Tuesday, July 24, 2012

aMango Restaurant: Pho Saigon

When husband and wife team Tim and Q learned the former Charlie’s location on Monroe Street, just east of Talmadge Road, was available they jumped at the chance to take it and open a Vietnamese and Asian restaurant.

Putting all of their resources into securing the location, they quickly opened Amango Restaurant/Pho Saigon for business with a lighted sign and low priced grand opening specials.

This is not a Vietnamese theme restaurant with a Buddhist altar, conical straw hats, incense, and waitresses in au dai. It is not intended to transport you to a dated version of Vietnam designed specifically for Western tourists. Amango is simple and functional. Keep your eyes on the food and your mind on the flavors and you will be magically transported to the humble atmosphere of a restaurant for locals in contemporary Vietnam.

On my first visit, I ordered the banh xeo/sizzling pancake appetizer. This dish is a great example of the effect French colonialism had on the Vietnamese kitchen. It gets its name from the sound of the batter sizzling on the pan as it is prepared. Banh xeo is essentially a French crepe filled with onion, shrimp, and seasoned pork. It is accompanied by a plate of fresh mint sprigs plus a few leaves of curly lettuce. To eat banh xeo like a native please use your hands. Grab a leaf of lettuce, put in a few mint leaves and a piece of the filled crepe. Then roll up the lettuce leaf like a burrito, while keeping the contents inside, and dip it into the accompanying fish sauce before you take your first bite. While I prefer a thinner pancake with more filling, Amango’s banh xeo is a good choice of appetizer to introduce a newcomer to Vietnamese cooking. Order one for the table. It’s big enough for a family of four. Don’t tell your kids the name of the sauce until after they’ve dunked their first roll and taken a bite. They’ll love it.

Another popular Vietnamese appetizer on the menu is the spring rolls ($3.95). This is a delicious way to cool off during this summer’s heat wave. It’s a chilled, soft, paper thin rice pancake filled with cooked vermicelli, mint leaves, chilled shrimp, and shredded lettuce. Amango is serving it with Thai peanut sauce instead of a Vietnamese sauce. The good news is that the table is stocked with hoisin sauce, red chili sauce and soy sauce you can use to enhance the flavor. We requested hot chili oil (tia chiev sate) and ignored the peanut sauce entirely. There are three rolls in an order. Your server will be happy to bring you a serrated knife to halve the rolls and create six hearty portions.
At lunchtime, I highly recommend ordering the goi ga/chicken salad ($7.99). The salad is a zesty mix of shredded chicken, carrots, lettuce, celery, cabbage, mint, and chopped peanuts tossed with rice wine vinaigrette. It is presented with a plate of lime wedges and sliced jalapeno peppers that you may use to season your salad to taste.

The most wellknown Vietnamese dish is pho (pronounced “fur”). Pho is a sweet and savory beef broth served with noodles and a variety of meats, fish or vegetarian ingredients. The Vietnamese tend to eat pho for breakfast. It is served with a plate of bean sprouts, Asian basil leaves and lime wedges. Squeeze the lime wedges over your soup and toss in some sprouts and basil before you eat it. The table sauces at Amango are handy for adding additional spice. I wish Chef Linh would be more generous with the noodles. Drop by after 10am on Saturday or noon on Sunday and discover the healing properties of a bowl of pho. It will quickly become your preferred morning remedy for a hangover or the common cold.

With the modest prices and extensive menu, I found myself going back again and again to Amango over the course of a week just to check out more of the entrees I had previously enjoyed in Vietnam. The bun tom thit nuong cha gio/vermicelli with grilled pork, shrimp and an egg roll ($8.99) is probably the best choice for people who want to get a feel for Vietnamese food but prefer mild and more familiar ingredients. It is served with a sweet and sour sauce that you can add a little bit at a time until you like the balance of flavor and moisture on your noodles.

If you’re familiar with Vietnamese food and know what you like, you will be delighted with Amango. If you’ve never had this type of cuisine, give it a chance. There are many options, so with a little persistence, you are sure to find a dish or two you really like. Alex, a waiter and friend of the owners, can be trusted to make a solid recommendation in any section of the menu. Don’t be afraid to ask for him if you get a server who doesn’t speak much English. On the same token, if you can’t bring yourself to spend any time in an Asian restaurant without a pond full of koi fish and tacky paper lanterns, rent a DVD copy of “Indochine” or “The Quiet American” and order carry-out. Amango is too good to miss.

NAME: AMANGO Restaurant/Pho Saigon

LOCATION: 5228 Monroe Street, Toledo, OH 43623 419-517-0261

RESERVATIONS: Parties of 8 or more



PRICING: Appetizers ($4-$8), Soup/Salad ($8-9), Entrees ($8-$12), Sandwiches ($3.50-$5.25)

DON’T MISS: goi ga/cold chicken salad, banh xeo/Vietnamese pancake, bun tom thit nuong cha gio/vermicelli with grilled pork, shrimp and an egg roll, pho/rice noodles with beef broth.

RATING: Excellent Vietnamese food/school cafeteria atmosphere

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Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Registry Bistro Brings New American Cuisine to Downtown Toledo

Registry Bistro is now open on the first floor of the renovated Secor Hotel. Come and enjoy another great addition to downtown Toledo’s renaissance of attractions, special events and nightlife.

Erica Rapp, Chef de Cuisine, burst onto the Toledo dining scene with a handsome and minimalist space featuring a changing menu of New American Cuisine. For the uninitiated, New American Cuisine started in California as French trained American chefs began incorporating fresh, local, seasonal ingredients along with more global influences to update American cooking. Chef Rapp trained at the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and has a devoted audience in Toledo from her previous roles as the Executive Chef at the Toledo Museum of Art and at Diva Restaurant. Unlike Diva, Registry is a bistro. A bistro is an inviting place with a moderately priced menu that demonstrates the chef’s creativity with a focus on seasonal ingredients.

My dining companions and I started the meal with the "Nibbles and Nosh". We enjoyed the "Scotch Olives with Saffron Aioli" ($8), "Sprout and Fennel Roll with Smoked Brook Trout and a Verjus-Yuzu Dipping Sauce" ($7). We also had Bistro Frites with cracked pepper and sea salt ($4) served with a "Moody Blue Fondue". The “Moody Blue Fondue” is a smooth, creamy and delicate blend of four cheeses that creates a single harmonious flavor making a generous portion of crispy French fries quickly disappear. The “Scotch Olives” are a take on “Scotch Eggs” with hearty green olives stuffed with herbed goat cheese, surrounded by chorizo and coated with bread crumbs before being deep fried. Sounds absurd. Tastes delicious. Especially when consumed with a Dirty Dill ($8), one of Registry Bistro’s signature cocktails. The Dirty Dill includes Hendricks gin, dry vermouth, and a cornichon stuffed olive. All three of the appetizers were artfully plated and brought both original and subtle flavor combinations.

Moving on to the "Soup & Greens", we selected the Mixed Field Green Salad with Smoked Blue featuring Lacquered Walnuts and a citrus dill vinaigrette ($4). This is a plate of mesclun leaves with blue cheese and spiced walnuts, candied in maple syrup. While the citrus and dill flavors of the dressing are imperceptible, the candied walnuts are a sweet contrast to the sharpness of blue cheese. The Spice Lacquered Walnuts may be ordered as an appetizer for $5.

The evening we dined at Registry Bistro, the day’s market soup ($5) was an elegant Vichyssoise, normally pureed and chilled potato soup, was prepared instead with sun chokes and a sprinkle of roasted duck confit that leaves a hint of orange rind. It takes hours of prep work to be able to make a soup with this complexity. Chef Rapp’s talent lies in seamlessly balancing all of the tastes into one extraordinary flavor.
Part of the thrill of New American Cuisine is trying something unpredictable.

While sitting at the bar another evening having a cocktail, one diner could be heard commenting on the "Butcher's Board with Charcuterie & Savory Cheesecake" ($15), "I've never even heard of any of these meats before, but they are all delicious." This is the right attitude. Put yourself in Chef Rapp’s capable hands and try something that defies your imagination.

The entrees are divided between "Light Fare" and "Main" and offer a range of game, fish, fowl and vegetarian dishes. They are priced between a $10 Midwest Meatloaf Burger with bacon jam served with brioche and frites and a $25 Hanger Steak with black garlic and butter presented with smoked roasted potatoes with bacon. I ordered the Pan Roasted Corvina, a white fish similar to sea bass (aka corvina drum), with cannellini beans served with braised fennel and dandelion greens. One of my tablemates ordered the Rabbit Potpie with carrots and English peas and the third ordered Pot Roast Ravioli that was also served with braised vegetables. The entrees we ordered are all delicious. For my taste, salt overpowers the broth served over both the fish and the ravioli entrees.

Personally, I would like to see the summer menu place a greater emphasis on crisp and colorful summer vegetables, fresh garden herbs and main courses that are grilled/seared rather than braised or roasted. As the heat index surges above 90, I'd love to try Chef Rapp’s take on ceviche or maybe her preparation of a fresh catch from the Great Lakes. She can go back to potpie, fondue, and pot roast as well as assorted wild game with earthy, roasted vegetables in the fall. For those with dietary restrictions, the menu is well marked for vegetarian and gluten free diets. There is, of course, a great selection of homemade desserts. For $9, you may have a sampling of the sweets. My favorite is the rich and creamy chocolate, stout and pretzel tart.

Ms. Rapp does an outstanding job creating a comprehensive and food friendly wine list. Wines range from "Old World" European red, white, rose, champagne and sparkling to "New World" varietals. Wine may be ordered by the glass, by the bottle or in a ½ bottle served in a whimsical vessel that reminds me of a glass beaker in a science lab. Our waiter, Brian, was engaging and knowledgeable about the wines and food pairings. The service at Registry Bistro is still a little clumsy but bears the hallmarks of proper training. I suspect it will continue to get even better as everyone becomes more comfortable with the shape of the dining room and the new menu.

Registry Bistro is a great addition to downtown Toledo dining . Impress a date or client with Toledo's sophistication, rekindle a romance, or just come on your own to discover the sensuality of New American Cuisine with a dinner at Registry Bistro. It’s a great place for a light bite before or after an evening at Huntington Center, Fifth Third Field, the Peristyle, the Museum or the Valentine Theater. If you come with an open mind and an appetite for adventure, you will not be disappointed.

NAME: Registry Bistro

LOCATION: 144 N. Superior, Toledo, OH 43604 419-725-0444


DRESS CODE: Dress to impress (business casual, urban chic). When we visited, the men were all wearing collared shirts and the women were in skirts, pants or dresses.


PRICING: Appetizers ($4-$12), Soup/Salad ($4-$5), Entrees ($8-$25)

DON’T MISS: “Scotch Olives”, Bistro Frites, and Chocolate, Stout & Pretzel Tart.

RATING: Excellent Bistro fare.

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Sunday, April 18, 2010

Shawn's Irish Tavern

Shawn's Irish Tavern
105 S. Third Street
Waterville, OH
Open daily from 11:30am

Shawn's Irish Tavern in Waterville is the little sister of the infamous "Shawn's Back Door" (now also called "Shawn's Irish Tavern") that has been a landmark in South Toledo since 1968. The Waterville location was once an IGA and has been home to a series of restaurants. The Larks remodeled the space adding wood paneling, stained glass chandeliers over the bar, and enough large flat screened televisions to be able to see one from any seat in the place.

I was there on a Thursday night that featured Johnny Rodriguez playing classic and modern rock on his guitar accompanied by his beat box (aka, "Tiny"). He is there every other Thursday from 9:30pm to 11pm.

We began our adventure by perusing the menu for Irish classics like potato soup, fish and chips, shepherd's pie, and Irish stew. What we found were American bar standards like chicken quesadillas, fried Reuben Balls, and other frozen appetizers cooked in the deep fryer. In an effort to keep with the Irish theme, the "Pot of Gold Combination" ($8.75) bundles fried pepper jack cheese balls, fried potato skins, fried mushrooms along with battered and fried onion rings.

In an effort to focus on house made specialties, we ordered the fried grouper strips ($7.25). Served with tartar sauce and cocktail sauce, we requested malt vinegar and enjoyed these fish sticks for grown ups. The soup and salad list does not include potato soup or any other Irish fare, but we were enchanted by Shawn's Famous Chili ($2.85/bowl, $2.35/cup) and Shawn's Chop Salad ($6.95 for a dinner portion). The chop salad includes iceberg lettuce, ham, shredded cheddar cheese, tomatoes and cucumber tossed with a creamy dressing. This salad is an ideal way to get your kids to eat a few vegetables. Besides, who can resist the salty corn crunch of crushed Frito's on top of the chop?

The dinner entrees served from 5pm to 10pm range from Liver and Onions ($9.25) to baby back ribs ($15.25 full slab, $9.95 half slab) to a 14 oz ribeye steak special ($12.95). We sampled the Shepherd's pie and two sandwiches. The "Danny Boy" is grilled deli ham and melted swiss cheese on a kaiser bun ($6.25). The reuben ($6.95) is light on corned beef and Russian dressing but heavy on sauerkraut and melted swiss. It is served on seedless rye. It can also be ordered with turkey instead of corned beef. All sandwiches come with a choice of chips or fries. The chips have a pleasant seasoning. I think they are "Crunchers". The Shepherd's pie is served fresh from the oven in a "don't touch this plate" oval dish. What the ground beef and gravy base lacks in vegetables the whipped potato topping compensate for with a lightly browned layer of cheddar cheese on top.

The menu also includes "Casa Made" pizza and ciabatta wraps. Rumor has it that "Shawn's Back Door" bought a next door pizza parlor and keeps their recipes on the menu at both locations.

Shawn's Tavern is a friendly place to take your family for a casual American meal. It's a neighborhood bar that is perfect for a beer with friends and to watch a game. If you are looking for Irish pub food and a grand selection of on tap beers, this isn't your joint.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Monday, March 08, 2010

Swig: Charcuterie and Suds for The Curious

219 Louisiana Avenue
Perrysburg, OH 43551

Kitchen Hours: M-Sat 11am to 11pm
Sun 12am - 9pm

Fri/Sat nights: the bar stays open til 1pm with acoustic live music at 9pm
Starting in May...the patio will feature live music on Thursday nights from 7-11pm (weather permitting).

What has 19 beer taps, 50 assorted bottled beers, 11 varieties of homemade sausage, Scotch eggs, two types of homemade french fries, and the friendliest service in Northwest Ohio? SWIG, that's who.

What SWIG lacks in interior charm, it more than compensates for with it's diverse menu and extensive beer options. The restaurant looks like a cross between a retro-diner and a small town road house. It's charming in a no frills way. My dining companion and I ordered one of each of the house specialties, a few draft beers and quickly determined that SWIG needs to become a habit. We are both looking forward to a warm summer evening on the patio drinking beer, listening to live music, and eating the best homemade sausages this town has ever seen!

I had to find out how the partners of this humble establishment chose to open a charcuterie in Perrysburg (Charcuterie is a French word that translates to "cooked meat" or refers to a place where processed meats are made and sold). The on-premise partner, Tony Bilancini, comes from a life in the kitchen including years with Chez Francois, in Vermillion Ohio. Tony learned the art of charcuterie from this experience and others during his unique and varied career path.

My dining companion and I sampled the gyro sausage ($3.95) and the Chicago style hot dog ($2.50). Both were served on a traditional hot dog bun. The Chicago dog is an all beef dog served with Chicago style sweet pickle relish, tomato, "sport pepper", onion, and mustard. The first thing you notice is that a homemade beef hot dog tastes like beef - not like it's ball park cousin that is more like a salt lick. The next thing you sense is the kick from the "sport pepper". It's subtle against the sweetness of the relish but perfectly balanced by the savory mustard. The gyro sausage combines lamb and beef with Greek seasonings and is served on a bun with shaved lettuce, onion, tomato, and tzatziki sauce (sour cream and cucumber sauce). Again, it bears no resemblance to the lackluster flavor of gyro meat that has been spinning on a spit for a week and a half before being shaved in to a typical American version of this Greek classic. The lamb sausage at SWIG tastes more like a slice of butterflied lamb.

From there, we moved on to the "reversed hot wings" ($6.75 for 10 wings). We were both a little skeptical of tossing fried wings in ranch dressing and then dipping them in to the house made barbecue sauce...and we were oh so wrong. The hot Parmesan garlic sauce (HPGS) is out of this world. Order a basket of wings and a side of the HPGS ($.50) the minute you are greeted by your server. It will blow you away and make the cold beer taste even better.

The fish and chips ($7.99) are made from fillets of white fish dipped in a London pub worthy batter and deep fried to piping hot and crunchy bliss. The french fries are hand cut and crispier than you might expect from fresh fries. We also tried the hand cut sweet potato fries ($2.95). They are a particularly good choice if you are a woman that MUST have the lusty combination of salty and sweet flavors to satiate your premenstrual or pregnancy food cravings. No joke. I suspect if you order a "skinny bi%$* beer and a basket of PMS treats" they will smile knowingly and get your order to you very quickly.

Swig is a great place to enjoy a mid-week casual dinner with friends, coworkers or family and an ideal spot for a moderately priced "date night". If you know how to savor a great beer and appreciate a more healthy twist on traditional pub fare, you will love SWIG. If your hormones are raging and your family is worried that you might turn in to a werewolf if you don't get some relief...this is the place to soothe your soul with comforting tastes and quench your thirst with the best beer selection in the area (N.B., The Glass City Gourmet is not a physician and all pregnancy disclaimers apply!).

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Monday, February 15, 2010


Ambrosia Grille & Lounge
1500 Holland Road
Maumee, OH 43537
Lunch, dinner, carry out
M-Th 11am to 10pm
F/S 11am to 11pm
Sun 11am-10pm

Ambrosia is the reincarnation of Mezzmerize, a short lived Mediterranean and Lebanese restaurant that captivated Toledo with it's elegant interior, beautiful wrought iron embellished patio and impressive wine list. This time the Detroit based property owners, Amin and Aida Beshara, decided to bring their combined experience and talents to the restaurant instead of leasing the space to another entrepreneur. This difference is immediately noticeable as the couple and their daughter are on site during business hours, ready to answer questions and ensure friendly and conscientious service.

The result of this family effort is a broader menu with moderately priced Syrian-Lebanese favorites and other popular dishes from Southern European countries along the Mediterranean Sea. The new menu offers lunch and dinner portions for most dishes with a price reduction for the lunch size (The prices listed in this article are dinner prices).

On my first visit, we ordered the "Middle Eastern Sampler" which included hummus, baba ghannnouj, tabbouli, and a spicy herb infused olive oil ($8). It was served with small pita bread that arrived at our table warm and freshly puffed up from the oven. We also had a well seasoned, piping hot, crispy order of falafel patties served with tahini ($6).

I also sampled the crushed lentil soup ($3 cup/$4 bowl). If you've never had Middle Eastern lentil soup, you are in for a sensory delight. It is a hearty combination of whole and crushed lentils as well as finely chopped vegetables. My dining companion ordered the house salad ($5) which is served with a lemon juice, pomegranate, olive oil and sumac dressing that is so uniquely refreshing you will want the staff to bottle it so you can take it home with you.

For dinner, I ordered the Chicken Shawarma ($15). While the chicken was flavorful, the vegetable medley could be upgraded to fresh Lubia for the same healthy and colorful balance on the plate. The couscous was molded in to a small dome and contained peas and carrots that had lost their color before reaching the table. My friend ordered the roasted lamb shank ($17). It arrived perfectly braised and falling off the bone. The Mediterranean combination of rosemary, garlic, tomato and red wine was divine.

All entrees are served with a choice of soup or salad and accompanied by a vegetable blend and your choice of roasted red skin potatoes, garlic mashed potatoes, french fries, or Couscous.

While none of the desserts is prepared in house, the baklava ($3.50) is a safe bet for sweet, flaky, nutty bliss. I would like to return to sample the variety of pizzas, sandwiches, and fish dishes on the menu.

The restaurant is quite lovely with back lit art glass installations, stone masonry, granite table tops, and contemporary lighting. There are also enormous framed color photographs of Mediterranean landscapes (see www.ambrosialounge.com) The Beshara family's attention to detail extends to the lovely table service composed of stoneware dishes and platters, over-sized stemware, and weighty silverware. It is a great place for "date night", entertaining clients, or an intimate conversation as the booths offer privacy and the space really is special. The secondary dining rooms can be made smaller for groups of eight to twelve or expanded to accommodate large parties. The family style meal service and variety of menu items will also make Ambrosia a great place for private events on any budget.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Plate 21

Plate 21
3664 Rugby Drive
Toledo, OH 43614
6:30am - 4:30pm M-S
Closed Sunday

Looking for a fun, relaxing, warm atmosphere in which to meet a few friends for breakfast, lunch or a snack? Need a quiet space where you can sip a perfectly brewed cup of coffee and use free Wi-Fi to check your emails? Desperate for fresh baked goods and too tired to make them yourself? Ready to while away a Saturday afternoon playing dominoes, chess, or Scrabble with a pal while sipping a Mexican Spiced Hot Chocolate ($2.75)? Plate 21 is the answer!

Sandy Spang of South Toledo opened Plate 21 on Rugby Drive near Detroit and Glanzman in September of this year. The lime green and pine wood interior is a sunny and cheerful alternative to the forgettable interiors of chain coffee houses in and around Toledo. Tracy Ladd, of the Toledo Museum of Art, designed vibrant colored fused glass installations that are featured in wall niches on one wall. The joyfulness of the interior is nothing compared to Sandy and her staff. Everyone is knowledgeable about the full variety of items on the menu and especially the coffee and tea drinks.

The first time I visited, I grabbed a quick cup of Tanzania Zanzibar Peaberry coffee ($1.70 for a 16oz medium). The barista was quick to explain that the coffee comes from Flying Rhino Coffee, a local purveyor that delivers the beans to Plate 21 on the same day on which they are roasted. He also shared that a "peaberry" is when a single coffee bean grows inside a cherry rather than the usual two beans. He was charming, he was smiling, he was telling me about my coffee beans and I was really trying to pay attention. But Toledo's newest coffee house happens to employ its best looking barista. Ladies, drive out of your way for the barista, stay for the great atmosphere, fabulous coffee and wonderful menu items. No harm intended, Josh. Give that man a raise...

Whew. I just got a little distracted remembering his smile...Anyway, on my second visit I decided to dive in to the pastries, house made soups and the sandwich specials of the day. I chose a cup of the Tuscan Bean with Sausage soup and a half portobello mushroom panini ($5.95). My dining companion chose the pesto chicken panini ($5.95). Both sandwiches come with ruffled potato chips. The sandwiches were filled with high grade ingredients and the pesto was rich, green, basil perfection. The soup was delicious with plenty of beans and just a little spice to the sausage. We couldn't stop our menu sampling there. We ordered the Plate 21 Pistachio muffin ($1.95), a palmier cookie (.75) and an order of Russian Tea Cakes ($1.00). You will like the muffin so much you will want to place an order to pick up a dozen and share them with friends, and family. Please call ahead if you want more than one or two muffins and Sandy will make sure she has them ready for your pick up time. If you've ever had Russian Tea Cakes (also known as Mexican Wedding Cakes) you know that underneath the powdered sugar exterior is melt in your mouth, buttery, nutty goodness. Plate 21's version does not disappoint.

While the hours for Plate 21 are still limited the friendly service, great specialty coffee drinks, teas, and confections are worth making a bend in your schedule. If you don't already live in the neighborhood, take a drive to South Toledo and enjoy Plate 21. For many reasons, ahem, it is worth the trip.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The "Hungry I" Returns

The Hungry I
6060 Renaissance Place
Toledo, OH 43623

Even in the midst of a tough economy, talented restaurateurs can revitalize a strong brand. Gus Nicolaides and Moussa Salloukh recently reopened the "Hungry I" in the space on Holland-Sylvania that was built for the short-lived "Rouge" restaurant. They made a few minor changes including repainting the walls sage green and adding glass partitions between the bar and formal dining areas to break it up a bit. There is still a small private dining room but the communal bar table that was a massive split log is gone. The hard wood floors, leather chairs and white table cloths covered with butcher paper, create a welcoming atmosphere.

On my first visit, we sampled the french onion soup ($4.99) and the crab cakes ($11.99) as starters. According to a local expert on crab cakes hailing from twenty plus years in Virginia Beach, the best crab cakes are "more crab than cake". If this is the criterion, the Hungry I crab cakes are first rate and served with a tart remoulade sauce. The French onion soup is every bit of the warm, gooey, cheesy heaven that we've all come to expect. For dinner, we split the chicken Caesar wrap ($7.99) and a Southwestern burger ($9.99). The wrap was delicious. The burger did not come out as described on the menu with guacamole, bacon and spicy pepper jack. However, the server quickly offered to take it back and provide a substitute. I suspect that this, along with the array of kitchen shortages of featured items on the menu that night, is just a small hiccup during the opening weeks of the restaurant.

I returned a week later, and ordered the mushroom and Swiss burger ($8.99) that was cooked on a charcoal grill to a perfect medium-rare. The fries were crispy and good. I also sampled the shrimp soft taco entree ($11.99). The shrimp were a little undercooked but the spicy blend of avocado, red onion, cilantro and jalapeno pepper has just the right amount of kick to demand a dollop of the house blended cilantro and green onion sour cream that is served with it. Again, I'm sure that Chef Brandon will bring all of the line cooks up to speed on this very quickly. I also enjoyed the tossed salad that comes with all entrees. The house lemon vinaigrette has a delicate flavor.

The last dish we tried was the "Ultimate Mac and Cheese" ($10.99). It is prepared with a blend of four cheeses and a bit of bacon served on penne pasta in a fun, over-sized pasta bowl. Although the flavor is good, it felt like the order had been sitting for too long as the cheese had congealed and the pasta had lost all of it's texture. Once the kitchen team gets in to the groove of making it creamy and serving it quickly, the "Ultimate Mac and Cheese" will become a staple shared at every table in the restaurant. You get a one pound box of pasta cooked for each order. I'm really not exaggerating here. It's enough pasta to share as a side dish for four people or a full meal for two. Order one "Ultimate Mac and Cheese" for your table - no matter what everyone wants to eat. If it arrives congealed tell your server that the Glass City Gourmet told you to, "send it back 'til it comes out creamy"! The concept is too good here to ever miss the mark again.

Our kind and attentive server, Kelly, informed us that none of the deserts available that evening were made in house. We tried the carrot cake ($5.50). Although it was a good quality, I had the feeling I was eating a slice of a cake that started its day in the freezer. My suggestion: skip dessert and try one of the currently featured cocktails. A "gingerbread martini" sounds like the perfect sweet treat to end a meal.

The Hungry I is a great spot to have lunch, go on a week night date, take your family for a quick bite, or meet your parents and grand parents for a strong drink and food that they will remember fondly from the first round of the Hungry I (circa 1975-84). There are a few interesting items on the menu for the more adventurous diner, but the focus is really on American classics: steaks, cedar plank salmon, ribs, salads and very hearty sandwiches. For old fans of the Oaken Bucket, the giant Reuben on marble rye is here and Gus didn't mess with a good thing.

While there is no dress code, seeing Gus walking the floor and running plates from the kitchen to tables demands respect. Leave your baseball cap in the car and change out of your sweats as someone will inevitably be sharing a special occasion at the Hungry I when you are there.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Avenue Bistro Anew

Avenue Bistro
6710 W. Central Avenue
Toledo, OH 43617
Monday through Saturday
Lunch starting at 11:00am
Dinner M-Th 4:00pm to 10:00pm, Fri 4:00pm to 11:00pm

When was the last time you went to Avenue Bistro? Unless it was within the last three weeks, you haven't experienced the Avenue Bistro under chef Chris Burchell. Coming from a catering company in Pittsburgh by way of Genoa, Chef Burchell immediately added specials to the lunch and dinner menus to showcase his talents.

On my recent visit, the specials included potato latkes with smoked salmon and a baby greens salad ($12), a Cuban sandwich ($9) featuring braised pork and ham served with thinly sliced pickle, Swiss cheese and a honey whole grain mustard mayo on flat bread, a turkey and roast beef sandwich served "Pittsburgh Style" with Swiss cheese and cole slaw on grilled sourdough bread ($9) and sweet cheese stuffed crepes served with Chambord sauce ($9). Chef Burchell is already making his mark with these signature dishes.

For dinner, I ordered the 8 oz. fillet Mignon ($26) and was pleased with the cut of beef and perfectly seared steak. My guests ordered the Caesar salad with salmon ($14) and the special Neapolitan Steak Wrap ($14). The Caesar salad can be ordered with grilled chicken, shrimp or salmon. The salmon fillet is cooked to an elegant medium rare temperature and the Caesar dressing is mild but tasty. The Neapolitan Steak Wrap was enough for two people and was filled with sliced steak, sauteed mushrooms, fried onion straws, provolone cheese, lettuce, tomato and horseradish sauce and then grilled. My friends chose the home made Cajun potato chips as an accompaniment. Although the chips were a little bit burnt that night, I suspect Chef Burchell will set a standard that will be hit even when he is not in the kitchen.

The salads at Avenue Bistro are the best in the city. There is no other restaurant with as broad or gourmet selection. Each salad combines a perfect balance of flavors, textures and visual contrast to delight the senses of a hungry diner. The salads taste as delicious as they look and this is the only place in town where ordering a salad as an entree means you will not be hungry before your next meal. Seriously. This is not a plate designed for those among us who order a salad and push their forks around the plate to avoid ingesting any calories. This is a hearty and health conscious meal.

On another visit I sampled the salmon salad($14) and the Stilton Steak Salad ($15). The salmon salad has an Asian twist with a combination of crunchy rice noodles, radishes, scallions, mushrooms, sesame seeds and almonds over mixed greens and features a 6oz grilled salmon fillet served with Teriyaki vinaigrette. The Stilton Steak Salad is served with house made Stilton bleu cheese dressing, Roma tomatoes, chopped red onion, enoki mushrooms and candied walnuts. It is a sensory delight. Both the lunch and dinner menus include the full variety of salads. I can't wait to get back and try the Grilled Pear Chicken Salad ($12) and the Grilled Tuna Steak Salad ($14).

With all this eating, the Glass City Gourmet uses her gym membership regularly and sometimes is just a little too misty for the dining room. So tonight I ordered carry-out and tried the Pizzas. Keep in mind that the restaurant is owned by Pat Giammarco, Chuck Mirra, and Dr. Ashraf Banoub. There is no question that Pat and Chuck take pizza very seriously and installed a stone oven for the sole purpose of making a thin and lightly browned crust. The Margarita ($11.00) and the Mediterranean Bistro Pizza ($12.00) are terrific. For the Bistro Pizza, the slim crust is coated with garlic butter and topped with chicken, onions, tomatoes, Greek olives, mozzarella and feta cheese.

The desserts are all made on the premises. This is a rarity in Toledo and a real treat. The night I was there with friends for dinner, we tried everything and passed the plates twice. Everybody wanted more, more, more. I have to say the cranberry and orange bread pudding was my favorite.

Avenue Bistro is new again. The prices are reasonable, the portions are generous, the atmosphere is relaxing, and the service is friendly and helpful. Go for lunch, go for dinner, go to the bar and meet Nikki for a stiff drink or advice on the wine selections. If you decide to make a dinner reservation, ask to sit in "Little Debbie's" section. She's a mother of five and a career waitress who can read the mood of the table to pace your meal and interact with you appropriately. She kids with the kidders and works formally and quietly around a business meeting. Do your part to support the Toledo economy by dining out at this locally owned suburban treasure.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Masala Cuisine of India

Masala Cuisine of India
1855 South Reynolds Road
Toledo, OH 43614
Mon – Sat 11:00am to 3:00pm, 5:00pm – 10:00pm
Sun – 11:30am to 3:00pm, 5:00pm – 9:30pm

Masala is the word used to describe a mix of spices used in Indian cooking either dried or as a paste. True to the essence of its name, Masala delivers a broad mix of Northern Indian specialties. Located in a strip mall near the corner of Reynolds and Glendale, the restaurant is inconspicuous and the interior is completely forgettable. This is in sharp contrast to the food, which explodes with scent, texture and flavor.

I started out with the assorted appetizers ($6.99). A plate of traditional Indian fried savories arrived at the table within moments. It included samosa, pakora, meat samosa and chicken pakora and was served with a spicy and sweet tamarind dipping sauce as well as a tart coriander (cilantro) sauce. If you’ve never had Indian food, this is a great way to sample the wonders of the North.

The menu includes Tandoori Chicken (4pc $8.99, full $15.99) as well as lamb kababs ($9.99) and other meat dishes prepared in a clay oven.

My table shared the lamb korma ($9.99) and the chicken tikka masala ($9.99). Both dishes were served with basmati rice. The lamb was cooked in a creamy curry blended with a mix of Indian herbs and spices. The combination of flavors was both elegant and delicious. The chicken tikka masala was also a creamy tomato based sauce but was spicier than the lamb. In spite of the similar appearances of the two dishes, the tastes and textures were distinctly different. We also ordered a side of raitha ($2.99) to cool our palates. For the uninitiated, raitha is yogurt mixed with a combination of chopped vegetables such as tomatoes, onion and/or cucumber.

To make the most of every dish, we ordered a basket of naan (soft, Indian bread $1.99) to soak up the remaining curry and the piquant tikka masala sauce. I’m not entirely convinced that this isn’t a really ugly habit I’ve carried from the universal sauce mopping Italians to the more culturally diverse subcontinent…but it’s impossible to savor every drop of sauce without sliding a piece of naan across your plate a few times. We also ordered palak paneer kulcha, an Indian bread stuffed with cheese and spinach ($3.99). It had a cooling effect in our Midwestern mouths.

No Indian meal in America is complete without a lassi ($2.99). I ordered a mango lassi, which is typically cold, blended yogurt and mango pulp served over ice and with a straw. There aren’t as many varieties of lassi as there are versions of masala, and I’m pretty sure you have to eat in the home of Indian-Americans if you want to try other flavors. And yes, this is a not so subtle hint to any of my Indian American friends looking for an appreciative diner at their next home cooked meal.

The waiters at Masala are particularly friendly and willing to explain the menu to anyone who has never had Indian food before. I noticed our waiter taking his time to describe the various dishes to other customers who were struggling with what to order and very apprehensive of the spice intensity. I couldn’t help but ease drop to hear that these adventurous neophytes enjoyed their meal.

Masala is a welcome addition to the group of Indian restaurants in Toledo.

If you’ve never had Indian food before, I encourage you to grab a group of friends and go discover the sensual delights of Indian cuisine. It is just another way to support the local economy with a moderately priced meal, while possibly trying something new.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Petit Fours - Chic. Simple. Delicious.

Petit Fours Patisserie and The Cafe
The Oliver House
27 Broadway Street
Toledo, OH 43604
ph: 419-724-4477
fax: 419-724-4478

Monday through Saturday
Breakfast 7am-10:30am
Lunch 11am-3:00pm

In March of 2006, Karen Lucas opened Petit Fours Patisserie and cafe in Downtown Perrysburg. Karen's culinary background includes time with LadyFingers, a high end catering business that thrived a few decades ago and was eventually acquired by Gladieux. She has also had the opportunity to travel extensively to major cities in both the US and Europe where she gained exposure and familiarity with specialized products and techniques.

Recently, Karen sold the business to the Oliver House. While Karen still maintains an advisory role with her esteemed attention to every detail, the day to day operations are handled by pastry chef, Liz Grosjean.

The breakfast menu features "savories", "signature organic granolas" and "pastries". While the pastries can vary, European standards are the norm. The Croissant and Pain au Chocolat are the perfect consistency of flaky, buttery heaven and come in regular ($2.50) and petit ($1.50) sizes. Scones ($.85), cheese strudel($2.50), Almond Kringler ($2.00) and Almond Cherry Jalousie ($2.00) are nothing less than melt in your mouth perfection.

For those seeking a heartier breakfast, there is frequently a Quiche of the Day
($5.50). If the last time you ate a quiche was in 1975, and you swore them off after the publication of "Real Men Don't Eat Quiche" - make a trip to Petit Fours just to try one again. Real men DO eat quiche, especially when they are prepared in the traditional French method with a combination of eggs, egg yolks, milk and heavy cream. The texture is more like custard and the result is magnifique! If you learn to love quiche, you can take home a 6" round ($10.95) or a 10" round ($24.95) and feed your family.

The house made signature granola is crunchy and delicious. Flavors include maple cherry walnut, honey peanut, and lemon ginger. The Signature Organic Granolas are served with yogurt ($4.25 petit/$5.50 regular) or cold milk ($4.00).

The lunch menu at Petit Fours is concise and well portioned. The signature tomato basil soup is thick and chunky with a chiffonade of basil sprinkled over the top. The soup du jour when I visited was a sherried mushroom soup that was divine. Both soups are available in a cup ($3.25) or a bowl ($4.25). I sampled the Croque Monsieur ($7.50), cold Curried Chicken salad sandwich ($7.25) and a "Parma Pasta" salad (side $5.25, regular $7.25).

The Croque Monsieur is made with brown sugar ham and smoked mozzarella on a Parmesan crusted bread. The combination of flavors is subtle and elegant. The cold curried chicken salad sandwich was a savory blend of roasted chicken, bamboo shoots, white raisins and a creamy lemon curry sauce served with sliced cucumber and alfalfa sprouts on a whole wheat bun. All sandwiches are served with thin and crispy, lightly seasoned, homemade potato chips. Ooh, la, la! They are so naughty.

The "Parma Pasta" salad contains walnut and basil pesto, fresh tomato slices and black olives. This is the only true pesto available in any restaurant in Toledo. If you've never tried pesto, or you've only tried that dreadful watered down version available in most Toledo Italian restaurants you MUST sample the Parma Pasta and find out why the Glass City Gourmet gets so grumpy when she doesn't get the real thing! Pesto is an unmistakable earthy blend of fresh basil, Parmesan cheese, pine nuts and olive oil. The Petit Fours version contains walnuts which is a worthy enhancement to the perfection of pesto.

After all of these wonderful options, it is impossible to resist the Patisserie that is the headliner at Petit Fours. The sweets range from cakes, cupcakes, pies, tarts, cookies, brownies, bar cookies, cream pastries and tea breads to puddings and cobblers. The selection is vast and changes daily. When I visited, I tried the peach cobbler ($3.25) and was pleased with the topping and not too sweet peaches. There is a Belgian Chocolate Brownie ($1.50) available. What else do you really need to know about that? I couldn't resist the caramel, almond and cherry bar ($1.50) or another round of Karen Lucas' signature Bourbon Balls (5 for $2.50).

Keep in mind that Petit Fours is a bakery and specializes in extraordinary wedding and special occasion cakes. Chef Grosjean has an album of her work to spark ideas and can work with almost any budget and theme to create a memorable and savory confection for any occasion. Call to set up an appointment.

If you want to have a cosmopolitan gourmet breakfast or lunch, while supporting the local economy, take time to find Petit Fours at the back of the Oliver House. If you crave the specialty pastries you ate the last time you were traveling, this is the best place in the area to fulfill your need.

“Glass City Gourmet” is a chronicle of one woman's attempt to cook, eat, diet and entertain with both flair and whimsy while based in Toledo, Ohio. I encourage you to read on as the "Glass City Gourmet" attempts grand recipes, samples locally owned restaurants, visits indigenous markets and humbly pursues her quest to be formally recognized as the official "Glass City Gourmet".

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