Thursday, April 28, 2016

Pranzo Bistro Vegetarian Wine Dinner -- Willoughby, OH

Last night we made a spur of the moment decision to drive up to Willoughby to enjoy the once a month five course wine dinner offered at Pranzo Bistro. Once a month Cleveland Wine Tastings hosts a five course wine dinner featuring a different winery and themed menu. Dave and I are both vegetarians and it's not often that we see a multiple course dinner that's all vegetarian. We were pretty excited and although Willoughby is about an hour away, we drove up after work.

All of the wines were from Luca Wines an Argentinean Winery with high elevation grown grapes. Luca is a family owned winery and is named for owner Laura Catnea's eldest son. Laura combines Luca's grapes grown from old vines and oak aging to create one of a kind wines which were the subject of our pairings last night.

Course 1: Green Bean Salad tossed with toasted walnuts and house made vinaigrette paired with Reginato Rose of Malbec. It was fun to start with something bubbly, the Reginato Rose of Malbec was a nice palate opener and paired nicely with the clean flavors of the salad. The salad was served with vinaigrette made from 8-year old vinegar stored at Pranzo.

Course 2: Vegetable Polpetta made with potatoes, zucchini, green onions, and pecorino romano over avocado aioli and arugula. This course was paired with Luca Chardonnay. The Luca Chardonnay was the only white wine that we had during any of the five courses. It starts with 100% chardonnay grapes from high elevation 21-year old vines. The wine is then aged in oak and stainless steal barrels, the oak helps give it a little toast, whereas the stainless steel barrel gives the wine some of those pops of green apple and melon.

We didn't know what to expect from this course, because neither of us was sure what a polpetta was, but the delightful little potato fritters that we were served might have been my favorite course. The cakes were fried, but crisp, not greasy.

Course 3: Eggplant Rollatini, eggplant rolled with ricotta, fresh basil, and marinara. This course was paired with Luca's Double Select Syrah. The Double Select Syrah starts with 50-year old vines at a high elevation, meaning the deeper roots help to give more minerality to the finished product. The Double Select Syrah is aged in two ways, the first portion of wine is aged in new oak barrels, the second portion of wine is aged in two year oak barrels. The wine is then combined to form the finished product. 

Eggplant Rollatini is a classic, so it's hard to go wrong with this course. I appreciated the portion size on this one, it was just enough to get me officially ready for my main course. The fresh basil was divine. 

Course 4: Cacio e Pepe was the main course -- fresh semolina pasta tossed with pecorino romano, acqua cotta, cracked black pepper and fire roasted tomatoes and carrots. This course was paired with Luca's Malbec made from grapes harvested from 47 year old vines, the pepperiness of the Malbec paired very well with the black pepper in the Cacio e Pepe. 

This was an interesting course, the pasta was served with a light white sauce. The fire roasted carrots took on a sweet flavor, whereas the fire roasted tomatoes were juicy and savory. The black pepper throughout really brought out the spice notes in the Malbec.

Course 5: Frutti di Bosco was the final course and it consisted of blackberries and strawberries dipped in chocolate over mascarpone cheese. Dessert was paired with Luca Beso de Dante a red wine blend made of 50% cabernet franc, 35% malbec, and 15% cabernet sauvignon. The big and bold finish on this wine pairs nicely with chocolate, making it the perfect way to end our evening.  

Dessert wasn't saccharine sweet which was the best way to end the wine dinner. The sweet tartness of the berries and the mascarpone cheese was just enough to leave me feeling like the meal had reached it's completion. 

Adam from Cleveland Wine Tastings said that this was one of the most well attended monthly wine dinners at Pranzo Bistro and I'm happy that the vegetarian plates were able to draw such a crowd. As I mentioned before, we registered the morning of the event and had no issues getting a seat reserved. For the wine dinners at Pranzo you'll need to register online at $10 per person to hold the seat, after the dinner you'll pay the remainder of the balance which is $40 per person. At first Dave was a little put off by the $50 per person price tag, because that's more than we typically spend per person on a night out. But when I reminded him that the breakdown was about $10 per course including the wine, he decided that it was a really good deal. 

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Brunch at the Mustard Seed Cafe -- Akron, OH

Dave and I recently checked out the Mustard Seed Cafe in the Highland Square neighborhood of Akron. The Mustard Seed is the largest locally-owned retailer of natural and organic products in Ohio. Located above the Akron store is the Mustard Seed Cafe which serves breakfast, brunch, lunch, and dinner. There is a fully stocked bar as well as a juice and smoothie menu. We weren't entirely sure what to expect during our visit, but we knew that the Mustard Seed maintains strict standards regarding the food they sell/serve meaning free from things like chemical preservatives and artificial coloring among other things.

When you enter the Mustard Seed Cafe, you order all of your food at the counter. We went while the weekend brunch menu was available, so we opted to order from that.

Once you've ordered you choose your seat, there are quite a few seating options ranging from high top tables to the outdoor patio.

It was chilly, so no patio for us.

I ordered the Sunrise Sunset made with Pineapple Juice, Natalie's OJ, and Pureed Strawberries.

Dave ordered the Smoothie of the Day made with Coconut Water, Pineapple, Orange, Blueberries, Blackberries, Strawberries, Raspberries, and Grapes. 

The winner for us was the Sunrise Sunset, the flavors were great and the juice wasn't too sweet. I appreciated how fresh the juice was and the beautiful presentation.

For my meal I selected the Avocado BLT with Coconut "Bacon" severed with Organic Leaf Lettuce, Tomato and Avocado. As a vegetarian, I really appreciated that Coconut "Bacon" was an option to order on all of the menu items that are traditionally sold with bacon. This was one of the best sandwiches I have ever eaten, I cannot wait to go back to have this again. The Coconut "Bacon" evoked this really great umami and all of the ingredients complemented each other so nicely. It was really difficult for me to share this sandwich with Dave, because it was just spectacular.

Dave ordered the Creme Brulee French Toast -- Fresh Baguette with Egg Custard and Warm Caramel. For an extra $1, he topped it with Whipped Cream, Fresh Strawberries, and Candied Walnuts. This was a very good dish and although we appreciate something sweet for brunch, I think Dave might have preferred something a little more savory after trying my amazing Avocado BLT.

Dave's came with a side of fresh fruit.

There is a station to pick up Reverse Osmosis Water if you'd like water to drink or would like something alongside whatever you've ordered.

I was very impressed with the brunch we enjoyed at the Mustard Seed Cafe. Our food was delivered quickly and it tasted great. Even though it wasn't a traditional sit down restaurant, you could tell by the presentation that whoever was preparing the food cared about how plates were going out to the customer. Every Mustard Seed Cafe employee we encountered was polite and friendly -- from the person who took our order, to the person who delivered and removed our plates when we were finished.

I thought the prices were appropriate considering what we ordered and the fact that we were getting the best possible ingredients. We saw several items on the dinner menu that we would like to try and we can't wait to go sit out on the patio in the summer. People might pass by this gem of a location because they're not sure what the Mustard Seed Cafe is all about, but it's worth the visit.

My rating for Brunch at the Mustard Seed Cafe:

Friday, April 22, 2016

Crave -- Akron, OH

I'm surprised that I haven't reviewed Crave yet, because we've been there several times since I started Ohio Wanderlust and it was one of our favorite Akron locations pre-blog. Crave is a great place for dinner in Akron with a menu that rotates with the seasons -- some items are staples though, so you can usually go back for your favorite (guilty) or try something new instead.

I highly recommend making a reservation through their website, especially on a weekend during dinner. We've dropped in later in the evening and had success getting a table for four quickly, but for a group larger than that a reservation is best.

For my cocktail I ordered the Crave a Mule "Blood Orange Vodka. House Made Orangecello. Lime Juice. Ginger Beer"

For an appetizer Dave and I split the Fried Green Tomatoes served with a Purple Potato Cake, Guajillo Chile Aioli, Hard Boiled Egg and Kalamata Olives. This is also served with a crab salad, but we had that left off our plate.

I love fried green tomatoes and the breading on these was crisp to perfection, the spicy aioli was nice with the fried green tomatoes and the purple potato cake. 

A few friends started their meal with the Baby Iceberg Wedge served with Smoked Blue Cheese, Soft-Boiled Egg, Pickled Red Onion, Cherry Tomato, Crispy Prosciutto, Brioche Croutons and a Garlic Sherry Vinaigrette.

Check out that gorgeous presentation! I've had this salad before sans prosciutto and it's a nice option to start your meal. There's just enough to keep you from being too hungry during the dinner wait, but not enough to make you full. 

I ordered the Veggie Macaroni and Cheese which is made with Smoked Gouda Cheese, Garlic Butter, and Sriracha. This is my favorite dish to order at Crave, smoked gouda is such a genius cheese to use in a macaroni and cheese dish. The vegetables are always cooked to perfection and everything tastes better with a little sriracha on it. 

Several friends ordered the Mac and Cheese served with the Blackened Chicken -- it was one of the most popular orders of our group. 

Several other friends selected the Chicken & Waffles with consisted of Buttermilk Fried Chicken, a Cinnamon Sage Waffle, Triple Hot Sauce, Vanilla Infused Syrup, and Bourbon Butter. This got rave reviews all around from those in our group who tried it.

Dave selected the Tofu Ramen in Dashi Broth with Daikon, Jicama, Carrot, Napa, Chiles, Cilantro, and Peanuts. This was an item that is newer to the menu, we ended up enjoying the complexity of flavors.

On this occasion we didn't order dessert, because we were celebrating a birthday and had cake back at the house. On our last visit we had the Cookie Dough Stuffed French Toast with Snickerdoodle Stuffing, Vanilla Bean Ice Cream, and Espresso Anglaise. It was one of the best things I have ever eaten, I recommend trying it -- available in a full and half order. 

I can't say enough wonderful things about Crave -- this is a local restaurant we love to support. We've always had good service, the food presentation is spectacular, and the taste is just as wonderful. I appreciate the innovation that goes into the items and their menu rotates nicely to accommodate seasonally fresh ingredients while maintaining favorites.

My rating for Crave:

Saturday, April 16, 2016

35° Brix -- Green, OH

35° Brix is the newest restaurant in Green, their grand opening was April 13, 2016. They serve lunch and dinner Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday as well as brunch and dinner on Sunday. We made reservations for the third night 35° Brix was open -- at this point reservations are a must, they use open table and have reservation times for all meals. 

The decor at 35° Brix is really great, very bright and modern with pops of color.

We ordered two drinks. Dave selected the Planters Punch made with Captains Morgan rum, Grand Marnier, orange juice, pineapple juice, lime juice, simple syrup, bitters, and grenadine. There are four drinks on the cocktail menu highlighted, those drinks come with a glowing ice cube that you're able to take home.

I think he really just wanted that glowing ice cube. There were quite a few cocktails on the menu (about 25-30), as well as a wide selection of beer and wine, so there's something for everyone.

I ordered the Ice Wine Martini made of Canadian Vidal Ice wine and Grey Goose Vodka. This is one of those deceptively sweet drinks, especially since it seemed like a good amount of the vodka ended up at the bottom. I enjoyed it, this Martini was a nice way to enjoy some of the ice wine which can be pretty pricey -- here it was $10 per 2 ounces. 

Before dinner we were served this tiny loaf of wheat bread which was perfect for two people. The butter tasted sweeter than usual, Dave and I were wondering if it was whipped with a little bit of honey.

Our entrees came with a house salad with choice of dressing. I enjoyed the portion of salad, some places give you a few leaves of spinach, others load up your plate and make you feel as though the salad has become your meal. I also appreciated that the salad included a mix of spinach and lettuce -- it was a refreshing starter to our meal.

I ordered the Ricotta Goat Cheese Stuffed Ravioli with Lemon Thyme Cream Sauce. First, the presentation of this plate is so beautiful, it was almost too pretty to eat. The ravioli are melt in your mouth tender and full of flavor alone or when paired with the lemon cream sauce. This dish was innovative and impressive.

Dave ordered the Vegetable Curry Pot Pie (which is a vegan entree) which was paired with Green Beans Almondine with Sundried Tomatoes. We both appreciated that there were too veg entree options on the dinner menu, while we preferred the ravioli, the Vegetable Curry Pot pie was full of flavor and was presented beautifully.

The table next to us ordered the Blackout Truffle for dessert and as soon as I heard that it was stuffed with peanut butter I knew that we would be ordering dessert. The Blackout Truffle was a flourless chocolate cake with a peanut butter center, topped with powdered sugar, and drizzled with a strawberry sauce.

I thought it was the perfect size to split for a little something sweet after the meal. Flourless chocolate cake has a bit of a mousse like texture, as opposed to a cake texture. 

35° Brix is a slightly pricier restaurant than we would usually go to, but everything we had was on point. I'm excited to explore their cocktail menu more and to try out their lunch and brunch specials. I appreciated the amount of vegan/vegetarian options for dinner, sometimes at nicer restaurants there's one vegetarian entree and then you're left with getting creative with sides and salads.

Best of luck to 35° Brix, we'll see you again soon.

My rating for 35° Brix: