Best New American/Seasonal Cuisine in Cleveland
I'm a college student in the Cleveland area, and my family is trekking out here from Seattle to visit me for my sister's birthday in a few weeks. They'll only be here for two days, but I want to take full advantage of their pocketbooks and foodie inclinations and eat out at places I normally wouldn't on a student budget. That said, I don't want anything too stuffy or formal, or anything too experimental/molecular gastronomy-ey. Just classy, hip, local, hearty fare with maybe a little grit, preferably in a cool neighborhood. We're looking for one nicer restaurant for my sister's birthday, and then maybe some cheaper fare the next day, maybe an ethnic place or the West Side Market for lunch. Maybe also a bakery/ice cream/sweets place. My parents will have a car, money, and ample time for reservations. I know there have been similar threads, but I wasn't sure which restaurants mentioned would impress my 20-year old sister as well as my parents. Good wine, beer, or cocktails would be a plus.
It's not very difficult to avoid molecular gastronomy around here. I also wouldn't worry too much about "too stuffy or formal."
The five best contemporary American restaurants in the area are Sapore, Flying Fig, fire, Taste and Moxie. The dedication of Sapore, Flying Fig and fire in particular to local and seasonal cooking is obvious.
fire just introduced their winter menu. It's full of a lot of things that I really trust them to do well. The hangar steak and the ox tail bolognese look particularly tempting. The pork chop is probably their signature entree and the chicken liver appetizer is another one of their signature dishes. They've both also been personal favorites of mine over the six years that I've been going to fire. You can eat here and be confident that your vegetables and starches will get the same care and achieve the same heights of flavor as your proteins.
That's also true at the Flying Fig. The Fig starts your meal off with the best bread in the city - restaurant or bakery. Sapore's bread is slightly unusual but I like it very much. Moxie's bread is also excellent. They've been offering a dessert special for several weeks. It must be very popular and I can understand why. If it's still around I definitely recommend it: the candy bar trio.
I had a great lamb chop dish at Taste very recently. The bell pepper cheesecake for dessert is unusual but I liked it. It's definitely not for the death-by-chocolate crowd. I've heard great things about their squid appetizer. They also debuted a lot of menu changes recently. They're a new restaurant so this new menu is slightly expanded now that they've got some more confidence. The simple way they served the lamb shows that they've got skill and confidence and I'm looking forward to trying their chicken. Ordering chicken is almost always a gamble.
In fact, until I test Taste there are only two restaurants that I really trust with chicken. One is Moxie. The other is Sapore. The confidence that I felt in the lamb at Taste, I also felt with the chicken at Sapore. I had it three times and it was great all three times. Even if it was a touch too salty, it was still some of the best chicken I've ever had at a restaurant. All three times. And they did it again with the duck. It was some of the best duck I've ever had in a restaurant. A recent duck special at Moxie was pretty respectable, too. They have enough confidence in the quality of their duck and their technique to not fell a need to present an elaborate dish. The duck and chicken presentations were all very plain but all excellent. The menu changes completely about every three weeks. They offer four course dinners with two options at each course.
Moxie's menu seems to undergo near constant rolling modification. Right now, I'm not familiar with most of the dishes on the menu because every time I go I can't resist the specials. They get fresh fish daily and I normally order fish. Whenever the chicken preparation is changed, I get it immediately. I recommend the apple and roasted beet salad and also the spinach salad. I also recommend the soup special. Whatever it is.
I've recommended all of these restaurants recently so you can review those threads to find mentions of other dishes.
Sapore is kind of out in the sticks. I'm not sure there's much out there that I'd consider charming. I could easily be wrong. I don't think I've ever been out there before dusk. Moxie is closer to the city but it's still out in the suburbs and still not exactly brimming with charm. fire, on the other hand, is in the beautiful and historic Shaker Square neighborhood. The square itself is beautiful. There are several other new restaurants in the neighborhood that I'll hopefully be able to recommend in future threads. Nearby Larchmere has a cool bookstore and some antique shops I don't know much about. The Flying Fig is in the Ohio City neighborhood which is also bursting with charm and character. The surrounding residential area is full of beautiful old homes. It's right across the street from the West Side Market which is itself a great place to visit. And they're both surrounded by a huge number of the most diverse restaurants you can imagine. In Cleveland.
I'll try to find a minute soon to answer the other parts of your question.
The pictures are:
chicken livers at Sapore (awesome but probably long gone by the time you eat there)
duck at Moxie (a special that's already gone. sorry.)
lamb at Taste
bell pepper cheesecake
Fire Food & Drink
13220 Shaker Square, Cleveland, OH 44120
3355 Richmond Road, Beachwood, OH 44122
2523 Market Ave., Cleveland, OH 44113
cleveland, OH, cleveland, OH
2317 Lee Road Cleveland Heights, OH, OH
I suggest Iron Chef Michael Symon's restaurants Lola and Lolita (www.lolabistro.com). Two different experiences and one is in the heart of downtown on E 4th, the other is in Tremont.
I'd also recommend Light Bistro in Ohio City. At the west side market, the best lunch IMO is either a bratwurst sandwich, a breakfast crepe from the City Roast coffee people (stand next to city roast coffee sells the crepes) or a maha's falafil sandwich, taken away to the upstairs observatory level and eaten while crowd-watching. But they also have a sit-down cafe.
While it's off the beaten path, it might be fun for them to go to B. A. Sweetie's candy company out in Brookpark. It's like a candy warehouse and they have a lot of candy that was around in your parents time that may not be readily available anymore. It would be a fun side trip: http://www.sweetiescandy.com/
They might also like the Tremont Tap House: http://www.tremonttaphouse.com/
For a special cocktail experience - you must visit The Velvet Tango Room.
I agree with all of the above recommendations. Lola or Moxie should be your "special dinner" destination; other than that, it's a toss up among fire, Lolita, and Flying Fig (I haven't yet dined at Sapore or Taste). Since your family is from Seattle, they might be disappointed with the quality of fish and seafood here, so you might want to be a little more meat-centric - that would tilt me towards Lolita and fire. Light Bistro is also great, though Chef Matt Mathlage does like to dabble a little in molecular gastronomy; he is committed to local and fresh.
Also, Zach Bruell's new L'Albatross is outstanding.
Other great choices in Tremont are Parallax and Fahrenheit. Momocho in Ohio City has the best Latino cuisine in town.
don't forget to take them to the westside market and show them what a non-yuppie real market is like - lol! it's pretty much the polar opposite of pike place.
also, if they are at all into the chowhound route over the foodie route then for lunch after the market visit you could try nearby LOZADA's for puerto rican or PHNOM PENH for cambodian, both definately humble/unjazzy restaurants, but two chow styles likely rare to seattlites. also, there GREAT LAKES BREWERY is right there too for local beer and history if they might be into that. or you could easily go somewhere hipper nearby in ohio city or tremont like say for example MOMOCHO.
sorry to not really respond to your new american question! anyway have fun with them -- please report back!