Sunday, November 29, 2015

Velvet Tango Room -- Cleveland, OH

Velvet Tango Room is in a nondescript hole-in-the wall located on the fringes of the Ohio City and Tremont neighborhoods of Cleveland. From the outside the facade of the Velvet Tango Room blends right into the dilapidated buildings that surround the venue. On Friday night, the street was quiet, the glow of downtown was behind us, but Columbus street was dark. Had we not been to the Velvet Tango Room before, the glow of the neon sign would have been the only thing to lead us to our destination.

The Velvet Tango Room is not like other bars, there are numerous articles touting how exclusive and elusive entrance to the Velvet Tango Room can be. You see, there is no need to make reservations to sit in the front room; although the venue is a secret in and of itself, the secret backroom, which is accessible by key card entrance only, requires reservations in advance...sometimes weeks in advance. Some people have written that the backroom is for the socially elite -- despite the fact that we're attorneys, that's hardly the case. Just make a reservation and follow the rules to enjoy this swank location.

The speakeasy style of the Velvet Tango Room has one more unique feature -- a dress code. Follow the rule that "you can never be overdressed" and you'll do just fine at the Velvet Tango Room. Some articles suggest that dress code violations will get you turned away if they are not easily remedied. This is a throw-back to another era, a time when appearances were everything, so get dressed up to the nines before venturing out -- The Velvet Tango Room is locally and nationally acclaimed for a reason. This is not just a bar, it's a destination and experience.

An attire example, cover it up and class it up.
The weather was incredibly windy and rainy during our visit or I would have done more glamourous things to my hair.

An important thing to know about the Velvet Tango Room is that these cocktails are handcrafted. All are $18 (including tax) unless otherwise noted in the menu. You're paying for the finest and freshest ingredients. If you'd prefer something straight-up the prices are in the back of the menu and many go way over $18. If spending $18 on a cocktail makes you nervous, this place is not for you. I don't spend every weekend throwing down nearly $20 on a drink, I think a special occasion calls for an experience and the $18 is well worth it.

The Velvet Tango Room does not have an extensive list of food options, the list only takes up a small page on the back of the menu. The rest of the menu is brimming with libations. If you think you'll be hungry plan on eating before or after, if you'd like a snack while enjoying your cocktails the 'artisanal cheese plate' was wonderful. We particularly liked the spiced almonds which were included. 

We also had the 'warm olives and almonds' which were seasoned with sun-dried tomatoes, orange zest, chili and thyme. 

Choosing a plate of food to order will be the least difficult decision that you'll make at the Velvet Tango Room. The cocktail list is extensive, the bartenders will take time to help you with your selection if you wish, you probably can't go wrong with your order if you choose to go our on your own.

My first cocktail was the India Lime Fizz which has been featured on Food Network's Best Thing I Ever Ate. The India Lime Fizz "brings the exotic taste of floral India limes and notes of vanilla to the rich and creamy base.  The use of a whole egg disguises a particularly powerful cocktail."

The India Lime Fizz is sweet and acidic, but mellow at the same time. The ingredients intertwine and complement each other nicely. The egg gives this a nice full-bodied mouth-feel almost like the silkiness of a meringue.   

Dave selected a classic, which was of course elevated by the Velvet Tango Room. The Velvet Tango Sidecar is described as follows "Two parts Cognac, one part Cointreau, one part lemon. These are the perfect proportions of this classic cocktail." Dave said he selected this because he wanted to feel like Hemingway, the menu also described the history of the Sidecar, "Created in France in the 1920s, the Sidecar became a signature drink for the Hemingway ex-pat crowd in postwar Paris."

He felt fancy connecting with history, and the drink was delicious, robust and just sweet enough.

My second order was an Amaretto Sour. Disregard everything you think about amaretto sours and forget about the fluorescent sour mix that the grocery store sells, this is the real deal. Described by the Velvet Tango Room as "an egg white, fresh squeezed lemon and lime juice, simple syrup, and the spirit of your choice." According to them, "the egg white is key - it acts to bind the juice, sugar and alcohol into a showcase for the primary liquor."

The Amaretto Sour was perfection in a glass, I really enjoyed the India Lime Fizz, but I think that this drink might have been even better. The maraschino cherries are imported from Italy, the complex flavor of this maraschino is a far cry from the bright red spheres that you'll find in typical bars. There was a perfect mix of sweet, sour, and tart in this Amaretto Sour.   

Dave chose a KatyDid as his second drink, described as "A heavy dose of Solerno - a blood orange liqueur, Belvedere vodka, fresh lime juice, and a dash of orange bitters." This drink was developed by their bartender Katy and is finished with a flamed orange peel.

This second drink was more assertive, and more sour, than the Sidecar, but Dave enjoyed it just as much.

Other drinks which were ordered by our group included an Apricot Brandy Sour (our bartender's favorite drink), Mai Tai, and a new cocktail which is not yet on the online menu.

One downside that I found with the Velvet Tango Room -- we had some miscommunication making a reservation. I submitted my reservation via their online form. I didn't hear back for several days so I decided to call. The bartender told me that they cannot take reservations over the phone and provided me with the contact information of their reservation coordinator. She gave me an email and I proposed two dates and two times for each, knowing that they're busy. Then I never heard back. Another friend called a few days later to find that my name was on the list for the first date I suggested -- whether or not it ended up there by virtue of the online reservation form or my conversation with the reservation coordinator I will never know. You should receive a response regarding your reservation within a day or so of sending the form through Velvet Tango Room's website, if you don't receive one follow-up.

I don't want to spoil the excitement of the backroom for you, but I will say that it is worth making a reservation, it's more exclusive and once you have a reservation your spot is guaranteed, as opposed to waiting for a table upfront. One important note about reservations in the backroom is that there is a two drink per person minimum. If you have a designated driver, no problem, you just need to order and consume two drinks for every person in your party, it doesn't matter who is drinking them. There is a bartender in the backroom and the pianist rotates between locations, so you won't be missing out on anything. Sitting in the backroom helped add to the ambiance of the experience, especially since the bartender was able to take time to help us select which cocktails to order based on what flavor profiles we like.

If you're looking for a unique night out in Cleveland I cannot say enough about the Velvet Tango Room. Plan your next anniversary date, girls night out, or celebration around this experience and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

Ignoring the reservation snafu, because we had an excellent experience otherwise that more than made-up for the issue, here's my rating for Velvet Tango Room:

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Cilantro Thai & Sushi -- Akron, OH

Cilanto Thai & Sushi in Akron is a great dinner location for just about any occasion. I've been there on a date night or girls night and we've hosted a large group of friends there for a birthday party. One thing that is for certain is that on the weekend you absolutely must make a reservation. I visited with a group of friends on a Friday and the restaurant was packed, without a reservation we would have been waiting quite a while.

Our server was incredibly pleasant and due to the new addition of servers carrying tablets instead of pads of paper as soon as we placed our drink order the order was already sent to the bar. This expedited level of order delivery was wonderful, especially for bar drinks. No longer does a server need to find a POS and wait around while other servers place their order.

We started with some martinis: 

The Cilantro-tini made with Ty Ku Liqueur, Absolut Citron Vodka, Lime Juice and Lemon Soda. This was the drink I ordered and I thought that it was a nice refreshing martini. The soda kept it light, but the alcohol was certainly apparent. 

The Naked Mango Martini: Smirnoff Raspberry Vodka, X Rated Liqueur, Mango Nectar and Lemon Lime Soda. 

Several of us started out with sushi, we were right next to the sushi bar so it was difficult not to be tempted.

I ordered the avocado sushi from the ala carte menu. 

Additional sushi selections: 

A friend ordered the Hot and Sour Mushroom Soup for her entree, described by the menu as "Thai classic "Tom Yum" soup with mushrooms, tomato, onions, lemon grass and galanga, in a light vegetable broth, flavored with lime juice."

I ordered the Red Curry (Gang Dang) described as "Red Curry cooked with coconut milk, bamboo, eggplant, red & green peppers, and Thai basil." I added tofu to mine, if you don't like tofu you could add additional vegetables, chicken, pork, shrimp, beef, or seafood. Another friend ordered the Green Curry (Gang Keo Wan). Both were served with rice.

For all entrees you can choose the spice level on a scale from 2-5. I played it safe and stayed with 2, but I've chosen 3 before. I enjoy the Red Curry, I think it has a nice mix of vegetables in it and the curry sauce is incredibly delicious.

The Sushi Bar. Those boats are sushi holders which can be ordered loaded with sushi. Cilantro serves a Boat for One, a Boat for Two, and a Boat for Three which include varied and increasing amounts of sushi.

There is also the Thaitanic which includes "Twenty four pieces of assorted sushi, twenty four pieces of assorted sashimi along with a California roll, tuna roll, JB roll and a shrimp tempura roll" all for $89.95.

Cilantro was also just voted Best Thai of 2015 by the Akron-Canton Hot List -- this is a restaurant that you certainly want to check out next time you're in the Akron area, whether you're into sushi or curry or something else, Cilantro's menu is extensive and has something for everyone. As a vegetarian, I've always been really happy with their selections, because there are quite a few meatless options on the menu and tofu can be added to a lot of the selections.

One downside to Cilantro, which is common of all Akron restaurants, is that there's no parking. There is plenty of street parking on both sides of  Main Street, I was able to snag a spot there. The spaces are pull-in only, but free after 6:00 p.m. and on weekends. There is also a parking garage down the street behind Barley House, also free after 6:00 p.m. and on weekends.

Cilantro Thai & Sushi:

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Holiday Tree Festival -- Akron, OH

Today Dave and I attended the 34th annual Holiday Tree Festival at the John S. Knight center in Akron. This event is held by the volunteers of Akron Children's Hospital and the proceeds benefit patient care programs, research and education. In 2014 the Holiday Tree Festival raised $300,000 and the event has raised over $4.7 million during its thirty-four year run.

This year the Holiday Tree Festival runs from November 21 to November 29 and the hours are as follows: Monday - Wednesday, 11 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Thanksgiving, 2 to 6 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; and Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is parking located at the John S. Knight center which includes a sky bridge to take you over to the venue without needing to go back outside in this chilly weather we have going on right now.

Admission to the Holiday Tree Festival is free, there are trees/prizes offered by raffle, some concessions, and of course if you'd like to purchase a tree, wreath, or any other holiday item on display, you can make that purchase as well. All items stay on display until the end of the festival, those that are still available have a price listed, those that are not have the purchaser's name listed.

There's a group of trees and wreaths in sort of an atrium area on the upper floor. 

As Akron Law alums, we loved the Akron tree!

Some of the trees include little notes about which gift cards are included with the tree.

A tree donated by the Lebron James Family Foundation. Lebron and his foundation do a lot for Akron and the community members. 

Once you're done checking out the trees in the atrium, you can go to a room down the hall (just follow the signs) the room is dimly lit, but illuminated by thousands of Christmas lights. There are at least a hundred trees in this room alone, we chose to follow the perimeter and then work our way through the aisles in the center of the room. They're playing Christmas music to help everyone get into the Christmas (and giving) spirit.

Each tree is donated by a different business/person. There is a sign by each tree that indicates the name/theme, the donor, the decorator and if it is still available for purchase.

I was in love with all of the snowmen on the trees.

There were a few with a coastal theme.

Near the back of the room there were some non-tree items available.

A snowman advent clock.

I thought this tree "skirt" on the dress maker form was incredibly creative. 

This tree had a book theme, all of the ornaments and the garland were made out of recycled book pages. A book lover's dream!

A tree that my youngest brother would love -- America.

Akron Children's Hospital, celebrating 125 years.

We had a wonderful afternoon at the Holiday Tree Festival. It was a great event for an even greater cause. Although the event has free admission, there are donation locations available, if you choose to attend it would be awesome if you could make a donation to Akron Children's Hospital. Even just attending on the second day, a lot of the items had already been purchased, but don't despair there were trees and prizes available to win by raffle ticket. All of the trees will be available for viewing through next Sunday and the hundreds of Christmas trees are sure to delight both children and adults.

This is an event that we will be making a yearly tradition and when we have a home of our own, I'd love to purchase a tree from this event as a little way to give back to the community right before Christmas.

My review of the Holiday Tree Festival: