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

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