Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Tiffany & Co. unwraps an Eton store

photo by Jillian Kramer
Many girls dream of wearing a piece of Tiffany & Co. jewelry. And when the company opened its first Cleveland-area store this morning, their dream was suddenly within reach or at least driving distance.

Tiffany & Co. opened its doors after a ribbon-cutting ceremony that featured Tiffany-blue clad models wearing the luxury jewelry retailer's signature diamonds and pearls.

Following the ceremony, more than 50 people flooded the 2,700-square-foot Eton Chagrin Boulevard location in the seconds and were welcomed with trays of mimosas and croissants as they browsed the gleaming, glittering cases.

photo by Jillian Kramer
The Cleveland store is the third Tiffany & Co. in Ohio.

"It's just an honor to be in Cleveland," says Cathy Elward, vice president of Tiffany's Central Region, as she stood outside the store this morning and watched customers rush in. "This center is so vibrant, and has such a good representation of stores that relate to luxury."

Elward says Tiffany's Cleveland location will carry "a slice of everything that's in the flagship store," which is located in New York City. Collections include classics such as engagement rings, Tiffany Yellow Diamonds and a new line, Atlas, which features Roman numeral designs.

"Cleveland is an important market," she says. "There are many people here who have shopped at our other locations and been pleased, but now they will have a hometown store to enjoy."

Pizza Perfect

photo by Barney Taxel
   It was one of those nights. The stars aligned, the gods smiled, things fell into place  whatever term of art and belief you use to describe the magic that happens when circumstances and situations are all you could wish for and more.

   The husband and I found ourselves near Kirtland late on a Saturday afternoon. I'd been hearing rumors of a fantastic pizza place there for more than a year. The buzz was that Biga on Chillicothe Road was above the ordinary. This was the opportunity to find out for myself. We called ahead, learned it was BYOB, and stopped at a grocery store on the way to pick up a bottle of wine.

  It's a small stand-alone building, close to the road. Inside it was packed, (there are only 11 tables) and on the loud side, so we opted for a spot outside on the deck. Despite the fact that the view is of a parking lot, the setting was surprisingly pleasant. Ceiling fans turned slowly overhead. Big baskets of red geraniums hung from the rafters, adding a splash of color. A large multigenerational family eating together  wine on the table, everyone talking, laughing and tending to the babies and toddlers  reminded me of restaurants we visited in Tuscany.

  The way the dough is made and cooked sets Biga apart from most other pizzerias. The kitchen is committed to doing it the old world way, using special flour and a starter culture alive with wild yeasts, rather than commercial cake and powdered stuff, that has been nurtured for for years. The dough's rolled thin, Neapolitan style, and the pies are baked in a 900 degree wood-burning oven. The crust has a crisped exterior with a bits of smokey blackening and a chewy core. Pizza perfection.We chose the day's special and it was truly six slices of amazing, a combination of fresh figs, pistachios, prosciutto, and Gorgonzola. But I have no doubt that I'd have also been happy with any of the other white and red varieties, from a classic tomato pie to a rustica with roasted artichokes, onions, Kalamata olives and fresh mozzarella. Our $12 bottle of Argentine Malbec (DiSeno Old Vine 2011) was better than it should have been for the price. Corking fee was only $2 a glass.

photo by Barney Taxel
  We also had a big plate of broccolini, roasted in the wood-fired oven, and dressed in lemon, olive oil, Parmesan and garlic. It was an utterly simple and incredibly delicious preparation.

      The service was top-notch, especially for such a casual kind of eatery. Before we ordered and because he'd asked if it was our first time there, Carlos, our server explained the size of the portions without the info he provided we would definitely have gotten more than we needed. At some point we mentioned being a bit sad that it was a long drive for take out. He told us that they will half-bake a pie so you can finish at home and serve piping hot with the cheese browned and bubbling.

  Turns out Carlos started out as customer, became a regular, and then an employee. His knowledge and enthusiasm was apparent and the energy he brought to the table made the entire experience better.

  Reading the menu and chatting with him, I learned that the chef and owner buys local, emphasizes seasonality and is serious about making everything from scratch  all things I could taste in the food.Which brings me to dessert-a tasty hunk of blueberry pie. We were full but we'd seen it served to the folks nearby and couldn't resist. So we shared a piece. And we were so glad we did. It was as homemade as it gets, with all the word implies. It was growing dark by the time we stood up to leave. The stars were starting to come out. We were happy and satisfied. The atmosphere as much as the dinner had that special something. I've had fancier meals and goodness knows I've had more expensive ones. But I enjoyed this one, from start to finish, as much as those I think of  as "the best." Take note- in summer the restaurant is open Wednesday through Sunday. After this weekend,  things change and fall hours are Thursday through Sunday.

photo by Barney Taxel

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Time, Loss Inspired Cleveland Singer Performing at CSU

Antoine Dunn hit a mental block. He scribbled four lines of lyrics on a spare notebook and froze, uninspired.

Dunn left the song unfinished for six months as he traveled with a cover band to Thailand, performing at Hard Rock International hotels.

It wasn’t until his return to Cleveland, and the loss of someone he loved, that he was able to finish writing his newest song, “I Am.”

The single headlines Dunn’s first Cleveland concert, “The Experience,” this Friday night at Cleveland State University’s Waetjen Auditorium. It’s the Cleveland native’s next step after opening for Anthony Hamilton and Estelle in 22 cities during the Back to Love Tour.

Dunn is holding the concert in support of Cleveland’s Minority Women with Breast Cancer United, an organization his mother belonged to for more than a decade. She helped to inspire Dunn’s old-school smooth jazz, R+B sound by playing her Jackson 5 and The Dramatics albums during the family’s annual drive from Cleveland Heights to North Carolina.

“She was so insightful. She had so much wisdom,” Dunn says.

Dunn lost his mother to breast cancer in 2011. After, the lyrics that make up “I Am” started to flow.

“There’s a line in the song that says, ‘Take me out of time, take me out of space, take me out of everything that I am,’” Dunn says. “That’s how I felt.”

Along with his emotionally loaded single, Dunn will perform “Miss My Love” and “Can’t Forget,” from his album Truth of the Matter, which reached the Billboard Top 100 Hot R+B/Hip-Hop chart.

Dunn will play a grand piano. About 20 other musicians will join him onstage, including a string section from Cleveland State University Orchestra, a horn section from local band Wesley Bright and the Hi-Lites, three backup singers and a five-piece band. All that accompaniment helps Dunn express his vision.

“You spend a long period of your journey basically just trying to get whatever’s in your head out into reality,” Dunn says. “What I have in my head hasn’t really come out yet for people to see.”

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

R&B Hall of Fame Induction Comes to Cleveland

Five decades ago, Jackie Wilson, Smokey Robinson, and other soul music legends hit the stage at Cleveland’s Leo’s Casino, known as one of the most integrated music clubs in the nation. This Saturday, a city rich in soul history recognized the music’s legacy as the new Rhythm and Blues Hall of Fame inducted its first class.

Sequined dresses hit the red carpet and classics such as “My Girl,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” and “A Change Is Gonna Come” rang through Cleveland State University’s Waetjen Auditorium.

Twenty-two performers, personalities and institutions were inducted, including James Brown, The Supremes, and the O’Jays, as well as Leo's Casino and the Call and Post.

Inductees The Dynamic Superiors, the Dazz Band, and the Hesitations performed, along with several local R+B artists, including “Sax Man” Maurice Reedus Jr.

Several members of the Dramatics, the Ohio Players, and Martha and the Vandellas also attended to accept their induction. Founding members of the O’Jays and the Temptations accepted through video presentations. Relatives of several inductees accepted on their behalf, including Sam Cooke’s daughter, Carla Cooke, and Temptations front man David Ruffin’s wife and daughters.

Several Clevelanders have been working for a year and a half to start the Hall of Fame, including former Harlem Globetrotter Lamont “ShowBoat” Robinson, and Fred Wheatt, director of The Love Unlimited Orchestra and a former Leo's Casino house musician.

For now, the Hall of Fame doesn’t have a brick and mortar location. The board hopes to house it in Cleveland, though it’s also looking at several other cities, including Detroit and Memphis.

“R+B music was the forerunner for rock n roll, hip hop, pop, and so much more,” Wheatt says. “Many of these artists couldn’t even stay at the hotels they were playing at or use the restroom in a venue. Some went to their grave without recognition, and we have a duty to finally give them that.”

Nedra Ruffin, David Ruffin’s daughter, says she is honored that her father’s legacy is being recognized.

“My father’s music touched people’s lives during his career and continues to today,” Ruffin says. She's saddened that he is not alive to see the museum. “Although it took many years,” Ruffin says, “I feel that it all worked into a divine plan. It was the right time.”

Red, White and Obsessed

I was given a chance to have a private screening of a thoughtful, engaging new documentary titled Somm, which chronicles the the experience of four young men who commit their lives to preparing for the Master Sommelier Exam.

This difficult test requires encyclopedic knowledge of everything about wine from grape varieties and where they grow to good vintage years and bad ones to how to pair with food and how to properly decant and serve. But the most daunting part of the process and the centerpiece of the film is the task of sipping wines without knowing what they are and correctly identifying them using only color, aroma, viscosity and taste. It's a particular and peculiar skill requiring a head for facts and a hyper-perceptive palate.

The test is given by The Court of Master Sommeliers. In the 40 years since it began, only 201 people in the entire world have achieved this exalted level. The men featured in Somm want to be part of that elite group, and we get to watch them chase their dream, with all its cultishness, craziness and competitiveness.

There are plenty of talking heads here, like in most documentaries, along with scenes of vineyards from multiple countries and men giving each other a tough time around the table. The film manages to be sensitive, tender, sometimes funny, informative and exciting.

It's showing at 7 p.m. for two nights only, once on each side of town: at Gordon Square's Capitol Theatre Aug. 27 and in Cleveland Heights at the Cedar Lee Theatre Aug. 28. Tickets are $10. But for $30 you can attend both the movie and a preshow wine tasting event that will get you into the spirit.  It's a Sommelier Smackdown at Toast, the wonderful new wine bar right across the street from the Capitol. Drinking commences at 5:30 p.m. and finishes by 6:45 p.m.

There will be eight wines, four reds and four whites, and two Master Sommeliers, Matt Citriglia and Larry O'Brien, showing off their abilities and providing some insight about how to develop your own. The following evening a blind tasting at The Wine Spot, two blocks from the Cedar Lee runs from 5-6:45 p.m. A selection of wines from around the world will be bagged so people can answer questions and test their own sommelier skills. Tickets for these packages can be purchased online at Cleveland Cinemas.

The movie's director, Jason Wise, gained a passion for film while growing up on the West Side.

"The Cedar Lee was my church. Throughout high school I drove to Cleveland Heights multiple times a week to see movies. It's why I decided to be a filmmaker," he says.

Wise says he set to make the film not knowing if he would get enough money to finish it or if the men would pass, but he's happy it came together and is showing at the theater where his love for the art blossomed.

"Here was a bunch of normal guys, guys like me, guys I could be friends with, who were putting their asses on the line to actually do something. And it was something that hardly anybody could do, like saying you want to be an NFL player. Easy to say, tough to achieve and few succeed. They were as crazy and intense about it as I was about making this film."

You can chat with Wise yourself at a Q-and-A session via Skype following each screening.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Extreme Beer-drinkers Quaff 5,000-year-old Sumerian Brew

Sumerian beer smells like vinegar and ginger, looks cloudy and brown, and tastes sourer and tarter than any beer you’ve ever had.

So dozens of extreme-beer drinkers discovered last night as Great Lakes Brewing Co. poured the results of its much-anticipated Sumerian beer experiment, an attempt to mimic brewing from 5,000 years ago.

“It’s going to be cloudy, flat, and very different than you’re used to in the year 2013,” warned Great Lakes Brewing co-owner Pat Conway.

Cleveland brewers and Chicago archeologists collaborated for more than a year to manufacture beer as ancient Mesopotamians did in the Bronze Age.

Tate Paulette of the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute gave last night’s sold-out crowd a quick tutorial on ancient Sumer’s cities, palaces, kings, and beer. The Sumerians built the world’s first cities, states, and empires between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. But brewing was one of their earliest achievements.

“When we get writing in 3200 BC, beer is already there,” he said.

Paulette quoted a celebration of drunkenness from the Epic of Gilgamesh. He showed the audience a massive ledger of brewing ingredients and supplies, in cuneiform. He quoted the “Hymn to Ninkasi,” the goddess of beer -- a song that became a sort of recipe.

Based on the hymn, the ledger, and other clues the Orientalists and brewers did their best to brew just like they did in Iraq in 3000 BC. They left grain Great Lakes Brewing’s roof for malting and raked it a few times a day. Instead of steel kettles, they made ceramic cooking vessels and heated them by burning charcoal, wood and animal dung.

It took trial, error, and educated guesses to fill in the gaps and brew something drinkable. The nouveau-ancient brewers puzzled over the role of bappir, the “beer-bread” of ancient Sumer. Finally guessing that Sumerians used the bread to introduce yeast to the brew, the brewery commissioned Zoss Bakery in Cleveland Heights to bake the bread at below 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so the yeast would live.

They figured out the perfect time to taste the beer — two to three days after fermentation.

Last night, after a family-style dinner of foods common in Mesopotamia in 3000 BC, including duck, dates and barley, the Great Lakes hosts served three beers.

The first, a recent batch, took courage to try. It was a milky brew with an off-putting odor, warm and flat. It tasted better than it smelled, but was even more sour than a Belgian sour ale. “I like it!” exclaimed an adventurous drinker at one table. “It tastes like a margarita!” Others detected a tangerine-like tang.

Next, waitresses served beer from the same batch, but with date syrup added to cut the sourness. Very much unfiltered, it had little solids floating in it. It was sweeter, softer, more balanced, less of a shock.

Finally, the staff served a clear blond beer made with the same ingredients in modern brew kettles. It was smooth and hop-free, much like a Belgian saison ale, or farmhouse ale.

In a climactic moment, drinkers gathered around a clay vessel to drink the sour beer through long straws, as seen in ancient carvings.

Brewmaster Luke Purcell said the brewery may offer a hybrid of the second and third beers as a pub-only special on tap.

The evening’s sweep through early civilization and its beer left Conway in a philosophical mood. “Did man stop being nomadic for bread or for beer?” he mused.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Luca's Easy to Love

 Like everyone who walked into the newly created restaurant space atop the Superior Viaduct in the closing months of 2004, I was blown away by the what I saw. Describing the breathtaking views from pretty much every seat in the house, I wrote: At night, the urban landscape sparkles in all its gritty glory. Illuminated skyscrapers, so bland by day, become a shimmering Xanadu. Big windows make these panoramas part of the decor, which also features marble-topped tables, sleek contemporary furnishings and honey-toned wood.

   All that is still true in its latest incarnation as Luca, a high-end Italian restaurant that opened in mid-July. Additional improvements have made it even prettier and more posh. There's fresh paint, textured white leather booths, and impressive collectible artworks on the walls supplied by local dealer Paul Sykes. Together, all this makes it a fantastic and inviting place to enjoy a meal.

Better yet, unlike past kitchens that never managed to be as good as the decor and staff that could not live up to the promise implied by the elegant surroundings, chef and owner Luca Sema and his wife, sommelier and general manager Lola, bring a new level of skill and commitment to the food and the service. They invited me and the husband in for a get-acquainted lunch and tasting, and my first impressions are positive. Plus, there's every reason to think this will become one Cleveland's culinary bright lights and dining destinations.

Photo by Barney Taxel
Everything I tasted was a knockout. The first dish to arrive was a plush filet mignon tartar with capers, red onions, multigrain crostini and an organic raw egg. A sumptuous bibb lettuce and endive salad featured an excellent Gorgonzola and a vinaigrette with house-made balsamic. Then we turned our attention to eggplant slices rolled around ricotta and sauced with a spicy  red arrabiata. 

The Piato Di Mare was beautifully done, a seafood stew thick with sauteed lobster, shrimp and mussels and a tomato sauce flavored with roasted garlic, wine and crushed red pepper flakes that prompted much bread dipping.

Photo by Barney Taxel
Since there were so many dishes to try, I had asked for small portions. But chef is a generous host and one of those cooks who can't do little. So we didn't finish most of the dishes we were served. But one strozzapreti (a pasta shape) in truffle and balsamic cream sauce was so incredible we did polish it off. I was not surprised when Lola mentioned it was one of her favorite dishes on the menu. Mine, too. No wonder she married this guy- who wouldn't stick with a man who can put this on your dinner table?  The food kept coming. There was rich slow roasted, fork-tender wild boar in a port wine sauce over linguini and a huge breaded veal chop Milanese plated with grilled radicchio, goat cheese and polenta.

And then a dessert tray that provided a tour di dolce of what Luca has to offer: cheesecake, a sublime panna cotta topped with a compote of grapes and berries, chocolate mousse (in darling tiny white and dark chocolate cups), biscotti, cannoli, all made in-house except for the cannoli shells.

Photo by Barney Taxel
  Between them, Luca and Lola, who are originally from Albania, have an impressive set of credentials that bodes well for their ability to deliver this kind of quality night  after night. Although the chef has worked at Osteria and Michaelangelo's, this is his first time as an owner. Lola, whose warm smile and charming personality add an extra glow to the dining room, learned the hospitality business at Morton's and is a third level sommelier. She's put together a wine list that's heavy on European labels, including champagne, plus good stuff from California and New Zealand, and stocked the bar (where I must happily note there is no TV), with top shelf cognacs and bourbons.

  I'm happy to be in a position to play matchmaker: Cleveland, meet Luca. I promise you'll have some good times together. There's a covered patio out front for eating alfresco, valet parking nightly and a happy hour Monday-Friday from 5-7 p.m. Just more reasons to get acquainted. Who knows, a lasting relationship just might be the result.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Taste of the Past

photo by Barney Taxel
Cleveland has become quite the ice cream town. There's Honey Hut, Mitchells and a few new players on the frozen scene I've blogged about — among them Sweetie Fry in Cleveland Heights and Mason's Creamery. But only a handful of shops offer places to sit and savor the sweets indoors. One of my favorite such places is Sweet Moses on Detroit Road in the Gordon Square Arts District.

The shop recreates ice cream parlors of the past. The double storefront space contains a candy case; marble counter lined with tall, round stools; wood polished to a high shine; gleaming silver spigots; round tables surrounded by vintage wrought iron chairs; and a restored work-of-art cash register. The behind-the-counter servers wear white shirts and aprons, and the menu includes classic sundaes made with house-churned flavors and real whipped cream, milk shakes, malts, pies and popcorn. It's hot fudge heaven with a cherry on top.

There used to be more places like this across town, typically inside a pharmacy. Why? That's an interesting tidbit of food history. Allow me to indulge my culinary geekiness for a few sentences. In late 1800s and early 1900s, mixing carbonated mineral water with sweetened flavored syrups was a common way to mask the taste of liquid medicines and render them palatable. By 1911, there were more than 100,000 such "soda fountains" around the country. The fizzy drinks, sans quinine, iron and other "drugs," were incredibly popular with young and old alike, offering an alternative hang out to the corner saloon. Soda jerk became a job title.

photo by Barney Taxel
You can't buy liniment or tooth powder at Sweet Moses, but you can get a traditional phosphate. I was in there recently with my family and had one of the chilled bubbly drinks with a slightly tart, acidic tang. There are 18 syrups to chose from (mostly fruit flavored, but the shop also offers others such as ginger and cinnamon). I went with peach and it was wonderful and refreshing — all the things I like about soda without any of the cloying sweetness that I hate. Just the thing to clear the palate after consuming a tall glass of Salted French Caramel ice cream, an outstanding new addition to the shop's line-up, topped with salted pistachios and pecans. It was a grand way to get out of the heat, while away an hour and slip back in time. The long line snaking past our table suggested others feel the same.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Machine Gun Kelly Raises His Black Flag

Photo by Quentin Le'Son

Whether you know Machine Gun Kelly as the wild boy who brought a flash mob to SouthPark Mall in August of 2011 or an East Side up-and-coming artist who can spit rhymes with lightning-fast precision, one thing remains true: he has influenced thousands of people around the world. On Aug. 2, more than 3,000 people traveled from 42 states and two countries to attend the first annual E.S.T. Festival in Garrettsville, Ohio, which was hosted and headlined by the 23-year-old artist in an effort to support Cleveland Public Schools and other charities.

"This was a sacrifice on our end to create something much bigger than us and our pockets," he says. "This was all done off of emotion."

Last year, we chose Machine Gun Kelly as one of the 25 Reasons We Rock because of the movement he's creating amongst his fans. Since then, he released his debut album, Lace Up, with Bad Boy and Interscope Records, won the mtvU Woodie of the Year Award in March and recently released his sophomore album, Black Flag, for free June 26.

We traveled to the E.S.T. Fest to talk with Machine Gun Kelly about his reasons for giving away his music, his thoughts behind his movement and to see what's next for one of Cleveland's hottest rap stars.

Cleveland Magazine: As the next step in your career, what does this festival mean to you and how did it get started?

MGK: We had always had this vision, and really it kind of came to fruition by default of the fact that no festivals would book us this year. The one thing I always wanted to have was a legacy and be iconic, you know? As a fan, I can’t think of anything better than someone coming into my life and giving me a community to go to, giving me a family to be around when I feel alone. There’s a girl who paid $1,500 for a plane ticket to come here from Norway. She came here by herself. I met her last night. This is honestly giving people a place to belong for a weekend and free themselves.

CM: What was your creative process behind Black Flag, and how did it differ from Lace Up?

MGK: Lace Up, I was in a negative space. There were so many different MGKs that were present during that. It took a long time to write. Black Flag was one month. Cleveland, Ohio. In a basement. Done. I came home for the first time after touring for about a year and a half. I didn’t write for six months. So I soaked up all of those life experiences, and in one month I put it all into an album. I think it’s my best work today.

Photo by James Bigley II

CM: What's at stake for you with this new album?

MGK: Everything. I think this album will determine if Machine Gun Kelly is going to be the next superstar, like we all believed in, or if he’s just going to stay at this underground state that he’s in. Which is sweet, I’ll just continue running the underground. I’d rather run both worlds, but whatever it is, it’s in God’s hands now.

CM: Why did you make the album free to the public?

MGK: I needed a chance to say everything I wanted without any interference, without any guidance. However, on this next album, I’m going to take all the guidance I can get. My thing is, I gave you all Black Flag, now give me a chance to do something a little bit different on this next album and just rock with me.

CM: So what is "Machine Gun Kelly," and how would you define this movement? 

MGK: Look, when I die, Machine Gun Kelly is going to be alive and walking because Machine Gun Kelly is every one of those kids out there. What people don’t realize is that those kids are going to grow up and become something. And I’m going to be with them when they become that. They’re not going to forget this shit ever in their life. What if one of these kids becomes a judge? There could be a life-altering situation with me where it depends on one person and that one person is him, and he’s like, ‘You know what? This mother f---er changed my life so allow me to give him one more chance.’