Thursday, February 21, 2013

Cleveland: Piada Italian Street Food

I've eaten a lot of Italian food in my lifetime, but never have I heard the word piada. I had absolutely no idea what "Italian Street Food" was. I had never heard the term. Do you know what it means? Didn't think so.

The old shopping center at Cedar and Warrensville Center Rd (where the old Anatolia was) got torn down a couple of years ago. Now standing on the old site is a brand new shopping center. Piada Italian Street Food (PISF) is the most intriguing of all the new food establishments now housed there. Started by Columbus native Chris Doody (former co-owner of Bravo Brio Restaurant group), Piada is a relative unknown to most everyone I talk to.

Having now been indoctrinated, I can tell you that a piada is basically an Italian burrito. If you were to switch the clean, sleek, white decor of Piada for corrugated metal and lacquered plywood, you would be in a Chipotle. It is a very similar setup to the Chip - very similar. Both have  style of service, choices, and level of value that are nearly identical.


Decor and Space 5/5
As a designer all I can say is "wow". I don't know who did their concept, but PISF is by far the sharpest interior architecture I've seen in a fast casual restaurant. The space just screams modern Italian design. Everything is pretty much some variation of white or some kind of play on negative space using light and shadows. I was genuinely blown away at how well put together the visual concept was.

Food  1/5
Here's the summarized version. A piada is the equivalent of an Italian tortilla. Just like Chipotle, you can forgo the piada and just get everything in a bowl (my recommendation). Anything they have on Italian food, they have as a choice for your piada/bowl. Unlike Chipotle, many of these combinations simply don't work. My normally reliable food karma failed me miserably during this trip.

 I ordered a piada with Italian Sausage, Diavalo sauce (spicy), angel hair pasta, fresh mozzarella, peppers, and onions. Salty....very salty. Was it my fault? Sure, I picked all of the items. I'm sure if I were to go multiple times I would eventually figure out a combo that works for me. At Chipotle I know what all of those things taste like on their own, and I know what will probably work with what. Here? You have no clue until you actually taste it.

 Piada Italian Street Food!

Service 1/5
Unfortunately you're going to have to run, walk, slowly limp this gauntlet at least once to know what the whole thing is about. (It took me 25 minutes from the door to the cash register.) The staff seemed incredibly disorganized and overwhelmed. Usually you can tell who the manager is; in this case I had no clue (and neither did they). The line was literally backed out the door because they were completely out of sausage, chicken, etc. (To their credit the cooks kept testing the meat to check if it was up to temp. To their discredit, open ovens don't cook meat very quickly.) The best advice I've heard came from Ben over at Heights Eats: Order it for carry-out. You've been warned.

Overall 2.5/5
I could easily drill this place and say skip it. The fact is, the concept as a whole is pretty new and as time goes on I'm sure they'll work out many of those service and food related problems. I would like to see them devise some 'suggested combinations', otherwise there is always the very realistic possibility that you'll end up with too damn many flavors in one dish.

Piada Italian Street Food
13947 Cedar Rd
South Euclid, OH 44118
(216) 862-8872

Piada Italian Street Food on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cleveland: Mizu Sushi

Today is another installment of "Lunch with the Vegan". What's that you say? You love these because they don't pertain to pizza? Well lucky you. Actually, the new job has me in Southwest Cleveland (Brooklyn Heights to be specific) and I must say - it's one hell of a jumping point. Tremont, Parma, Independence are all within a ten minute drive.

Let's get back to lunch sans animal products....

I've heard good things about Mizu Sushi in Parma. That's right - Parma.If I learned anything while in Hawai'i last month, it's to not judge a Japanese place by it's rent. I can't tell you how many izakayas, sushi places, and noodle houses take up residents in what amounts to the outward charm of an old mini-mart. It almost seemed like they were in competition create the best restaurant in the ugliest building.

Decor and Space 3/5
  This was a very clean, stylish, little sushi spot (wedged between a convenience store and a Subway). Who knows, they might be entered in the aforementioned competition. Mizu doesn't even register on the "Chinese Takeout Sticky Scale". The dining room was tastefully decorated and a very clean, simple setting. Two rows of seating move toward the sushi bar situated in the back of the space. At this price level I think they hit the mark.

Food 3/5
   I ordered the Chicken yaki udon which was pan-fried noodles with chicken and vegetables. I guess what I like about ordering udon is that it's fairly hard to screw up. Since the noodles are very soft to begin with, it's very hard to pick up on whether they're overcooked. I guess what I'm trying to say is that unless they're undercooked, they aren't going to detract from the overall experience than if they're overcooked a little.

The sauce was just enough to flavor the noodles, chicken, and vegetables and had a light sweetness to it. I actually appreciated the sauce restraint. Nothing sucks worse then getting a plate with noodles swimming in a puddle of brown. The dish came out piping hot and definitely hit the spot on a cold winter afternoon.

Brad ordered the vegetable udon, basically the same thing I had,  only his had no chicken and more veggies. He seemed to like it; in fact he thought enough of the noodles to take an order "to go" for his brother.

Service 3/5
   Our waitress was attentive, courteous, and accurate.

Overall 3/5
     It might actually go higher once I try their rolls. I'm not suggesting this is Masa, Uchi, or Nobu. Hell, I'm not even saying it's Pacific East, but it is a solid place. The price points here fall in line with the surrounding community. I know I'll definitely do back, if for no other reason than to test drive some of the rolls they offer. Sorry, no food pics. There are some things that just don't photograph well, and flesh colored noodles, glistening with a light brown sauce and light tan tinted chicken slices is one of them.

Mizu Sushi
10219 Brookpark Rd
Parma, OH 44130
(216) 898-0098

Mizu Sushi on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Flour Water Salt Yeast

We're totally digging Ken Forkish's book Flour Water Salt Yeast. After eating at Ken's Artisan Pizza in Portland last year, I couldn't wait for the book to come out. I don't proclaim to be some huge baker - especially when it comes to bread, but this book will go a long way in advancing your bread making skills. I initially bought the book for his opinions on pizza dough, but I found the bread sections to be very interesting and very relavent to understanding the mechanics of pizza dough as well.

Forkish masterfully explains the entire no-knead (stretch and pull) process of making bread. A good scale, plastic bucket, proofing basket, and cast iron dutch oven are really the only tools required. "No knead" to go out and buy an oven insert, or Kitchenaid.

I've pretty much started from the beginning the book and worked my way back. Right now I'm about halfway through the bread sections. I can honestly say that I haven't made anything that is merely average. The bread, especially the crust, is incredibly good.

The pictured loaf is the Overnight White Bread. Good stuff.

Monday, February 18, 2013

You want how much?!?!?

Like a jackass, I dropped the lid to our Le Creuset dutch oven and broke off the knob. Lovely. It couldn't cost more than five or six dollars, right?

How about $11 if I want the large plastic POS one that I just got done breaking. The more sensible thing would be to splash the cash and go whole hog on a metal one - $15. Then of course you've have the shipping.....

Enter Home Depot. One stainless steel drawer pull? $4. I admit the fact I had to grind down the screw packaged with it (or I could have just bought a smaller one), but still. Some of these things are absolutely ridiculous.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Cleveland: Rockside Thai Gourmet

A vegan friend of mine have made a point of meeting for lunch every Wednesday. The vegan consideration requires a little bit of forethought, but not as much as one might think. He works in Independence, I in Brooklyn Hts, so there is not shortage of places for us to try. Since it was Ash Wednesday, I was also looking for at least a meatless option. Rockside Thai Gourmet would be our destination.

Decor and Space 4/5
A fairly small space but for what I'll call "American Thai", it was very modern, clean, and comfortable. Not quite on the level of Ty Fun Thai Bistro, but close. Mostly two and four tops. The close quarters doesn't lend itself to high chairs/strollers. Not your typical Asian restaurant decoration.

Food 3/5
No judgements please - I had the 'spicy' Pad Thai (my friend had the same thing only vegan). It's a kind of measuring stick, I guess. The spice level was "American spicy". I'm sure if you ask for "Thai spicy" they will be happy to accommodate you. My friend was actually telling me about a place that was putting that very description of the spice level on their menus (good idea). Servings are not overboard.

Service 4/5
No complaints. Prompt. Professional. Attentive.

Overall 3.5/5
As far as these kinds of places go, I think it's one of the better ones. Very similar to Charm Thai in Seven Hills. If you're looking for authenticity - go someplace else. If you're okay with the American idea of Thai, then it's certainly worth a try. Hey that rhymes!

Rockside Thai Gourmet
6901 Rockside Rd
Independence, OH 44131
(216) 986-2828

Rockside Thai Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

LA: Sotto

    I'm always a sucker for a good list. Depending on the credibility of the source and any other supporting buzz I can find on these here internets, I typically file any little nuggets away on a food map for that particular city, for use at a time of my chosing.

    Within the last six months, Slice did a writeup on Sotto in LA. The pictures just looked too damn good to pass up. I mean really. There are things that you see and you think, "Oh wow, that looks cool." And then there's, "The next time I'm in [city name], the trip will be a total failure if I don't get to [restaurant, store, bar].

    Nestled underneath the well known and more visible Picca, this cozy little eatery offers a stylishly comfortable setting. Tables made of re-purposed wood, vintage incandescent bulbs, and an aged wood slatted ceiling combine to give the diner a casual yet refined dining experience.

    Since we went into dinner knowing we were going to be stopping for ice cream afterward, we made the decision to limit ourselves to a couple of appetizer/sides and a pizza.

    On the recommendation of the server we started things off with the tomato braised octopus served with beans.It was probably a little more chewy than I would have liked it, but the braised tomato 'stuff', along with the char of the beautiful tentacle was noteworthy.

    The pork meatballs served on arugula and shaved english peas are not to be missed. With pecorino cheese mixed into the actual meatball, and a healthy amount of char on the outside, the tastebuds dance with joy. I really thought this was a really well thought out dish.

    For the grand finale, we were served the Guanciale pizza topped with ricotta cheese. The first thing that really jumped out at me was the uniform rhythm of minute spots of char (leopard spots). These aren't only visually striking, but more importantly deliver an evenness of char flavor to every bite. The upskirt actually had larger spots that were much more irregular in their overall spacing (thankfully they weren't large enough to the point where you get a mouth full of "burnt"). The cornicione had a soft doughiness to it that was closer to dense than airy.

Not to be outdone by the crust, the marriage of toppings was a finely tuned counterbalance to its companion. My hesitation with ricotta is that it can release a lot of moisture into the crust underneath, leaving a soggy mess. Sotto uses a cheese that holds its shape without being thick and grainy. We both thought there was another cheese on the pie, but our server said it was just ricotta.

    As far as guanciale goes, this rendition registered high on the flavor/texture scale. So many times you see long flaccid pieces of cured pork jowl just laying in a sea of cheese. Their pieces were cut a little smaller and chunkier which made them sit at an angle allowing them to crisp up (in many cases charring) in the hot oven. From a texture and taste standpoint I thought it actually mimicked the crust perfectly.

     If I have one criticism it's that there are no sides or appetizers that are primarily vegetables - namely those of the green variety. I'm not asking for a whole range of veggie dishes, but at least a couple to choose from would be nice. Lately it seems this is becoming more and more prevalent. I'm not sure why, but vegetables seem to be endangered species these days.

    As you can probably tell, I enjoyed my visit. The vibe of the space is very inviting, our server was helpful and attentive, and the food was excellent. If I had to compare it to someplace on the East Coast, I'd say it reminded me a lot of Paulie Gee's in Greenpoint, Brooklyn - similar decor, vibe, and service (although not as heavy on the music). Sotto certainly belongs on any LA list for 'must try' wood-fired pizzas.

9575 W Pico Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(310) 277-0210

Sotto on Urbanspoon