Thursday, October 21, 2010

Fun Drinking Left Handed Beer and Playing With Bar Symon Food for the Last time - Plus - an Interview with the Iron Chef!

I participated in an interview of Iron Chef Michael Symon with other local bloggers and food writers on Tuesday, October 12, and Bob and I enjoyed a fantastic beer dinner at Michael's Bar Symon less than a week later. But we learned the very next day (one week after the interview - Tuesday October 19) that Bar Symon would close at the end of October. Good times and not so good times in Cleveland's food world.

First - the interview. Here we were, asking about new restaurants, or in my case, pastry chefs, lemon juicing, and burger composition, even as the demise of Bar Symon was being worked behind the scenes. But work it one must - in my day job as a business attorney, I totally appreciate how difficult this process is for everyone involved with it and I don't envy anyone going through it. I am the second interviewer on the audio, after  Cleveland blogger Bite Buff.   Note - I am not planning to quit my day job just yet.

Michael shared, among other things, that he has a new restaurant concept in the works (involving smoked meats - but that was all he could say - any more and he'd have had to kill me). And one to three new B Spots. So, his restaurant group remains strong.

Based on what I have read since the Bar Symon news became public, we must chalk Bar Symon's failure up to the old axiom - location, location, location. A location that couldn't or wouldn't support it. We hope to see it again somewhere soon (though it does continue on in an abbreviated format at Quicken Loans Arena during Cavaliers and Lake Erie Monsters games).

In the meantime, Chef Matthew "Chatty" Harlan will return to Lolita as House Manager. Though I suspect that he won't be out of the kitchen too long - his passion for food is as strong as Michael's, as demonstrated by Monday's fabulous dinner. Matt's theme was a sort of "nasty bits" concept - using parts of animals that are not usually featured, such as frogs' legs, chicken thighs, and beef cheeks.

The dinner was part of Cleveland's Beer Week festivities. The featured brewer was Left Hand Brewing Company out of Longmont, Colorado. I've enjoyed Left Hand's beers before (the fact that I am left-handed has nothing to do with it - they just make good beer), and so when beer writer-afficiando friend Karen asked if we wanted to join her for this dinner, we said "yes"!

Light noshes - glazed nuts, cheeses, popcorn and crackers - were served with a welcoming glass of Polestar Pilsner. I did photograph most of the beers, but honestly felt that those photos didn't add much to this report,  so I'm omitting them - be assured though that every beer we tasted was lovely! The Pilsner was a crisp opener - as the gentleman from the brewery explained, a "naked" beer, because there is no place for it to hide! Balanced is how I would describe all of the beers I tasted from Left Hand. Almost perfectly balanced - hop head or malt lover, it did not matter. No beer tilted too far in either direction, but all were loaded with flavor.

Chatty's Chowder with Frog Legs

We knew we'd be missing Matt Harlan's cooking when he shifted from Tremont's Lolita to Bar Symon  almost two years ago - it is a good hour each way to and from Bar Symon for us. This dish reminded me of how much we'd missed him - a scrumptious chowder, with plenty of toothy vegetables, tasty corn, and bacon. And something special - frog's legs! Frog leg meat was cooked into the chowder, and a single specimen, beautifully tempuraed, adorned the top of each plate. The chowder was served with the Sawtooth Ale.

Bone-sucking good.

Smoked Brined Chicken Thigh w/Jalapeno Creamed Corn, Bacon, Pickled Chilies

I can often take or leave smoked meat - but in this case, I wanted to take it all the way into my mouth! Matt did a fabulous job creating a dish that paired perfectly with the medium bodied and pleasantly banana-y Haystack Wheat

I'm afraid that a common mistake I still make when photographing meals is to not back out for the perspective shot. Had I done that with this dish, you would have seen a 5-6 quart dutch oven which contained this family-style course. One dutch oven per table, and there was plenty!

Pork Cassoulet w/Sausage, Prosciutto, Shoulder, Bacon

How can you not like cassoulet - especially when served up with the amazingly well balanced 400# Monkey IPA? To be honest - I'm not a hop-head, and I was a little concerned knowing that we'd be served two IPAs, among other hoppy things. But as noted, Left Hand is all about the balance - and that, combined with the well thought out combination of textures, flavors and spicing in Chef Harlan's food, let to another delicious course. Matt warned us to save room for the last meat course, though, and I'm so glad we followed his direction, because the best was yet to come.

Braised Beef Cheek w/Whipped Potatoes and Roasted Veggies, Chili, Cream

This was my favorite dish of the evening. I'm no stranger to beef cheeks - they are in the pierogie served at Michael Symon's flagship restaurant Lola, among other things. Cooked just right, as they were here, they fall apart on the plate and melt in the mouth.

Thusly. And with whipped potatoes, tenderly cooked root vegetables, a bit of chile bite, cream, and I swear  - a touch of cheese?  Simply perfect. Especially when accompanied by the every-other-year only Left Hand Twin Sisters Double IPA. A beer style that I might normally taste, remark upon the high quality of the ingredients (and hop bitterness) and pass to my husband - but not tonight. Another enjoyable beer, that might have been too hoppy for me anyway, had the food pairing not been so dead-on.

A Toast

Actually, we celebrated six toasts this evening - passed to various volunteers by the gentleman from Left Hand, who also took pains to ensure we really understood how to make a proper toast: with eye contact and a sturdy "cheers" after each toast was complete. The above gentleman really got into it (heck, he was several beers into it - so why not!). The beer he is toasting with is an amazing milk stout - even though it contained some major coffee flavor - that "balance" thing again made it not only palatable to this coffee-averse drinker, but a tasty counterpoint to new Symon Restaurant Group Pastry Chef Liz Wienclaw's dessert offering.

Chocolate Mousse Cake

The first thing I asked Michael Symon in our interview was about the new executive pastry chef for the Symon Restaurant Group. This was my first taste of Chef Wienclaw's work, and like the courses before it, it complemented the beer it paired with very nicely, and delivered with chocolate flavor, textural contrasts and overall yumminess.

Though we didn't know it at the time, the meal we enoyed on Monday was a worthy last bite of Bar Symon. Our sincere good wishes for continued success go out to all of those who worked at Bar Symon (from the front of house folk who provided simply fabulous service on Monday to the kitchen staff who realized Chef Matt's culinary vision) and we look forward to seeing you at Lolita, B Spot, Lola and other venues.  It was fun interviewing Michael Symon and even more fun playing with Chef Matt's food, Left Hand Brewing Company beers, and Cleveland Beer week. Go get some Cleveland beery goodness before the week is over!

1 comment:

  1. The location truly was horrendous. I remember not being able to find Bar Symon when we went there. If I remember correctly the restaurant was tucked behind another business, and the sign was not very visible from the road. I am still very sad to hear that they are closing though. The concept itself was a good one, the location simply wasn't.