Keeping with the cultural theme of my weekend -- which featured, among other things, drinks at Irish pubs, film and beers @ Latvian churches, and Greek food from Cleveland gas stations -- we went to 'Nawlins Night on Sunday to sample Northeast Ohio's best take on Cajun and Creole deliciousness.
I am pleased to report that, for a bunch of city restaurants in Ohio, the various chefs present did a darn good job.
A little bit about my credibility as a judge of Louisiana cooking chops: I have very little. I lived in the great state of Louisiana for about 6 months about 10 years ago. I have visited the state about a half-dozen times since. I also dream about the cuisine and find the various micro-cultures utterly absorbing.
But I'm no chef and I'm no native. Just a fan that's done a bunch of thinking and eating.
Anyway, the event itself was put on by Cleveland Independents, a cool little marketing co-op featuring, you guessed it, independent restaurants. Among the nearly six dozen members of the organization are hot locations like The Flying Fig, Lucky's, and One Walnut, along with the participating restaurants noted below.
Upon arriving at the B-Side Lounge, where the event was held, we scouted our environs and quickly realized it would be difficult to find a seat. That, by the way, was the worst aspect of the night. For $100 (for 2 people), you think you'd be able to sit down, right? We started off in the corner farthest from the bar with a bowl of chicken/andouille gumbo and a couple hunks of perfect jalapeno cornbread, courtesy the dudes at Fire Food + Drink. This dish was, beyond doubt, the single greatest dish of the evening. Sadly, after we had sampled everything and decided to get seconds, the gumbo was gone. We followed this up by some kinda pedestrian jambalaya from Fat Fish Blue and some beautifully tender crab cakes served with a zesty remoulade from Bistro 185. Technically, there was some buttermilk-fried okra and "root beer rice" from The Leopard in there, too, but the amount and the quality of the dish was pretty disappointing. Sergio's SARAVA boosted up a yummy bowtie pasta dish called "Creole Heart Attack" that featured crawfish, andouille, crab, shrimp, and fried oysters in a flavorful sauce. It was good, but would have been better over rice. Also, the preparation of the dish outperformed the taste, as all the various ingredients lying in piles on the table, next to the chef sauteeing, was really cool and delicious looking. Before moving on to the two desserts, we tried one last thing: an incredibly garlicky fried oyster served with tomato chimichurri from Boulevard Blue. I'm not a fan of any sort of garlic ass-kicking, but this was good. I probably wouldn't have been able to take more than two, but what I had here was scrumptious.
After we exhausted the traditional entree fare, it was on to dessert, starting first with banana praline pudding and bourbon pecan bars from J. Pistone. This was a bit boozy for me (I prefer to drink my liquor, thank you), but rich and decadent. Plus, as my guest told me about J. Pistone's shop, it made me excited to check it out some time. Finally, we grabbed plates of lemon-scented beignets, served with a tiny dollop of macerated raspberries, brought to us by the fine folks at Moxie. These were pretty good, but of all the dishes they seemed like the least like their made-in-Louisiana counter-parts. A little gummy, to be honest. Besides, I prefer my beignets basic, with a pot of chickory coffee. The lemon-scented approach and the berries were a little too fancy.
Overall, it was an above-average event, but any level of success is due to the chefs and their assistants, not the organizers. The B-Side isn't the right kind of place for something like this, with the lack of seating and the bare-bones bar. It would have been cool to have servers there, bringing dish after dish. It also would have been cool to have New Orleans-themed drinks at a cash bar, from Blackened Voodoo beer to Hurricanes to a fine Pimm's Cup. A little more foresight next time around, along with some grander level of service, and this makes an event to look forward to.
There are some aspects, though, that should not be changed. First and foremost, the post-dinner show upstairs at the Grog by Buckwheat Zydeco. It was a hoot, and the guys in the band (especially Buckwheat) are talented. I only wish I wasn't suffering what Grandpa on the Boondocks so eloquently referred to as "the itis." After all those courses, I needed a nap. I caught a super brief one in the park on Coventry between dinner and show, but despite the wonderful performance, I found myself yearning for a short encore.
4 weeks ago