Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Dispatches from the chest freezer

I’m writing directly from my ‘office’ for this post. I’ve fashioned the top of my chest freezer, loaded it with a laptop, I pods, and headphones, in order to surf the web aimlessly while listening contently to the silence that is the Wonder Bar. The numbing hum of the cooler next to me is only every so often broken by the nightmarish crank, crank, crank of the printer from which my work orders spew forth. Today far and few between which leads me to the poll question we have posed most recently. What would cause you not to go out to eat?

The winner by a neck was ‘working late’ but as I currently sit in a empty restaurant , ankle deep in downtown Cleveland’s first Restaurant Week, with the snow still falling after an exhausting all day affair, I feel comfortable in saying if you aren’t a weather person or plow driver, you aren’t working late tonight. And I can say for a fact, you aren’t out to eat. Ha, snow is the culprit. Snow and the evil weather persons who whore themselves to the fears of slippery exit ramps, and idiots driving their new Explorers all over the road, from curb to curb, with full traction, and no concern.

Only one brave sole had enough courage to ante up that they don’t cook and good for them. But where are they now? Have they stocked up with enough foresight that this miserable manipulation of precipitation does not affect their daily existence? Oh lonely non-cooking sole, come to visit us, we are lonely, and need a reason to carry on.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Where have you eaten lately?

I’ve spent a lot of time over the past two weeks looking for some interesting tidbit to discuss here on my blog. It seems like the more time I spend seeking out new and useful information, the more I read the same boring stuff. Reconstituted, fake, follow-the-company-line type of crap that is un-discussable. The only thing I find at all interesting recently are restaurant reviews, and learning the things that people are interested in when they go out.

It’s funny that even these reviews carry an amount of standardization. Since every menu at every restaurant in Cleveland is essentially the same, the food discussion goes something like this, "The calamari was crispy, but the shrimp were tasteless. The salmon was fantastic, but the fillet of beef was bland, the (insert single unique characteristic here) was hit or miss’ but we liked the food." Does that not sum up every restaurant review you’ve read in the past 3 years?

Service is usually not mentioned until the last two sentences with an ambiguous, "efficient but unobtrusive," which means one of two scenarios: You got your water, bread, and food as fast as possible, then the server disappeared and it took 20 minutes to pay your bill or get coffee because the restaurant was slow and this was the server's only table and she was pissed she even had to stay to work that night. Most likely she will be driving the car in front of you leaving the restaurant. The second scenario is that it takes 20 minutes to get your drinks then another 90 minutes til’ entrees come, you don’t even see a dessert menu and the check comes with your coffee. In this case there are two scenarios, either the server from above who did a crap job on one table can’t handle more than two and you just happen to be her third table of the night, or it’s seven o’clock on Friday and for the first time this week there are people lined up out the door who want to be seated, and your table just became prime real-estate that you are no longer welcomed at!

I’ve attempted to write about my visits to area restaurants but it didn’t work out too well. The usual response was something along the lines of "What do you know?" or "Who are you to judge?" I went into it knowing very well I had to keep opinions separate from facts. Being a chef, I know there are right and wrong ways to do things, properly and improperly cooked food. No one cared. I understand that a statement along the lines of, "Very few beets appeared in the beet salad," is an opinion, but "The beets were rock hard and undercooked," - this is a factual statement. Anyone who says, "I like rock hard, undercooked beets and Mike, you’re a jerk for criticizing this," well, that person is very misinformed about things. For these reasons I took a hiatus from writing about any place I’ve been, along with the fact I’ve not been out much lately.

Today is a unique day, I have an urge to briefly discuss my recent adventures into the Cleveland culinary landscape. By no means does this include many fine dining establishments.

Angelo’s Pizza in Lakewood is great! The pizza is good, the warm Italian sub is good, and they deliver late on Saturday night after I come home from work.

The fast food alley of West 117 between Madison and Clifton is another of my frequent stops. I’ve come to enjoy Wendy’s salads, Arby’s plain roast beef, and apple empanadas at Taco Bell.

I went to the Cheesecake Factory last week. It was my first time. I was impressed with the service, efficient yet unobtrusive......no really, the server seemed sincere about us having a pleasant time. The food was all cooked properly and tasty. The design was also quite over the top impressive. I would go back. Wouldn’t go out of my way, but I would go back.

The House of Blues has catfish nuggets they serve with sweet potato fries that I’m addicted to. I have them every 2 weeks after our manager meeting downtown. The bartender is always nice, she recognizes me and the fact I’d rather not chit-chat if sports are on the TV. Don’t worry, she gets financial considerations for such acute observations.

Flannery’s pub has a stuffed portabella app that is just a deep fried heart attack, but it tastes good, and four whole mushrooms for $7 is a steal. However, on my last visit, they were out of Jameson and Cider??? Did they think I was coming for a Bud and Jim Beam? They are a bloody fake Irish pub for God’s sake!

I went to Bar Cento by myself one night since everyone in Cleveland seems to love this place. Not me, the beets and beans were both undercooked (remember, these are facts) and the liver and onions pizza had two slices of cold foie gras on it, which means two pieces of pizza had none. When I was critical of the cold foie, I was told by some very snobby food people whose lips have spent more time on this chef’s ass than eating the food that, "foie gras is served cold in some cases, and maybe the chef was trying something new." No, no, no, pizza has warm toppings and when I say cold foie, I mean raw foie (this is a fact). In any case, the pizza was disgusting (opinion). I only ate half a piece and when the bartender noticed this along with the fact I didn’t want to take it home did he inquire why a 350 pound man didn’t eat all his foie gras pizza? No, he didn’t. I did get a glass of elusive absinthe as an after dinner cocktail. For this reason, I walked away happy.

On more pleasant experiences, the Rocky River Brew Pub always delivers with their Asian chicken nacho, but their beer is not my favorite. Great Lakes brew pub has better beer in my opinion, and the sausage sampler is always good. Salmon Dave's has a very classy happy hour with $5 drinks, and a small list of $5 apps. The food was good on both my visits. Winking Lizard is always pleasant, though I always come away with a bill that is larger than expected. As for places to spend money, Dave and Buster's provides you with more than a few ways. Fortunately the food is consistent, outside of the fried stuff, the salads are large and fresh, the pasta I had was good, and the cocktails are tasty.

A few places that I really want to try are, Crop on w. 6th, the brand new Saigon on e. 4th, and Paladar on the East side.

Downtown Cleveland Restaurant Week

This first time event is fast approaching. The Wonder Bar is a happy participant in this effort to bring more diners to downtown Cleveland.

Follow this link to get all the specifics, with links to almost every restaurants website!!!

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Wonder Bar Mac & Cheese

Since it isn’t practical to ship a portion of our famous noodles cross country I will teach you how to make your own, where ever it is you happen to be.

What you will need:

½ cup diced onion
1 clove garlic
3 tblsp butter
3 tblsp flour
1 ½ cup milk
3 oz Camembert cheese, brie or any soft rind stinky cheese you like will do

3 oz cheese, Gruyere, soft goat, and Parmesan are what we use at the restaurant, but I suggest the Kraft pre-shredded Italian blend

1 # cooked and shocked elbow noodles

Drizzle of truffle oil
4 oz duck confit, or any cooked protein you like, chicken, sausage, ground beef, hot dog
Bread crumbs

The noodles need to be cooked and chilled. They will over cook if they are not chilled before they are added to the sauce. Believe me, I’ve learned the hard way. Also cook what ever protein you will be adding. If this will leave any flavorful fond, then begin the Mornay sauce in the same pot.

For the Mornay sauce melt the butter and cook the onion and garlic for just a few minutes. Add the flour to make a roux. Cook the roux for only 2-3 minutes then add the milk. Whisk this mixture throughly, and pay attention, stir this mixture every 30 seconds until it’s very thick. If you walk away and don’t stir it will scorch on the bottom of the pan and you will have to start over! Melt the Camembert into the thickened milk and take off the heat. This is Mornay sauce.

Working off the heat combine the rest of the cheese with the noodles, Mornay, truffle oil, and protein. Season with salt and pepper and pour this mixture into oven ready dishes. Cover with breadcrumbs, and bake at 450 degrees for 8-10 minutes, the breadcrumbs will brown and create a crispy crust. This baked effect is what makes my Wonder Bar mac & cheese better than the other guys noodles with cream and cheese.

Poll Results are in.....

It’s nice to think about Japan during these dreary days of the new year. There is an overwhelming misunderstanding of Japanese culture and cuisine. I am personally quite ignorant of modern Japanese culture, and only slightly familiar with the cuisine. This is what makes the fact Japan was the most popular culinary destination during the recent poll so intriguing.

What do I know about Japan? There are two viewpoints, one of a serene monastery overlooking snow capped mountains where quite monks live long lives filled with prayer and miso soup. This fills me with a soft, calming feeling, I like Japan! On the other hand I think about a subway train packed so tight the doors burst open at the next stop. Where people’s main meal might very well come out of a vending machine, or off that surreal conveyor belt of sushi. And what do I know about Japanese food, basically, three things, sushi, noodles, and satay or skewered, grilled meat. These are rather general ideas, that can be found in any culinary tradition. So what makes Japan such a likable destination for foodies.

I’m guessing it’s a lure into the unknown that is so appealing. While I profess my ignorance, there are many people, chefs included who claim to know Japanese cooking, but have not traveled any further east than Youngstown, and beyond their three favorite sushi items they can’t identify one other Japanese ingredient. For this reason we as mid-westerners have little exposure to the full scope of Japanese cuisine. We get to try bits and pieces that we like, so we want more. It only makes sense. Why go to France (second in poll) and dine on tapenade, casssoulete, or beef bourguignonne that tasted as good as that French restaurant in your neighborhood. When the plane touches down in Japan, I’m guessing there will be very little familiar on the culinary landscape. What a treat for an adventurous foodie!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

A Little Press

Wonder Bar is mentioned in the Bites section of the Free Times. Here is the link: