Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Merkat - Chicago

This post about Merkat sort of got lost in the wash over the past few weeks.  Merkat, owned and operated by Iron Chef Jose Garces, was the "other restaurant" we ate our during my surprise trip to Chicago three weeks ago.

Merkat had the unfortunate circumstance of following up our dinner the previous night at Moto in Chicago.  Merkat is a tapas restaurant located on Michigan Avenue.  It was a nice, brisk walk from our hotel -- probably 8 blocks -- made more adventurous by the slight drizzle that started once we walked out on to the street.

When we first got there, both of us had a "this is it?" look on our face when we came in on the ground floor.  Then we realized we were in the casual bar area and the main restaurant was up a flight of winding stairs.  The restaurant is one large open space, which can make it loud at times, but it has a nice palette of deep reds and browns.

We decided to order 5 tapas covering a wide spectrum of the potential options on the menu.  We started off with a great goat cheese/pear compote, then followed that with some Catalan Spinach (spinach with raisins, pine nuts, and apples).

For our proteins, we started off with the garlic shrimp, then moved to a sausage/porcini flatbread.  We finished with a braised rabbit pasta that had a brown butter and chestnut puree.

Our dinner was perfectly fine; it was just that DB~ and I looked at all of our tapas (and tasted them) and thought that we could make all of them back home.  At no point during our dinner at Moto did that thought cross our mind.

It was great to eat an Iron Chef's restaurant, especially because it was a such a great surprise to be there at all.  It was a pretty nice run of restaurants, as the previous weekend we were at Iron Chef Michael Symon's Lola in Cleveland.

With Chicago being such a short flight away, I hope that we can go back to Chicago together in the medium-term future again sometime.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Roasted Kale Chips

This is a post that I've been meaning to type for a while, but it keeps getting lost in the mix with other posts.  At the beginning of 2012, DB~ kept telling me about these kale chips sold at Whole Foods and how great they were.  At the time, we didn't have a Whole Foods nearby so I looked up "kale chips" on the nets and was surprised how easy it was to make a variation of them at home.

Kale is a "green" and is considered a "superfood" due to its high nutrient content.  It's also a very good value.  A typical bunch sold at Giant Eagle is $1.49/bunch (and this is higher than other places).  A bunch usually comes out to $1.25 total at the register and can feed 4 people.

What you do is rip the leaves off the stems in large chunks.  Spread them out on a baking sheet and brush them lightly with olive oil.  You don't want to drench them -- just enough to keep them from burning; any more and they get a little soggy.  After you brush the oil on, sprinkle on a little salt and pepper and just roll the leaves around to coat them evenly in the salt/pepper.

Put them in the oven at 375 Farenheit for 12-15, just enough time to get the edges brown.  The kale should crinkle like dry leaves in the fall.  The excess water will be roasted out and replaced with an olive oil-coated salty, tasty mix of flavors.  If you do it right, you'll find yourself absent-mindedly eating them with your fingers throughout dinner.

Here's a picture from some I made this week:

Saturday, May 26, 2012

The Re-Opening of the Manor Theatre

On Thursday night, DB~ and I were invited to attend the pre-opening party at the Manor Theatre in Squirrel Hill.  The renovations were completed by loca l restauranteur Richard Stern and his daughter Alexa Stern.

The Manor Theatre on Murray Avenue was a theater in need of sprucing up.  It had just not been renovated and given the care that a cool little neighborhood theater should have.  It wasn't bad; it was just dated.

The Sterns put 4 months and who knows how much money into the renovations.  They went with a combination of art deco (they used a framed picture of the Manor from the 30's as an inspiration) with some modern touches, as well.

The Manor will have a full bar, in addition to a snack bar, and I sampled one of the 8 house-made cocktails that they were advertising.  Most of them had movie-related names, so I went with a Pulp Fiction.  I can't remember what all was in the drink, but it had some cherries in it so it must have been healthy for me.

The event was catered by two of the restaurants that Richard Stern owns -- Willow and Spoon.  The executive chef of Spoon, Brian Pecarcik, was there so DB~ and I said hi and congratulated him on his win of Chef of the Year from Pittsburgh Magazine.  We had some good crab cakes from the Willow section, plus great cheese and charcuterie in another area.  Spoon made some tuna tartare/ceviche in little serving spoons, plus some "tuna fish" on a cracker appetizer.

The Manor has 4 theaters and they seem to be going with a combination of super-popular movies (Avengers, Dictator) and indie movies (two I've never heard of).  With its location in one of the most-populated and culturally diverse neighborhoods of Pittsburgh, I'm thinking it will do well under the ownership of the Sterns.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Trade Target - Josh Willingham

Today against the Mets and LHP Jon Niese, the Pirates started the following four players on the corners -- the traditional power positions:
1B Casey McGehee (.186, 0 HR, slumping horribly in May)
3B Yamaico Navarro (.182, 1 HR, starting in place of LH Alvarez)
LF Gorkys Hernandez (first ML start, 0 HR, in place of Tabata)
RF Josh Harrison (.274, 1 HR, hitting well of late but not a power threat)

Between these 4 players, they might hit 15 HR this year.  Might.  That's spread over 4 positions.

It's no secret that the Pirates' offense is atrocious this year.  It's only due to the mostly exceptional pitching that the Pirates are even at 20-24, after today's loss. 

Neal Huntington knows this.  I've met Huntington numerous times and spoken to him plenty of times.  He's astute about the game of baseball.  He's not an overmatched dolt as his detractors portray him.  This is not Nero fiddling while Rome burns.

I believe him when he says that very few trades happen this time of year.  They really don't, mostly because the new smell of the clubhouse has barely worn off.  It's not even Memorial Day.  The extra wild card in each league will stunt the trade deadline, as teams will want to hang in and make a run, instead of selling off as they may have done in the past.

All that said, there are some teams that absolutely should be looking to sell right now, as their seasons are already over.  One of those teams are the Minnesota Twins.  Coming into today's action, the Twins stand at 15-27.  They have demoted Francisco Liriano to the bullpen, lost Scott Baker for the season to an arm injury, released Jason Marquis, and have 4 (4!) starting pitchers with ERA's over 8.30.  The Twins look like they are in need of a tear down and rebuild around the now-albatross contract of Joe Mauer ($23M/yr forever).  They need a combination of ML-ready talent and upside talent in their bland minor league system, Miguel Sano not-withstanding.

The only hitter they have playing above the board right now is Josh Willingham, who they signed in the past offseason to a 3 year, $21M deal.  Willingham is a LF/1B (in spacious PNC Park, he would play RF) who is 33 years old and has a triple slash right now of .289/.404/.578 (982 OPS, 172 OPS+) with 8 HR and 21 walks.  I'm including his walks because those are a rarity for any Pirate this year and he would be leading the team by 8 walks.

Willingham would not only be a legitimate RH power bat, but he would add a professional hitter to a lineup that is lacking them, outside of McCutchen (who is prone to getting homer-happy at times).  Willingham's age shouldn't be a concern.  He's obviously doing well, in a tough hitters park in Minnesota, at age 33.  The Pirates would get him for his age 33-35 seasons and, hopefully, avoid a significant decline in his skills.

What would it take to get him?  Using the trade values developed by Victor Wang (which I will be looking to update later this summer) and assuming $5M/WAR, let's take a look:
Willingham has been a fairly consistent 3 WAR player in his career.  We'll give him a pro-rated 60% of that for 2012 (assuming he would be traded in the next 2 weeks), a full 3 for 2013, and then a slight decrease to 2.5 WAR in 2014.  That will give a total of 7.3 WAR as a Pirate.  That would have a value of $36.5M.  Subtracting his remaining salary of $18.2M, again pro-rating 60% this year, gives a surplus of $18.3M.

Looking at the chart, that would be a league-wide Top 10 pitching prospect and a grade C pitcher younger than 22.  Or a league-wide Top 51-75 hitter and a grade B hitter.  Or some combination of lesser players, too.  For perspective, the Pirates Top 10 pitchers are Cole and Taillon and their Marte is a 51-75 ranked hitter.  I wouldn't trade any of those guys, but I would construct a package of multiple players.

Robbie Grossman was rated a Grade B hitter ($5.5M).  Luis Heredia is a grade B pitcher ($7.3M).  That's $12.8M of value.  Add in some ML-ready pitchers like Rudy Owens (a high floor, pitchability type that the Twins love) and Justin Wilson or Bryan Morris (combined $3.0M value) and now you're in the neighborhood.

Giving up Heredia would hurt, as would the others to certain extents, but the Pirates need help NOW.  Farm systems are there to provide cost-controlled talent to the ML team, but also to use in trades to get ML talent.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Moto - Chicago

Remember the Seinfeld episode where George goes to this nightclub inside a warehouse and is swarmed over by hot models?  Then when he takes Jerry to it the next morning, there is no evidence that it ever existed and he's left scratching his head if he imagined the whole thing.

That's pretty much how DB~ and I feel about the restaurant we ate at last weekend in Chicago known as Moto.  As part of DB~ surprising me with this trip, she asked her friends in Chicago via Facebook about great restaurant suggestions.  They gave her Moto and she made reservations 2 months in advance...and we still could only get an 8:30 time.

Our cabbie (after going the wrong way initially until I corrected him using Google Maps on my phone) took us into the Meatpacking District of Chicago on West Fulton.  It was like the warehouses of the Strip District but taken to the power of 10.  It was pretty desolate in the area where we driving, not ghetto'ish just empty, and I started to think I may be losing my kidneys in some sort of overseas organ-stealing ring.

And then we pull up to a warehouse with a non-descript metal door and a small green neon sign that says "Moto".  We enter into a sleek, for lack of a better term.  The upfront area had maybe 5 or 6 booth seating areas, but we were whisked to the back half area where there were 10-12 tables of 2 set up.  It's intimate and coupled with the level of food served, we could see why reservations were at a premium.

The walls were silver with black accents.  The end of the room was covered in wood-grained paneling.  The cool feature is that the doors were seamless -- meaning that when closed in the paneling, you could see that a door even existed.

Moto is a different place, which is a massive understatement.  It does not have a traditional menu; rather, it is a 15 course tasting menu of small bites.  These small bites are part science experiment, part gourmet cuisine, part edible art.  You can also pair the tasting menu with a wine tasting menu where you get a small glass of wine with each course.  The young couple next to us got it and it's a good thing we didn't -- they were completely trashed by the time they were done.

For such a special restaurant, DB~ decided to do a slide show of each course using Animoto.  The pictures are in order of each course that we tasted.  I wouldn't do the night justice by discussing the ingredients in each course.  But I will discuss the mad scientist behind this restaurant, Homaro Cantu.  After finding out we were going here, I read up about him a little bit.  Back in 2006, he was on Iron Chef America and challenged Morimoto -- and won.  He uses lasers, not sharks with frickin' lasers, but lasers nonetheless to work with food.  He made something called a food replicator that is now in a museum.  We had food that was dipped in liquid nitrogen, freeze dried food, and food that was carbonated to give it a pop when you bit into it.  There was a TV show for Green Planet called Future Food filmed in the basement of the restaurant for a couple of years.

Here's the slide show:

Our favorite course was the "corn" course.  It was corn three ways -- the first was a corn souffle with a Peruvian purple potato sliver, a soft shell crab with corn and a squash blossom tempura-fried (the best thing we had all night), and a corn ice cream with charred corn kernels on the outside.  In the "lamb" course, we ate a small piece of lamb pancetta off of a lamb femur.  So, yes, there is someone at Moto who is responsible for cleaning femurs.  It also had small cuts of other lamb parts, like...neck sausage.

We also ate off a log that was covered in a puree of ramps, topped with morels and sunchokes and shallots.  The log was surrounded by moss, which were actually freeze-dried smashed peas meant to look like moss.

Something created to look like something else was a common theme at Moto.  The first 9 courses were savory courses, with the last 6 being sweet dessert courses.  One of the last dessert courses was called "egg drop soup".  The server brought out a bowl of white foam with small fruit bites in it and then dropped an egg yolk and white into it.  We bought were thinking "Ehhh...gross?" until the server said that the egg was actually pureed mango that was reconstituted into a gel-state to look like an egg; the white was a jasmine tea base of some sort.  It was fantastic.

Let me interject something about our stay at Moto --- it was very long.  Our entire 15 course experience took us 3-1/2 hours to complete.  We weren't done eating until midnight.  Around course 9 (the lamb femur) I got up to go to the bathroom, but mostly just to stretch my legs and wake up a little, as it was nearly 11 pm.  You wouldn't think eating would take a lot out of you, but it was tiring at a certain point!

As we were eating the egg drop soup, a server dropped off a globe filled with smoke, sealed on top with saran wrap, on our table.  Inside the globe, hidden within the smoke, was a black glove standing on its end.  This was for our penultimate course called "smell the glove" after the Spinal Tap song.  It was quite dramatic eating with a smoky globe between us.

The smell the glove course was a chocolate dessert glaze in the shape of a hand perched on some other sweet treats.  The final course was called "after dinner menu".  A sauce pan filled with liquid nitrogen, thus discharging smoke all over the table, was brought out and our server extracted a small white piece of paper with tongs.  On it were printed the names of all 15 courses we had that night.  It was perched on top of some fruit pieces and mint sprigs, then crushed by the tongs.  We got to eat our menu.

Throughout the course of the night, we chatted up our servers and told them we came here from Pittsburgh just for this restaurant (not a total lie).  So at midnight we got to go downstairs and tour the kitchen and meet the chefs who prepared our dinner.  One asked our favorite course and we said "corn".  A chef named Chad perked up and said he made that one and the "gazpacho" which was probably our 2nd favorite.  He then guided us around the kitchen and showed up the aeroponic room where they grow their own herbs and vegetables using heat lamps and rotating holders.  It was a great way to end a great night.

Some of the courses had a slightly strange taste hidden beneath them.  I couldn't tell if it was a smoke or an herb that I wasn't aware of, but I finally decided the taste was just "science".  Whether it was freeze dried beets or liquid nitrogen or food reconstituted to be something else.

Moto was not the best tasting food I've ever had in my life; even though they were tiny tastes, some of them were plain or undeveloped sketch plans.  However, we will probably never go to a restaurant with better presentation or originality of food.  It is a place that both of us will remember for the rest of our lives.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Nerds Unite!

Tomorrow I'll try to post about either Merkat or Moto, the two restaurants we ate dinner at while in Chicago last weekend, but I thought I'd toss a post up about a group of folks we shared our flight back to Pittsburgh with...a huge group of high school nerds.

Not just any run-of-the-mill nerds, either.  These were dorks, geeks, nerds, and dweebs that were coming into town for the International Science and Engineering Fair 2012.  As a former uber-nerd that is now a well-rounded nerd, I tip my T-square and graphing calculator to the nearly 1600 students from the United States and around the world who were coming here for an all-expenses paid competition.

I had the luck to be sitting next to the brother of one of the competitors yesterday.  He and his family were from New Mexico and this University of New Mexico freshman (a physics major) was a previous competitor himself.  His brother's experiment was about the convection of heat through fractures in rock.

There were two super-annoying students behind us, a guy and a girl, who never shut up the whole trip.  The adult sitting beside them would probably have gone on a killing spree if the flight was any longer than the 1:20 it already was.

I tried to give some tips to the kid sitting next to me about kayaking and going to Primanti's, but he just politely nodded and I realized my advice was lost on this particular audience.  I'm sure the kid in the link above that invented pants with sensors in them to play and listen to his drumming, or the 15 year old girl who developed a cancer treatment, or the student who used foxglove to treat Type 2 diabetes more effectively than typical medications, would have been rapt with attention to my man-about-town advice on Pittsburgh.

I'm sure Google, CMU, Microsoft, Westinghouse, Boeing, and a host of other nefarious government agencies will be in attendance looking to scoop up these geniuses before they hit the open market at the ripe age of 18.  So if you're in the mood to gawk at some socially awkward teens looking to change the world, swing on by the Convention Center this week.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Chicago - Total Surprise Trip

So I have the best wife ev-ah.  A couple of weeks ago, DB~ asked me to take off Friday the 11th so that we could do some fun stuff around town and then leave early for a weekend trip to my family's vacation home outside of Deep Creek, MD.  We had been planning this for a couple of months, so I said no problem.

Last Thursday night, we were going to go to one of her work friend's birthday dinner at Bahama Breeze in Robinson Township.  Or so I thought.  When we got to the IKEA exit on the Parkway, she blew right past it.  I said "You missed the exit", to which she said, "I know a better way."

Once we got to the split for Business 60/Main 60, I figured out that there was no birthday dinner and we were actually headed to the airport.  Apparently, the whole birthday dinner and weekend trip to MD was part of an elaborate ruse to fool me.  In reality, we were going to Chicago for a getaway weekend.

I'll be putting together at least 2 posts about Chicago, one for each of the restaurants we went to.  That will be later this week, but in the meantime I just wanted to say for the thousandth time "You are the best."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Cleveland - Westside Market

Last week while we were in Cleveland visiting DB~'s brother, he took us to Ohio City (5 minute ride outside center city Cleveland -- think of the North Shore) and the Westside Market.  DB~'s brother is pretty low-key and really undersold the Market.  When we first walked into one of the auxillary areas, it was a long, narrow row of vendors hawking their fruits and vegetables.

It was cool, but after seeing stand after stand of the same stuff, I started to think "Is this it?"

Then her brother said, "Are you ready to check out the main part of the Market?" and we went inside this ornate building that had exterior cornices of various fruits and vegetables.  Inside, we felt like we were inside a converted railroad terminal; there was white subway tile up the walls that led to a vaulted ceiling that was covered in dark tile.

Imagine the entire Strip District, but inside a giant enclosed space that protected you from the elements.  The day we were there, it was a rainy, cold Saturday that was miserable to walk around outside.  The Westside Market had everything -- pierogies, fresh pasta, crepes, gyros, spices, Mediterranean food, fish, butchers, cheeses, noodle huts, Asian spice and stands, chocolates, plus tons more that I'm forgetting.

Her brother said that the gyro at Steve's Gyros was a must-get.  Again, in his understated way, to say this was an ordinary gyro would be an insult to Steve's Gyros.  For $8, you get an obscene amount of meat, lettuce, and tomatoes, but the kicker was the garlic-heavy tzatziki sauce.  The gyro meat itself was well-seasoned, but the sauce put the whole thing over the top.  To say nothing of the fantastically plump pita shell, as well.

Both DB~'s brother and I got gyros, while DB~ got a lemon ricotta crepe at the crepe stand.  She bypassed her Kryptonite of nutella to go for the lemon ricotta crepe.  She loved it and she definitely knows her crepes.

After our lunch, we bought some fresh asparagus marscapone ravioli from Ohio City Pasta and brought it back to Pittsburgh to eat.  We walked around to see all the vendors and I struck up a conversation with Michelle of Michelle's Bakery.  She was a warm woman that said she and her stand had been here at the Westside Market for 32 years.  This was her only location and business has always been great.  Judging by her nearly 1/2 empty cases by 12:30 pm, it seems that the metro area of Cleveland agrees with her.  We asked her about the history of the building and she said it had always been a municipal market.  It was celebrating the 100 year anniversary in 2012 and it was one of, if not the oldest municipal markets in the country.

This market made me want to buy something at every stand.  If we didn't have a 2 hour drive the next day, I probably would have done just that.  It's a definite must-go if you go to Cleveland.

** None of DB~'s pictures from her camera were able to upload for some reason.  I'll add them at a later date if I can figure it out.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Station Street Hot Dogs

At lunchtime today, I went over to the Pittsburgh Glass Center to pick up the garden floats we made last week.  As I was driving through East Liberty on the way back to work, I thought, "Hey, I'm close to Kevin Sousa's Station Street Hot Dogs, I'll check this out."

I knew it was roughly behind the new Target in East Liberty, so I sort of quasi-guessed where it was by turning onto Broad Street and scouring the area.  Station Street Hot Dogs has been around since 1915 and is a fairly plain looking building and space inside.  Kevin Sousa and his partners bought it last year and basically kept the shell and changed the menu.

Now Station Street features gourmet hot dogs in the vision of Kevin Sousa.  When I walked in the door around 12:30 p.m., there was a nice crowd of people both inside and outside.  There was a cashier and 2 people prepping in the back and just one guy working the line....Kevin Sousa himself.  Wearing a Union Pig and Chicken t-shirt, the guy who owns the best restaurant in the city (Salt of the Earth) and another popular restaurant (Union Pig and Chicken) was working the line fashioning gourmet hot dogs at lunchtime.  I was stunned and pleased at the same time.

I watched him robotically create little works of art, using a common medium beloved by Americans, in the same dispassionate working style I witnessed at Salt the last time we were there.  Clearly, he loves food and loves his work, but he is just so wired in while he is at work.  No movement is wasted, no extraneous mess is made.

There are 8 different hot dogs on the menu, each sounding better than the next, but I went with the Banh Mi Dog.  It was a hot dog topped with pork liver, jalapenos, a sweet chili, pickled..uh..pickles, and fresh cilantro.  There was a lot going on here.  Immediately, I bit into a jalapeno slice and my mouth was on fire.  The pickled pickles were fantastic and my favorite part of the dog; my least favorite were the stems kept on the cilantro.

I also got an order of fries, the regular ones and not the duck fat fries, which were great hand cut fries and big enough for 2 people to share.  The dog was $7 (the 2nd most expensive), the fries were $3, and the Coke was $2, so it was a $12 lunch.  This isn't the place you go to every day, but it is definitely worth it to check out the great flavors contained within a bun.

By the time I was done with my lunch, the crowd had gone and Sousa was on the line, quietly prepping food.  I walked up to the counter and said "hi".  Kevin Sousa is very approachable and was happy to talk.  I mentioned our Cleveland experience to him, which he found pretty interesting.  He said he had been to Lola also and liked it quite a bit and had met Michael Symon a few times.  He described Symon as one of the nicest guys in the business and "you would think he was from Pittsburgh that's how down to earth he is."

As I type this post, there is a chance that Sousa is just finishing up dinner service on a Friday night at a packed Salt of the Earth.  This is a man that truly loves food and loves to share it.  He may be a android, but if so I hope he dreams of electric sheep.

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.