Saturday, March 6, 2010

Quick Bites

I feel like I post pretty regularly, but I’ve been a little busy lately and have missed a few great meals in the last few weeks, so here’s run down of some of the last month’s food highlights:

Struck by a sudden sushi craving Nicole and I investigated Ariyoshi Japanese Restaurant on Lee Road. Ariyoshi’s dining room is elegantly understated, and patrons may sit at either a table, dressed simply in white, or at the sushi bar. What Ariyoshi lacks in décor is more than made up for in menu. The number of food options is almost dizzying, to help sort things out we ordered warm sake and hot tea. The tea was a delicious, full bodied green tea, the kind you only seem to get at good Japanese restaurants and decent coffee shops and the sake was good. I guess? I don’t know that much about sake but I know what tastes good and we had no problem putting this down. Its pungent first taste was well complemented by its subtle floral and vanilla aftertastes. Having finally made my decision, Nicole had no problem making hers, we ordered. Our meal consisted of:
One spicy tuna roll
Two pieces of unagi (eel)
Two pieces of yellow fin tuna
One piece of octopus
One piece of squid
One piece of crab
One red clam
The spicy tuna roll was one of the best I’ve ever had. I tend to stay away from rolls as all the other additions to the roll seem to detract from the fish, but this was outstanding! The yellow fin was also spectacular. I order this almost any time I get sushi and Ariyoshi’s was maybe the best I’ve ever had. With a clean delicate taste, this tuna has faint sweetness to it and a fatty, slightly fishy end. Perfect with just a little wasabi and soy sauce. The unagi was also spectacular, perfectly broiled with just a touch of a salty/sweet/smokey sauce over it. The red clam was… interesting to say the least. Taste wise it was fine, clean, fresh, and salty, like a sip of ocean water, but it was texturally, um, different. Not bad, but not something I’m likely to try again. The squid was similar. I usually love squid, but every other time I’ve had it it’s been cooked in some way. Raw, however, it leaves me a little cold. It has very little taste and felt a bit like chewing on a slightly fishy rubber band. I’ll be sticking to calamari from now on. The octopus, on the other hand, was a revelation! It was generally tender with just a slight toothiness to it, and the flavor was crisp and clean, requiring no further doctoring. Amazing. Last but not least was the crab. Definitely the most average piece tried that night. It was just a piece of steamed crab leg, in eating this, though, I discovered that in lieu of drawn butter wasabi and soy sauce make pretty great dressing for crab. At the end of our meal instead of dessert we ordered one more piece each of the toro, or fatty tuna belly. A more expensive and flavorful cut our toro was extremely clean tasting and had an aftertaste of watermelon, which was great, but it also seemed to have been recently thawed and still very slightly frozen, which wasn’t so great. The overall experience was phenomenal and I would definitely recommend Ariyoshi for sushi in Cleveland Heights, and not only was the food and service outstanding, had we nor ordered sake and the toro we would’ve been both well fed for well under $15!

As outspoken proponents of the breakfast and brunch arts, Nicole and I are always on the prowl for great morning grub. While the Inn on Coventry is our go-to breakfast spot, there are numerous places in Cleveland serving up delicious morning munchies. A few weeks ago when we both had a Saturday off together we headed over to Shaker to eat at the Vine and Bean Café. Nestled in the cozy first floor of one of Shaker’s elegant old homes, Vine and Bean has the atmosphere any place serving breakfast should seek: homey and relaxed with the wonderful smells of coffee and the griddle filtering throughout. Vine and Bean’s dishes are all made from the freshest local ingredients seasonally available so the menu is subject to change, but it seems their chef is on point as the whole thing looks amazing. We started with cups of their fresh brewed coffee. Vine and Bean is a coffee shop in addition to restaurant so they know their way around a cuppa, and their dark roast is an excellent, full bodied way to start a meal. For our brunch I ordered the Gingerbread Waffles. Two huge, hearty homemade waffles loaded with cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove, these uber-waffles come piled with maple poached apples, honey-whipped cream, and homemade caramel sauce. The amazing this about this was, that for as massive and rich everything was, at no point did it seem overwhelming. Sweet, sour, spice and fat were all in perfect balance in this dish and it disappeared off my plate almost immediately. Nicole opted for the biscuits and gravy. We had both concurred that we were neither of us huge fans of this southern standard, but V&B’s iteration of this classic must be tried. Built on a base of cheddar scallion biscuits, topped with scrambled eggs, and a creamy sausage gravy loaded with sausage bits. Simple but somehow refined, Vine and Bean has turned this simple fair into a modern and almost elegant dish without losing any of its rugged charm. And it doesn’t stop at breakfast, Vine and Bean delivers modern takes on classic cuisine all day long with an equally amazing sounding lunch and dinner menu.

Rounding out the dining adventures I’ve had recently but haven’t been able to post up is Number 1 Pho. I feel like this restaurant has been in Cleveland forever, but it wasn’t until about two weeks ago that I finally made it in. My only regret is not eating there sooner! Pho, if you’re not familiar, is a Vietnamese soup. The base of which is boiling hot beef broth and rice noodles into which sliced, rare beef is added to continue cooking. Bean sprouts, basil, peppers, lime, and hot and soy sauces can be added to taste. Working with a somewhat loose set of ingredients, Pho is almost endlessly customizable or variable depending on available ingredients, location, and dietary constraints. We started our meal with an appetizer made of spiced shrimp paste wrapped around pieces of sugar cane and steamed. With a side of sweet spicy chili sauce, this was a great little bite to kick start the old gastric juices. For the main course we both ordered the soup. Nicole chose the Pho with sliced beef and beef balls. With the basil and lime and hot sauce, this dish had everything going for it. Hearty and savory with a nice bit of acidity from the lime and a serious kick from the hot sauce it verged on a perfect flavor profile. The rare beef added to cook in the broth was wonderfully tender and the meat balls were perfectly cooked and seasoned, but had an interesting texture. I opted for the seafood variant, with a delicious fish stock as the base this soup was loaded with shrimp, squid, and fish balls. I was a little nervous about the so called fish balls at first, but they were delicious and tender, with a little bit of the stock they were the very essence of the taste of good seafood. The seafood soup arrives unadorned but is spiked with a handful of onions to add some depth to the dish. Amazing and delicious, but searing hot on it arrival, Pho is something to sip and savor, not wolf down.


Rochelle said...

Matt and I have hyped up Vine and Bean to everyone we know. The "shipwreck" breakfast is amazing. We went once for dinner this fall. The patio is one of the best in Cleveland. The dinner menu however is nothing to write home about.

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