Sunday, April 08, 2007

Muse, Light Bistro and how Small Plates Fail, Part one

With in the past month I’ve visited two new restaurants in Cleveland. Muse in the Ritz Carlton on Public Square, and Light Bistro in Ohio City occupying the former nationally acclaimed Parker’s Bistro. Both restaurants claim to follow in the fresh laid tracks of the new ‘small plates’ trend, and for this reason I was not all together happy with my experiences at either. Fortunately the precise execution of culinary tasks made my visit to Muse a success, while the kitchen at Light Bistro tripped, stumbled, and fell flat on it’s face.

Light Bistro did not miss the mark in all cases, one ray of light that I thoroughly enjoyed was the lack of flatware, glassware, candles or flowers on the table. It was quite pleasant not having to rearrange the tabletop before finding a comfortable area to dine. The menu at Light Bistro is encased in an impressive leather bound book including both the food menu, and a restrained and limited wine menu. The 3 distinct rooms at Light Bistro all stick to a dark wood and exposed brick theme with sparingly arranged paintings, and lighting. On the other hand the room containing Muse is as grand as one would expect after shuttling up to the third floor in the Persian Carpeted elevator at the Ritz Carlton. The recess lighting hid behind dark wood sectioned the Muse ceiling into a pleasing grid of wood and light. The room centered around a large fire place, and successfully conveyed the idea of warmth and comfort in the brightly colored artwork and lighting that made such colorful work pop off the wall in a very entertaining way. We ate diner at the Muse Bar, a very small 5 seat area. I found the table top, and the seat of the chairs to be a little to close for my comfort.

The food....I’ll withhold the pricing structure as it supports my decree of the failure of small plates better than it explains the condition of the culinary talents at either restaurant. I visited Muse first, and I thought the menu was rather straight forward, with a lack of creativity or emotion. The execution was top notch though. Everything we had was cooked to perfection, the chicken was moist, the scallops caramelized, shortribs where fork tender, beef tornedos where medium rare as requested, squab was rosey red and the foie gras with it was fat and juicy. All the sides, and garnishes where at proper temperature, and delicately placed.. The most recent visit was to Light Bistro where the menu looked exciting and adventurous, unfortunately the execution was poor at best. I over heard that the ‘Chef’ was not in the kitchen this night, but that is no excuse. The eggplant flan was pleasantly textured, and interestingly flavored less the creme anglaise it called company on the plate. Pickled shrimp where small and butterflied which didn’t help with the fact that they where tough and rubbery from the pickle. I’ve marinated shrimp in the past and when they cook up as rubbery as these, I’ve put them straight in the trash. I was very interested in a Killbruck Valley Farms mushroom salad with a red wine poached egg. Once again my mouth watered, but for the wrong reason, the flavor of vinegar made the salad almost un-eatable, and the small dice and overcooking of the mushrooms was very sad. A shrimp and crab cake was good, the texture pleasantly firm due to the shrimp. I’ve never, ever, and hope I never again am forced to send a piece of foie gras back on my plate destined for the trash can, but this is where this foie gras belonged along with the resume of the cook who destroyed it. Even more disappointing was that this burnt foie gras topped a fried rice in which the rice was fried in burnt foie gras fat, it brings tears to my eyes such a disappointment. Pork belly was flavorful, and the sparing use of ultra spicy chipotle cous cous was on spot. Unfortunately, the complete destruction of a luxury ingredient ended our meal. Kobe beef in both cases, sate was cut way to thick making it almost un-chewable, and the vinegar must have spilled into the greens with the sate.

The braised Kobe was cooked nicely but accompanied by an egg omelette that had been cooked till caramelized and brown on the bottom. I’m not a fan a absolute culinary rules, but eggs, or omelettes for sure shouldn’t be browned.. That being said, I think the word ‘disappointment’ brings a summary to the food I ate at Light Bistro

It is my intention to use my experience at both these restaurant to examine the execution of the ‘small plates’ theme as it is currently available in the Cleveland area. In an effort to distance this discussion from the unfortunate events that occurred at both places, I am beginning this discussion as a new post.


Anonymous said...

I don't think it is ever fair to publicly flog a restaurant after only one visit, especially if you are in the business.

I've eaten at Light 4 times since it opened, and I've eaten most of the dishes that you write about. For the most part, the food I have eaten there has been fabulous. I've had the Eggplant Flan twice, and it was perfect; the foie gras fried rice isn't my favorite (I also had that when Light's chefs were at The Leopard), but the other small plate foie dish is a favorite, and if anything, it was a dab undercooked when I had it last week. I like the pickled shrimp enough to order and recommend it even though I normally detest frozen shrimp. The pork belly and smoked salmon are superb, and the beet cake that accompanied the salmon was original and perfect.

I'm not trying to defend them if they had an off night while you were there - but please give them a second chance before you trash them!

Anonymous said...

The chef was not there? According to their web site, he is always there, and he makes the point that he is not like those other chefs who don't work the line. I quess he is always there, except when he ain't

Michael Walsh said...

While it seems that Light Bistro has entertained many foodies in the local community with sucess, I was unlucky enough to find things not so plesant. In no way do i personally like or dislike the chef, staff, or owners of Light Bistro. I simply wrote about my experiance there, and used it as a segway to a larger discussion about small plates. I cook for a living, which means i'm poor for the most part, and to say my comments are not quality observations untill i've visited a place at least twice renders my observations about almost everywhere i've ever been obsolete, but is it ok to praise somewhere you've only been to once??? In any case thank you for your intelligent comments.