Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Brush With Culinary Greatness -- Twice

This past weekend, DB~ and I went to Cleveland to visit her brother that lives in downtown Cleveland.  He lives in a killer bachelor pad loft that makes me envious.  He can walk to a Cavaliers, Indians, or Browns game.  There's restaurants and bars all around him, he walks to work, plus other little pockets of fun downtown living.

DB~ and I have been to Cleveland two other times in the past 2 years.  Our first trip there was a Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives-inspired tour -- we went to Momocho and Melt.  We absolutely love Momocho, so we made Friday night reservations to go there with her brother.

We had 8:15 reservations and when we got there Momocho (in Ohio City, a neighborhood about 5 minutes from center city Cleveland) was packed solid, as expected.  After a couple of minutes wait, we were seated upstairs in the very stylish and little less hectic dining area.  If you didn't click the link of our first review of Momocho, the decor is a mash-up of religious artifacts (crosses, Jesus, Virgin Mary) with Mexican wrestling. 

When we sat down, we knew that we were going to get guacamole, as this is a nearly must-get here.  We decided to get the sampler when you can get 3 choices.  Each of us would pick one -- I went with smoked trout and bacon, DB~ chose goat cheese and poblano, and DB~'s brother went with crab guacamole.

As we were deciding on our dinner items, I looked over the shoulder of DB~'s brother and thought to myself, "That guy looks like Bobby Flay".  But with us being in Cleveland on a random April weekend, I quickly dismissed the thought.  The man and his female dinner date soon thereafter left.  Shortly after they did, our server (who was also his server) came over and said "That was Bobby Flay!"  Apparently this past weekend there was a food expo, presumably for vendors selling equipment to restaurants, at some convention center near the Cleveland airport.

Bobby Flay is Mr. Southwestern cuisine, so it must have been daunting for the chefs at Momocho to present their dishes to him.  But Momocho doesn't have much to worry about on that front, as their food is fantastic.

DB~'s brother got the coffee-braised brisket taquitos, which I got last time we were there.  I went with the mole braised short rib taquitos (a common ingredient in my culinary consumption this weekend), and DB~ chose the shrimp taquitos.  You get 5 street taco sized shells and a croquet of your protein in their cooking liquids plus onions and peppers.  On the side is a special sauce for each item, plus a salsa verde for you to add.

The crazy part is that when we got back to her brother's loft, he turned on the Food Network.  Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives was on and immediately the episode where Guy went to Momocho came up.  DB~ has remarked that Triple D is always on the Food Network, so there must be nearly 200 episodes by this point.  What are the chances that exact episode would be on from 2 years ago?

The next night we had reservations at Iron Chef Michael Symon's Lola restaurant in downtown Cleveland, just a 10 minute walk from the loft.  After applying for reservations 3 weeks in advance, the only time we could get was 9:30 pm.  Needless to say, we had a late lunch.  We got there a little early, hoping that someone cancelled, but we were out of luck.  Instead, we went to the bar and had a drink.

I mentioned to the bartender that we "had dinner with Bobby Flay" last night, so we were hoping to go 2 for 2 and see a 2nd Iron Chef tonight.  The bartender said that Symon wasn't there, but Emeril Lagasse was in the restaurant tonight.  Seriously.  What are the odds of that?

We chuckled about that while we enjoyed our drinks.  When we got called for our table, I jokingly said to the hostess, "Where do you have Emeril stashed tonight?"  She scanned her computer screen and said, "....mmmm, right next to your table."


Sure enough, we're led right up to the elevated tier that faces out onto East 4th Street.  And there right next to us was Emeril and 5 dinner companions.  He was pretty much "Emeril" as I was eavesdropping on his conversations -- he controlled the conversation, was bold in his dialogue.  He wasn't trying to blend in (like Flay was the night before) as his entourage was waving to people in the street and Emeril at one point wandered into the open-air kitchen.

I wanted to play it cool so I waited until we were done with our dinner and dessert.  I leaned over and tapped him on the shoulder and said, "My parents are very jealous that I was sitting next to you tonight; they're very big fans of yours.  I was texting them throughout dinner."  He politely said thank you and that's all I needed to say.

A more formal review of the divine Lola will be in a subsequent post, but suffice it to say that it is worth a 2 hour drive to Cleveland to dine at a Iron Chef's restaurant.

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