Monday, August 3, 2009

L-O-L-A, Lola...

On Thursday night, Nick, Louisa and I piled into Nick's car for the hour-long drive into Cleveland for dinner at one of the city's most beloved restaurants, Michael Symon's Lola. The menu is heavy on the pork and the cured meats, which seemed a good sign.

Lola is on East Fourth Street, an area targeted for revitalization. Walk two blocks in either direction, and you're in a rather dead area of downtown Cleveland - but Fourth Street is alive and bustling, full of people walking, drinking, and eating.

We had reserved three seats at the chef's table, and the hostess seated us graciously (despite our being a few minutes late). The chef's table is an elevated, bar-like spot right next to the open kitchen, with a fantastic view of each and every station - a circumstance which only made it harder to decide what to order. I ordered a gin gimlet and got down to the business of choosing.

For my starter, I ordered the pork belly with coffee, apricot and almonds. While I enjoyed the play of salty and sweet (I do love bacon and fruit together, as you know), I thought the dish could have used a bit more spice (maybe more of the pepper that seemed more of a garnish) and a little more contrast in texture: the pureed apricot sauce was silky and well-made, but didn't do much to offset the soft, fatty texture of the belly.

My main was the far more successful duck with romesco sauce. Romesco is made with nuts (usually almonds or hazelnuts), roasted red pepper and garlic. This version used smoked almonds, which added different twist that went well with the rich duck. Along with haricots verts and a sprinkling of shaved almonds (seemingly a favored garnish at Lola), the duck came with a few charred scallions.

The dish was topped with thinly sliced zucchini that tasted somewhat bland on its own, but worked like alchemy with the duck and sauce to elevate the sauce's garlicky zing. My only complaint here was that there simply wasn't enough of the charred scallion to go with every single bite; I had to ration it out. I ate every last bit of this dish, and it took all my dignity to keep from licking the plate clean.

For dessert, I went for the 6 A.M. special, billed as French toast with maple-bacon ice cream and maple syrup. Quintessentially American in its flavors and playfulness, but still a bit refined, this dish captured the spirit of the restaurant - midwestern ingredients and flavors crossed with techniques imported from the wider world, and all done with a healthy dose of fun.

No comments:

Blog Widget by LinkWithin