Friday, October 7, 2011

Cleveland Again? Why yes, thank you!

Summer seems to be coming to a fast and early end as September sped away. Most of us are trying to keep up momentum with putting as much into these beautiful days we have left, especially as it’s beginning to get dark so much earlier.

Last Saturday was no exception. Although it started out rainy and chilly, my friends, Nancy and Cathy and I, headed up to Cleveland for a visit to University Heights.

This area contains some of the best things that Cleveland has to offer – The Cleveland Art Museum, The Cleveland Botanical Gardens, Case Western Reserve campus, The Cleveland Museum of Natural History, Severance Hall (home of the Cleveland Orchestra), MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art), some wonderful restaurants, plus it sits close to Little Italy and all of its eclectic galleries and restaurants.

We began our day with lunch at L’Albatros on Bellfower. Nancy had been here before and it was on her recommendation that we stopped for lunch. L’Albatros is a small space, as so many in this area are, and simple in décor. Visual stimulation is low but the food more than makes up for it with their well prepared French country fare.

We had mimosas to start our lunch and followed up with my croque monsieur with pommes frits. Nancy had the Cassoulet with braised white beans, lamb, duck confit and sausages. Cathy settled on the Roasted Cod served with garlic spatzle and sauerkraut. Nancy and Cathy both agreed these were some of the best meals they’d had in a long time. Cathy’s had to be good - we started eating and I’d taken maybe five bites of my sandwich and when I glanced back her direction, her plate was clean. And not just clean, she was busy using the bread at the table to wipe it completely naked! I’m not even sure the plate needed washing when we finally left. Which was too sad for her, Nancy and I both had restes de repas to take home for later. YUM!

Once lunch was over, we ambled back to Wade Oval and tried to get into the Natural History Museum. We were turned away at the parking lot because the museum was closed for a private party. This actually was really annoying since this museum was our target all along for the afternoon. I’d checked their website the day prior for hours and location – it would have been nice to have been warned the place would be closed.

Fortunately, we had options! A quick trip back around the oval took us over to the Art Museum where we spent a leisurely hour or so browsing the exhibits. It’s funny how different people like different things at a place like this. While I’m more intrigued by the paintings (my favorites are the Impressionists), Cathy preferred the other objects – vases, jewelry, etc, and Nancy liked a bit of both.

The Art Museum is undergoing a huge expansion project and some of the exhibits are quite a distance apart. We also got lost a few times. Still, this is a fascinating place and well worth visiting.  Especially since the cost of admittance is FREE!

After our cultural afternoon, we drove over to Little Italy for a bit of respite. The area was preparing for their quarterly Art Walk so all the galleries and shops were open with wine and some sort of nice food to munch upon. I have two favorite places in Little Italy – one is La Belle Vita which is a store carrying a veritable feast for the senses - bright colors of scarves, pottery and glassware – soothing aromas of fragrant soaps and perfumes – the tinkle of chimes and happy music in the background – the touch of fuzzy hats and cool silverwork. I really love shops like this one. The owner is friendly and chatty and offered us wine and appetizers as we meandered through the displays.

My other favorite place here is the pastry shop Presti’s on Mayfield Road. Presti’s has been a staple in the neighborhood since 1943 and the current pastry chef is the 4th generation of the Presti family to run the business. From traditional Italian breads, pastries and cakes, they’ve now expanded the menu to include a full line of fresh deli salads, pizza, Stromboli. Sitting in the café is to watch a slice of life in Little Italy. People of all ages sit and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea with a pastry or lunch or dinner or just sit and chat like we were doing after a long afternoon.

For the evening, we headed east to Cedar Green Wines where we were meeting up with our good friends Bev, Lynn and Grant for their 2nd Annual Gourmet Pizza Night. Bev had attended this event last year and recommended it for a fun night out.

The wine shop owner partnered with the chef from the neighboring Zeppe’s Pizza to bring us 4 wines and 4 gourmet pizzas. The wine began flowing by 8pm followed closely by fresh hot pizza and a new pairing arrived at our seats about every half hour. The wines were so-so but the pizzas were wonderful. My favorites were the Yukon Gold potato and the butternut squash. I’ll be trying to recreate all four at home but these two will be first on the list!

The full line up was:

Provolone-parmigiano reggiano pizza topped with a baby arugula salad and a meyer lemon vinagerette paired with a Bianco Campania Triade

Ohio Yukon gold-white truffle oil-fontina pizza paired with Palma Nero Grillo

Pistachio-arugula pesto with grilled chicken and asiago cheese pizza paired with a Mandra Nero-d'Avola

Ohio butternut squash-applewood smoked bacon-extra sharp New York State cheddar pizza paired with Vitiano. 

Thanks Bev for the suggestion of the evening, I had a great time!

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