and while some of that may be attributed to the small amount of alcohol consumed and a couple of hours of  conversation between friends, credit must also go to the restaurant, the chef, and the simple pleasure of a good meal that doesn't break the bank. And for that, I've got to say, thanks Nolan.

Friday, October 5, 2012

New MOCA readies for opening

The Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) Cleveland is finally set to open its new building in the Uptown neighborhood of University Circle, starting with a few events this weekend and the first official admission of the public this coming Monday.

Beginning with the HEX party on the evening of Saturday, Oct. 6 — which is being billed as a spellbinding, three-tiered VIP event — MOCA members will then be invited to check out the new digs from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 7. The opening ceremonies then culminate with Free Public Day on Monday, Oct. 8, where admission will be free to all visitors from 1-6 p.m.

The museum looked very near full completion at a media tour this past Monday, with only minor things such as sweeping the floors, finishing up the entrances and getting a few things put away left to be done.

The initial exhibit, Inside Out and From the Ground Up, was largely in place on the museums fourth floor, including an incredible Henrique Oliveira creation that appears as if it’s tearing down a connected wall, while also allowing you to glance inside its structure.

Piece by artist Henrique Oliveira

The paintings by Jacqueline Humphries were impressive as well, their location just opposite the windows on the museum’s top floor allowing for striking interaction between the natural light and metallic, shiny composition of the pieces.

Pieces by artist Jacqueline Humphries

But ultimately, it is two aspects of the museum’s structure that figure to have people buzzing early on. The alternative/fire staircase (which the building was required to have) is actually built into and within the main staircase, giving it a hidden and confined quality. Enclosed all the way through, from top to bottom, the stairway and surrounding walls are painted a bright and vibrant yellow, giving you the feeling of navigating a winding maze inside of a giant lemon.

The building’s exterior, designed by architect Farshid Moussavi, is likely to illicit discussion as well. The smooth, reflective black glass of the exterior starts as hexagon at the base and expands towards the sky to a square roof. The veiled loading dock and blended entrances, not to mention it’s location at the corner of Euclid Avenue and Mayfield Road leaving it exposed on all sides, gives the structure what executive director Jill Snyder describes as a “James Bond, seamless quality.”

The new MOCA building

For an in-depth, behind-the-scenes look at everything the museum has to offer, be sure to pick up our October Best of Cleveland issue containing our MOCA feature package, or check out the piece online. Those involved are hoping the sleek and contemporary vibe of the building and neighborhood will help to attract visitors and reinvigorate the art scene. And if you’re going for cool, James Bond isn’t a bad place to start.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Drum Roll, Please

Stewart Copeland
Stewart Copeland is a fan of Balinese music.

So it’s not terribly surprising that the drummer for the Police and composer of operas and film scores also has a certain affection for the gamelan (GAM-uh-lon), a family of percussion instruments indigenous to the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java.

It’s an interest that came in handy when the Dallas Symphony Orchestra commissioned him to create a piece featuring the Texas percussion quintet D’Drum.

“As a fan of music in general and somebody with an interest in what’s next, what’s cool and interesting-sounding, an American composer playing with gamelan bells — that sounds interesting to me,” he says of the challenge.

The result was Gamelan D’Drum, a three-movement, 35-minute composition for world percussion and orchestra, which will be a part of the Cleveland Orchestra’s first concert of its 2012-13 Fridays@7 series Oct. 5 at Severance Hall. “I’m an American guy. I’m not Balinese. This isn’t a representation of Balinese music,” says Copeland, who will be on-hand for the performance. “This is American music using very exotic instruments that bring with them all kinds of exotic atmospheric baggage.”

Q: Why did the Dallas Symphony Orchestra select you for this commission? 
A: There are things on paper, I guess, that would make me a good choice. Fusion is part of the credential. I think one thing that gave them great comfort was the fact that I’ve got art credentials but also professional credentials. A couple of the guys earn a living as film composers and as producers. They appreciate the value of working with somebody who understands a deadline, somebody who understands things that artists don’t usually have to deal with. And I myself, as an artist, place great value on craft and professionalism, stuff that I learned in 20 years as a film composer.

Q: Why did you accept it? 
A: Working with a big orchestra like the DSO is something that doesn’t come around every day of the week, and getting a chance to not only work with such an orchestra, but being commissioned to write something really out of the normal run of orchestral composing experience. Throw in the fact that when I got a look at these guys [in D’Drum], what they can do and their collection of instruments — and there’s this incredible collection of instruments to compose for, to be accompanied by a mighty symphony — we were at “yes” two reasons ago.

Q: Was that instrument collection your biggest challenge in composing the piece? 
A: Every stage of it was challenging. [Working with] instruments like the rice trough – call that an instrument? How do you notate for that? Well, you notate it exactly the same way you do as with all the other Balinese instruments. And at the end of the day, getting that onto a page that the conductor can read was also a challenge.

Q: In 1989, you attended Cleveland Opera’s world premiere of your first opera, Holy Blood and Crescent Moon. What do you remember about that experience? 
A: Opening night was a big splash. Everyone had a great time. The standing ovations — it really just felt like a big smash. … The next morning the B cast, at 9 o’clock or some ungodly hour, were all back at the State Theatre. They bring in these kids who couldn’t give a hoot about anything other than the fact that they got a day off from geography, French, reading, writing and arithmetic. The minute the countertenor comes out squealing, there was a big laugh. The morning after the night before was an adventure in humility. We can laugh about it now. In fact, I laughed about it at the time. I mean, you couldn’t not laugh. It was hysterical.

-By Lynne Thompson

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Woof, Woof

My Massachusetts born daughter-in-law is going to be very happy when she hears that Black Dog Kitchen and Bar serves what I believe is the only truly authentic lobster roll in town. She’s a fan and an aficionado and I think, when she tries this one, she’ll agree it’s the real deal, from the big chunks of tail and claw meat held together with just a hint of mayo to the soft lightly toasted New England style bun. But it does get a touch of Cleveland and a nod to our Eastern European heritage with a thorough dusting of Hungarian paprika. This one beats the famous version I’ve had at the famous Martha’s Vineyard tavern with the same canine name. Here, it comes with what have become the “it” potato all over town, frites fried in duck fat and seasoned with rosemary.

Describing itself as an American gastropub, the restaurant specializes in  Certified Angus burgers and upscale sandwiches and salads. The kitchen makes a serious effort to use local products. And lots of hometown references on the menu, among them the Lil Italy bruschetta, the Shoreway (a Lake Erie walleye sandwich); a Cleveland Po’Boy featuring hot sausage; and the Gateway Wedge. 

At the helm is Nicholas Pejeau. This is both his first industry gig and his first time in charge. Two dishes that show off his personal style are a crispy pork belly appetizer that’s sauced with a nice sweet/tart balsamic, pomegranate blackberry reduction and a tasty seared ahi tuna taco with arugula, mandarin orange slices and sriracha aioli.

The Black Dog opened downtown last month. The main entrance is on East 8th, which is more of an alley than a street that runs between Euclid and Prospect Avenues, in the building that’s home to The City Club. It’s not in a basement but you do step down as you walk in and only a portion of the 147 seat dining area has windows. Together these factors give it a sort tucked away and off the beaten path feel. The vibe is super casual and multiple flat screen TVs are mounted on the walls. There’s a long bar, 12 taps and barrel based hi-tops in the first room, regular tables  and chairs in the adjacent area, and a private event space that accommodates up to 80 with its own bar.

   This is a good choice for lunch, pre-game eats, and after working gatherings. You can’t beat the Happy Hour prices: craft and import drafts $3, wine by the glass, house martinis and signature cocktails all $4. Same deal on Saturdays noon- 4 PM. They’re also doing a Sunday brunch that features build your own frittatas, steak and eggs, and stuffed French toast. This will surely motivate some to rise, if not shine.