Monday, November 5, 2007

Playing with Food Near Home; Mixed Results

Since we returned from Chicago on Monday, October 29 (full report and photos from that trip are here), we've eaten at three restaurants local to our home in Solon Ohio, and we had eaten at another right before we left. Given how many wonderful restaurants we have in the greater Cleveland Area, I wish I could heap accolades on all of the local restaurants. Unfortunately, of the four places, only one is deserving of accolades - Vito's Italian Grill, 395 N. Aurora Road, Aurora. Website here.

We went to Vito's for our 12th Wedding anniversary on 10/22. Bob's mom was recovering from a broken hip right down the street, and we knew we were heading for a food orgy in Chicago right after, so a dinner at this local, unassuming place seemed just the ticket. And it was a lovely ticket.

The bread was rather stiff, but very fresh - a function, Bob thought, of the type of flour used to make it. It was served with a delightfully infused oil for dipping:

We shared a pizza for appetizer - and it was pretty good:

We each ordered Veal for a main. Bob had the Marsala Speciale - veal sauteed with mushrooms, tomatoes and marsala over linguine:

I had the Veal Parmigiana.

We were too full for dessert, but we vowed to return and to make this our "go to" spot for take out pizza (alas, they don't deliver to Solon!).

Upon our return to Solon from Chicago, we dined at the new Mediterranean restaurant Pasha (no website or email addresses). Set in the former Anthony's space on SOM Center Road (Rt. 91), the building does seem to suffer from the curse of prior failed restaurants described by Tony Bourdain in his book "Kitchen Confidential." The new owners have kept the "grand" feeling of the place, and are trying to infuse it with continued elegance. But the menu was less interesting than the lower-scale local chain Aladdin's, and at a higher price.

Nevertheless, we ventured in, hoping to be wowed or at least pleased. The first issue to arise was service. We sat for over 10 minutes before anyone offered to get us a drink, then the server didn't know anything about the beer selection. Once we were served drink, we waited again for what seemed a long interval before a server brought us what tasted like day-old packaged pita bread, and this interesting dip:

The dip was seasoned olive oil with dabs of seasoned yogurt. It certainly earned "different" points - but our disappointment with the quality level was confirmed when the server refreshed our basket with "fresh bread" that was warmed up day-old packaged pita.

We shared an appetizer of Falafel that was tasty and not greasy - things seemed to be looking up!

Soup or salad comes with dinner, so I ordered the "special" soup - "Lobster Chowder" and Bob ordered salad. I should have remembered not to order anything containing a seafood product on a Monday, but it just sounded so good! The chowder itself was very tasty, but the lobster meat tasted like Monday seafood:

The server apologetically replaced my soup with a nice salad and we moved on.

Bob's entree was Beef Kefte (or meatballs), served with rice and a roasted tomato half, and it was quite good, the roasted tomato was a standout:

I initially ordered a daily special - Lamb Kabob - but about 10 minutes after I ordered it, the server returned to say that they had run out of it. I changed over to another lamb dish that looked interesting - but proved inedible (and I don't remember what it was called):

The lamb itself was tough as nails, and the dish was way over-salted. Finally, the canned chickpeas, which played a prominent, rather than supporting role in the dish, helped pull it to complete flatness. I sent it back and ate some of Bob's Kefte instead. Bummer.

The next evening, we wound up eating out again after Bob spent the afternoon visiting his mom, who had been returned to the hospital with an infection. We opted for Glenwillow Grille in Glenwillow (right next to Solon), where we had two delightful meals last December, and some mixed experiences in between. Web site We could not help but notice as we entered that there were only a few tables occupied - and it was prime dinner time. What was incomprehensible was how long it took to get a server, considering that she had only one other table. We waited another eternity after ordering beers, only to be told that they were out of the beer we ordered. We ordered new drinks, and put in our dinner orders. Delivery of these drinks took so long that we almost left.

Finally, our drinks arrived. Then, after another wait - came salads, accompanied by house-made dressings. One of the reason we were so high on GG is because of the many home-made touches. These two dressings went to opposite extremes - the Apple-Lime vinagrette didn't work for me at all, but the Roasted Tomato was fabulous on a salad that presented more than the contents of a food service bag:

Tomato-based Dressing - I wish I could remember exactly what was in it; it was fantastic

Apple-Lime Dressing - well, 1 out of 2 ain't bad!

I also liked the house dressing Bob got for his salad.

Bob again chose more wisely with his entree than I did with mine - his steak and fries were perfectly cooked and delicious:

My Veal Piccata, topped with a lemon piccata sauce & a choice of one side (I picked risotto) looked lovely. I tasted the risotto first, and it was pretty good. But one bite of the veal, which did not smell appetizing, confirmed that all was not well with this plate (and Bob agreed):

A hamburger and fries replaced the veal and the bill was adjusted to eliminate my entree. I didn't get a photo of the burger, but it was good. Even without the veal issue, however, we were so disappointed by the service that we probably won't return unless we hear a good report from someone else.

So, now being "2 for 3" on our spate of local dining, we ate out locally again on Thursday (after a fabulous meal Wednesday at Lolita in Tremont; photos here) and went to Station 45 on Aurora Road. This is a very small restaurant that used to be a bar/grill/dance place and was re-invented by retired firefighters into a delightful little restaurant. But to really deliver - everything should be made from scratch. Not everything is made in house, and that is unfortunate. The meal wasn't bad by any means; in fact, I'd say it was darn good - but this place could be so much better!

The decor is local and firefighting kitsch, and it is most comfy (although I wish they'd lose the TVs in the dining room; they are silent but obtrusive).

We each started with salad; only one dressing is house made (Zinfandel), but it was terrific:

Bob got a half rack of St. Louis Ribs with Fries, and the meat was tasty and tender and falling off the bones:

Since I was having some tummy trouble, I opted for Pasta with Home Made Meat Sauce. Ironically, I had just finished reading Bill Buford's Heat, so the brown tone of the sauce didn't really surprise me (it's a Tuscany thing; this photo makes it look redder than it was). I enjoyed it. But I would have liked more house-made choices - for example, I asked about the "soup of the day" - and learned it was not made in house. That's a shame.

So, our most recent "local" attempts to play with our food resulted in one winner (Vito's), two losers (Pasha and Glenwillow Grille) and one tie (Station 43). I think the key to getting these places to stay in business and to do better is to patronize them more - and to let them know when they let you down; after all, the proprietors are not mind readers. But they need to do a better job at service, which can often in my analysis make up for kitchen miscues. I appreciate that there are chain places near each of these restaurants, and the competition is fierce! And, I very much want them to make it, because it is easier to play with your food when you can get it closer to home.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, Nancy, the food at Vito's looked very good. I'm definitely going to have to check them out.

    Sorry that the food at the other two places was less than stellar.

    Beautiful pictures, BTW!