In town from SF and happened to have a birthday. I have been a fan of Michael Symon since I was 15, maybe younger -- whenever the first Lola opened. (I grew up in Cleveland.) So I was really excited to try the new, downtown, restaurant. Coming from San Francisco, I had high criteria...
The room is sophisticated but casual. A bit loud for a restaurnat of this intended caliber, but passable. Our server *knew* the menu. He seemed to have tasted everything on it, and he was in no way pushy, but when we asked for advice, he was instructive, helpful, and willing to be just assertive enough to puch us in the right direction. The service, overall, was truly excellent -- I've not experienced better service in Cleveland.
The amuse bouche was a microscopic ham and cheese open faced sandwich. Excellent, but a bit too small to really savor.
Appetizers were all very good or excellent. The house cured meats were awesome, particularly the cured hangar steak. The crab gnocchi rocked. The lobster salad was a touch rich, but very very good.
Main courses were also great. The halibut was fresh and tasty, from what I was told. The duck (two ways) was reccomended to us by the server. (Note: it does not say on the menu, but the ribeye comes in fois gras butter -- I don't eat fois gras so it would have been bad had I ordered it... it really ought to say...) The duck breast was cooked slightly more than I would have liked. It was very good, but I have had better. It is hard to screw up confit, but also hard to do it really well. I would say the confit was one of the best preperations I've had of it.
The desserts were very good to phenominal. The 6am special, which is their signature and most popular dessert, stole the show. Seriously, as good as the other stuff was, this was one of the best desserts I've had in years. (It is French toast with bacon ice cream.)
The chocolate lollipops with sea salt were a nice way to end the meal. Quite light, but a little too salty.
The wine list was very good, especially by Cleveland standards. We ordered a 2003 Pierre Gaillard Cote Rotie "Rose Pourpre" for $80. The actual retail price of that wine is more like $90+. So a real steal in that regards. The wine did not live up to what I hoped for it, but what can you do? The rest of the list looked to be about 80% over retail, which isn't so bad. The list was well thought out, but there were a lot of big name wines as opposed to garage wineries when it came to CA stuff. That may just be a function of what is available in Cleveland.
I read reports of small portions. I wouldn't say the portions were too small, but after 3 courses, plus the amuse and chocolate lollipops, I still wasn't stuffed -- but I was sated. The portions are European, but certainly big enough, I would say. No 175lb guy is going to leave hungry if he orders 3 courses.
All-in-all I would say this was a very good dining experience. The service was top-notch. The food was all very good, some outstanding. It is not up to the pinnicle of SF dining (or NYC, or even DC, for that matter) but it is still a great restaurant and worth a visit.
How funny - I was there this past weekend also. I loved it. It was our second trip there and just as good as the first. I had the walleye and my husband had the lamb. We also had the cured meats app and he had the haloumi and watermelon app and I had the romaine salad. The bacon in the salad was wonderful. Wehad the "beer and chips" dessert and it was so creative and tasty. The place is really beautiful and the service was great. We got one of the banquette booths and loved being able to see everything. I thought it was as good as many of the places we tried on our recent visit to Napa and Sonoma.
I ate at Lola last weekend. I agree with your terminology; the food varied from very good to phenomenal. The two phenomenal dishes I had were the beef cheek pierogies (made exquisite, in part, by the dab of horseradish-flavored creme fraiche) and the mascarpone strawberry shortcake dessert (with strawberry sorbet in the middle; the mascarpone layer was so light, I'm not sure how, maybe folded with whipped cream). It was excellent in every way, as good as many of the better restaurants in Chicago and NYC, and better than the best places in San Francisco.
One of the very cool features of their decor is that they have a counter where you can eat at one end of the kitchen area where you can eat, with about five barstools. This counter, as well as the long bar and the hostess stand, is covered with alabaster, a translucent natural stone, which is backlit, creating an etherial effect.