Tourist in your own city. It’s a fun idea and we certainly try to explore new pieces and parts as often as we can. But overnight? Truthfully, I can’t say I’ve thought about spending a night in the city since we live fairly close to downtown. But after doing just that this past Friday night, I can’t believe we didn’t do it sooner.
In an effort to promote its Fresh Market package, The Ritz-Carlton Cleveland invited us to spend the night and experience it firsthand. The package includes overnight accommodations on Friday, followed by breakfast with the chef at Muse Saturday morning, then a guided trip to The West Side Market to pick out lunch, complete with a return trip to the restaurant for a four-course feast of your market picks.
After checking in, we headed straight to The Greenhouse Tavern for dinner. Actually, that’s not true. First we stopped at Chinato for a pre-dinner cocktail. And how cool is this – for checking in on Foursquare, I got a free drink of the day, the delightful Sangria Flora. Then we went to Greenhouse, which continues to easily be one of this city’s best restaurants.
Over a bottle of wine, we enjoyed the clams foie gras, wings (Jamie can no longer step foot on E 4th without ordering these), pork chop saltimbocca and Ohio corn carbonara, Now, I loved my meal, especially the strong sage flavor in the chop. But Jamie really loved his dish. In fact, I have only seen him this giddy over a plate of food one other time and that was the short ribs at Crush in Seattle. Jamie likes food, but he does not share my enthusiasm or need for constant profession of greatness during the meal. But this pasta was a different story. He wouldn’t shut up about how great it was and joked that he was going downstairs to give Jonathon a big kiss for making a near perfect meal.
The eating continued when we met at Muse the next morning. We were greeted by 6 fellow foodies who were participating in the package and chef Constantine Vourliotis plus his two sous chefs, Josh and Andrew. The chefs ate with us and explained how the day would go. We would shop, explore and share with them what we’d like to eat for lunch. And that could be anything – anything at all you’re craving, they will make. It’s actually a rather daunting question and kind of hard to think about what you’d like to try – especially when you’re already full!
With mimosas in hand, we headed to the market. The chef talked about how he shops for the restaurant and how he’s been coming to the market with his dad since he was 6. I asked how much of his menu is local and he said 25% with a lot coming from The Chef’s Garden and stands throughout the market. He explained that he’d like to utilize more local food, but is bound by strict Marriott guidelines. Perhaps he should talk to Ellis Cooley and figure out how he’s been able to get around that. His favorite stands include Kate’s Fish, Ohio City Pasta, Judy’s Oasis, the Mediterranean Store and Dohar Meats. He also loves the falafel at Maha’s and we all sampled of which I happily concur.
I love the market and spend a lot of time here. But it was my first time walking and shopping the aisles with chefs. It was truly a fun learning experience – chatting, eating and gaining new knowledge.
But that lingering question remains – what to have for lunch? See, each couple could have anything they’d like. One gentleman requested rabbit and wanted something that reminded him of how he’d enjoy it in his youth. The rest of us were all over the place. I talked about clambakes and fall flavors in general, fish (we saw some nice sea bass at Kate’s – I know it’s on the list, but we were all tempted), pasta and just about everything else. In the end, the rest of us were in agreement that he could surprise us. They said they were listening to all of us talk and point and had several dishes in mind.
We had two hours until we had to meet back for lunch. Jamie and I took this opportunity to walk around downtown. Five years ago we lived on W 9th in the Bingham and did so for two years. Not much has changed. More bars I suppose, which they don’t need. It was actually kind of sad. I know it was Yom Kippur so maybe that had something to do with it, but such a beautiful day in the city and downtown was empty, much like it was when we lived there. But where would the people go? All around the Warehouse District is bars – not much retail for them to enjoy. Then we quickly walked through Tower City. What a pathetic space that has become. An area once filled with such promise (and much better stores). I thought about the countless shopping trips I’d take with my mom as a child downtown and how there is nowhere for me to take my daughter now. It’s all gone. I know this is nothing new and has been covered over and over. And we still regularly come downtown to eat and over to University Circle for the obvious. And I get that just like many before us (and hence part of the problem) we moved out. And though I do firmly believe our city is in the middle of amazing change and moving in the right direction, this two hour break got to me. But it also got us hungry once again. Which was a good thing because we had a lot of goodness awaiting us.
The chef made us four courses, plus champagne and wine. Course 1: warm peach soup with cardamom (his favorite spice) served alongside a brioche-type bread with peach preserve salad, lemon oil and foie gras (which he said is his favorite thing to make and explains to people that you can’t think of it as liver or put it in the same category). Course 2: apple and lavender fennel cake with greens from The Chef’s Garden, candied pecans and Maytag Blue. Course 3: sea bass with pomegranate and mango salsa over tapioca (yes, tapioca) and veggies from The Chefs Garden.
The foie gras was without a doubt the best I have ever had. Truly. The soup, something we shared we were craving on the tour, was the perfect compliment. We poured a bit of the soup per his suggestion over the foie gras and it was that much better. A perfect dish.
The best way to describe the salad is fun. I have never – and would never – think of a funnel cake as part of a salad. But I’m sure glad he did. The blue cheese was a perfect addition, too. Great texture and flavor all around.
The sea bass was another winner, especially the pomegranate salsa. And I loved the tapioca, it really made the dish. Desert was simple, pound cake with vanilla ice cream, strawberries and balsamic. I was a happy women. The chef and I were talking earlier about balsamic and how good it is on strawberries and ice cream. Being Italian, it was how we did dessert growing up.
When lunch was over, the chef gave everyone treats to take home, including cheese and chocolates (many of the same cheeses that were in our room upon check-in). The only other item that would have made this night perfect would be recipe cards and tips to make these dishes at home.
I can’t even tell you how much we enjoyed this experience and staying downtown in general. Yes, the quick break did get me a bit sad, but that wasn’t the first time and it certainly won’t be the last. I think we all share that. We see the promise and potential in our city but get momentarily taken back when we recall what once was or that things seem to be taking a bit longer than we’d like. But we’ll get there!
Even though we were 25 minutes from home, we felt like we were away and made the most of it. Dinner was that much better knowing we didn’t have to drive home. Waking up in the morning and looking at the lake. It was perfect and a night I’d gladly do again. And a package I’d highly recommend experiencing yourself, or consider for an upcoming gift (people in our group were there as a Christmas gift and anniversary). The team behind this really goes above and beyond to make it a memorable and fun adventure.
Other things worth pointing out. This is the first time I’ve stayed at a Ritz (we’re fairly loyal to The W and Kimpton Group). It’s true what they say – service here is unbelievable. We were quite impressed. From everyone you encounter, top notch all the way. I was also intrigued to learn that they still offer noon tea on the weekend and a special teddy bear tea for kids around the holidays. When Natalie is a little older, we’ll participate for sure.
Want to Dine at Muse?
Have you dined at Muse? It’s quite different from Century (both in terms of food and atmosphere) which I feel they made a big mistake by closing. But after getting to know these chefs and trying the food first-hand, I know you’re in for a treat if you go. If you haven’t been to Muse and would like to, I have an opportunity to experience their Farmers’ Market dinner for two. To be entered, tell me what you would do in Cleveland if you were a tourist for the day. I’ll pick a winner via random.org Thursday at noon.