2058 E 4th St
Cleveland, OH 44115
by Beau Cadiyo
A year ago, I had an ongoing argument with a friend studying urban design at Kent State about what should be done downtown. In my infatuation with Jane Jacobs, I was – and still am – convinced that mixed-use buildings were the key to downtown development; she repeatedly insisted that I was wrong and “it (wasn’t) that simple.” When pressed for better alternatives, or even a better alternative, she was dumb; it was just that mixed-use buildings “didn’t work.” This served one major purpose I became convinced that the most up-to-date urban planners, as Jacobs so eloquently detailed in her book, had no idea what the hell was going on, and, through their ignorance, often did more harm than good.
Exhibit One. Clearly, Ari Maron, planning mixed-use communities downtown, isn’t going to go anywhere.
I don’t know this guy, so I don’t think we should make this guy the new King of Cleveland. I don’t think we should make him mayor, or put him on city council. I do think that we should get rid of any planning and zoning commissions and let him make as much money as he wants to by developing our city in any way he sees fit, according to principles – which, as far as I can tell, don’t difer much from Jacobs’ – that he finds work to create a vibrant, culturally rich and diverse city. If what he’s doing with West 25th is any indication, he has the sort of long-term strategic thinking that Cleveland needs – and the practical know-how to put everything together. Maron, really, is the savior Cleveland has been waiting for, and perhaps most importantly, we need to make sure politicians and less enlightened developers or well-meaning but inept planners stay out of his way.
A week ago I was at Lola to try their Tuna Tartine. I had heard from Frank Clark, one of their lunch chefs, that it was transcendent; being downtown, I decided to stop by and see for myself. I was the first patron and the Condi Rice lookalike working the door let me sit at the Chef’s Table, an elevated table looking over the big, open kitchen.
I ordered quickly and watched the workers do their prep. They sharpened knives, tested cutting surfaces, looked at vegetables and cuts of meat; they turned burners on and off, they organized pans, and they moved around each other like Zen dancers, both graceful and extremely self-aware. I saw one chef toasting a piece of bread, holding it in tongs, looking at each piece carefully, as if he was an artist, ensuring…something. I wasn’t sure what.
Frank came over with another chef to say hello, then he left us to talk as he got an order in. This chef had little to do and we ended up talking about his life and work; it then came out that he was one of the co-creators of the Tuna Tartine. Suddenly I had a question.
How had he done it?
Seriously: how does one create a new sandwich, much less one worthy of being served at Lola? It’s not like people can just imagine them into existence; the creation of new food takes trial and error. Our spokesperson used to have a blog called Rice Omelette where he made omelettes out of things you wouldn’t expect to find in omelettes (like rice). He was putting weird stuff together, though; top chefs, of course, can taste things before they’re even created, so it must have been a bit more controlled than looking in the fridge to see what they had that day to put together.
It turned out that the sandwich was actually partially cribbed from an old cookbook; they then experimented with it. The tuna was line-caught in Spain and processed immediately upon landing; it was packed in olive oil, then shipped over to the US. The olives – Spanish and Italian – were each pitted in the restaurant, then sliced into the tuna. It turned out if was an open-faced sandwich, which initially made me wary, and I was less impressed after the first bite – the bread was almost charred, with an overwhelming smoky flavor. The second bite was only slightly better.
Then the third bite.
Perhaps it was that I was eating the center of the bread rather than the crust; perhaps it was that I was eating more tuna and olives with each bite; perhaps I was getting used to the burnt taste; perhaps I had added a bit of the salad to it, which moderated the flavors. I don’t know. I cut into it, took that third bite, and my jaw almost stopped working. If I’d thought of words, I would have thought of “harmony,” perhaps, or “finesse.” “Transcendent.” Instead, I was faced with a balance of flavors and textures, a mixture of the crunch of the bread (which had soaked up a small amount of the juices and oil from the tuna salad), the sweet-and-saltiness of the tuna, the ripeness of the olives, and whatever delicate mixture of spices was included. The green salad in the middle of the plate, and the slightly rubbery potato salad on the side, were palate-cleansers – good, I’m sure, by themselves, but forgettable next to the tuna.
I paid up and walked out past the increasingly populated restaurant, then out onto East Fourth. There was a quiet bustle to the street; some workers shouted down to each other, tables were being sprayed down with a hose, and I heard the distant sound of cars. The last time I was at Lola, Michael Symon was walking around and talking to customers; this time, he was nowhere to be seen, and I had the thought that he probably didn’t ever have to come down to the restaurant at all if he didn’t want to. He had managed to hire a bunch of strangers, infuse them with the passion for excellence, and then left them to their own devices, trusting that they would live up to the reputation Lola had built up over time.