11401 Bellflower Rd
Cleveland, OH 44106
by Beau Cadiyo
Bite: SALTY SALTY SALTY.
Two days after Bar Cento, I found myself in l’Albatross. I was excited about it, despite the shady rumors of how Case had forced the previous owner out in order to install the new one; while I’d loved the That Place veggie burgers and had fond memories of the collegial collegiate vibe that always surrounded the bar, I got the feeling that That Place wasn’t as much of a restaurant as that space could support. However, the vibe was good: even when there were 70-year-olds at That Place, they seemed full of youthful vigor, and watching their friendly interactions with the tables around them just reinforced this sense. However, from experience, I was wary of Albatross. The few times that I’d been to get a drink there it was almost empty, or the patrons were older couples who seemed consciously out of place in the college environment. It had been octogenarified.
I went with Frank Hoxha at lunch on a Saturday. As I’d expected, save for two girls in the corner, we were the only customers under forty. An incredibly friendly host seated us in the back, near the fireplace; immediately, Frank said that while she generally liked the interior details, the tables were far too close together, leading to a break in intimacy on the level of Sushi Rock’s Beachwood restaurant (their Tsunami Night is possibly the single worst place to take a date in greater Cleveland). This was reinforced when a couple was seated next to us. The woman was a loud woman with an overbearing manner and loud, nasally voice; her husband, at least fifteen years her senior, sat complacently across the table from her as she droned on.
A recent New Yorker article on the Michelin Guide mentioned that good waiters are judged by their knowledge and the fact that they don't make up answers to questions, and the fact that they don't have to fudge when asked questions. Our waiter, who could memorize facts, didn’t seem to measure up; while he knew the basic things to say, he could only parrot when asked specific questions about the food. A busboy gave us each two small pieces of bread, which tasted great in the olive oil and mustard that we were given. However, when these were done, we were stocked only once more with bread before they just stopped coming. That Place used to give out copious amounts fresh-baked interlocked rolls with plenty of butter. My nostalgia increased.
The woman droned on. At one point I thought she was on the phone, as she kept spouting off inane, disconnected sentences, and no voice responded. It turned out that her husband just wasn’t answering, and she was conversing with herself. Then their appetizers arrived and a minor riot ensued. While hers was fine, his was “far too salty, oh my God, that’s disgusting, send it back, oh waiter, excuse me!” Frank’s fingers clenched around her knife.
Our food arrived. My burger, served with “pommes frites – you know, French fries” lounged casually on its plate, slightly askew. I wasn’t sure if this was affected or if the kitchen, in its rush to get the food out, hadn’t put it together properly. Regardless, it looked sloppy. When I went to cut it, I went down what I thought was the middle only to discover the bottom bun was off-center. In contrast, Frank’s Smoked Salmon Tartine was artfully prepared, an explosion of color and art.
When I’d ordered, the waiter had asked at what temperature I wanted the burger cooked. Temperature? I’d only ever been asked how I wanted my burger cooked. I didn’t know that there was a class of humans who knew the temperatures at which they wanted meat prepared, and that he mistook me for one of them. I asked what the options were, and he stuttered, then started to explain what it was to be rare, medium and well-done. Manifested, the medium was just short of another restaurant’s “well done,” seared on the outside and mostly brown on the inside, with a tiny sliver of pink. Oil-soaked yellow bell peppers and caramelized onions soaked through the bread; some sort of greasy cheese topped it off. When I picked it up, the bread slipped off; even holding it was a challenge. The pommes frites were certainly nowhere near Bar Cento or The Greenhouse Tavern; I found myself thinking back to Lola, and not in a good way. At Lola, each dish was self-contained perfection. At L’Albatros, I found myself longing for ketchup, pretentiously not provided.
Frank’s tartine was, on the other hand, delicious, an intriguing lemon-juice salad complementing the salmon, a seasoned cream sauce, feta cheese and bread. However, as the meal wore on, we each experienced a unique phenomenon: it became saltier. For each of us, the last few bites of our food was almost overwhelmingly salty, as if a child lacking self-control had been allowed into the kitchen. I began to think that the couple next to us had been right about the man’s soup. My last bite of fries made my mouth pucker, and I grasped for a near-empty water glass to wash it down.
When we left, the woman was opining loudly that the staff had forgotten about them – they hadn’t received any service after returning the soup, and we were completely done. The man shrugged and said perhaps he should have gotten the cheeseburger. I felt like telling him that that was just wishful thinking – just having food doesn’t make it good. But I didn’t. They bothered me, and L’Albatross bothered me, and I was not going to help either of them out.