Chardonnay and Miami Skyline

Area 31

When traveling for work, I’m in a new city every day of the week. Think George Clooney in Up in the Air without the sexual encounters. And after an exhausting day of planes, cabs and rent-a-car’s I appreciate it when the hotel restaurant is good enough to keep me on the property. Area 31 at the Epic Hotel in Miami Beach is one of those.
Located on the 16th floor of the Epic, you have the choice to dine indoors or alfresco; surrounded by Miami skyscrapers

and canals.

When the background music and conversation adds to a restaurant’s ambiance it enhances your dining experience. When it doesn’t, it’s as pleasant as listening to Steven Tyler sing the national anthem. Unfortunately, next to the dining space, Area 31 has a raucous outdoor bar where club music, loud conversations of Spanglish and smoking is de rigueur. Why does the smoke always drift toward the non-smokers?

The club vibe aside, the food from Executive Chef E. Michael Reidt is described as showcasing pristine, sustainable seafood from the restaurant’s namesake, fishing Area 31. I’m a sucker for culinary lagniappes. The meal starts with the worlds largest croutons which are a chewy way to provide a taste of of both white and raisin bread without risking cries of FOUL from the carb counting crowd. This crouton klatch is served with a dip of soffrito consisting of tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, Provencal herbs and shallots.

I appreciate a chef who serves food which fits into the culinary culture of the restaurant, especially something I’ve never had like soffrito, but it suffered from too much tomato and not enough garlic, shallots and herbs.

At home I eat mostly vegetarian but when I’m on the road and especially in a place known for having great local and sustainable seafood, I have to try it. So I started with a small bite of wahoo crudo for $9. It is raw wahoo, garlic, olive oil, shallots and citrus powder – a mix of various citrus piths. The presentation was clean and fun with each glistening bite of wahoo skewered with a miniature bamboo harpoon.
The wahoo was meaty and substantial but did have a hint of fishiness. And like the tomato did to the soffrito, the citrus overwhelmed the wahoo adding an unwelcome bitterness. The same problem when you eat sushi doused in wasabi or siracha mayo and it’s all you can taste. This dish would be better if it were more ceviche-like topped with just citrus juice, no rind and a bit more shallot and garlic.

My next course was Florida corn soup for $11. Lump crab meat arrived in a bowl sprinkled with a dehydrated brown butter powder. Then Javier, my amiable server, poured a mixture of cream corn and rendered bacon over the top.

I don’t like bacon however I can’t call myself an OMNIVOROUS vegetarian if I’m not willing to try anything. And I’m glad I am because this is pork and seafood done right. Instead of an overwhelming salted pork flavor I’ve had in the past from dishes like prosciutto wrapped shrimp, in this dish it adds an extra dimension of richness and savoriness.

I chose a Flora Springs Napa Valley Chardonay ’09 to pair with my soup and entrée. It’s a mix of 50% French Oak aging and 50% stainless steel.

The creaminess of the corn matches well with wine’s roundness and buttery quality and the brininess of lump crab with the wines minerality. It’s a great pairing for this soup and a great setting to enjoy it.

For an entrée, I ordered yellow tail snapper with coconut rice, baby zucchini rounds, globe carrots, lump crab meat and a cilantro pesto for $27. Another great presentation, from the  bowl it was served in to table side pour of the cilantro pesto. But…

like the crudo, the snapper was a little fishy. As I experimented with different bites I discovered it was the skin that was adding the fishy funk and once removed it went away  but the fish was a still a little dry and chewy. This dish would be better with a richer and more substantial fish without the skin, replacing the lost crunch of the skin with some fried herbs, kicking up the flavor of the bland rice and adding rendered bacon. I’m kidding about the bacon…or am I?

For dessert I chose the Strawberry “Rock”. No. Not a wrestling doll combing the girlish innocence of the Strawberry Shortcake doll with Dwayne Johnson’s wrestling alter ego though that would be hilarious. If you smell what the Strawberry Rock is cooking? This strawberry rock is a dessert of macerated strawberries, tres leches cake and pistachio ice cream for $8

It was good but not great. The strawberry flavor comes nicely through but the strawberries could have been fresher. The dish has a nice variety of textures: hard, soft, crunchy, creamy but the strawberry rock tasted like cheap strawberry ice cream from Thriftys. The pistachio ice cream would be better with more creaminess such as in pistachio gelato. And pistachios roasted with sea salt would have added more interesting flavors than the candied pistachios. Overall, I’d give this dessert a pass.

I paired the dessert with a Kracher Auslese Burgenland Austria ’08 $15. It’s a viscous dessert wine with lots of orange flavor, orange rind, orange blossom and honey. It was a good wine and fantastic pairing with a dessert called Orange Rock. The strong orange flavor of the wine completely distracted from the strawberry flavor of the dessert. An orange liqueur like cointreau in the cake or an orange rind garnish might bring the dessert and wine better together but probably switching to a light berried dessert wine would be the best option.

Javier my server described Area 31 best when he said it’s, “food you can play with.” I appreciate that and even though some of the food you’d rather play with than eat, the knowledgeable and friendly service, the dedication to local and sustainable and it’s location are enough reasons to check out the Area.

Area 31
16th floor at EPIC Hotel
270 Biscayne Blvd. Way
Miami,FL 33131
305.424.5234

For more information about the author, please visit Brian von Dedenroth.

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Grateful Spoon Gelato Sign

Grateful Spoon Gelato

What could be better than ice cream on a hot Arizona day? GELATO any day. If you grew up in suburbia like me, you screamed for ice cream but one taste from Grateful Spoon Gelato and you’ll be screaming for gelato instead.

Their logo looks like gelato revolutionaries uniting in solidarity to overthrow ice cream’s  oppressive (egg) yolk around the taste buds of the people. And once you see their assortment of flavors, you’ll want to grab a spoon and join in.
The usual suspects such as vanilla and chocolate are joined by more exotic fair e.g. pistachio, nutella and dulce de leche. Like any good frozen confectioner, you can sample your way to your own taste bud nirvana. I decided on a decidedly different combo of Hazelnut and Cortina which is almond with lingonberries.
While we wait for my double dip of deliciousness to be served up let’s take a quick look at gelato. It’s an Italian frozen dessert sometimes attributed to Bernardo Buontalenti, a cook from Florence who served the treat to Catherine de’Medici in 1565.

Gelato differs from ice cream in that it generally has 15-30% less air churned into it during freezing resulting in a denser product with more intense flavors. It also has about 10% lower butterfat content than ice cream and as much as double the amount of sugar. What this means to your mouth is that each bite coats your tongue with a dense cream that satisfies your soul.
The hazelnut has a roasted coffee flavor with a rich creaminess and the cortina tastes of vanilla cream mixed with a raspberry-strawberry hybrid. After tasting these, I’d rather have a lotta gelato than scream for ice cream any day and the scoops are large priced at $3 for one or $4 for two. Grateful Spoon claims to prepare their gelato in small batches just like in Italy and based on the equipment behind the counter, I believe them. They also state they use local 100% natural products without pre-made bases, starters or mixes and even pasteurize their own milk which says they care about quality.

But I wish they’d take their caring a little further. Rather than serve their gelato in plastic containers with plastic spoons, why not use a biodegradable paper or plant-based bowls (preferably non-GMO corn) and wooden or bamboo spoons?

Besides that I stand in solidarity with you Grateful Spoon and you should too. You’ll be grateful you did.

Grateful Spoon Gelato
4401 N. 40th St.
Phoenix, AZ 85018
602-955-2448

For more information about the author please visit Brian von Dedenroth.

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Taco Temple Veggie Burrito

Taco Temple

I first heard about Taco Temple when I was filming The Winemakers in Paso Robles in 2007. Since then, I’ve made many pilgrimages to the Temple with offerings of an empty stomach and have always been rewarded with a satisfied soul. The place is legendary in the area but with its location in a nondescript parking lot East of Highway 1 on the Northern end of Morro Bay, it’s location is not. Neither is it’s shack-like appearance.

It also doesn’t look like much from the inside but has some fun decorations; brightly painted surfboards hanging from the ceiling that look like they belonged to a Maori surf club and eclectic Mexican tchotchkes and paintings decorating the walls and alcoves. It’s old school California beach culture but looks aren’t the reason to trek to the Temple.

The food is. And so is the wine and beer. Taco Temple offers affordable local wine and beer from Paso Robles and San Luis Obispo including popular Firestone Walker Brewing Company. So, with all the local offerings what did I opt for? A $4 pint of Scrimshaw Pilsner on draught from North Coast Brewing in Fort Bragg – 400 miles away. I love draught beer and it sounded like the right beer for my lunch. It was.

Scrimshaw Pilsner tastes like the perfect beer to drink when you come in from the harvest or perhaps a tough day of whaling. It’s color is proof blonds have more fun. It has a medium body, a crispness highlighted by a touch of caramel sweetness and a sprightly finish with the lingering taste of grains; plus it was served American cold. I don’t share many American’s love affair with overly air conditioned indoor spaces and water glasses overflowing with ice cubes. But when it comes to beer, God Bless America. Nobody does it colder. Makes me feel sad for the rest.

It also makes me feel sad when Mexican restaurants charge for chips and salsa. Taco Temple does not. Their chips and salsa bar include freshly made chips with a few different salsas: A red piquante with a roasted flavor. Your typical pureed Mexican red sauce; tongue burning and sweat inducing. A pico de gallo which had a boring canned taste. It needed more cilantro, some onion and garlic, fresher tomatoes and some fresh jalapeños. Fortunately, they also offer fresh jalapeños by themselves which provided me with some ammo to perk up the pico. I give the Temple high marks for having fresh jalapeños at the bar and not using those disgusting pickled jalapeños from the can.

Taco Temple is renown for their fresh and local fish BUT as they say when haggling South of the border “es muy caro”; It is very expensive e.g. one fish taco for $16. I’ve had them before and they’re excellent but pricey so instead I opted for The Kind Veggie Burrito. A monstrous affair too big for one sane person; served in a sun-dried tomato tortilla slightly charred and served with dollops of guacamole and sour cream.

Under the hood, you’ll find a delicious salad of spring mix, tomatoes, rice, cheese, black beans, radishes and carrots. If you look around you’ll see many other plates with a similar accompaniment. They like using the spring mix. And I appreciate that it’s healthier than a lot of Mexican food with its characteristic gobs of cheese overflowing every nook.
However my burrito, like the salsas, was tasty but not mind blowing. The ingredients aren’t seasonal and you can taste they lack a freshness. Still, if you’re hungry and in the mood for good Mexican food in a casual kick-back atmosphere accompanied by a nice selection of beer and wine, Taco Temple is worth a trip.

Taco Temple
2680 Main Street  Morro Bay, CA 93442
(805) 772-4965

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Bryant Park Grill Exterior

Bryant Park Grill

If you find yourself hungry in Midtown Manhattan and you want to treat yourself to an excellent meal, don’t go to Bryant Park Grill.
It’s easy to be tempted. The Internet is full of positive reviews. Concierges like mine at The Hyatt Grand Central highly recommend the place. The location in Bryant Park is fantastic with great views from inside where large windows offer front row seats to a parade of humanity strolling by.

And the interior is bright and airy BUT Bryant Park Grill charges for location, location, location without providing food with flavor, flavor, flavor.

The problems began with their beer selection: Budweiser, Coors, Heineken and Corona. I expect generic mass produced beers when I’m traveling on a plane but I haven’t heard a selection this bad in a well regarded restaurant since the 80′s. How about a local beer? How about some craft beers? How about more variety? Or how about switching to wine?

Sadly, with Ménage à Trois, Chalone, Folie à Deux, Jacobs Creek, etc…, the wine was only a marginal improvement over the beer. I’m not saying these wines are bad but I am saying they’re $8 Trader Joes drink-at-home-when-you-don’t-care wines, not I want a nice glass of wine chosen by a sommelier who knows more about wines than I. Still, I was in the mood for something so I tried a wine I was unfamiliar with; An ’09 Ca’ Donini Delle Venezie Pinot Grigio for $9. It was fruity and simple and lost me at bonjourno. I was hoping the food would make up for the beverages.
  I started with a white bean vegetable soup with aged Vermont cheddar garnished with a green onion puree for $8.50. With chunks of veggies and beans It looked good. It wasn’t. The vegetables were DOA, lying dormant in a flavorless watery grave. No fresh herbs detectable. What little taste there was had a diluted V8 quality to it. Their secret stock perhaps? This soup was so bad not even Campbell’s would put their label on it.
Oh look! Both my dishes are here at the same time. YIPEE! Great job Bryant Park Grill. Now I can choke down my flavorless soup as my entree sinks toward room temperature. Instead, I pushed my gruel aside and put all my faith on my entrée.

Vegan stir fried curry quinoa for $17.50 with wild mushrooms, roasted cherry tomatoes, serrano chili peppers, English peas and grilled eggplant. I appreciate they offered a tasty sounding vegan option but…whomever plated the dish must have learned their presentation skills at a soup kitchen where glopping the food on the plate earns you volunteer of the month.

A mountain of unappetizing quinoa dominated the plate with a few veggies fleeing over the side. 70% of the plate must have been quinoa, which was waterlogged, with one piece of overcooked eggplant, 4 pieces of wilted asparagus, some grilled iceberg, a few peas and not a wild mushroomn nor flavor of serrano in sight.
If you have no taste buds, love being charged inflated New York prices instead of served good food or think the quality of their vegetarian offerings will in no way reflect their meat dishes, then head on in to Bryant Park Grrrrrrill.

Bryant Park Grill
25 W 40th St  New York, NY 10018
(212) 840-6500

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Brian von Dedenroth with Food and Wine

Olio e Limone

I’m a fan of the band Pink Martini. At first glance, they appear to be an orchestra from a bygone era replete with classic instruments, suits and evening gowns. But when you look a closer, you’ll notice personal style such as: bleached blonde hair, sparkly sequins and tattoos. The band, like their music is an smorgasbord of sights and sounds that are uniquely their own. Uniqueness and personalized interpretation are the same qualities I want when I dine out. I had been told that Olio e Limone in Santa Barbara was such a place. So with tickets to Pink Martini at the Arlington theater on State Street in hand, my date for the evening (A.K.A. mom) and I headed over for some pre-show dinner.
Olio e Limone Exterior
The quaint space on West Victoria was surprisingly packed for 7PM on a Thursday. Either a reflection of the newlywed or nearly dead reputation of Santa Barbara or the crowd was heading to the 8PM show across the street like us.
Olio e Limone Interior
Olie e Limone is a Goldilocks sized place; quaint and intimate, nice lighting and a clean adobe hacienda-look. “Simple elegance” as mom described it. Friendly and welcoming with mirrors and windows making the room appear larger with a pleasing Feng Shui effect.
Olio e Limone Reflection in Mirror
A bottle of Alberello Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil is brought to every table with bread. It has a clean, mellow, light taste. An every man’s olive oil.
Alberello Organic Olive Oil
Spongy Italian bread accompanies the oil. My favorite foil for olive oil. Soft and spongy inside for Gulf Coast level oil absorption with a harder crust for a crunchy contrast.
Italian Bread
Our waiter like our olive oil was imported from Italy. It was fun to listen to his Italian accent as he corrected my mis-pronunciations of every dish I ordered. We started with an, unseasonal for October, Insalata Primaverile (spring salad). It sounded too good to pass up: Mixed baby lettuces, grilled eggplant, roasted bell peppers, goat cheese and Olio e Limone dressing for $12.
Insalata Primaverile
Great presentation and a nice flavor but the ingredients lacked a feral depth of freshness you get with seasonal and local produce. Also, if the zucchini had been warm, it would have provided a nice temperature contrast that would have been more interesting in the mouth. It was good just not amazing. Next we ordered Fiorellini di Mellanzane.
Fiorellini di Mellanzane
Housemade ravioli filled with roasted eggplant and goat cheese with fresh tomato sauce, basil and ricotta salata for $21. This dish was amazing and our favorite. The eggplant provided a heartiness, the raviolis tasted fresh, the goat cheese was simultaneously creamy and rustic with a tart after taste and the ricotta salata provided a nice saltiness. Soul satisfying Italian comfort food. Along with the ravioli, we ordered Spaghetti allo Scoglio.
Spaghetti allo Scoglio
Spaghetti with fresh dungeness crab meat in a spicy tomato sauce topped with a big prawn for $26. It was deliciously spicy and briney but a little fishy and the prawn lacked that little lobster flavor you find in the really good ones. Still, I dispatched it with alacrity.

Olio e Limone offers a nice selection of Italian Reds by the glass for $11-13. Mom went “The Godfather” with a Sicilian Nero d’Avola. I stayed local with a Z Cuvée from Zaca Mesa. Both paired well with the entrees. Olio e Limone doesn’t serve up Pink Martini level flavor, but it’s ambiance, location, food and wine does well enough to satisfy the newlywed, the nearly dead and those in between.

Olio e Limone

17 West Victoria Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Phone: 805-899-2699

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Cosmo's Pizza Gigantor

Cosmo’s Pizza

Boulder Vegetarian PizzaPizza Gigantor from Cosmo’s Pizza in Boulder Colorado. A 24″ monster with a price tag to match. For nearly $40 you too can have this half Veggie Supreme and half Greek veggie. According to Cosmo’s website, the toppings on the Veggie Supreme are: Green Pepper, Mushroom, Onion, Tomatoe & Black Olive AND the Greek Veggie has: Spinach, Sun Dried Tomatoe, Artichoke Heart & Feta Cheese. Save your money and ignore the hype you read on-line about Cosmos. It was probably written by drunk and stoned college kids from nearby CU. The size of the pie may impress but nearly all of the ingredients have that canned “food product” flavor you find when restaurants source from companies like Sysco. The black olives taste plastic, the artichoke hearts have no heart, sun-dried tomatoes are uninspired, cheese is plebeian and the tomatoes…well…they’re as good as the spelling of the person who wrote tomato with an e on their website. Dan Quayle would be proud – but I bet he wouldn’t like their pizza either.

Cosmos Pizza
659 30th Street
Boulder, CO
(303) 447-3278

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Bridgeport Brewing Facade

Bridgeport Brewpub

Bridgeport Brewpub Facade
Bridgeport Brewpub Facade

If you like beer, than you would love Portland, OR with more brewpubs per capita than any city in the U.S. It’s my favorite beer city. Bridgeport Brewpub in the historic Pearl District is a great place to knock a few back. With distribution in many states, maybe you already have but it’s always better at the source. Especially if you’re there for the $3 a pint happy hour. Where else can you get a great draught beer for $3? In Portland, everywhere. I’m always astonished at the quality and affordability of beer, wine and food when dining out there.

India Pale Ale is one of my favorite styles of beer when it’s not too heavy but has a noticeable but not overwhelming hoppy bitterness.  And while Bridgeport’s IPA was a beautiful amber color, it tasted very light and was slightly effervescent with a citrus character rather than a hoppy or bitter one. It was a refreshing beer but not my favorite IPA ever. I thought it lacked some complexity and richness in flavor that I’ve had in other IPAs. The alcohol was a respectable 5.5%. Still with so many other beers to choose from on draught and in such a great old building, if you’re in Portland and thirsty for beer Bridgeport is definitely worth a stop.

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The Counter Veggie Burger

The Counter

People often ask me if I’m a vegetarian because I generally don’t eat something that used to make an animal noise, except something unique like: le quack quack of duck confit in France, la oink oink of morcilla (blood sausage) in Spain or the “DAMN YOU Francisco Pizarro” of Cuy (guinea pig) in Peru. While I’m no Andrew Zimmern, my picky childhood taught me that life’s too short not to try something new. Still given my preference for vegetarianism, you wouldn’t expect me to recommend a burger joint. But The Counter in Santa Monica, CA is not your J. Wellington Wimpy’s Burger joint. From the outside, The Counter doesn’t look like much. A sun beaten facade on a busy LA street.
The Counter Marquee
Inside the place sports a retro burger joint feel. It’s bright with lots of unadorned tables, a serve yourself soda fountain and of course – a counter.
The Counters Counter
You start by filing out a check list. While I didn’t order the beef, it was reassuring to see at the top of the check list, “Fresh 100% Natural Angus Beef. Hormone and Antibiotic Free. Humanely Raised + Handled.” I assume that applies to the chicken and turkey too but I’m not positive. Something to ask if you’re inclined to order them. In my experience, if a restaurant or store cares about the quality of their meat then the veggies will be good and vice versa.
The Counter Menu
The checklist is broken down into 5 easy steps.

1) Choose a burger and size.  Your options are 1/3lb, 2/3 lb or a whopping pound of beef,  chicken, turkey, veggie or market selection (which were crab cakes the day I was there). I went with a 1/3lb veggie.

2) Choose a Cheese. I love the options here. Danish Blue Cheese, Sharp Provolone, Brie. I went with Horseradish Cheddar cuz I loves me some spice.

3) Choose up to 4 Toppings. For me, grilled onions, roasted green chiles, roasted red peppers and organic mixed greens.

4) Choose a Sauce.  I opted for the Chipotle Aioli

5) Chose a Bun. Multigrain me.

Then you hand your homework in, at the counter of course, order any extras like fries or a drink, pay, take your number back to your seat and wait. I love that there are so many options on the menu. It means you could eat here scores of times and still invent new flavor combos or go with a big group and share several combos at once.

While waiting for my burger, my fries arrived.
The Counter Fries Close Up
I love a good french fry but sadly, these were not those. They weren’t bad, they just weren’t amazing. Even worse was the Heinz Ketchup lurking on every table.  I used it because I’m a ketchup-holic but I despised every bit of high fructose corn syrup. It boggles the taste buds that a place that would emphasize quality ingredients and even creative sauce concoctions for your burger wouldn’t include homemade ketchup or ketchup concoctions with your fries. Imagine: Chipotle Ketchup, Tamarind-Mandarin Orange Ketchup. Got flavors you think would be good? At the very least, how about just offering a good ketchup like Trader Joe’s organic or Whole Foods 365. They’re inexpensive, better tasting and NO corn syrup.
The Counter Interior
How many bottles of Heinz ketchup can you find in the picture above? (The winner will receive a bottle of Heinz Ketchup)
I’ve eaten a lot of veggie burgers and too many of them are sorry soy patties masquerading as a meat burger. Veggie burgers are no substitute for meat. Never will be. So I want and expect them to taste like what they’re made of: vegetables. And that’s exactly what The Counter’s veggie burger looks and tastes like. Behold people of Earth, I give you (cue angelic choir), my custom veggie burger.

The Counter Veggie Burger
The Counter Veggie Burger

Let’s go in for a closer look.  It’s big. It’s well made with real veggies, big caramelized onions, red peppers and green chiles. There’s a hemi under that hood.
The_Counter_Veggie_Burger_Close_Up
As for the taste, the burger is everything I wanted it to be. The onions are slightly sweet and the bun is nutty but it’s the cheese and aioli sauce that really made this burger sing and are two of the many reasons I’ll be going back to The Counter, hopefully this time with friends…and my own ketchup.
The Counter on Urbanspoon

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Mediterranean Grouper

Pomegranate On Main

I was in Greenville, SC recently and dined al fresco on Mediterranean meal of hummus and kabobs by a cascading waterfall. Welcome to the new South. It ain’t hush puppies and fried green tomatoes anymore. At least not at the Persian restaurant, Pomegranate On Main. Dining on their patio which is thankfully set back from the street allows you to enjoy the sounds of the cascading cataract more than the cacophony of cars careening on cement.
Waterfall Wall
I’m a big fan of culinary lagniappes such as chips and salsa or an assortment of bread and dips that restaurants provide before a meal. It’s the restaurants way of saying, “Thank you for dining with us and here’s a small token of our appreciation.” At Pomegranate On Main, they have an appropriately Mediterranean spin on the complementary hors d’oeuvre with a huge hunk of feta, radish, mixed greens, cucumber and triangle of butter.
Mediterranean hors d'oeuvre
As a person who eats mostly vegetarian, I’ve become a fan of beans in all their guises but my favorite has got to be hummus. The portion of hummus at Pomegranate and Main was so large I could have made a meal out of it. Drizzled with olive oil and dusted with paprika, their spread which was both creamy and rustic, with chunks of chickpeas, was perfect on warm grilled pitas. Too bad my entree wasn’t as perfect.
Pita Wedges
I was leaning towards the veggie kabob but my server talked me into the grouper special for $21. The dish was good but the grouper left me groping… for more flavor. More Mediterranean spices and a dipping sauce made of  pomegranate or yogurt would have done wonders. It was the same story with the basmati rice. More dill, some parsley and spice would have saved it from blandness. The roasted tomatoes, however, were bursting with flavor and went great with the kabobs. But there weren’t enough of them and I think a restaurant ought to serve something other than tomatoes when they aren’t in season. The lemon and lime wedges were good but typical accompaniments to fish and without the kale to cover some of plate and add some color, this dish would have been whiter than a Persian kitten.
Mediterranean  Grouper
The proliferation of ethnic cuisine throughout the U.S. means today we can eat sushi in Sioux City, Mexican in Maine and Persian in the South. But should we? If a restaurant focuses on fresh/local food and if ethnic, fuses it with foreign preparation, then it can create something deliciously different. Otherwise, it’s just a McDonald’s version of itself. If you’re in Greenville, SC and you’ve got a hankering for something other than Southern that mostly delivers on taste, Pomegranate On Main, is worth checking out.
Pomegranate on Urbanspoon

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Veggie Bruschetta

Table 45

To those who know Cleveland as “the mistake on the lake”, the birthplace of the Clean Water Act when the Cuyahoga river burned or as the former home court of Lebron James, it may be hard to imagine C-Town as  a culinary destination with a lot of delicious restaurants. However, many of Cleveland’s restaurants will surprise and delight you. Unfortunately, Table 45 is not one of those.
Table 45 Sign
Like many high-end restaurants, Table 45 has received a lot of hype and rightfully so as a Zach Bruell establishment located in the InterContinental hotel. He’s a gifted chef and I’ve had great experiences at some of his other Cleveland restaurants such as Chinato and Parallax. It’s not that Table 45 is bad. It’s the Dan Jansen of  restaurants. Based on Bruell’s pedigree and the menu of seasonal offerings, it has Olympic Gold potential but it misses more than it succeeds.

The space at Table 45 is cavernous and impersonal. It looks like a cliche of a hotel restaurant. From my table, I had a view of several big red exit signs and the parking lot. The electric table candles didn’t help to warm up the industrial feel of the dining room.
Table 45 Interior
I started with an appetizer of bruschetta featuring an all star line-up of roasted artichokes, grilled eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, fresh mozzarella, and grape tomatoes topped with ribbons of basil and shaved Parmesan for $10. This dish was a mountain of vegetables that eclipsed your ordinary tomato, onion and olive oil bruschetta. I’m haunted by the memory of overcooked vegetables growing up so I was happy to find the squashes were wonderfully al dente. Unfortunately so were the cubes of eggplant. Chewing undercooked eggplant is as satisfying as chewing on an unripe pear. No flavor and bad texture.  Also, despite the basil’s best efforts, the dish needed more herbs. Some oregano, garlic and thyme would have gone a long way. Overall, the bruschetta was an A + concept with a B – execution. Also, the slightly sweet and light Viognier I paired it with was buried by the roasted flavor of the vegetables. My server should have steered me towards a wine with more backbone.
Veggie Bruschetta
When dining out, I like to eat what is local to support the home team and because it should be fresher. So, for my entree, I ordered a walleye, served with quinoa, orange slices, leeks and chopped olives. The walleye was the single best item I ate all night. It was succulent, buttery, light and soft and it paired well with the sweet salty combo of the orange and olives. The quinoa and fennel however were a disaster. Both were cold, bland and fishy. Salt and pepper helped breathe a little life into them but they were DOA. The dish would have been greatly improved by seasoning the quinoa better. Cook it in some veggie stock, add some toasted pine nuts for flavor and texture, mix in some herbs or spices and serve it warm instead of just a cold heaping mass of Incan grain ready to ruin my meal with every bite. A buttery Chardonnay or buttery and/or citrusy Sauvingnon Blanc would go well with this dish.
Walleye and Quinoa
Table 45 has lots of potential. Mr. Bruell has an impressive culinary pedigree but on this evening the dishes and ambiance were both consistently inconsistent. With so many great restaurants in and around Cleveland, including Bruell’s other offerings, I won’t be rushing back to Table 45 any time soon.
Table 45 on Urbanspoon

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