Saturday, February 21, 2009

Beachland Ballroom and Tavern

15711 Waterloo Rd
Cleveland, OH 44110
(216) 383-1124

by Beau Cadiyo

I went to college with a kid named Frank Long. He was a product of a military high school; he’d never experimented with drugs or drinking, barely saw girls and, as told to me by his freshman-year roommate, ironed his underwear. When he asked me to be his roommate sophomore year, it may have been one of the biggest moments of his life. I don’t think he had ever asked anyone for anything before, and he was as nervous as most guys would have been asking for a prom date. He gave me a picture he’d made of Bill Clinton and then popped the question. I said yes(!). Later, he said that he had a vision of a barbecue where “slabs” of tofu would be slathered in barbecue sauce and grilled, and he said he thought I was the person who would make it happen. That summer, I went to work in Santa Barbara and Frank returned to New Mexico. He started smoking weed, and at one time either smoked so much, or did some other drug, that a leprechaun came and sat on his bed at night, right near his feet, and told him what was going to happen the next day. He was institutionalized and, as far as I know, never returned to college. ’

I never made the barbecue tofu a reality; I’ve only ever barbecued meat and veggies. The Beachland Ballroom, however, has a barbecue tofu sandwich, which I felt compelled to order. It is served on a cut section of baguette which has the consistency of common American French bread and is thus disappointing. The tofu, fried with onions, is slathered in sauce and is perfectly spicy, with a vinegar edge that I only recognized two days later after careful reflection. Together, the tastes and textures were a delight, but the sandwich is incredibly small – it MAY have measured 4.5” across and 6” long. Three times larger, it would have been a deal, and with the price of tofu at Trader Joe’s I’m positive they could still turn a profit.

Luckily, I was able to just turn my barstool 90 degress to the right and indulge in something not nearly as overpriced: the vegan cupcakes sold at the show by Mama Coffees. The consistency was denser than a regular cupcake, but the taste and texture were exquisite – chocolatey, moist, and yielding satisfactorily to the teeth. It was, by far, the single best vegan thing I have ever eaten. I had two, and would have had more if I’d had the cash. I finished them both off with my beautifully poured Dewar’s and soda, which, at $5, was an incredible deal.

As it was one of the coldest nights of the year, few people were out for what turned out to be a solid, tight set from one of my favorite bands, The Very Knees. Dave, of TVK, worked the crowd as best he could; the bartenders chatted with everyone. As the show went on, the tastes in my mouth worked themselves over, mixing in several burps – barbecue, tofu, Scotch, chocolate – and I reminisced. I wondered what might have happened had Frank not been committed. That summer, the campus outcast had decided it was a good idea to take Frank’s place in my dorm room since he thought we were friends. After two days his famous smell permeated the suite. My girlfriend at the time, who was studying in France, would call passionately every morning at seven AM. I would jump out of bed completely naked to answer the phone, which was next to his bed, and then order him out of the room so she and I could talk privately. After a week, he decided it wasn’t working and moved out, leaving me with a double room all by myself. While I have lived with people since, I have never had another roommate, and I wonder if it has negatively impacted on my ability to deal with people. I guess I’ll never know.

Beachland Ballroom & Tavern on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Lure Bistro

38040 3rd St
Willoughby, OH 44094
(440) 951-8862

by Beau Cadiyo

The last time I reviewed Lure, I compared dining to relationships. Some restaurants will eventually know your favorite appetizers; some are one-night stands that you don’t intend to repeat. I forgot about the one-night stands that really aren’t that bad. Maybe you actually have a good time, even if it’s a bit awkward, and the next morning you tell her you’ll call, and you intend to, but you never do. You think about it the next day, frequently, and smile, but there are other things to think about and do, complicated things. As time goes by, you start to make excuses – at 5:30 she’s probably getting off of work, at 8:00 she’s at the gym, and 9:00 is too late so you’ll just call tomorrow. Then you get busy, you forget, and sometimes you think of calling – well, maybe more than sometimes – but there’s always a reason not to, until eventually, you end up having not called for so long that to actually call would be insulting.

But then you see her out somewhere. It could be awkward, except that instead of averting her eyes and making a quiet comment to her friend, she smiles that there are no hurt feelings. Maybe she even waves, and her friends look at you and judge. You walk up to her and hug her and say hi, and soon you’re talking with her and her friends, and eventually they all leave you chatting with her, alone at the bar, and then they tell her that they’re going home and she says ok, twirling some of her hair until they walk out the door without her. This time, you make sure that before you leave her house in the morning, you set up a date – that is, if you don’t spend the whole day together, and the next night. An explanation for your not calling isn’t necessary – in fact, you come to realize that if you HAD called too soon you might have screwed things up, or she may have thought you were too aggressive, or some combination of circumstances would have made your new relationship fizzle. If you bring it up, she silences you and you know all’s well that ends well.

That’s how it was with Lure.

Last time, I had promised to return within a month, but never did. Walking up five months later, I felt guilty, but the first thing I noticed was that the patio and outside bar had been demolished, and in the middle of a strong winter storm, the building itself is beautiful. We got a warm welcome from the manager and the hostess, and were seated against the back wall in front of an interesting sculpture of Buddha’s meditating eyes. Mention of the missing patio and bar spurred a detailed description of the renovations – the new arrangements, the new bar, the new everything that was planned. I instinctively compared it to the Melting Pot. Where the Melting Pot feels claustrophobic and intrusive, with high-backed booths (which nevertheless let all conversations enter), Lure’s open seating pattern and hanging glass balls feel intimate, proving Jordan Baker’s theory that big parties are much more intimate than small ones.

The six sushi rolls arrived startlingly quickly, an impressive feat considering the variety. Whereas last time they fell apart easily and seemed a bit haphazardly made, this time they were tight, holding together through a dunking in soy sauce and wasabi. Whereas before they were unmemorable, mushing together, this time I could feel the different textures between my teeth and on my tongue, the flavors fresh and perfect. We could not figure out what made the Mexican roll Mexican, but it was delicious; the Lure roll was better, and the Philly roll was better still. The Spicy Salmon and Spicy Crab rolls had just the right amount of kick, and the Barbecue Eel was my favorite, despite having never liked eel in sushi before.

The pièce de résistance was the sandwich. When it was brought out and presented, the manager walked over and crouched down at eye level, like he was inspecting the lines on a car, or the details in an architectural model. Luckily he didn’t take a bite – this was the single best fish sandwich I’ve ever had. Period. No comparison.

It was sesame-seared Ahi tuna on a square multigrain ciabatta bun, with cucumber slaw atop the tuna and soy reduction and wasabi mayonnaise dipping sauces in a small bowl on the side. In a larger bowl were white truffle French fries with sea salt and herbs. The bread was outstandingly toasted, and the Ahi was seared for about ¾ of a millimeter before it was bright, vibrant pink. I bit through the various layers with the soy reduction sauce on one corner and thought at first that I hadn’t gotten any fish, because I didn’t feel my teeth going through flesh. Then I chewed: it was soft, tender, light and almost not chewy at all. The second bite was the same, as was the third; only at the end did I taste the sesame. I gladly split it with my dining partner, local intellectual property attorney Harry Hoagie, but in retrospect I resented my generosity for inspiring me to share it.

Now, one day later, I can’t stop thinking about it, not because it’s still on my breath (the slaw’s onions were potent) but because it was such a singularly perfect experience. Lure was welcoming, pleasant, encouraging of good conversation – beautiful inside and out. The thought of that oh-so-tender flesh on my tongue makes me smile, and makes my mouth water in anticipation of its next meeting.
I probably should have returned earlier. I knew how to get there, and I’d tried to go a couple of times, but was foiled for no good reason– I just didn’t go. There’s no sense looking back in anger; what’s done is done. What’s important now is that Lure is there, it’s waiting, and I just made plans to see it again for Valentines Day.

Lure Bistro on Urbanspoon