Stuart Blog 2: Dine and Dish 7 - Like a virgin

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Dine and Dish 7 - Like a virgin

Choosing something new was easy. Lola was Cleveland's most anticipated restaurant opening in my memory and perhaps for as long as a couple of decades. Chef Michael Symon originally opened Lola many years ago in Tremont, a neighborhood long on history but experiencing an extended rough patch. Lola was an important part of a revitalization of the neighborhood. The area is now home to many of the city's most popular independent restaurants, many of our galleries and has a nice mix of charming old housing stock and newer buildings.

Lola closed in that location and was quickly replaced by Lolita but everyone's greatest expectations were reserved for the new incarnation of Lola in a new location. Lola's grand re-opening was far behind schedule. The new space is much larger and has a more "downtown" energy. Everyone oohs and ahhs over the beautiful alabaster bar. It makes a grand first impression. The new location is on East 4th Street which gives Symon and Lola a chance to participate in the revitalization of yet another Cleveland area. Luxury lofts in an old wig factory, a martini bar bowling alley and the House of Blues music venue are all nearby.

The beef cheek pierogi is one of Chef Symon's whimsical tributes to the hearty ethnic culinary tradition of Cleveland. We like our pierogis. This beef cheek pierogi was full of beefy flavor.

Chef Symon spent time studying with Mario Batali and has since featured charcuterie at Lolita and now at the new Lola. This lamb was delicious. Very light and very lamb-y. Isn't the bread adorable? I want to see a whole loaf. It's also delicious.

This grouper was fantastic. It was as good as any fish that I've ever had: crispy outside, moist and buttery inside, full of flavor.

French toast with bacon ice cream? Yup. It was very nice with more of that delicious tiny bread. I don't know whether this is an intentional tribute to Heston Blumenthal. The pastry chef is Cory Barrett whose resume includes Tribute in Chicago.

lobster corn dogs. mustard creme fraiche.

pork sausage, pickled fennel.

A great salad is a sign of a great restaurant. It shows that no part of the meal is considered as an afterthought. Nice peppery arugula, flavorful nuts, creamy cheese.

Ordering poultry is a risky proposition even, I've found, at very highly regarded restaurants. And recently I've grown wary of foie gras. It's so wonderful that it's hard to pass up and equally disappointing when it isn't prepared to the standards that it deserves. This squab was moist and full of flavor. The squab is corned - rubbed with salt and spices and allowed to absorb these flavors for a while before it's cooked. I first read about this technique in relation to Zuni Cafe. Salting prior to cooking is important for flavor but it can draw moisture out of the meat. But Chef Rodgers at Zuni salts the meat hours or days before which allows time for the moisture to be redistributed back to its natural place. Chef Symon uses this technique on the lamb, squab and steak. I can vouch for the results on the squab, I've heard raves for the lamb and personally, I'm very excited about trying the steak. Yet one more thing I've grown hesitant to order.

Delicious pear sorbet with brown butter pear and gorgonzola and walnut cake.

lola-pops. chocolate, hazelnut and sea salt.

Considering the quality of the squab, the foie gras and the grouper I have to say that Lola lived up to all the hype. Chef Syon said they'll start making changes to the menu in several weeks so I've got my work cut out for me. There are so many things that I want to try before they're replaced. Lola is a wonderful new addition to the Cleveland culinary scene.

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