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Monday, March 22, 2010

Tasting Cleveland is Best Done in Groups

Sometimes it takes a visiting out-of-towner to help you see what's in your back yard.

This isn't an uncommon phenomena. When I lived in Padua, Italy, I tried not to see anything remotely famous in the area, figuring SOMEONE would come to make me see it again. When I visited my cousin in St. Louis, she claimed that she saw more in St. Louis that weekend with me, than ever.

These are possibly exaggerations on both counts, but it's true we don't take as much effort when we're alone because we'll always be near that place to check out later. It's our vacation destinations where we put the extra effort in to see as much as we can (check this blog in the next two weeks!!).

So, when my girlfriend's friends came in from Rhode Island for a few days, we decided to all go out with some other mutual friends to a Cleveland spot...where someone got a sense of the city...where the food helped reflect the culture...where an artist wouldn't feel the wallet pinch too tightly...and where we, as "locals" could go somewhere we've been meaning to go for a while.

And we came up with Sokolowski's University Inn in Tremont.

(this photo taken on the way out)

The only main obstacle foreseen was the time. We were meeting on a Friday during Lent in Catholic country. The place, itself, served Polish food with pierogi, which was a common meal for a Catholic on a Lenten Friday. They would also have fish, so the place would be filled.

And when we all met in three different cars, we were in 8. Eight people at the end of a considerably long line.

First, we passed through a dining area where people were bringing back their food topped with potato pierogies, kraut, rolls, salads and what-not. It took some time to get through the first room, only to find ourselves in the bar room, where the line turned and went into another direction.

Here are two pics from the spot where the line took a turn...

Looking back to the entry of the first room we went through.

Looking in the direction to the room we were heading to (which had the food).

And a nice view of Cleveland.

Slowly we approached the cafeteria-style serving area... portraits of the owners looked upon you.

The first thing you noticed was the dessert area. I say this not only because the desserts, combined with a growling stomach, made the mouth water, but because the majority of our group overlooked the napkins and silverware to our right as we approached it. It wasn't until the drink area (halfway down) that I noticed trays next to me practically barren from anything - save the dessert - and we had to yell down to others to pass over some utensils.

Also, at the dessert area, reflexes were quick. My girlfriend's hand snuck under for the chocolate pie before I could even get my camera phone in place.

Notice how her face is completely unaware of this event! Imagine her surprise when she found it on her plate!

I, myself, wanted something more old-school. So I went with the rice pudding.

The line progressed with beverages (beer, soft drinks, and their own root beer).

Soon, we were getting close to the hot food and I wasn't sure what I wanted yet.

I was crossed between the Salisbury Steak, which they were famous for, and the kielbasa. My girlfriend said she was getting pierogies for sure, so there was no need for me to order those. A tasting was planned! But kielbasa was typically salty and Salisbury seemed typically processed.

I really didn't know what to do.

Then I found out they had potato pancakes. Maybe I could get a side of that? But she wanted one too and I found out that one pancake counted as one it'd have to be a separate side order. What was it going to be?

Walking further left, it was suddenly my turn. With a last second decision between the kielbasa and the Salisbury Steak, I went with the steak, side of potato and corn (on top on potatoes) in a moat of gravy. This also came with a roll and a salad plate.

My girlfriend got the kielbasa with a side of pierogies and kraut.

Now, an hour after we arrived, we had our food and the eight of us crammed into a table for 6. I was between a wall and table behind me as all our trays did not fit along the table's wooden surface. We lifted trays and brought our plates down, using our Tetris skills to the best of our ability so that everything would fit.

Those at the end of the table were sent off as hunters to bring back some salad delights. There was no way I was going anywhere from that spot. If I wanted a salad that badly, I should have done it before sitting down.

I looked down at my food swimming in gravy and wished I asked the woman behind the counter not to put so much gravy in. I don't like gravy or au jus or anything of those things really. Things in crock pots freak me out. I don't even care for soup (see previous entry).

But, in the end, I looked past it and it really didn't matter...because I sliced off pieces of Salisbury steak and spread each bite with a corny dab of potato and everything was fine.

Concerning the food in general, it was good. Granted, I thought the kielbasa casing was too tough and the potato pancakes cooked too much, but the pierogies were light and flavorful and those yogurty cucumbers in the salad bar were out of this world!

My rice pudding was tasty and moist and great. And her chocolate pie... was different than just chocolate pudding.

It tasted like licking chocolate cake batter really. I was happy her hand pulled it before her face figured out what was going on.

Her hand is awesome!

But, when it came down to it, I thought the experience with good people ended up being more of a highlight for me than the food. And, with that said, I also feel that, with this particular group, I would feel the same in any other restaurant in the world. So I did enjoy Sokolowski's, but I enjoyed my company more. They were great dinner mates.

I only keep their names (including the girlfriend) private out of respect for them. But, if they come across this blog, they'll know who they are.

It's not always the food itself that makes going out wonderful. I've had many great-tasting meals that have been horrible experiences.

Great company is the best spice of all.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Things that can change your life...or kill you.

This weekend, I ate a lot of food I probably shouldn't have, but there were two dishes I'm glad I did.

Both are dangerous in their own way.

The first dish is the Devils on Horseback, the one dish that grabbed my attention from the menu of The Greenhouse Tavern (Cleveland).

This is an appetizer of three bacon-wrapped dates (6 bucks) with almonds, bitter chocolate, and roasted fresno pepper. The sweet and salty is what I like best with this dish, especially with the bit of spice with the pepper. Small, flavor-filled and delightful. You have to remember that it's wrapped in bacon before making second or third orders.

The other dish is the Irish Nachos, which we got while trying The Unicorn Restaurant and Pub in Grafton.

This half-order ($4.95) consists of waffle fries topped with a swiss cheese sauce, scallions and corned beef. The mere description begged us to order it. And, as we slowly devoured it, we were completely spellbound - our hearts hardening with every chew.

Until it was no more...

...and our hearts fortunately kept pumping.

So we got to live another day to try other wonderful foods out there. But I need to remember these dishes so that I make better selections in the future.

I can't tell you how far off this diet I am. The 300 pound man is going to get out for sure!

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The way to a man's heart...

I'm sure, after my previous Girl-Scout-Cookie-and-Tuna-Fish Experiment, I've lost a lot of readers. Of course, what constitutes as "a lot" is probably about 4 people. So I may actually be the only one who ever reads this entry unless I can hook in some passersby with this post.

Here's hoping in any case.

In this period of my life, I'm stressed. Not that I have a horribly stressful life by any means. I would consider it a rather blessed one. Supportive family and a wonderful loving girlfriend. Great friends. Travel opportunities every so often. Good jobs.

Things are great.

But I tend to be ambitious about things. There are jobs I've picked up. Tasks I've agreed to. Planned events. Regular chores. Then there's a children's book I'm trying to get published, other stories I'm working on, and then trying to set time for painting occasionally, etc. Just a lot I want to do and not enough time to do it.

Perhaps I need to focus or plan things better. Perhaps I need an assistant.

In any case, there are back muscles that tighten, odd dreams at night, tight jaw muscles and muscle twitching in my eyeballs. Whether self-created or's there.

So, when my girlfriend (who is a super-talented, multi-tasking, speaker, publisher, artist, etc.) offered to take me out to my favorite restaurant, Pacific East, located in Cleveland Heights, Ohio, I was delighted. Like a kid in a candy store.


And, on this past Saturday night, many others seemed to feel that way too. When we arrived at Pacific East, the place was just packed with patrons squishing into the waiting space. Fortunately, we didn't have to wait all that long in the end. Our stomachs were just getting more prepared on what was to come.

Pacific East has some great rolls (fried oyster, sweet potato, varied fish and vegetable rolls) as well as some Malaysian dishes I feel ashamed for not having tried. But their sushi/sashimi combo dishes made for 1-4 people are just incredible. I've done the boat for 4 people with friends in the past and they were wonderful experiences.

This time, I thought of doing The Bridge for 2. Fortunately for me (super lucky dude here), she was in on the idea.

So I present to you the beauty of The Bridge (if only I had a Canon instead of a slider phone)....

There was a spicy tuna roll, a california roll, various sushi pieces (salmon, tuna, eel, white tuna, yellow tail, ikura) and then sashimi.

It was wonderful! Melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

Closeup of some sushi. She doesn't care for eel...which I love.

Closeup of Ikura (salmon roe) - another love item of mine

And then some Mochi for dessert (green tea, red bean and mango) - something she definitely likes more than I do...

...check out the spoon. She couldn't wait for the picture.

But that's one reason I love her.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Sometimes because it's there....

Some of the world's best ideas were born from thousands of bad ones.

And perhaps this is one (of the bad ones).

In one hand, I some Chalet Creme Girl Scout Cookies that I really don't care for. The cookie is like graham/animal cracker and the creme is sparse. It does NOT come out to the edge like in the photo. Where's that honesty badge!?

In the other, I have a half can of Starkist Tuna Fish in Olive Oil. Decent but bland by itself...much milder with the olive oil.

Before eating the tuna, I thought, "I would LOVE some breadcrumbs or something to give it texture."

And then I thought of combining the 2 (sans creme)...

It really wasn't bad at all. There was a hint of lemon that came out with the cookie and it added a nice texture to it all as a whole. The sweetness was nice too (although I still wouldn't add the creme to this).

And, like I said, this isn't the best dish in the world - nor anything close to it. Some of you may even be dry heaving...but I think SOMETHING could come from this in the end. Some type of culinary attempt evolution could really sprout something fantastic - all because someone took a chance with 2 flavors that aren't traditionally matched!

Perhaps, some day, there'll be Cookie Crunch Fish Trucks on Hawaiian shores, selling fresh Thai salmon and crushed Tagalongs with a splash of coconut milk and a bit of fresh lemon grass.

And perhaps the dry heavers will take that first bite and think it's the most creative and fulfilling dish they've ever put their palate to.

And maybe they'll stop dry heaving and really produce something that time.

But I may like it. And I'm satisfied with that thought.