A hungry girl's adventures in Cleveland and beyond.

Public Square NEO Food Tour

Last week I experienced my last NEO Food Tour of the year.  It was my fourth, and in spite of the dreary weather, it was fabulous!  While Todd failed with his magic weather wand this time, he made up for it with great dining destinations in one of my favorite areas of Cleveland.  Public Square is normally not somewhere I think of when I want to go out, but that is going to change!

Our first stop was a place that I've been wanting to go to since I heard it was opening - Tri C's Hospitality Management Center. I LOVE to cook and always dreamed of winning the lottery and enrolling in cooking school for fun.  This was my first glimpse of one in person.  It's super high tech and a great place to learn the ropes.  Can you say kitchen envy!

Dean Forte provided a tour of the facilities and was a gracious host.  
We even got to see some students preparing for the upcoming Cleveland Culinary Challenge that is taking place November 3rd.  It's a benefit for The Spirit of Cleveland which is "committed to the ongoing development of educational programs and services that promote and support the hospitality industry for travel and tourism in the Cleveland Plus region."

Our appetizers were fun, festive and delicious.  Dean Forte talked me into trying the tuna nachos - so glad he did because they were great! I'm normally not a fan of raw tuna but this could change my mind.  The crunch of the crispy wontons were the perfect contrast to the buttery tuna.  Summer rolls are always a favorite of mine and I especially enjoyed the touch of mint in them.  The sauces offered were definitely better than average - in spite of the peanut sauce looking like caramel sauce, it was very tasty.  I really loved the cucumber gnoc chom - it was really fresh and flavorful.
Bubbly to kick of the night


summer roll and tuna nacho

Hawaiian style tuna poke with crispy wontons

The Hospitality Management Center is adjacent to Pura Vida so we were able to get a sneak peak of what was to our last stop of the night at the same time.  We couldn't wait to explore it more but first, the rest of the Tour!

Because the weather was horrible, most of the actual history and architecture part of the Tour was inside.  This was SO disappointing because Public Square has so much to see and I was really looking forward to getting an up close look while learning about the area.   It was dark and rainy so visually, it lacked the punch it would have otherwise provided.  Our trusty tour guides kept us moving and (mostly) dry.

Our next stop was Jake's at the Cleveland Marriott Downtown. I honestly did not know that this restaurant existed and don't think I was ever at the Marriott either - what a shame! 
Chef Anna Kim and Todd of NEO Food Tours
I love cool hotel lobbies and this one didn't disappoint.  Funky art and a mix of businessman, locals and tourists alway are a great combo.  And the food is not your typical ho hum hotel fare.  According to Chef Kim, the restaurant focuses on from scratch cooking whenever possible.  They also have culinary classes weekly for the staff.

We were served tender lamb chops on top of a harvest grain mixture that included quinoa and farrow with chunks of roasted butternut squash and thyme.  This was one of my favorite items of the night. It also was served with a arugula walnut pesto that was amazing!  I will definitely be trying to duplicate this pesto at home.

It was served with a Kim Crawford pinot noir from New Zealand.  The light but rich wine paired nicely with the lamb. I've had other wines from Kim Crawford before and they are becoming a favorite of mine. I had a tasty sauvingnon blanc at one of the Fleming's wine tastings and have been a fan ever since.

We would have loved to linger here longer but we made our way to the only restaurant that I had dined at previously, Muse at the Ritz-Carlton.  Every year at the International Film Fest, I treat myself to an elegant lunch or dinner and a large French press coffee at Muse to escape the craziness in the theater area.

The coffee is to die for.  Seriously.  

Executive Sous Chef Ben Davison was obviously passionate about his restaurant and was excited to tell us about his culinary journey.  He was enthusiastic and charming.

The food presented to us was gorgeous.  It incorporated some of my favorite fall flavors - pork, beets and apples.  According to the chef, apples are the new butternut squash.  Look for them to be more prominently featured on menus at restaurants in the future.

I'm so glad the pork belly portion was so substantial because it was one of the best I've ever had.  Everyone commented on the flavor and texture.  The soud vide preparation ensured that it melted in your mouth.  I also am crazy about beets and would have loved to see more of coleslaw created from them on the plate.  It was a unique preparation and balanced the richness of the meat.  I was not a fan of the smoked apple butter because I prefer a milder smoke and felt that the smokiness took away from the pork belly's more delicate flavor.  I also felt the port poached Pink Lady apple was too boozy.  I really missed the apple flavor.  Luckily the pork belly made up for it!

This course was paired with Great Lakes Holy Moses Pale Ale.  It was a perfect choice.  With all the smoke and port featured on the plate, it was nice to have a clean and fresh pale ale.

We finally make our way back to our final stop of the night, Pura Vida.  I couldn't wait to get a better look!  I am a huge fan of Blue Canyon in Twinburg but I knew that this place would be drastically different.  Blue Canyon is rustic and feels like an elegant lodge.  Pura Vida is the citified sibling that stays true to the dramatic design but with modern edge.  

The main focus of this dining room is not a huge fireplace or Paul Bunyon sized wood beams like at Blue Canyon.  Instead, they added thousands of LED lights and theatrical cloth to the ceiling that serves not only as decor but gives the space drama as the colors change throughout your meal.  You can't help but look up and admire the beauty.  

I am happy that Pura Vida is not just a light show.  We ended our tour here with a spectacular dessert.  When I read the description, I was like a kid waiting for Santa - I couldn't wait!  The servers brought out long white plates that were mini works of art.  
spiked "cider" in mug with our super fab dessert
Sweet potato gelato was topped with a wafer thin sweet potato chip.  The saltiness was the perfect marriage with the sweet and creamy confection.  The toasted bruleed marshmallow was a whimsical touch.  I loved the glazed donut hole - it added just enough substance to the ephemeral dessert.  And as if I didn't have quite enough sweetness, I also nibbled on the spun sugar.  Yes, this was not a dessert for folks without a sweet tooth!  A cup of coffee would have been a welcome addition.

Speaking of beverages, our drink pairing was "spiked apple cider" but this did not contain any sort of apple juice.  Apple Pucker, peach schnapps, amaretto and spices are combined to form an adult drink that tastes like fall in a mug.  I never knew peach schnapps could taste so good!  

The end of the road cocktail looked really sweet and I was afraid it was going to be too much after the dessert - but thankfully, it was just an illusion. The mixture of champagne, blood orange vodka and orange juice was a tart contrast that was a fresh way to end the night.

But tradition dictated that we stay for the after party. Much to my delight, I found Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale on tap!  It's my new obsession and I eagerly sipped on one as we chatted and talked about the evening and all the good food and fun involved.  Since it was a work night, I couldn't stay TOO late.  But I'll definitely be back!
the bar area
Our take-away gift bag contained some snacks prepared by Anna Harouvis of Good to Go Cafe which is located in the IMG Building on E. 9th. She whipped up a special treat called "Monkey Mix" that is a combo of caramel corn and Asian snack mix.  Addictive!  It also came with a cookie and a tea bag which ended up being my breakfast the next morning.  I also love my Tri C towel - now I can feel like a real chef in my home kitchen.
Monkey Mix
So, the bad news is that this was the last Signature Food Tour of 2011 BUT NEO Food Tours has lots of fun events planned for the cold and blustery winter that do not involve walking outdoors including Happy Hours and Brews and Pubs tours.  The Signature Food Tours will resume in the spring so if you missed your chance this year, there will be plenty of opportunities to put on your walking shoes and eat your way through one of our city's tastiest neighborhoods.  And you just might see me there too...

You can read about the Gordon Square Tour HERE and see the rest of my photos HERE.

As always, the opinions expressed our my own.  I did not receive a media pass for this event.