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3 Amazing meals in Cleveland - trip report

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DH and I came to Cleveland this past weekend for some R&R. Most of my friends were like - Cleveland, really? Yes, really. Ok, so it wasn't so much about the R&R as it was about the food. Cleveland has quite the food scene going on. I am a big fan of the Food Network. And (sheepishly admits) of Guy's show DD and D. I don't know why I like it - but I do. Call it a guilty pleasure. Maybe being from Detroit has given me a soft spot for the little guy - the hardworking family man that Guy features on his show.

Having seen Momocho's on DD and D, I was excited to try it out. I called about a week ahead of time and could only get the chef's table for a 6:30 seating unless we wanted to eat at 9:30. We opted for 6:30. I wasn't too sure what the chef's table was all about. When I called I made mention that I was coming from Detroit and that this place was def on the list of places I had to try. The person on the phone assured me if I was a foodie, I would enjoy myself. And I did. It was an awesome experience. Mike, one of the two chefs who took care of us that evening was the real deal. We got to sample some of the guacamole and the salsas. Those poor guys never stopped moving the entire two hours we were there. The chips were straight from the fryer, super warm and crunchy. DH loved the guacamole with trout, bacon and peppers. I thought the traditional was great. I asked Mike and the amount of avacados they go through on a busy Friday or Saturday was insane - hundreds of pounds. The kicker is that the kitchen is super tiny. I mean not big enough for more than two people. As Mike said, everything has to be fresh, there's no place to store any product. They make it as they go. For our meal we went with the taquitos - DH had the Carnitas (pork) and I had the tinga (16 spice chicken). Looking back, we could have very easily split a dish, especially after the quac and salsa we devoured! I liked them both - warning: the chicken was SPICY. But not so hot that it killed your taste buds. DH loved the homemade habenaro sauce, but I didn't dare try it with my spicy chicken. For dessert we just had to have the fried ice cream. We shouldn't have, but after watching several orders of it being sent out from the kitchen, I had to try it. The best part of it was the mexican chocolate sauce with the subtle hint of cinnamon. Delish! Why was this an amazing meal? The food was very fresh and flavorful, it was my first experience at a chefs table and I loved chatting with Mike about the different options on the menu (and the free samples were a bonus). Lastly, I have to mention that when we arrived and I gave my name for the reservation the host was the same person I had made the reservation with on the phone and actually commented about us being from Detroit and asked how we liked Cleveland so far. Seriously, where do you get that kind of customer service? What was more shocking was when I mentioned that to Mike he said, oh, that's the owner. Wow. What a great guy. On the way out he gave us directions to the pier so we could go and watch the sun set. I watched the clip from DD and D that featured Momocho and yes, indeed, it was Eric, the owner. If you're ever in Cleveland, do not miss dining at Momocho!!

Saturday night we had reservations at Lola - the star of the weekend. I had debated about getting a reservation but in the end, after reading so many good reviews about it, I decided it would be silly not to. Again, loving all things Food Network, I was pretty excited about going to Michael Symon's most popular restaurant. I think even DH was excited over this one!! You know that one hit movie that comes out, the one that everyone loves and talks about it to no end until you finally go see it and somewhere in the back of your mind you keep waiting for it to blow you away, only it doesn't? Thankfully, that's *not* what happened at Lola. :) It did, in fact, live up to the hype, I'm so happy to say!! We were seated promptly at the time of our reservation. The first table we were seated at was extremely close to the group of 4 next to it, so we asked for a more private table, which was gladly given. Our waiter was very down to earth and had worked with Michael Symon for a long time. In fact he referred to him as Mike several times and said that before Food Network he was simply Mike. I loved the vibe of the place - sleek and sophisticated without trying too hard. The noise level was good, and the open kitchen was perfect for the setting - although we weren't close enough to actually see a lot of what was happening. We decided to split an appetizer - having bad memories of being almost too stuffed to walk out of Momocho's the night before. We opted for the Berkshire bacon. The waiter was kind enough to split it so it came out on two dishes. It was heavenly and the salad that came on top of it was the perfect blend of crunch and citrus. I seriously wanted to lick the sauce from the plate. I love scallops and ordered those with a side of grilled aspargus. Without a doubt, the best scallops ever. The sear was perfect. The soy broth excellent, the salad atop the scallops the perfect contrast of crunch. The asparagus was grilled perfectly and DH kept saying just one more as he would steal it off of the plate. DH opted for the pork chop (which he loved and a few times I was afraid he was going to pick up the bone and start gnawing it) and a side of the Lola fries. Which I fell in love with. They were my dessert. I couldn't stop eating them. Although I was looking forward to the 6 am special, I seriously could not eat another bite. The only down side was our waiter. At first I thought he was simply one who doesn't hover or come on too strong, but when I went about 15 minutes with an empty drink glass I was slightly disappointed. Why was this meal amazing? The scallops (amazing), the feel - not pretentious in the least. It really gives you an idea of who Michael Symon is. I see now why Clevelanders are so proud of him, as they should be.

Lastly, we ended our trip with a visit to Melt. Again, having seen the spot on DD and D I wanted to try it. What a great, eclectic and fun place. Thankfully, we were there shortly after the doors opened and didn't have to wait at all, something I understand very rarely happens. This Sunday was the first Sunday that they did not serve brunch, so it seems that the food gods were smiling on us as we made our way into a half emply restaurant. Again, we sensed the pride of ownership, the care that is put into everything that comes out of the kitchen. Some of the friendliest waitstaff we have ever encountered was working while we were there. DH had a hard time deciding but in the end went with the monthly special - the pig roast. We laughed after he ordered it because all 3 of his meals this weekend contained pork. I must not be making enough of it for dinner. I opted for the Westside Monte Cristo. After about a half hour wait our sandwiches arrived and we happily dug in. Let me warn you - the sandwiches are huge. And every bit as good as everyone says. The fries are great - hand cut with partial skins on them, super crispy and perfect with a light amount of seasoning. They do not skimp on anything here at Melt. The love of food shines through. As was said on DD and D they are taking food from 4 and 5 star restaurants and putting in sandwich form, something everyone is comfortable with. We were a little afraid of the long wait and it almost kept us from coming - I am so glad that we made up our minds to try it regardless of the wait. Why was this an amazing meal? The waitstaff - they all were so friendly and really wanted us to be pleased with our experience. The everybody-knows-your-name-neighborhood bar feeling we had from the time we walked in until the time we left. Oh, and those amazing sandwiches.

We also had a great time wandering Westside market on Friday.

Thank you chowhounds of Cleveland for your suggestions. This weekend was pretty much all about the food, and it didn't disappoint.

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Momocho
1835 Fulton Rd, Cleveland, OH 44113

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