Friday, October 30, 2009

Fun Fa(c)t Friday - Food Pr0n (NSFV)*

An ode written between courses - by Elliott Mason

Oh bacon, don't look upon me hastily and lump me with the porkies-come-lately, I was yours from the start. Your sweet, salty, applewood-smokedness has dazzled and held me captive. Others have come and gone, but my love for you has only grown, deepened and matured over time. My earliest memories are of you, lover, like a comforting hug from my grandmother. There was no time when you were not with me, easing other foods into my consciousness. Alone or in harmony with vegetables, lesser meats and offal, bread and even sugary treats, you exemplify casual versatility and porkish perfection.

You complete me.

As is the norm (Norm!) when I travel, my clock gets all screwed up. As such, I realize my readers won't see this, possibly for weeks, since it wasn't posted in the wee hours of a weekday morn. That's okay, since this post is as much for me as it is about me.

In case you haven't already figured this out from my last few posts, I'm smitten with Cleveland, taken by the city's charm. And if you come here, you MUST eat here. There is no choice in the matter. Sure, there are chains, but you shouldn't eat there. Even if you live here, don't eat there. This isn't so much a restaurant review as a foodie's wet dream. They're not paying me to say these things, these are restaurants I would share, will share, with my friends and complete strangers.

I will start by saying that while I thought Michael Symon was a great improvement over "chef" Robert Irvine, that's not saying much. As a personality, I don't have much respect for a man who carries himself like the next Bobby Flay. That lackluster opinion changed entirely when I ate dinner at his restaurant, Lolita, last night.

Some of you might have noticed I'm a bit of a carnivore. And I may have ranted about vegetarians in the past, made some derogatory comments about them. Maybe.

Well, every one of those statements still stands. At Lolita, I started simple, with crispy chicken livers on a bed of soft, unctuous polenta. Atop these little organs was a combo of sauteed oyster mushrooms and bacon. The whole dish was surrounded by a tiny moat of what I can only describe as 'bacon au jus'. I used my bread so as not to waste a single drop.

Following the livers, I opted for the butternut squash ravioli in brown butter. "But Elliott", you say, "that's a vegetarian dish!" Until you toss the brown butter with hazelnuts, sage and matchsticks of prosciutto. Yes, porky, dense, chewy and aromatic cured ham. More vegetables could benefit from this treatment.

Ultimately, I didn't want to leave without trying one more item, just a little tidbit to finish off my meal, and let me finish my ginger-infused vodka with ginger ale and lime. Cut then to the chef's suggestion, the roasted bone marrow. Roasted in a wood oven, the marrow and crostini picked up a beautiful smokiness, coupled with the salsa verde, rich and spicy with raw garlic and parsley, and gently accented by the pickled red onions.

If you're going to be in the Tremont neighborhood (and you should go, really), stop by some of the other bars in the neighborhood, too. Local beers are by Great Lakes Brewery, and worth a taste. (Am I gushing? I'm still food-drunk, what do I know?)

Today for lunch, my client and I walked over to Melt Bar and Grilled, and while I'm not generally a bandwagon jumper, this place has a niche and works it like nobody's business. When being told I would have a 45-minute wait for a table, they wouldn't take my name. Instead, I got to pick a random name from the plastic pumpkin (I got to be Tupac Shakur!). While the wait wasn't that long, the menu was. Some of these sandwiches are simply criminal. Chorizo and hash browns, three kinds of cured pork, crab cakes, all in melt format. I settled on the gentle, daintily-composed Parmageddon - two potato and cheese pierogi, vodka and caraway saurkraut, sauteed onions and cheddar cheese. This eight-pound sandwich was a challenge set before me, there is no other term. This is the kind of sandwich bears would eat before hibernation if they didn't care about cholesterol. Add to this the atmosphere, this is a place to visit at least once on your way to the cardiologist.

Tonight, again wanting something special (and who doesn't), I landed at The Flying Fig. Artsy and a little loud, and I played coy like I was new, but I already read the menu online. I was after the chicken livers, so as to make comparisons and generally enjoy myself. Crispy and soft at the same time, with candied bacon, dressed bitter greens, goat cheese and orange segments, It was bliss on a plate. After that, I was torn. My server, Amanda, knew the dilemma I faced. On one hand, I could eat from the small bites menu, and miss out on a beautiful local pork chop. On the other hand, I could eat the chop and miss out on a stuffed scallop.

Of course, I'm the fat guy. I got both.

The chop was brined and grilled to medium rare, served on a bed of pumpkin risotto and braised red cabbage. So simple, yet so perfect. Every bite rang home just what a pork chop should taste like, from the days before we bred every last little bit of flavor from our meat.

I almost cried.

And of course I got the scallop. Like you wouldn't. Seared and stuffed with braised beef cheek, it gave a steak-like quality to the sweetness of the scallop, served in a beef jus with horseradish mashed potatoes.

I may actually have cried at this one.

Thanks for enduring this, a most personal revisitation, moments I could live again and again. If we're ever in town together, I'll take you.

(*Not safe for vegetarians)


Bev said...

You had me at bacon, but daaaaaaamn! That stuffed scallop sounds a-freakin-mazing.

YUM. Now I'm extremely hungry. Thx. ;)

Elliott said...

And just scrolling down that post I thought "damn, that's long." I really need to learn to edit my thoughts down when I've been drinking.

And yes, the scallop was pure brilliance. Surf and Turf in four exquisite bites.

And today's header is for you.

Be nice and share!

Bookmark and Share