Wednesday, January 30, 2013

First ImPRESSions

First it was Theory, a steakhouse with an arts and crafts look, a nice bar and an open kitchen. Then it was Lago. Now it's called Press Wine Bar and I recently made a  visit to the new Tremont spot. It opened in mid-November and though bottles and barrels have been integrated into the decor the handsome, dark, clubby space is still reminiscent of the previous tenants.
The server was a bit of an energizer bunny- at first. I barely got my coat off and planted my self in a chair when she was table side with the wine list, and moments later she was back asking what I'd like to drink. Same thing happened when my friend arrived. We had to put her off three times before we were ready to order glasses of wine- a very nice Carmenere. But as the evening progressed, and it became clear we were not going to be big eaters or drinkers, it became harder and harder to get her attention. These are not major problems- a little training would go a long way.

Neither of us was very hungry, and we were both still in recovery mode from much holiday excess so we ordered lightly. I got a roasted cauliflower and bacon soup. It was disappointingly thin and arrived lukewarm. I would have sent it back but couldn't catch our server's eye. My Caesar salad was a small portion for the $7 price. The arugula salad with poached pears and candied walnuts my companion chose made her happy, even if her request to add chicken to it, an option that wasn't on the menu, doubled the cost, from $8 to $16.

It wasn't a great experience. But I will definitely go back. I'm a fan of  Executive Chef Rachel Spieth, who was not there that night, and she has put together an interesting selection of appetizers, flat bread "pizzas," meat and cheese boards, sandwiches, heartier entrees. The wine list- with a number of selections on tap- is worth exploring. The room is comfortable. All the right elements are in place, making Press worth a second chance.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Crime, darkness abound in film noir series

Frank Bigelow has been poisoned, and he’s been told he has about 24 hours to live.

Journey to the Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque’s screening of D.O.A. Jan. 26 and 27 to watch as Bigelow, played by Edmond O’Brien, desperately tries to determine who wants to kill him before his time runs out.

The film is part of Cinematheque’s “Noir Town” series. It features ‘40s and ‘50s black-and-white films categorized as “film noir,” or black film, by French critics. Characterized by shadows — and packed with killers, detectives and femme fatales — the genre has remained popular.

“(The films) speak to a contemporary sensibility in that they are a little bit jaded and cynical,” explains Cinematheque director John Ewing.

 Wade Williams Films
Ewing focused on choosing acclaimed, underplayed films Cinematheque has never shown.

“One of my ongoing crusades is to keep all of film history from being reduced to just a handful of over-shown and over-familiar titles,” Ewing says.

Although he is “looking forward to all of them,” Ewing’s been wanting to see Lady in the Lake for decades.

The movie follows writer-turned-detective Philip Marlowe, played by famed Robert Montgomery, as he searches for an alleged murderer. Because the film is shot from the point of view of Marlowe, viewers only glimpse Montgomery a few times, as a reflection in a mirror.

“Could you imagine casting Brad Pitt or George Clooney in some big film, and then you only see them two or three times in the whole movie?” Ewing muses of the film that will be shown Feb. 9 and 10.

Ewing confesses he’ll be watching some of the films for the first time with the audience.

“I figure if I haven’t seen it, a lot of other people probably haven’t, either,” he says.

The films will be screened every Saturday and some Sundays through Feb. 23. For the full schedule, visit

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What's Old is New

   When I first wrote about it in the early 90's it was called Frank Sterle's Slovenian Country House and it had a start story that went back to 1954. The East 55th Street restaurant, known for its Alpine chalet look and over-sized portions of roast pork and stuffed cabbage, was a local landmark and destination. In the ensuing years, though it retained a loyal following, the place fell out of step with the times and the trends. New owner Rick Semersky shortened the name, updated the menu, and improved the decor, launching a revival and making Sterle's Country House the place to be, especially on Thursday nights when there are food deal and entertainment aimed at attracting a next generation of fans. But somehow, he's managed to do all that without destroying the essential charm and authenticity that makes it special,bring it into the present without destroying what's best from the past.
   Semersky's a  building construction contractor not a restauranteur. His company, VIP, is next door to Sterle's so he's a longtime lunchtime regular. But his neighborhood roots go deeper: his grandmother grew up in the neighborhood. He cares about what happens there. So when Semersky heard that the previous owner wanted to sell and that a prospective buyer wanted the property, not the place, he took action. "They wanted to tear down the building," he told me. "I couldn't let that happen. This is a piece of our ethnic history, it's pure Cleveland, a polka and pierogi palace we should be proud of. So suddenly I'm in the schnitzel business."

  Since he got the keys in mid-March, the place has been cleaned from top to bottom. He installed better lighting, put a window behind the bar and added lots of interesting beers to the list, ditched the white cloths in favor of new  wood tables and added some salvaged church pews for seating. An outdoor beer garden will be ready when spring arrives.
   I was in for lunch recently. Had a tasty bowl of chicken paprikash. Next visit I want a schnitzel sandwich on a pretzel bun.And veal goulash. Plus the stroganoff. (Clearly, multiple forays are required). Or do a dinner (Thursday, Friday and Saturday only) that includes the chicken soup (recipe same as always, and sausage with 'kraut.
  This Thursday, January 24 from 6-8, the quirky and truly original phenom known as DJ Kishka, will bring his bearded brand of foot tapping fun to the big dining room, spinning classic polka albums. Or venture in on a Saturday night when it's typically packed with Sterle's stalwarts who have made it a habit to come eat and dance to the live music. "There's people of all ages. including kids. It's like the family wedding you don't really want to attend," said Rick, describing the scene. "But after a couple of drinks, you start having a good time, decide to stay awhile, and then don't want the evening to end."

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Danielle DeBoe Harper takes on weddings

Photo by Sarah Sloboda Photography
Although every bride wants the wedding she dreamed of as a child, planning the dream wedding isn’t always a fairy tale.

 Danielle DeBoe Harper is here to help.

She recently launched a new business, Weddings & Parties by Room Service that we wrote about in our January Elegant Wedding package, with her business partner, Jennie Doran to meet the needs of brides-to-be.

 Her business will be a vendor at the 2nd annual Boutique Bridal Bazaar from noon to 4 p.m. on Jan. 20 at smARTspace inside 78th Street Studios. The bazaar, hosted by Cleveland bridal boutique Something White, is a way for Northeast Ohio brides to find wedding inspiration by connecting with unique, local bridal vendors, ranging in focus from fashion to cuisine. Tickets are available on  the event's website for $5 in advance or $10 on the day of the event.

Harper created Room Service, a gift and clothing boutique now located in Ohio City, nearly six years ago, opened the now shuttered Dredgers Union on East Fourth Street, and recently started Weddings & Parties as a way to return to her roots.

 “When I opened Room Service, I was a hyper-visual person,” Harper says. “People would like the environment and ask if we did weddings.”

 Initially a lack of time and staff prevented her from venturing into wedding planning, but eventually “life intervened and opened up the time,” she says.

 Planning her 2012 wedding gave Harper a new perspective on the needs of brides-to-be. She stresses there is no formula to creating the perfect wedding, and being a bride taught her to ask the right questions in the planning phase.

 Last year, Harper attended the bazaar as a would-be bride. This year, she is excited to participate as a vendor.

 “We have a booth set up, and we’re excited about the look of it,” Harper says.  Expect to see handmade favors and an artistic display from the visual-minded entrepreneur.

“We’re trying to show the breadth of creativity that we can bring to somebody’s wedding,” she says. 

You can read our Elegant Wedding article about Harper, “A Fashionista Gets Married,” here. To link to the article on social media use this shortlink:

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Good Food, Good Story

   A friend took me to Maxi's in Little Italy last week. She's a regular there. I'd never been- and can't really say why. But now that I have, I know I'll be back.
   The small space has a nice intimate feel and an adult, city sense to it. There are a few tables tucked down front near the window where neon lights cast a warm red glow on a dark cold night.  More tables, but not a lot of them, line the wall opposite the long bar which stretches almost the length of the of narrow room that ends at the kitchen. Apparently there's some more seating upstairs.
   I got a very nice Montepulciano by the glass. On her recommendation, we split an order of calamari. It was really outstanding- sauteed in olive oil rather than fried, lightly dusted with flour instead of the usual thick breading. It was a delicate flavorful preparation that rendered the flesh wonderfully tender. We each had appetizer portions of mussels, another of my friend's favorites, that were huge. They we also tender and equally delicious. The accompanying light garlic wine and butter broth was so good we slurped it up with spoons and sopped up the rest with bread.We also shared a plate of escarole with garlic and Parmesan, served at my companion's request, without the usual tomato sauce, and this dish  too was a winner. The rest of the menu's a mix of northern Italian staples- pasta, veal and chicken, and pizzas.
   It was quiet when we first arrived around 7, 7:30 but the bar quickly filled up with eaters and drinkers and there ended up being a nice sized crowd for a Monday evening. They gave the place a nice, neighborhood hang out energy. The kitchen is open late which. makes this a great destination for those in need of food after a show, a concert, or a movie in the Heights or down in University Circle.
  I was introduced to the chef and owner Ramazan Ameti, known to his friends as Fatmir. He recounted some of the details of his life since coming to the United States from Albania eight years ago. It's a genuine, inspiring  and only-in-America rags to riches story. Speaking virtually no English, he earned a living as a dishwasher, often working multiple jobs. That's what he started out doing at Maxi's. His boss was Gilbert Brenot. Soon Ameti was doing prep and learning to cook. He and Brenot became partners and eventually, Ameti, who has spent most of the past few years working 120 hour weeks, bought him out and took over. (Made me feel like a slug and an underachiever listening to him recount this saga). He 's clearly a very hands-on kind of an owner, though he recently has brought in and trained another chef to help him. Even so, he's still almost always at the restaurant. Stop in and see him. He's an interesting person to talk with. Tell him I sent you.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

The Taste of Success

   The restaurant business is tough and most places have a relatively short shelf life. Moxie, a white tablecloth establishment in Beachwood serving creative American food, is the exception to that rule. Busy since the day it opened and typically packed with regulars, Moxie marks its 15th anniversary this month. Owner Brad Friedlander is clearly a smart guy with a keen understanding of what diners want, and his partner Chef Jonathan Bennett is terrifically talented, not to mention one of the nicest human beings you'll ever meet. Together they've managed to buck the odds and arrive at this celebratory moment.
  So the pair and their staff are in a partying mood, and everyone's invited. For three nights, January 24-26, they're bringing back favorites from the past, many from the original opening night menu. Guests can feast on the likes of crab cakes with roasted peppers; lobster ravioli; crispy chicken livers with roasted apples, bacon, spinach and port wine sauce; long bone rib steak with garlic mashed potatoes; herb crusted striped bass with tomato tartar sauce; baked hot chocolate, grilled banana split, and fudge brownie sundae. Better yet, prices on all these dishes and and the rest of the Anniversary Dinner specials, served 6-11 PM, are reduced- more than you'd have paid in 1998 but less than you'd expect to spend in 2013.

  There will be musical entertainment. Perhaps some table hopping by Friedlander and Bennett, providing diners a chance to engage in  hand shaking, back slapping, cheek kissing and other congratulatory behaviors. Reservations are required, 216-831-5599. 

  I've been a Bennett fan from the start, have followed the ascending arc of his career and written about him often. And I'm happy that the husband and I will be there to help kick things off on Thursday evening. We're  guests of the house. Touched and surprised I asked what prompted the generous invitation. The answer was, "You helped us get here and you're part of the story."
   It's a good story, with many chapters yet to come.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Hit the Road

In the days just before and after the new year media people compile lists-- organizing the past with lists that look back and guessing at the future with forward gazing predictions. There are wrap-ups and round-ups, best and worst of everything lists, catalogs of favorite picks and inventories of dislikes and rejects. I'm not into these rosters. I generally don't pay attention to them and prefer not create lists in my articles unless an editor insists. But having said this, I have to admit that it appears I do have a list of sorts in progress but the focus is on doing not rating. It's in the form of many "notes-to-self," reminding me about all the places to eat- from high end to low, that I've not yet but want to visit. Some are recently opened, others are just new to me, recommended by fellow writers or trustworthy friends. It's literally and figuratively a road map I'll be following in 2013, and you'll likely read about these trips right here in my weekly Wednesday posts.  Remember I'm not endorsing any of them- all are unknowns. I thought readers might want to do the same so I've decided to share. If you've already been to a spot on my itinerary, I'd love to get your impressions. If you haven't, you might want to put it on your own list And of course, I'm open to your suggestions- don't hesitate to tell me about your recommendations.

Here, in no particular order, is my annotated roster of upcoming eating adventures:

-Taki's Greek Kitchen, Avon Lake
 I have a copy of the menu and it features traditional dishes not available any where else in this area plus some really appealing modern interpretations

-Nano Brew, Ohio City
Nano Brew Burger
Can't believe I still  haven't been in yet to eat. I got an afternoon tour of the place right after it opened and I've wanted to have one of their big juicy grass feds beef burgers since I watched them being prepped for that night's service.

-Deagan's Kitchen and Bar, Lakewood
 Well, technically I've been there but not since the esteemed Tim Bando took over the kitchen which makes this a whole new restaurant as far as I'm concerned.

-Press Wine Bar, Tremont
wine on tap and the talented chef Rachel Spieth at the stove

-Barrio, Tremont
  tacos and tequila with outdoor seating (save for summer)

-Cleveland Pickle, Clev
 downtown sandwich shop that people rave about
-Barle Soup & Sandwich, Clev Hghts
  homemade, artisan soups, salads, sandwiches plus they recycle and serve wine

-BRGR9, Warehouse District
 chef created, gourmet version of the old patty

  -Charkha, Clev
 Northern Indian cuisine downtown
-Taste of Kerala, Mayfield Heights
 very authentic South Indian, carry-out only

-Pupuseria La Bendicion, 3685 W. 105th, Clev
Salvadoran, the real deal
-El Arepazo Y Pupuseria, Fairview Park
Salvadoran and Columbian food

-Smoked BBQ, 6088 Mayfield Rd, Mayfield Heights
must try the ribs
-The Rib Cage, Clev Heights
 smoked, saucy and sustainable- sounds perfect

-Cuisine du Cambodge, Clev
 Cambodian food from the original owners of Phnom Penh, a longtime favorite of mine