Saturday, May 26, 2012

finally...dinner at Lolita

I had been wanting to eat at Iron Chef Michael Symon's restaurants for a while. Since I moved to Cleveland last year, I was probably checking his restaurant menus every season to see if there were enough offerings for A. and me to enjoy besides his meat-centered dishes. I have always enjoyed watching Michael Symon cook on TV, his trademark infectious laugh a clear indication of his enthusiasm for cooking. His recent love letter to Cleveland makes him even more likeable as a celebrity chef. I love when people are proud of the cities in which they live - especially a city like Cleveland, which seems to have gotten a bad reputation in the past.

So this week, I checked the website of one of his restaurants, Lolita. My mouth was watering as I read about all the fresh spring flavors in his dinner offerings. Yesterday when I called to make the reservation, I also asked whether all the seasonal/spring dishes I had planned to try were in fact on the menu (many of the chef-run restaurants around here change up their menus seasonally - which is how it should be!). And indeed they were.

I try to have an open mind when I visit a restaurant for the first time, because I don't like feeling disappointed. But I couldn't help having great expectations; this was a highly-anticipated meal. 

starter at Lolita
 Bruschetta with fava bean puree, arugula, sliced red onion, meyer lemon, shaved pecorino Romano, and agrumato. The perfect homage to spring.

The bruschetta was charred at the edges, yet still chewy in the center. It had the perfect texture contrast of crusty outside and airy crumb inside.

The fava bean puree was sweet - in that vegetable-sweet, not sugar-sweet sense. It even tasted green. A. and I both love baby arugula, so that was a no-brainer. The red onion slices were so thin, they were translucent; so they did not overpower the mild fava bean puree. The shaved pecorino Romano added a nice bite; the agrumato gave a perfect citrusy finish. I can probably sip agrumato with a straw if I could; it's more than just lemon-flavored olive oil, but lemons and olives actually pressed together for the fullest extraction of flavor.

The dish was delicate, yet flavorful, with none of the ingredients overpowering any other. You could taste each individual flavor, yet the whole was more than the sum of its parts.

My only regret is eating it too fast. A. and I inhaled this thing.

 Next we had a spring salad, with a variety of baby lettuce, asparagus, peas, garlic vinaigrette, and crunchy breadcrumbs. Now this sounds like a simple salad that you might get anywhere. Yet it was absolutely not. The difference was in the thoughtful preparation and execution. The lettuce tasted like they were just picked. The dressing was creamy, but not overly so and didn't weigh down the delicate leaves. The rest of the vegetables were blanched (I think) as they were tender yet had a nice snap, and remained bright green. The crunch of the fresh breadcrumbs added another layer of flavor and texture.

Pan-seared halibut with fava bean puree, peas, mint, radishes, and preserved lemon. Another beautiful execution of the season's bounty.

(Yes, I eat fish occasionally now...)

I actually first ordered the pappardelle with peas, ramps, oyster mushrooms, house ricotta, and truffle, as it had all the ingredients I love; and the server confirmed that the pappardelle was house-made. Then I changed my mind just a minute after placing my order and went for the fish instead. Thankfully the server was very nice (even after our requests, like no prosciutto on one of our dishes), and they hadn't started on my entree yet. 

The halibut was seared to a golden brown, so there was a crunchy crust giving way to a moist, flaky interior. The fava bean puree somewhat echoed the flavor in the bruschetta, yet the dish was distinct with the fresh mint and flat-leaf parsley. The preserved lemon was just right, not too acidic that it overpowers the mild-tasting fish. The radishes added color and a subtle peppery flavor.

And the sides. My goodness. Other restaurants might take side dishes for granted, but these were so good, they could have been my meal. We had the fried brussels sprouts with capers and walnuts, which even A. loved - despite the fact that he usually doesn't go near brussels sprouts unless I cook them like this, which I don't do often - the reasons for which are obvious when you read the recipe.

These brussels sprouts were caramelized so well, they were almost sweet. The outer leaves became crunchy, the insides were soft yet not mushy. The walnuts added another crunch, and the capers gave it a bit of a punchy tang. There was also a very, very subtle heat, possibly from a hint of chilies.

Creamy polenta with mascarpone and parmesan. Oh. my. goodness.

This polenta was so creamy. I think it might be more fair to say mascarpone with polenta.

But the nice thing about this polenta is that despite the incredibly creamy, silky mouthfeel, you could still feel a bit of the cornmeal here and there, adding more rustic character to an otherwise decadent dish. A. and I each took one bite and just looked at each other without words, needing a moment of silence to contemplate the deliciousness of this polenta.

I also loved how both sides were served in little pots - it was an unpretentious way of serving it, but more importantly it helped keep the food hot longer - because sides do have a tendency to get cold. Even towards the end of enjoying our entree, there was still steam rising each time we took a spoonful of polenta.

It took some self-restraint for me to not ask for a flexible spatula to scrape that pot clean and enjoy each bit of it.

Then, dessert.

Dessert # 1
Chocolate pots de creme with whipped cream and salted caramel.

The chocolate was slightly sweet, with a coffee-like finish lingering on the tongue. I wish they had added a little more salted caramel than that little dollop on the center.

Dessert #2

Strawberry pots de creme with vanilla whipped cream, fresh strawberries, balsamic vinegar, and mint. It was sweet yet also tart, the balsamic cutting through the rich and creamy texture.

I have to admit I wasn't completely blown away by the desserts as I had been with the rest of the meal. They were both good, but perhaps I was too full. But then again, I always find room for good dessert. We only finished half of each, as the servings were also larger than what we were used to from other chef-run restaurants.

happy :)
My pink top just happened to match the bright pink gerberas A. gave me. :)

(One of the rare photos of myself on the blog, in which I'm actually looking at the camera. Collage photo inspired by this friend, who executes "picstitch-ed" photos so amazingly well)

Aaaahh... after a day of self-care, time with my amazing husband, incredible food, and phone calls from family and friends, my heart (and belly) is full.

I give thanks.

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Jen said...

I've loved reading about your birthday meals in your past two posts -- thank you for sharing! You know that I fully approve of a food-centric birthday celebration ... is there any other way? So very happy for you!

Mia said...

Hi Jen! I don't think there is any other way either :)

krishwala said...

This post made me feel like I was devouring all the good food at Lolita with you. Very well captured, in words.

Mia said...

Wish you were there, Krishna! The four of us always have so much fun eating together :)

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