Sunday, December 28, 2008

Dead Heaven

We knew it wouldn't last, but the smack still stings.

Yesterday, we were lulled into a lazy, warm day in the upper 60s. I was even tempted to go out in shorts, but instead opted for a short-sleeved t-shirt and jeans. The schools of racing leaves left us in the dust as we enjoyed the warm gusts in no hurry. Akemi strained at her leash desperately and unsuccessfully chasing after each leaf that crossed her path, ignoring the branches. Sticks are so last month.

The streets were bustling despite most of the stores being closed, as people crawled out of their cocoons to enjoy the warm weather and gravitated toward one of my favorite stores, Banyan Tree.

With the sun out, I was ready to take a ton of pictures. When I came upon Tremont Scoops and clicked to shoot, not just once but three times, I looked at the camera, puzzled, as it did not make that affirmative click. That was when I noticed the flashing icon on the screen.

My camera battery was dead. Oops.

I have instead taken pictures on this dead, frigid Sunday morning. As we were walking, the church bells reverberated nine times through the empty streets, largely ignored, letting the three of us know just how early it was. The streets felt like a husk of what it was just 20 hours previous.

Tremont Scoops in hibernation

I walked in to Tremont Scoops last week to buy a couple of Akemi's favorite biscuits and was surprised to discover an empty space on the counter where the large, ever-present glass jar of neatly stacked doggie biscuits (2 for 25 cents) sat. The store felt pallid and only a handful of labels were pressed haphazardly against the glass pane in one of the coolers to their normal 15+.

I blurted, "Oh no, where are the doggie biscuits?!" The proprietor informed me that this was their last evening open for the season until they re-open in May. It was then that I noticed the muted, normally lively, hum of the machines. She taunted me by adding that she gave all the doggie biscuits away to a woman who came in no more than 5 minutes ago. I didn't want to know that.

Akemi searching for snacks

We tried their vanilla bean and butter pecan ice cream a couple months ago. Their ice cream is rather rich so a scoop is all I could eat. I'm sure if Akemi could have her way, she'd lap up the ice cream in a second. Do dogs get ice cream headaches?

Under the Banyan Tree

The clothes, as well as the furnishings and miscellaneous stuff, at Banyan Tree are in line with my tastes, or would be gifts I'd give if money were no object. It's actually kind of a good way. Their prices are quite fair, too.

Bottom's up at 806

We've never been to 806 Martini and Wine Bar, nor do we plan on visiting. I just thought it was a cute mural.

Cookies and a Cupcake

We frequent Cookies and a Cupcake and love their stuff as I've described in a past entry. Recently, I organized an office birthday party and ordered 20 cupcakes and labeled each one and its contents with tent cards. Everyone was amazed with the flavor, variety (12 different cupcakes!), and artistry.

There has never been a day the proprietors have been less than jovial to see us. I think Akemi might have something to do with it, as they shower her with gobs of affection as she waits patiently outside for me to make up my mind which sumptuous sins to take home.

No kisses for Akemi today

We have come to realize that we're just Akemi's chaperones.

- Cassaendra

Tremont Scoops
2362 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113

Banyan Tree
2242 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 241-1209

A Cookie and a Cupcake
2173 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 344-9433

Sunday, December 21, 2008

When Figs Fly

For the past few days, we have been looking for Great Lakes Brewery's Christmas Ale at the market. Of course, being 5 days before Christmas, it has been sold out everywhere. Two weeks ago, we saw some but I decided against buying it because it was so expensive. Ha.

Bug looked really depressed after our 4th store and not finding any. So I told him, "I've got an idea. Let's drop these groceries off at home, and I'll take you somewhere that will have it."

Great Lakes Brewery.

We drove there and were taken aback by having to pay $5 for parking at the public lot, but did so anyway. When we walked in to a huge mess of people at the restaurant with everyone standing shoulder to shoulder at the entrance on through the bar. This did not look good. We found out the wait time was 1 hr 45 min. We decided to wait, since we already paid $5 for parking. 45 minutes into waiting, Bug couldn't take the frenetic vibe anymore, so we left. Economic downturn, uhh right.

I mentioned to him that we could eat across the street at the Flying Fig. He asked me what they served. I responded that I didn't know, but it's supposed to be quite good...while standing there in my Nightmare Before Christmas short-sleeved t-shirt, leather jacket, and dirty black jeans. Bug was in his (and my) favorite button-up long-sleeved shirt by Lucky Brand that my parents got for him as a gift and blue jeans.

We walked in and asked the host for a menu. The host explained that everything is organic and, as much as possible, from local farmers. I could read the shock in Bug's eyes at the prices, but he acted intrigued enough to go along for the ride and desperate for a glass of Christmas ale. A couple came in after us in a suit and evening dress. I looked at the way we were dressed and I almost cried. I didn't pay attention to what others were wearing when we walked in.

The host didn't miss a beat and seated us between a couple in a suit and an evening dress, and a table of 6 with people in jeans and sweater or long-sleeved shirts. I didn't feel too bad, but I was still the most casually dressed in the entire restaurant.

We ordered the flatbread ($9) to start. I ordered the seared duck breast and confit of duck leg ($25). Bug ordered the chicken umm special of the day ($21). For dessert, we ordered the pumpkin bread pudding ($7). Of course, Bug got his Christmas ale ($6)!

The bread service was superb. Our waiter refilled our basket 3 times. We were shocked by that. There were two types of bread, one that had cheese baked on top that I felt meh, but Bug liked it. Cheese reminds me of feet -- it was probably asiago. The other bread was a white bread with white and black sesame and fennel sprinkled on the crust. That was fabulous and our favorite. I didn't even want to use the platter of oil to dip. There was just the right amount of fennel to not make it overpowering. Amazing.

The flatbread served here is the most delicious pizza I've ever tasted. This is coming from someone who has an aversion to pizza from being beaten like a dead horse into eating pizza each weekend. In it were layers of locally grown Killbuck Valley mushrooms that were like straw mushrooms, pancetta, spinach, and taleggio cheese. The spinach gave a nice crunch and added green flavor that I need in my dishes, while the pancetta and cheese quelled each others strong presence, melding into a deep, smoky pair. Bug loved the pancetta, of course. By the time I ate my last slice of flatbread, I was sated.

We still had our entree.

My duck was tender and moist with a cranberry reduction. I've never had such meaty duck before. It was like eating a steak cooked medium. The butternut squash spaetzle is the most substantial spaetzle I've ever had. We enjoyed the roasted brussel sprouts so much that it has inspired Bug to create a dish with them in the near future. Individually, the sprouts, duck, and spaetzle stood up very well; however, when I combined them onto my fork with a dabble of the cranberry reduction, it was a step into a different dimension of the dish assembled before me. I was surprised at how balanced the sweet, tart, salty, roasted, and green flavors blended together. The textures didn't balance quite as well as the flavors did, but this was meant to be a hearty dish and should be overlooked. The amount of food on my plate was rather immense.

I don't have a clear recollection of the stuffing Bug had. I think it was because I was enraptured by my platter. His chicken, however, was quite memorable. Lately, I've lost my fondness for all poultry. I'll eat it if I have to, but I try to steer clear of poultry unless something about the preparation captivates me. Upon my initial bite, I tasted pepper and garlic. After several seconds of chewing, this same morsel exuded a trace of citrus. The change in flavor was quite magical. The spinach was done to perfection -- cooked but retained its flavor and still had spring with each bite.

Finally, the pumpkin bread pudding. This was the last piece the restaurant had for the evening. I enjoyed it down to the whipped cream. It came in two halves seated in vanilla creme anglaise and a sprig of mint. The bread pudding must have been previously refrigerated because there was a slightly cooler spot in the center, which I thought was a little goofy. Relative to the perfection in the evening's meal, this was the only blemish, if one were to parse through every second of tonight's experience and nitpick.

The level of service was astounding. From the moment we walked in until we left, Bug was impressed. The waiter was never in our face and ofttimes I found myself wondering when he came by to drop off a refill of my iced tea and take my nearly empty glass. The dedication in wiping down the neighboring glass table top with the server sitting at eye level to the table revealed the pride involved. Even the candle was quickly re-lit when it lost its flame.

The bill, including tip, came out to $100. It's not a place we can even eat at seasonally. Even if we could afford to eat here every night, I'm afraid we'd lose appreciation for the food, and not savor each bite as it deservedly should be experienced. To show off to visiting friends and relatives the best Cleveland has to offer in regional cuisine, Flying Fig ranks #1 on our list.

- Cassaendra

Flying Fig
2523 Market Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
(216) 241-4243

Saturday, December 20, 2008

All in the Family

With our odd family make-up, it's impossible to have a family portrait done w/o anaesthesizing the crazy members of the family. No one would be left to take the pictures in that case, so this is the best I can do.


After 5 flashing shots of Yoru, the senior member of the family, I settled for this picture. He is looking quite happy here, isn't he? He's a great cat who trots to you when beckoned and plays fetch. I can't say the same for all the other rugrats. He's a patient older brother who allows everyone to snack on his food when they are let out of their cages without a complaint.

Mochi 30 seconds after awakening

I am convinced the vet switched Mochi out during one of our visits. When she was a kit, she was so unusual looking with a mousy brown collar and eyeliner around her eyelids. Maybe we just gave her one too many baths so all of it washed off. She is still a cutie, of course. Always in search of brother's food and hamming it up by using her Jedi cute tricks by rubbing her head on the cage bars and rubbing her face with her paws to convince us to let her out.


This is Wiggly the furry shebeast 5 minutes before pooping. I'm debating posting the picture of her and the steaming snack she left behind. I'll leave it for another day.

- Cassaendra

Okay, I lied.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Time Flies!

Halp, Daddyyy...

I can't believe how quickly time flies. This picture was taken in October during one of our strolls to the park. I know she looks mortified on her first trip down a slide, but I swear she had fun on it.

Akemi loves to carry sticks, from twigs to tree trunks. Getting this home was one of her more challenging moments. It lasted all of 15 seconds.

Nom nom nom...

Yes, we feed the dog plenty enough.

We've had snow off and on, but our first substantial snowfall came earlier this week. Akemi will fit in really well in Hawaii running after everyone's shaved ice.

Poor Bugsicle. Every time he takes her out to use the bathroom, she prances around for a few minutes to eat as much snow as dogly as possible, like the greedy crab leg people at the buffet, before tending to business (if she remembers).

Actually, I think she'll miss the snow. She seems the happiest and most comfortable this time of year.

Powder puff

While it was frigid, the snow looks a lot worse in this picture than it really was.

The awesomeness of a Nikon D60!

The weather has been a little goofy the past couple of weeks. From snow and temperatures in the low 20s earlier in the week to 60s today. This weekend, we were able to walk around with just long sleeve shirts and jeans.

The Nikon D60 is an amazing camera. I LOVE taking pictures of people, places, puppies, and pfood. The camera has made my mediocre camera skills look stellar, as evidenced by the last picture in this entry (above). Thank you, Daddy! =)

- Cassaendra

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Pig Piggy Pig Pig Pig

Don't go to Famous Dave's if you're a vegan; at least if you don't want to feel like you have to scrub down like you've been exposed to radiation from the aroma alone.

This place is a meatfest!

We passed by this place frequently for nearly a year and, as usual, were skeptical about how good and "famous" this place was. Tony Roma, I had heard of, but Famous Dave's? Never heard of the dude. While I had taken a few days off a few weeks back, we decided to stop in for an early lunch at 11:30, hoping to not catch a lunch rush.

We were right. No one but one other couple was there. Gah! How bad is this place?!

Since it was our first time there, the server brought us a plate of fries (too salty) and explained the 5 barbecue sauce flavors that were at each table in squeeze bottles kept in a root beer bottle carrier. On the plate, she wrote the names of the flavors with each corresponding sauce. I liked the zing of the Devil's Spit, while Bug liked the Texas Pit for the peppery undertone.

We ordered the rib tips ($7.99) to start. A couple pounds of tender, moist, and SMOKY cubes of meat with their Rich & Sassy sauce (sweet and zesty) over a pile of their fries on wax paper in a basket arrived. We were impressed. I was full half way through the batch and ended up having to pack it up to take home.

For our entrees, we ordered the lunch special ($7.99), a pick-your-own combination platter that came with a 1/2 cob of corn, corn bread muffin, and one side.

I'm a big fan of beef, but not a fan of pork or chicken, so as usual, I ordered the Georgia chopped pork and the lemon pepper charbroiled chicken with the Wilbur beans as my side. Bug ordered the beef brisket and St. Louis-style spare ribs with Firecracker green beans.

As one of their quips on a table-side menu boasts, their ribs are "so tender Grandpa can leave his teeth at home." All their meats are that way. I was wowed by how consistently (ok, I'm sure this description is getting tired) tender, moist, and smoky their meats were. As great as their sauces are, I prefer meat without sauce, so I can savor that deep flavor and imagine myself standing at the smoker on a clear summer day breathing in the aroma -- of course, someone else would be doing all the work.

The Wilbur beans were reminiscent of pork and beans. It was quite good. Any bowl of saucy sweet-smoky beans are "pork and beans" to me. I did not eat beans cooked this way very often as a child, so that's more or less my knowledge base on sweet-savory beans.

Bug loved his brisket and talked about them nearly every day until we returned tonight.

We ordered the salmon spread to start ($6.99). I was skeptical (so why did I order it?) but my experiences with salmon at steakhouses have been quite good, so I figured it couldn't be THAT bad. Or am I just that lucky?

Woah. Sprinkled atop the salmon spread, that didn't have chopped raw onions, were chunks of smoked (surprise!) salmon. The salmon was outstanding. The grilled flat bread was incredible on its own.

At the time, I hadn't ordered my entree yet as I was flipping back and forth between getting a sandwich or a salad. The salmon made my choice difficult by adding yet another dish I wanted to try. The smoked salmon Caesar salad. I was hankerin' for something cool and crisp with my meat, too.

I decided to order the Texas Manhandler ($8.79) with Mac 'n cheese side, and Bug got the Baby Back-N-Meat BBQ Combo ($18.99 -- wth? I didn't realize it was that expensive!) with cole slaw and fries. His meat choice was Georgia chopped pork.

I tell ya, these servings are Paul Bunyon sized portions. Bug's ribs were like the size of a hind quarter of a deer or something. My sandwich was stacked with a heap of beef brisket and sliced sausages. I gave Bug the mac 'n cheese and the rest of the sausage slices after eating two pieces. They weren't bad, they did satisfy my curiosity. Bug's ribs were good, but the beef brisket was godly.

The bread pudding ($5.99) came in a large platter with a heap of whipped cream, scoop of vanilla bean ice cream, and a generous portion of praline sauce with chopped pecans. The bread pudding was an obscene (read: Texas) sized (~4" x 6" x 2") block of warm custard. It was softer than I anticipated, but the edges were firm so it didn't squish when sliced with a spoon.

Yeah, Bug boxed his dinner and dessert leftovers. I'll probably snag the bread pudding before he wakes up tomorrow morning.

Famous Dave's is smokin'. Factor in the price and attentive service, they're incredible. Oh, and no pictures because I don't want my really awesome camera to get gunked up! I promise that it's not because I forgot my camera at home because I didn't expect to eat out *cough*. And I promise this is a true story!

- Cassaendra

Famous Dave's
26410 Great Northern Shop Ctr
North Olmsted, OH 44070
(440) 777-0200

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Quantum of Solace

I love Daniel Craig.

- Cassaendra

Friday, November 21, 2008

NO! Bird is NOT the @#$@# Word!!

I swear Bug was trying to nudge me to the loony bin last month randomly interjecting the following in conversations.

Bug: Did you hear?
Me: What?
Bug: Bbb-bird, bird, bird is the word. O-mow-mow...
Me: (sigh)

I saw the dark spirals expand over me as I felt myself sinking into insanity. I felt like Charlie Brown lying on the ground every time he duped me. I'm glad that fad is over with. For now, I just have to deal with random "I like turtles" occasionally.

We've been meaning to eat at Brown Bag Burgers (BBB) at Great Northern for months, but after our excursion to Fatburger nearly 2 years ago, we've been pretty hesitant to try another fad burger joint.

Fatburger was suggested by Bug's co-worker to be the best burger in town. It could have been the location, but their service was fast food like, without the fast. The prices were ridiculous for what you get -- unfrozen ground beef. We spent $35 for a couple of hamburgers, a hot dog, fries, and two drinks. I told Bug, after that meal, that I wanted to give that place a fat finger.

3 weeks ago, after buying ourselves outfits for a formal cocktail party and fundraiser to honor one of my coworkers, we made it a point to go to BBB for a late afternoon meal. The place was crowded, but not overbearing, probably because there were no kids.

I had reviewed their menu online a week prior to visiting the restaurant and decided what I would get. I planned on getting a custom made burger with lettuce, tomato, pickles, mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard, and a bowl of mushroom bisque. The thought of getting a shrimp sandwich was tantalizing.

We walked in and I immediately felt like a fish out of water. There were more things available than the website displayed. I asked the person up front how big the portobello mushroom was in their Tree Hugger sandwich. She took 2 steps back and asked the cook at the grill. He quickly reached over and showed me an enormous fresh mushroom cap, larger than the size of a CD. My eyeballs almost fell out of its sockets.

I sighed at the unraveling of what I thought would be an easy order that would not make me look so incompetent.

Bug ordered a Bandito burger ($5) with pico de gallo, lettuce, chopped red onions, guacamole, pepper jack cheese with chipotle mayonnaise.

I ordered my custom burger and a Tree Hugger ($5 each). The burger included lettuce, tomato, burgundy mushrooms, pepper jack cheese, with mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard. I was so enthralled that I forgot the pickles! With the Tree Hugger, I scaled the extras down so I could taste the portobello, so I ordered it with lettuce and tomato, with mayonnaise.

All the added ingredients come with the cost of the burger, including a slice of cheese. An extra slice costs $0.49 each.

We also ordered a large Foo Foo fries ($4) and a lemonade smoothie ($3) to share. I figured it couldn't be that large an order for $4. A bowl of mushroom bisque was singing out to me, but Bug said this sounded like a lot of food.

Bug was right.

The burgers did not disappoint. They were perfectly cooked, just 'til the pink disappears, so it was not a charred hockey puck, remaining juicy and tasty. The add-ons were given in generous portions. The burgundy mushrooms were meaty and tasty, not the usual flat 3 pieces of dirt you get at most places. My burger was heavenly.

BBB also advertises that their buns are fresh baked daily. It does make a difference having fresh, good bread. Most of the time, when I eat burgers, I discard the bread half way through and eat the innards because I get tired of what feels like eating socks with a side of meat. The bread to meat + goodies proportion was just right that my mouth never felt like it was being gagged with Styrofoam.

The mushroom burger was very meaty. I was quite impressed and swooning at the wonderful taste of M U S H R O O M. It was brought up when we ordered the Tree Hugger that some also order the burgundy mushrooms. I declined, wanting to keep it simple this time. I might do that the next time!

The basketful of perfectly cut fries with skin were topped with gobs of chili, cheese, and jalapeno peppers. It was 3 times the amount I had expected. We couldn't finish it.

There is also the capability to order burgers "junior" sized ($4). I should have done that so I could have tried more things. Ha!

It was refreshing to go to a place where I didn't feel like I was ruining someone's day by showing up. The service was friendly and patient for glaringly obvious newbs like us. Everyone I came in contact with -- the front register people, cooks, and a person cleaning up -- spoke to me respectfully. It appeared they enjoyed what they were doing.

The small, carpeted dining room was quite tidy, especially considering the number of people dining in. The meal came up in less that 10 minutes. It didn't seem very long because of all the witty and sarcastic knick knacks posted up on the walls.

For months, I've been mumbling that I need to start carrying my camera around more. However, when I do carry my camera, I am too embarrassed to get kicked out of a restaurant for taking 500 pictures of our food, even without a flash. Despite having a black body, my camera isn't a stealthy one. I can't play like a spy, hide it under the palm of my hand, and slip it up my sleeve.

This was an amazing amount of food, especially for the price. Since we know the portion size, the next time we go, we will likely not be ordering quite so much, thus making me further saddened that I wasn't able to capture this meal pictorially.

BBB is awesome. I have never been so satisfied with a burger in my life, from the flavor to the experience. Sorry Hamburger Mary and W&M!

- Cassaendra

Great Northern Plaza
North Olmsted, OH 44070
Tel: (440) 801-1122

Monday, November 17, 2008

First snow

Bug took Akemi out to poop this morning. It was our first sticking snow. Akemi pranced around in the fluff, and when she finally stopped, she licked the snow.

I wish I was there to witness that, and have pictures to share.

- Cassaendra

Friday, November 7, 2008

Pizza the Hut

In my quest to introduce Bug to a decent AND authentic (as possible) deep dish pizza joint in Cleveland, we landed at Angelo's while doing a Google search for "deep dish pizza Cleveland."

A little history...

I don't like pizza. After years of eating Pizza Hut's super supreme pan pizzas every Sunday with my family, it ruined pizza for me. I despise buttery, thick pizza crusts. I hate raw onions. I can't stand raw bell peppers. These weekly torture sessions further reinforced my dislikes, since I was forced to eat the raw onions and occasionally gagged when I wasn't able to fully swallowed them. Once, I had to pull a particularly long string of onion, 3/4-swallowed, from my throat because it wouldn't go down.

Despite my disdain for pizza, for the past few months, I've been fondly describing to Bug the amazing deep dish pizzas we used to eat when I was a child. There was an awesome Chicago-style pizza place in Niu Valley that disappeared not long after.

I have a feeling that people back then were boxed into their definition of pizza, with only Pizza Hut and Shakey's pizzas as the major pizza joints in Hawaii, and Pizza Hut's now infamous "pan pizza" had not yet been marketed anywhere, which led to the demise of that Chicago-style pizzeria. I had never been to the restaurant, since we always ate it at home. I have no recollection how they got to the house -- delivery or pick-up. Magic?

Their deep dish pizza was filled at least 2" high with intertwining vegetables, cheese, and meat. It was like a baked casserole, except with a thin breaded crust on the bottom and sides. It was so massive that, even ordering a small, our family of three had leftovers. Eating it was like struggling in quicksand or watching Pizza the Hut (Spaceballs) talking, but more pleasant. Oodles of gooey cheese and vegetables all over the place. While they probably had onions in them, these are, after all, "fond memories" so that trauma has been smudged from memory.

A few years after my memory of the pizzeria faded, I found myself eating at a bustling pizza place in California with my mother and her friend -- Uno's. It was packed. Apparently, reservations were required. We still had to wait to get in. I remember being told this was a famous place, which was rather redundant by how frenetic it was.

There was a large party of people who were near our table. I would occasionally catch a stray murmur against the drone and clanking of diners that it was the LA Lakers. *shrug* I wouldn't know the difference. It's not like pro basketball players wear their jerseys while they're out and about. And in the unlikely chance I recognized someone and they wore their jersey, I'd roll my eyes. These people were really, really tall, really, really big people. Plus, people were pretending to not notice them and stealing glances occasionally, so the story seemed plausible.

Fast forward over 25 years later with Bug and I sitting at Angelo's in Lakewood. I wanted to check out some pizzas that probably sound utterly disgusting to most people...

- Seafood pizza: "lobster cream sauce, shrimp, crabmeat, fresh spinach and provolone cheese"
- Artichoke pizza: "roasted red pepper pesto sauce, artichokes, red peppers, roma tomatoes" -- hold the red onions

Bug, the pizza fan, wants to try:
- Bourbon chicken pizza: "chicken marinated in bourbon sauce, traditional sauce, provolone cheese and roasted veggies"
- Taco pizza: "taco meat smothered with Monterey jack and cheddar cheese, topped with black olive and onion, lettuce, tomato, salsa, sour cream on the side"

The Bourbon chicken pizza actually scared me, since I had this feeling it would taste nothing like the awesome bourbon chicken at all the cajun places at malls run by Chinese people. And if it did, I don't know if I'd like it without rice. I ordered a small deep dish bourbon chicken pizza anyway.

Bug loves taco pizza, so he ordered a small deep dish taco pizza. He retells his adoration for taco pizza that he had back home - back when he ate taco pizza at Pizza Hut every week with his buddies.

We ordered battered, deep fried mushrooms as an appetizer. They were pretty good. The mushrooms were molten. Their marinara sauce wasn't bad. It was a little peppery and umm tomatoey. From what my scalded tongue detected, the breading was tasty. Without setting it aflame and making a Cirque du Soleil show of it, or using a variety of gourmet mushrooms, it's impossible for deep-fried mushrooms to be memorable.

30 minutes later, a large taco pizza and a small bourbon chicken pizza arrive. I looked at the taco pizza and then our server quizzically. She confirmed that we ordered two small pizzas and amended the check to reflect the order.

The bourbon chicken didn't taste like bourbon chicken at the mall. It tasted like marinated brown sauce chicken. The crust was doughy, not too different from "pan pizza." The pizza wasn't particularly bad, but not being a fan of chicken to begin with set the bar impossibly high to be satisfying. Stuff wasn't slithering around in my plate oozing to escape. I quietly ate 1 slice of my bourbon chicken pizza.

The taco pizza was not bad. I took a small slice and ate it. I like lettuce.

Bug was disappointed. I'm not sure if anyone will ever make a great taco pizza to match his fond memories. I keep nudging him to make his own pizzas, since he adores them.

Based on the marinara sauce from the breaded mushroom appetizer, I'd be tempted to try their spaghetti. I'm really not sure if I'll get that chance. The more we try other pizza places around town, the more Donato's solidifies its place in Bug's heart as the best, most consistent pizza place in town...even though they don't have his beloved taco pizza.

- Cassaendra

13715 Madison Ave
Lakewood, OH
Tel: (216) 221-0440

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Election Day

The forecast was that polling stations were going to be ugly today. I'm sure there were some people who took advantage of voting early at the Board of Elections to avoid the lines and ended up waiting in line for up to 4 hours!

For us, it was rather anticlimactic. I took a few days off from work, so we sauntered to our polling station at 8 this morning. Bug packed us a bottle of tea, so we wouldn't get dehydrated waiting in line.

No line.

We were in and out within 15 minutes. Crazy, huh? We didn't even take a swig of tea.

I'm betting that Bug will have to wait in a longer line to buy our copies of Wrath of the Lich King, the upcoming World of Warcraft expansion, next Friday.

- Cassaendra

Friday, October 17, 2008

A Cookie and a Cupcake

A great new store opened up today in the neighborhood! The much anticipated A Cookie and a Cupcake, at least for us. Since we've been taking Akemi out for walks, we've noticed a few new stores opening in the area.

For the past 6 days, we walked by staring through the storefront window watching the two women busily baking, turn to wave at us, and signaling how many days until they opened. A cute flyer hung on the glass door that also had the number of days crossed out until they opened.

An open sign! I cheered, "Yay!" as I rushed in (what husband and puppy??). I eyed each cupcake and cookie several times. One of the owners felt bad seeing sad puppy dog eyes belonging to a pretty girl sitting outside obediently in the brisk breeze, and invited Bug in.

Akemi's eyes lit up and she began to lick the owner's nose with her velvety tongue while she cooed, "puppy kisses." Bug held Akemi close to him and mainly stayed to the back, as far from the counter as possible. The owner scrubbed down and asked us what we would like.

What would I like? I didn't want to seem so indecisive and waste her time.

luxuria gula avaritia superbia

I couldn't decide which ONE to buy, so I bought 6 cupcakes. We bought their special (the one that looks like Cookie Monster), carrot cake, red velvet, lemon, German chocolate, and strawberry cupcakes. We did not get the espresso, peanut butter crunch, and chocolate cupcakes because we had to leave something for people coming in after us. There were also a couple of delicious looking cookies with chunks of fruit and white chocolate as well.

Just after taking these pictures, Bug and I immediately split three cupcakes in half -- the red velvet, lemon, and strawberry. I was too busy to document our progress pictorially. They wouldn't have done these cupcakes justice under poor lighting and decrepit batteries anyway, as evidenced by the included pictures.

In general, their cakes are moist and each had its own generously spread deliciously distinct frosting. They were light, but not frothy, gritty, nor too sweet. It was not like eating bland sugar army helmets over sand.

The strawberry cupcake consisted of slices of fresh strawberries atop the strawberry frosting, white cake, and a custard filling. It was a very nice balance of fresh fruit, cake, and frosting. I'm a sucker for strawberry frosting.

The red velvet cupcake had cream cheese frosting and filling. I love red velvet cake. It's rare to find it prepared anywhere and rarer yet to find it done well. The creamy frosting is a solid complement to the dense cupcake. The color contrast worked well too!

The pairing of flavors for the lemon cupcake was delicious. The cake was topped with buttercream frosting and 3 curled raspberry sugar candy shaped like miniature rounded eucalyptus leaves. While the raspberry filling may look funky if you aren't expecting it, it rounds out the citrus well. The raspberry crunchies are a flavor and texture treat.

The carrot cake cupcake was decadent. The cream cheese frosting and filling were ooh invoking, and the carrot cake was amazing. It was extremely moist, studded with carrot slivers and fresh pineapple chunks. It is not an exaggeration when I say that this is the best carrot cake my taste buds have had the indulgence of meeting!

The German chocolate cupcake was wunderbar. While I am not a fan of chocolate cakes, this one hits the spot. I think it's because it's not sweet, nor is it bitter. The umm German chocolateness (that nutty coconut frosting) and the buttercream frosting sweetens the cupcake just right with every bite.

I tell ya, they are selling themselves short. The store should be named, "Cooookies and Cupcakes, Me Want Nom Nom Nom." Okay, maybe that's too long.

My favorites were the carrot cake and the German chocolate cupcakes. Bug's favorite was the carrot cake cupcake. *snarl*

It was great to see Akemi's eyes light up as they oohed and aahed over her puppy breath. I'm sure she can't wait to return.

Yes, that's it.

- Cassaendra

A Cookie and a Cupcake
2173 Professor Ave
Cleveland, OH 44113
Tel: (216) 344-9433

Monday, October 13, 2008

O Sole Mio

As a result of a mysterious coin toss by Bug, we ate at "heads," which turned out to be Antonio's.

I've been curious about the place for many years because I figured it has to be good if it's been there for so many years, right? If Drew Carey ordered 45 pizzas to be flown to LA, it has to be incredible. Parma has a million pizza joints, and to be the Chosen One it has to be awesome.

Warning sign #1: An employee there told us a couple years ago that their lasagne was from Stouffer's. Not a knock on Stouffer's since they do a lot of business with restaurants, but this is an Italian restaurant, not a [pick a random ethnicity] restaurant that has a couple of Italian dishes to appease the non-lovers of [pick a random ethnicity] food who tagged along with a friend who was craving Italian.

Warning sign #2: The decor was kitschy. I mean REALLY kitschy. All the seats were covered with plastic and, at least at our table, the chairs wobbled. Okay, maybe they had their share of heavy customers and if I had a lot of kids coming in sucking spaghetti noodles, maybe I might cover my entire place with a plastic tarp.

Warning sign #3: Pizza toppings can be added but not subtracted. I was really excited that I could have Bug try a real deep dish pizza, but after reading that, we were both very suspicious.

We shared an order of fries ($3.95) and a muffuletta with a green olive spread ($9.50). The fries were all right; fried to order with a saucer of ketchup. They didn't have that heat lamp sogginess to them. The muffuletta was okay. I didn't expect it to be as sweet as it was. The bread was okay. The meats were on the salt-lick-salty side. The olive spread was okay. I didn't realize muffuletta were so greasy and messy.

The last time we had one it wasn't that messy. We had it at a fellow WoW player's workplace, a restaurant in North Royalton, French Quarter Cafe. The couple who own and operate the restaurant are energetic and it is evident they love what they do. The made-to-order pizza was damn good. The soup, which was clearly advertised to be from another source, was quite tasty that I wanted more! We gorged while we were there and, yes, we paid for everything. It's been a couple years since we have gone there. Time for another visit!

The service at Antonio's was memorably mediocre. Every time Bug needed a beverage refill he was asked what he had to drink or he had to correct the server. She did come around often so at least he wasn't sucking on cooled air.

It felt weird when I saw our server behind Bug standing and eating a pizza slice off a stack of clean dishes passed out to diners for their appetizer. Not sure why, but I can sort of overlook that, even though that's probably something servers shouldn't be doing. I figured if you're hungry and it's busy, you have to stuff your face some time.

Now or never, heads or tails, sun or rain; I'm thinking never, hoping for tails, and wishing for rain.

- Cassaendra

Antonio's Pizza & Spaghetti
7401 West Ridgewood Drive
Parma, OH 44129
Tel: (440) 886-2511

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Down in the Park

Today was Akemi's first time outside of the neighborhood where she could get out and it didn't result in a shot.

There was a district cross country meet going on at the park so it was full of screaming kids and adults. I'd say at least 1,000 people were there expressly for the meet and waiting to pet our little brat...err princess.

Mingling with the locals

Akemi took to the park quickly and felt right at home. A cute stray tabby was very friendly and actually walked over to talk to Akemi, then followed her around for a little while.

I wonder whose bike that is!

I love the rings around the cat's tail. I wanted to take it home with me!

After we moved away from the cat, Akemi pounced on every puffy dandelion that was in her path and then ate them, chased after leaves, strained at her leash to meet up with every dog.

It doesn't matter how big the dog is. If she's close enough, she'll walk around the dog sniffing for a few seconds. After that, she'll either stand there quietly or she'll hop around and bark at the dog.

Sandy tootsies

After we walked across the confusing cross country course and dodged a few kids running their timed events (they were confusing!), we walked over to the beach. Bug and I were curious how Akemi would react to sand and a body of water. Hell, we still haven't given her a proper bath yet.

She appeared a bit confused by the sand. I'm not sure if it was the texture or the smell. She didn't move for a few seconds, then she dipped her nose into the sand. The nose print was cute, then she began to eat the sand and seashells, which wasn't so cute.

Oooh! Lots of free water!

We pulled her closer to the edge of the lake. She wasn't scared at all, and began licking the water.

A gaggle of little kids with flushed and shiny cheeks stopped by to see Akemi and her sandy nose. She was a bit preoccupied with the water, but still made time for her fans.

Driftwood teasing Akemi

She caught site of a piece of driftwood calling out to her. Being Akemi, she HAD to have it. She hopped around at the edge of the water, even going knee-deep into the water, trying to get to the piece of wood.


Alas, it wasn't meant to be. After several minutes, she barked at the driftwood a few times and walked away.

Water cooler gossip

After being out for an hour, we took a break. More kids came by to pet her. We even had a shadowy silhouette screeching "how adorable!" under the shade of the willow.

The attention doesn't really bother us. We didn't expect it when we brought her home. What annoys me is when people, adults even, ask whether Akemi is a cat or pet her and say she's a cute cat. Uhh, what?

View from the pier

I didn't know the park had a pier. Bug carried Akemi as we walked down the concrete pier in the event there were fish hooks carelessly tossed about along the walkway. People would fall off the pier in fright if they heard her wail if she stepped on a hook.

When we got home, Akemi was ready to take a nap. So were we.

- Cassaendra

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Right Ahn!

Bug has been a touch under the weather (allergies? cold?) and wanted something spicy. We were thinking about going to eat pho at our usual cafe, Superior Pho. At the last minute, he decided to go to a brand new Korean cafe and noodle shop in the same little plaza where Superior Pho is located.

Ha Ahn is located in the tiny space Superior Bakery took as their 2nd home after they moved from their huge space that faced Superior Avenue. I really miss walking into the cavernous 2-story high ceiling with exposed brick space, the aroma of fresh baked pastries displayed along the perimeter, both sweet and savory. I'm not sure where Superior Bakery is now.

To get to the restaurant, you go through the alleyway back door of the plaza and walk through a narrow, brightly lit hallway, past Superior Pho's clear glass facade. The restaurant is brightly lit, simple, and very clean. The cozy, narrow space has 4 white tables that seat 4, 3 white tables that seat 2, and a hulking single door soda refrigerator.

The choices are fairly slim compared to other Korean restaurants, but some of the selections at the larger restaurants I have little interest in trying just yet. The menu lists ramyun, udong, kim chi soup, kim chi bokum, bulgogi, kalbi, kim bap. I was a little surprised they didn't have mandoo.

As I do with all new restaurants, I tried the tried and true dish that I have gotten at other restaurants. Bug was in the mood for beef, as usual. So we both ended up ordering the same dish, bulgogi ($11.95).

Okay, that sounds totally unimaginative, like going to a Japanese restaurant and ordering chicken teriyaki and California rolls or going to a Chinese restaurant and ordering chow mein or beef fried rice, egg roll, and beef broccoli.

For banchan, we were presented with bok choy kim chee, daikon slivers, leek kim chee, salad greens with dressing, eggplant, and a sweet pickled green. I liked the eggplant and the salad the most. The salad dressing was tasty - sesame oil, pepper, and HOT. We saw no red to signify how hot the dressing was going to be. The eggplant had a firm but smooth and creamy texture with a deep sesame flavor.

A tall, slender Asian lady in a long, dark coat stirred the atmosphere when she walked in with her male companion and gossiped about the bakery that was in the suite as if no one was occupying the space, at least in her dimension. She walked over to the waiter and asked for a take-out menu. Bug remarked that the waiter appeared as though he had expected her to order and return the menu, as he looked surprised when she placed the menu in her purse. Poor guy.

The woman then turned her attention to the soda refrigerator and garishly pointed out all the contents in the fridge. She exclaimed, "Oh, look at all the little fishes." Bug's eyes lit up. The couple chatted about other restaurants in the plaza and walked out.

After that distraction, I asked Bug not to eat all the banchan before the food arrived. He picked at the last leek in the bowl. Immediately, the waiter removed the bowl and returned with more leeks. We were shocked. This has never happened at any Korean restaurant we've been to, here and in Honolulu.

The couple who were in the restaurant before we were, received their appetizer order of kim bap, a plate of ~12 pieces of sushi. It looked pretty good as a dish can look blurring by. I might try it out for dinner some time. It was listed at ~$5, if I recall correctly. There are no pictures, since I feel weird taking pictures in a really small restaurant.

Finally, our sizzling platters arrived. My glasses fogged over from the steam. The aroma was intoxicating.

Bulgogi comes with onions. I detest onions. BUT I don't care for ordering it without onions as it does impart a necessary dimension of flavor to the dish. I pawned off the onions to Bug...nicely. I didn't want it to seem like I was angry. After all, it wasn't their fault that my platter was half-filled with those noxious slivers.

After that transfer was done, his platter was heaping! Apparently, the waiter and another person in back were watching as I redirected the onions to Bug. Bug said they appeared concerned, but did not say anything.

Bug hoovered up 3 different banchan bowls, and immediately the waiter removed the empty dishes and replenished them. Wow.

Oh, the bulgogi was sweet and a little salty. The meat was tender, thinly sliced, and was not fatty. The portions were generous, considering how much I removed from my plate. At Korea House, after I picked out the onions, I was left with a nearly empty platter - a heap of slivered carrots and some morsels of beef.

I really want to order bulgogi again, but I'll likely try something else. The food didn't knock my socks off, but the service did. I want to return; however, passing up Superior Pho as I walk to Ha Ahn will be my test of conviction.

Bug LOVES those Korean little dried fishies that can also be found in Japanese stores but without the peppery zing. Since we didn't have to look in the soda refrigerator to know what was in it, like an automaton, I opened the cooler door without looking and picked up a small container of fishies ($3.45) to take home.

If you think the title is cheesy, blame Bug!

- Cassaendra

Ha Ahn Korean Restaurant
3030 Superior Ave E
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 664-1152

Sunday, October 5, 2008



The decisions a puppy must make! Pee versus Play.

For her, this was just another day -- time to go out to the yard to run around and do the doo. Little did she know that we were going to take her far from the familiar surroundings of the yard, down the block to the park! Oh boy!

As she pulled us further away from the house to the park, she kept looking back at us as if wondering, "Is this really okay?"

At the same time, she pounced on every leaf that blocked her path. When we finally got to the park, I saw all the leaves littered across the walkway and the grass and thought, "Oh jeez, this is going to take forever."


We pulled up to the first bench near the edge of the park, which was 15 yards away from a play area where there were a few kids. Akemi was mesmerized with the screaming, laughing, and jumping.

Want to play with kids!

Still mesmerized, she tugged at her leash wanting to play with the kids. Until she found something more interesting in her path...

Ooh, gravel!

Gravel. She picked at it and tried to eat it. Some kids came up with their mother and Akemi got really excited. Not only is she a drama queen, she's an attention whore. She jumped up and down like a bunny when she heard the girls and mother screeching, "HOW CUTE!" They fawned over her, as she's accustomed to being treated, soaking up everyone's adoration.

She even piddled a little.

- Cassaendra

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Akemi - Day 6


Despite being house trained after Day 3 at home, the next day Bug told me he never wants to have kids.

What I want to know is why is it that after doing all the research that we've done for nearly 6 months, between books and online, how is it that we did not come across the "Shiba scream" until AFTER we bought the little rat.

I even ran across an entry in Wikipedia a couple days ago. I swear I've read that entry several times, and so did Bug. It's a conspiracy!

From Day 2 - 5, we had to deal with Akemi screeching at the top of her little lungs like a flogged monkey-donkey-parrot. I am not exaggerating. The longest span of torture was 4 hours straight.

I was fortunately able to sleep through half of this, but Bug was kept awake and didn't get but 3 hours of sleep a day.

Even yesterday, when he called me at lunchtime, I could hear her squawking.

Akemi and her best friends looking innocent while sleeping

Last night, it was like an epiphany. Akemi didn't scream once while in her crate, even though we were raiding Black Temple from 19:45 - 23:30. Amazing! The trick? We shuttle her humongous crate back and forth between the living room and bedroom depending on where we will be. As long as she doesn't think she's alone and no one will come back for her, she's fine.

Squeaky the Elephant

She'd roll on her back, sleep, sit cutely, chew on her chewbone, or play with Squeaky, her squeaky rubber elephant companion who is always attached to her head or paw when she's in her crate. We didn't see any of the rabid monkey behavior, where she climbs up along the side of her cage (2' tall), jumps off to slam her head on the top of her cage, and falls to the ground.


...for hours

Of course, this is while screaming at the top of her lungs.

The only reason Akemi screamed last night, technically this morning (00:30), was because she was fidgeting while I was holding her so Bug could get dressed to take her out to go poopy. She wiggled and kicked off my chest and I couldn't hold on to her so she plunged 4' onto the hardwood floor.

I thought I heard her scream before. Oy.

She screamed louder than I've ever heard her scream. I felt her foot as she laid on the floor, and she cried even louder. Bug ran into the living room, took her to the bedroom, and laid her on the bed.

Akemi hobbled about screaming; the intensity waned. She walked in a circle a few times, then stopped screaming, and began to walk normally.

Bug took her out to the yard, and she ran around like nothing happened, then pooped.

- Cassaendra

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Akemi - Day Two

Our fearless hunter

I have a feeling I'm probably going to be the type of mother that carries a tome of pictures of my kids' each and every waking moment, such that you could flip the pages and it would look like a contiguous motion picture, and shove it in everyone's face. Not sure why, but it's just a weird feeling.

hates leashes

When I'm awake, I really can't tell the difference between the spoiled "I want to play now" cry, "I'm scared," or "I have to go poo/pee" cry. I'm probably going to be the mother that sleeps through the baby wailing at night while Bug wakes up every hour to check on the little one. Apparently, Akemi was crying much of the night so he got out of bed and checked on her. Bug definitely makes a better mother than me!

stalks her prey...

Every two hours or when Akemi whimpers, Bug gets dressed, latches the leash on our turdling, walks down our narrow stairwell, and takes her to the yard so she can pee and/or poo. 9 times of 10, all she does is attack the weeds, goes to town digging up the lawn, eats leaves, stares out in complete attention at invisible predators, and rolls around in the dew-drenched blades of grass.

All this paid off when she finally pooed on cue last night in the yard. She also walked to her litter box and peed in it twice! She's been doing well in the 2 days that we've had her. She even comes when we beckon.

...but is easily distracted

Bug is snoring as I write this, trying to catch a few zzz's, since he's only had 3 hours of sleep. Akemi is zonkered out in her cage because she's been feeling yucky, barfing up peanut butter. No, that's not a euphemism.

- Cassaendra

Doumo, Konnichiwa!

Halloween display at Target

When I walked into my neighborhood Target, I was surprised to see pirate, Frankenstein, ghost, vampire, and pumpkin Domo-kun flying, plastered, hanging, slouching, and standing in comical proportion!

Halloween display at Target

I slinked around with my camera and snapped a few shots. The hanging eye patch Domo-kun was huge!

Halloween display at Target

But no sign of Usajii and his other mates.

- Cassaendra

Friday, September 12, 2008



The most recent addition to our family, Akemi, a 7-week-old shiba inu. She's quiet, inquisitive, bright, ornery, and cute. Akemi is named for her bright nature and her reddish fur.

For ~6 months, we've been mulling over getting a Shiba and a Welsh Corgi (think Ein in Cowboy Beebop) -- I wanted a Cardigan and Bug wanted a Pembroke. A fluffy dog not having a tail just freaks me out like twins.

We've been checking out places for the right color. When we walked in and saw her, I knew she was the one.

As for what the other members of the family think -- Yoru isn't sure yet. He stands outside her cage and meows. Mochi is a ferret (curious).

- Cassaendra

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Just Another Day in Paradise

I love pho and could eat it every day, but to keep the peace, we only eat it 1-2 times per week.

On Mondays or when Bug isn't in the mood for pho, we go to #1 Pho; otherwise, we go to Superior Pho. Our most recent trip was on a Monday, so we went to #1 Pho.

grilled pork summer rolls

#1 Pho has the best appetizers. Not only do the appetizers taste great, there is a fairly large selection and different matching dipping sauce for each. We've been an addict of the grilled pork summer rolls for over a year. I'll occasionally change it up and get the shrimp or shredded pork (powdery stuff that sometimes goes in my eye). Ground shrimp skewered with sugar cane is good, but I'm a bit too cheap most days to order that except on rare occasions.

small pho tai minus the vegetables

I used to order my pho with raw meat on the side and would still order it that way, but nowadays I'm fine with the meat in the soup. I was so accustomed to ordering it raw in Hawaii that I was dumbfounded when I moved here when the order would come to me wrong. I would ask for no onions or cilantro in my soup, and find them in my meat!!

You know, if I don't want it at all in my soup, what makes you think I want it stuck on my meat?!? A little common sense, please?!

So to take the lesser of two, I just ask for no veggies in my soup and leave it at that.

small pho tai and our dirty dishes

Superior Pho is our go-to place mainly for the price and meat. The flavor of the broth at both restaurants is different, and I thoroughly enjoy both so the two are tied. I prefer really thinly sliced meat, so Superior wins out on that. Their meat is literally paper thin.

Superior also has bahn mi. Because it has onions, hoisin, and cilantro, I don't even bother ordering it. It's not worth it for's all Bug's.

Bug also enjoys the rare meat dishes at both places. I've noticed him ordering it more often at Superior. It must taste better. I don't really know the difference. When meat has been mixed with cilantro and onions, that is all I taste. Bleah! Despite the bleah, the addition of squeezed citrus is actually quite refreshing.

With the weather changes, we'll probably pop in to eat pho more often than once a week. It's the best way we can think of to clear our sinuses and to battle colds.

- Cassaendra

#1 Pho
3120 Superior Ave E
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 781-1176

Superior Pho
3030 Superior Ave E
Cleveland, OH 44114
(216) 781-7462

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


We were in the mood for Mexican but wanted something a little cheaper than Don Ramon, our usual go-to Mexican restaurant in Cleveland, which is very reasonably priced.

It's hard to find this restaurant sometimes. I'm not sure why. It's painted yellow and red, but it is!

The staff is warm and the interior of the restaurant is cutely done. It's probably cheesy to most people, but I think it's cute. It's like you're sitting outside near a stucco house with a thatched overhang.

The chips were on the thicker side, crisp, warm, and lightly salted. I prefer it close to unsalted, but it was still very good. What I did like was their salsa served in a lava looking bowl. Again, I know this sounds cheesy, but I freaking love it! I like salsa pureed versus diced tomato, onion, and cilantro chunks. I think it takes the edge off the raw onions and cilantro, which I detest. The salsa tasted fresh, the tomato flavor was sharp, and it had just the right spiciness.

I ordered camarones alla diabla ($12) and Bug ordered Mexican tacos and added chorizo ($7 + 1).

Bug was hoping for hard shell tacos but expected soft shell tacos. Three double-wrapped soft shell tacos piled with beef and chorizo arrived in a large, heavy ceramic plate along with a sectioned rectangular platter with chopped white onions in one section, cilantro in the second, and pico de gallo in the third. His opinion was that it was all right, but he isn't concerned about getting it again. This isn't to say it was bad.

My camarones arrived in a large ceramic platter with rice and beans, along with another plate with chopped lettuce and guacamole, and a small plate with 3 wrapped tortillas. The camarones wasn't spicy at all. I was a bit disappointed since I was used to flaming hot 'diabla.' The flavor was good, since I don't normally know what the other diabla dish tastes like. lol It had a "Hey, I'm a Mexican red sauce" deal going.

Service was good.

The first time we came, we got sopapilla. It would have gone really well with vanilla ice cream, I think. It was my first time trying the deep fried tortilla dessert dusted with sugar and cinnamon and honey drizzled on top. It wasn't extremely sweet, despite the description, nor was it extremely crunchy. It was a bit messy to eat.

The next time we come here, I'll probably try something else just to check out what else they have. I have a feeling that most of the dishes are all right to good, but nothing OMG. Flavor, price, quantity, and service makes this a great place.

- Cassaendra

Cozumel Mexican Restaurant
16311 Brookpark Rd
Cleveland, OH 44142
(216) 898-1200

Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Day After

Bug and I are suffering from post Air Show sunburns, having been out in the sun sitting on a cement air strip for 8 hours straight without sunblock, despite hourly chimes of going to the DrugMart tent to get sunblock and to reapply them every couple of hours.

The announcer's segues from information on the jets to sponsor advertisements always made me laugh. It reminded me of watching University of Hawaii baseball games on tv.

Please look to your left where the Hornet will be doing an 8 point hesitation roll at center point ... where he'll land at Cleveland International Airport. What a beautiful day it is for an air show (it honestly was - there was not a cloud in the sky...just BLUE) make sure you put on sun block every two hours because it disappears, so don't forget to visit the Discount DrugMart tent where they "save you the runaround, you'll find everything you need."

On a similar vein, I thought the US Army's Golden Knights motto was a little cheesy, but I probably would have done exactly the same with "may your (k)nights be golden." We saw the Black Team. It was pretty awesome and must be a great recruitment tool. I wanted to be up there!

Oh, another thing I learned at the air show was that jet "dedications" means cover your ears because they're going to kick that afterburner right in front of you in about 3 seconds.

My eyes won't stop tearing and they're almost swollen shut. There's a slight discomfort on my left forearm and the top of my left thigh, and my face feels tight. Not a big loss since I don't smile anyway. The burns that I have aren't traumatic compared to Bug's since I'm brown, so I didn't get zinged quite as badly as him. He keeps waking up every few hours from the constant pain. He's pretty miserable.


- Cassaendra

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Bier Maidens and Blue Angels

This weekend has been a rather busy one, and it's only Saturday of a 3-day Labor Day weekend. I have a feeling with all the excitement, we're probably going to be hermits Sunday and Monday.

Held at the Cuyahoga County Fairgrounds, where almost everything was out in the open I felt apprehensive about going when I saw the sky turn green and the clouds converge atop the fairgrounds pretty quickly.

When we paid our $8/person admission, there was a deluge of rain beating down on us. It hurt for me to open my eyes and the place flooded up within minutes. We were completely soaked and didn't really know where to go - it's hard when you're walking around in torrential raid with your eyes closed! My feet were slipping out of my leather slip-on shoes and filling with mud.

We finally found some shelter. Great. Only beer and polka. We wait a few minutes and returned to the rain which was only pouring half as hard and went the wrong way (the way we came from) in search of food, turned around, and then headed to some individual tents serving mostly German food and 1 Polish stand.

By the time we got our food, the rain had stopped. We walked over to some benches under a tent, but the music was just waaaaay too shrill and loud so I told Bug, "NO WAY AM I SITTING IN THIS TENT TO EAT OUR FOOD!!" He responded, "WHAT?!" I walked out with my potato pancakes. He followed.

We went back to the biergarten gobbled up our food from Der Braumeister. I got the spaetzle with Hungarian goulash. The goulash was peppery and I enjoyed the large clumps of spaetzle. Bug didn't care for it as much. He prefers Das Schnitzelhaus' goulash and spaetzle. Bug ordered sauerkraut, sausage, applesauce, and German potato salad. We split an order of potato pancakes. It was pretty tasty. I tend to forget that potato pancakes aren't always the same as latke. When I order a potato pancake and get a...potato pancake - a smooth battered pancake - I let out a half-second disappointed sigh in my head...then partake. I didn't care much for Bug's dish at all. Bug didn't say anything either.

We walked around for 10 minutes after our meal and drove home. It was nice to have finally gone to one here in Cleveland, where there is a sizable German and Polish population. I can't say I was very impressed. The Oktoberfest that I went to in Hawaii was 100x better. While it didn't have the rowdy attitude because it was held at the Ala Moana Hotel, it was just as jovial and served harder drinks like schnapps as well as imported German beers. The food in Hawaii was a lot more expensive, but you got more than your usual carnival food. This was where I tried and fell in love with schweinknuckeln. It was heavenly! I just hope that the Oktoberfest is still celebrated in such a grand fashion to catch it once again.

Cleveland National Air Show
Bug set the alarm clock for 7:30 so I'd wake up in time for us to head to the air show at opening (9:00). I got hungry at 8:45 and made myself a bowl of ramen after hearing that food could cost upwards of $6 for hot dogs and water for $3. We ended up at the gates at 9:45 both of us carrying in bottles of water. I never said I wasn't cheap.

We didn't park at Burke Lakefront Airport because we'd never gone there before and just hit the first garage that said they had parking. We were parked about 1/2 mile away from the venue. That wasn't the bad part.

Bug paid $21/person for us to get in, plus we paid $10 to park, and walked into the admitting area, but were stuck behind a couple who took forever (not sure why). So a kid to the left of us ripped our tickets in half. When we got to the guy who was to have ripped our tickets, he asked why were giving him half torn tickets. We looked at the kid who said nothing. My husband points to the kid and told the guy that he ripped the tickets. The kid said nothing but smiled.

The guy continued to harass Bug about the half torn ticket. The kid continued to say nothing. Finally, a lady behind the kid said, "Yes, they just got their ticket torn." The guy finally asked if we wanted our hands stamped to gain re-entry. The kid stood there and smiled with the stamper in his hand.

That kid must have been retarded or something. I wanted to kick him in the frigging throat. Bug was |--| close to blowing up. $42 paid + parking to not even get in? Yeah, that would have gotten really ugly.

So with that behind us, but with Bug stewing over that incident for 2 hours, we walked in and out of a C-5 Galaxy, saw the MetroHealth LifeFlight helicopters, saw some other planes and helicopters, then sat down on the cement and waited for the show. I was nursing a blister forming on my foot because I was wearing the same wet leather slip-ons.

Programs were sold everywhere. There wasn't a free schedule to be found, so we really didn't know what to expect. My expectation was blocks of shows followed by gaps of free time. Bug's expectation was a block of shows that would repeat throughout the day, but different shows over each day.

At 10:00, there was a competition of radio controlled monoplanes, jets, and biplanes. It was pretty amazing how big, the complexity of maneuvers, and how high they could fly.

The show was like a race downhill on ice after show after another quickly followed until 15:30 where there was a 15 minute break. Monoplanes, gliders, jets, biplanes, paratroopers, more jets, helicopters, even more jets, one after another, ending with the Blue Angels. The historic flybys were very special, where the modern jets would fly with the WWII planes.

I didn't realize how loud these jets could get. When the first jet, an F15 Eagle, came out and hit its afterburners in front of us, I screamed and covered my ears. Every jet performance after that I covered my ears when they'd fly by.

It was amazing to see the Eagle nearly hit the sound barrier and actually see the ringed air formation billow around the jet right before me...twice! I have never witnessed anything quite so cool!

The F16 Falcon's maneuverability with it's tight turns was awesome.

By 13:00, Bug looked like a cooked lobster and he was writhing in pain from the sunburns over his face, neck, arms, and legs. He looked pretty sickly all right. Fortunately, he wore a cap so at least 1/3 of his face wasn't scalded. His burns were pretty bad and he probably should go to the hospital. Because he didn't go to sleep last night, he's able to sleep as I type this entry...after dousing himself with alcohol.

The Blue Angels were exquisite. I found myself screaming at Bug, "OMG THAT WAS AMAZING!" every time the group and the 2 solo pilots flew by. I definitely want to see them again!!

Next time, I'll bring ear plugs and Bug will bring sun block.

- Cassaendra

Monday, August 25, 2008

Love that Chicken!


After reading an article on Popeyes New Loaded Chicken Wrap at, I wanted to try out the wrap, as well as compare the spicy chicken here with the chicken served at Church's. I also wanted to see if the dirty rice is as good as I remembered when I ate it often in Hawaii from a recent Serious Eats post on the topic.

When it was time for me to order, I pointed to the picture of the chicken wrap. No wrap. What? They were not serving it until next week. I looked over at Bug who didn't care. All he wanted was red beans and rice.

I ordered 4 pieces of chicken, large orders of Cajun rice and red beans and rice, and something I hadn't seen before, Cajun battered fries.

Having eaten at Church's just a couple days prior, it was still fresh in my mind what I liked about their chicken. The batch that I had from Popeye's had been sitting there when we walked in, so I'm not sure if this contributed to the lack of crispness or the longer drive time until we got home (30 minutes versus 15 minutes). The flavor of the breading was rather flat. I wasn't impressed.

The dirty rice was bland. I expressed my opinion on SE as being a brownish-grey flavor. There was also no variability in flavor as it once had years ago. It was the same from the first bite, while chewing, and the aftertaste. I did notice the color was duller - it wasn't quite as greasy and peppy as it used to be. Different spices and less lard? Perhaps offal isn't used as much, or at all?

The red beans and rice were still smokey and quite delicious. I ended up mixing the dirty rice with the red beans after I'd eaten the "rice" portion of it.

Despite having sat in a bin under a light for a while, the Cajun battered fries were crispy and good. They were reminiscent to Arby's curly fries but more peppery, moist, and substantial. I think a fresh batch would be awesome.

The sides at Popeye's are still far superior to Church's and even KFC. If Church's was close enough to Popeye's, I would probably buy my spicy chicken and biscuits at Church's and then stop over at Popeye's and get an order of red beans and rice, mashed potatoes with gravy, coleslaw, and fries. Sadly, I didn't see gumbo on the menu.

~ ~ o ~ ~

I just checked out Popeye's website. The Louisiana Legends line of food sounds quite interesting. Where is this served?! Crawfish etouffee! That's one of my favorite dishes at a local Cajun restaurant (Battiste & Dupree). Popeye's Legends menu also lists shrimp creole, smothered chicken, chicken and sausage jambalaya, and creole chicken etouffee. I love meals served over rice. Being the goof (or salt wimp) that I am, I usually eat these dishes over white rice to deaden the saltiness.

The website also has recipes using their food in meals like popcorn shrimp stuffed peppers. It's hidden under the Heritage link.

Popeye's Louisiana Kitchen looks pretty nifty too! I wish there was one near us! They only have two restaurants, both in Georgia, one in Norcross and the other in Fayetteville.

- Cassaendra

4645 Northfield Rd
Cleveland, OH 44128
(216) 475-6066‎

Sunday, August 24, 2008

My First Visit to Church in 25 Years

Church's Chicken that is.

What? Did you really think I meant a *gasp* church with pews? Well, I guess if I took a whiff of the trash receptacles at Church's, I'd be saying "pew."

After some discussion about spicy fried chicken, Popeye's, and southern cooking on Serious Eats, I was encouraged to check out Church's again as it had been at least 25 years since I last patronized one of their restaurants.

Why so long?

Church's disappeared in Hawaii after several years, at least the one location that I knew of on King Street or maybe it was on Beretania Avenue. As a family, we didn't care for Kentucky Fried Chicken because it was too salty. When Church's opened up, that was where we got our southern fried chicken.

When Popeye's opened up on Keeaumoku Street, we exclaimed "Wow - love that chicken!" and became die-hard fans of their chicken, mashed potatoes, and cole slaw. My father and I loved the spicy chicken, a unique menu item in Hawaii, and would eat it with pickled jalapenos. It was a bit much for my poor mother. My mother made sure we ate healthy, but because we enjoyed it so much, this meant we would eat fried chicken once every few months instead of once a year or less.

At the end of the meal, my mother and I would shred the leftover chicken, wrap 2-3 ounces each in plastic wrap, and place them in a container to be stored in the freezer. I would use one serving along with vegetables to top my ramen, or we would use several for an amazing side dish of spicy chicken long rice. Excellent with rice!

What I recall of the dish was a sukiyaki type base incorporated into long rice, shiitake, chicken, ginger, and green onions, which I won't add since I don't like it. I actually prefer it with mai fun instead of the thick, sloppy long rice that's often used at restaurants. I prefer my noodles with texture.

Back to Church's.

We went to the nearest Church's, a White Castle - Church's Chicken restaurant. It took a while to get our order right. Bug was getting irritated.

We wanted a 10 piece chicken meal because it included 2 family sides and biscuits. Apparently, there was a sale going on for 10 pieces of chicken for $9.99, but from what I understood you could not choose your pieces. I am a drumstick girl and Bug is a breast guy (*roll eyes*). We asked for the 10 piece meal for $18 several times and the cashier kept talking about the sale. The sides would have been $4 each separately, plus the cost of the biscuits.

Anyway, after that got resolved, we were disappointed that the person who packed our sides laid them down sideways and gave it to us. They were in little translucent bags of their own, but come on! The gravy and the cole slaw dressing seeped into the bags as we carried it to the car.

The mashed potatoes and cole slaw, the major reason we picked the more expensive option was average. The cole slaw was better than the mashed potatoes. There was a faint sweetness to the mashed potatoes and gravy that I did not care for. I guess we should have taken the hint from the cashier. :)

The biscuits were pretty good. You could taste honey with every buttery bite. They'd be better if they weren't so damn dry.

The chicken...the chicken was extremely moist, and the breading was crisp and tasty. The spiciness was definitely present and it wasn't extremely salty. Yay! It was a little peppery and had a more complex flavor than your average fried chicken. The chicken received three thumbs up from Bug. He actually compared it favorably to his beloved Super K-Mart fried chicken; something he has never done before until now.

Without a doubt, Popeye's has the superior side dishes, and good chicken to boot. It's too bad we have to travel a distance to get to a store; part of the reason we've only gone to one 3 times in 10 years. When we did go, we just got chicken, mashed potatoes, and cole slaw. The dirty rice and gumbo were a bit expensive for the serving size...I do not remember it being quite that expensive in Hawaii.

We'll definitely be back, and will most certainly skip the sides, and order a couple of biscuits separately. If we really want cole slaw and mashed potatoes, there's a KFC less than a block away.

- Cassaendra

Church's Chicken

5151 Pearl Rd
Cleveland, OH 44129
216 398-5155

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Sukiyaki Dinner and a Movie

For a nice night at home with good entertainment and dinner, a sukiyaki theme can never fail.

The movie --- Sukiyaki Western Django
Takashi Miike. Spaghetti Western. Genji versus Heike. Quentin Tarantino. Go.

Trailer to Sukiyaki Western Django, 2007

One major item to note: Avoid the American edited version. Get the full Japanese version!

The dinner --- Sukiyaki
On Serious Eats, a blog I often visit, there was a request to post my sukiyaki recipe as a result of a discussion on shirataki. This was rather difficult, and I explained this, because I don't use any measurements when preparing this dish.

1 lb wafered lean beef (or 2 lb if you LOVE meat)
Chinese cabbage, cut into bite-sized pieces
12 oz block extra firm tofu, cut into bite-sized cubes
14 oz shirataki, rinse and drain
1 bag enoki mushrooms
7-8 young bamboo shoot tips (skinny) or a can of sliced bamboo shoots if you can’t find whole shoots
2 shiitake, rehydrated
1 Japanese leek (or scallion) – I don’t eat onions so I don’t use it
vegetable oil

raw egg
cooked medium-grain white rice

soy sauce
brown sugar

Mix soy sauce, water, and sake (1 : 2 : 1/2 ratio, respectively, is a good start) with brown sugar – adjust to taste. It shouldn’t be extremely salty or very sweet. The amount depends on the size of your deep pan that you’ll be cooking and serving this dish in. I usually make enough that it stands under an inch when poured in the pan. Set aside.

Since I don’t have a way to cook at the table, I cook the entire batch at once. If you can cook at the table, cook each ingredient in equal parts in small portions and refill ingredients as needed.

On medium heat, add some oil to the pan. Separate the thin slices of meat and cook it in the pan so they’re not stuck together. If you can buy sukiyaki meat at a Japanese grocer, it’ll come with a brick of fat that looks like a small eraser. Use that instead of the oil.

Once the meat is mostly cooked, move it to one part of the pan. Add the stock. Throw in the shiitake mushrooms.

Add the Chinese cabbage and cook for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, flip the meat around so the meat sitting above the stock is now in the stock. Move the cabbage alongside the meat.

Do not mix the ingredients together so they intermingle. Each ingredient should stand in its own quadrant.

Add the shirataki. Cook for a couple of minutes and mix it so the noodles are coated with the base. Move the noodles alongside the cabbage.

Add tofu and cook it so the tofu is evenly coated with the stock as possible. The pan will be pretty full.

Flip the meat, cabbage, and shirataki.

Add the bamboo shoots. Mix it around so it’s coated.

I usually make room in the middle and add the enoki mushroom bunch, in front of the meat, then move the two shiitake to the center with it. This is purely aesthetic.

One last time…flip the ingredients in the stock. (I’m probably being OCD at this point)

Throw the leek in and simmer for a few minutes. I don’t eat onions, so I never use leeks, but every restaurant serves it and my mother used it. It’s all yours.

Serve with white rice in a small bowl. The raw egg is cracked and beaten in a separate small bowl for personal consumption. Dip a small portion of the now pretty steaming hot medley into the cold egg and eat with rice.

Because it’s a hotpot type of dish, you can add/drop ingredients that you like/don’t like, e.g., white onions, other types of noodles, spinach, carrots. Whether it will mesh well, who knows? There are also variations on when to add the stock - beginning, middle, or end - and the use of mirin instead of sake.

Sukiyaki Western Django introduction

Slurping the bubbling sukiyaki with Kitajima Saburo singing the main theme, ahh bliss.


- Cassaendra

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