Saturday, February 2, 2008

One Enchanted Evening as a Barfly ( Bar Cento )

Work had put me in an uncharacteristic mood. But, as we drove down Carnegie, in the snow, Cleveland looked so familiar. Office Max moved out because their exec’s couldn’t live here—they apparently hadn’t been let in on all the open secrets of Cleveland. I realize I am one of many voices hailing Cleveland. But, for me, it isn’t about others thinking the city is cool; instead, it is about loving it, pure and simple. And, snowy nights are some of the loveliest.

So, this snowy night, we drove to the West Side, as I had done so many times before, for evening entertainment. Since high school, I have always identified the West Side with the nightlife. (The Phantasy on Cure Night, anyone?) We were meeting at Bar Cento to celebrate the Aquarians and Capricorns amongst us. Running down the brick street and into the restaurant in my wildly unseasonal shoes, I was struck by the continuity with history of Bar Cento. Its décor and feel built upon Market 25 and upon the retail space before it. My friends were seated in the “lobby” portion of the restaurant in three of the six or so lounge-y spaces. It felt as if we were having a late night party just outside the make-up department of Higbee’s. On my quick trip through the actual interior of the restaurant to the bathroom, the décor was unobtrusive (a compliment for a restaurant interior.)

As I said, I was unsettled, so I moved from table to table chatting, but didn’t settle in to eat my own meal right away. Instead, I mooched off my friends. I ate a nice pizza with egg and prosciutto that had been ordered by a women known for her breakfast naan-egg pizzas. I ate a potato pizza that my other friend was apparently have a hard time giving away. I don’t know why they were being so averse to it—as a starch-lover potato on bread sounded good—and tasted good, too. Hell, Belle, had eaten potato bread for dinner just last night. Then, I moved on to the other tables. One innocent bystander had a Pizza Puttanesca. While the body of the pizza was enjoyable, the orange-rind flavor (I believe) of the crust was inexplicable. Another friend had the cod, said to be good, but we know that I am off fish these days. And, then onto my meal…my husband and I shared the antipasto platter and the lamb.

At this point, my night to a turn for the festive as our server continued to bring out very nice wine (C—what was it?) and claret-colored lambic. While she will go unnamed, as is the policy of my blog, she was an excellent, responsible server, who even confirmed that we had designated drivers (or husbands as it was last night.) In this now-festive mood, I enjoyed the cheeses, fennel and sausage bites of the antipasto platter, the pairing of goat cheese with the lamb, and the French/ Belgian(?) fries. Next time, I hope to eat the roast chicken, such a test of a restaurant to me. What struck me most about the restaurant, the food and the menu was how perfectly it seemed to fill a niche. There are so many restaurants that go high-end or even worse expensive casual because the chef or owner thinks that is where the glory and the profits exist. But, here Chef Jonathon Sawyer looked towards a need—mid-price bar food (interestingly, a Mediterranean/ Belgian ikazaya)

By the end of the evening, fully festive as I was, I decided to buy dessert for all—Nutella macaroons and a cheese plate. In the hustle bustle of it all, when I asked our server for the specifics on the cheese, she excused herself and reappeared with Chef Sawyer. At which point, my friend C—, my constant supporter, mentioned this blog. Mr. Sawyer was informative about the cheeses, discussing them in terms of their origin and his tastes. After eating his food, I wasn’t surprised that he was down-to-earth and normal. When asked by C— if he ate the cheeses with accompaniment, he said no, but offered to send out some bread. We then talked blog a moment—I am a lurker on his, he reads a number but doesn’t always comment. When he returned to the kitchen, he sent out toasted bread and his card.
The assortment of the cheese plate was global and extremely enjoyable—though for me it was the Lake Erie Creamery goat cheese that I loved most. I had come here for the local and the connection between the farm and the plate. My husband and I have wondered constantly why more local restaurants don’t see to use or advertise our local farms. I don’t know if many restaurants think, like so many Clevelanders, that things from somewhere else are better or if the audience has grown to expect food that is flown in from far away. This restaurant shows how local can be affordable, enjoyable and a marketing tool—we drove across town for the locally grown and got out with dinner, drinks and dessert for only 60 bucks and change.


michelle v said...

I have yet to have the cheese plate - it looks so good! We're going back with my family in a few weeks and I am definitely saving room for cheese. I just had that same goat cheese at Lolita and you're right, it is fantastic!

Cgirl said...

Love reading your blogs...and love this new restaurant. Bar Cento is a great addition to the dining options here in Cleveland.
Oh, that necklace on the person in the pink cardigan in the very last picture of this post is fantastic! It is most fetching!