Monday, October 1, 2012

Cleveland Heights Eating: Taste

Gnocchi a'la Arabiatta; late-summer vegetables, broth and sweet-corn polenta.
The full name of the restaurant, "Taste: A Place for Food, Wine, Fun", is perhaps a worse name than "The Unresolved Love Life of Evelyn Lee"... but it least it's memorable.

Located on the Silsby-Cedar corridor of Lee Road in Cleveland Heights, Taste is entering their 4th year of operation according to co-owner Raj Singh. Singh is often the first face you will see at Taste, his wide smile filling the room.

Singh, a native of Nepal by way of India, has been living in Cleveland for several decades. He also runs Café Tandoor, a popular Indian restaurant, and a stake in the Atma Center which just turned 15.

I sat at the bar recently, in front of their high-tech wine tap ("all our beers are in the bottle but our wine is on tap!", Singh) with a friend and Yoga instructor at Atma. We ate and conversed with a couple visiting from Philadelphia, the husband remarking (with perhaps a touch of acerbity) that Taste was "like the UN."

"It's true," muses Singh, "we have a chef from Guatemala, we opened with a French chef..."

"The one-eyed chef," I interjected, raising eyebrows.

"Yes, a one-eyed French chef! And a bar manager from China, the hostess is Canadian. Your bartender is American," continued Singh. Phillies raised a glass, because, America!

So, maybe not the first place that Ambassador John Bolton (the world's most ironic honorific) would want to eat, but I dig it.

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I wrote a lengthy review of "Taste" when they first opened and when I was still a member in good standing (an élite, no less) of Yelp. My 4 star review of Taste was lengthy, detailed and a labor of not a little effort.

Yelp would not display it, and was busy deleting several of my other reviews (many of them bad) for reasons I deemed spurious. I was through with Yelp, and I told them to "delete my account and all my reviews."

Que sera sera. Chowbacca! exists in no small part due to the frustration with sites like Yelp.

Although long gone, I consider my Taste review on Yelp to be a Chowbacca! prequel.

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Crab "cake"
The cuisine at taste is, like the staff, accented yet fully American: entrées with hints of curry, touches from China or Spain, French sauces and an excellent yet accessible selection of wines spanning 5 continents.

Taste also happens to have one of the best deals on the street: a $49 "prix fixe" (actually a choice of one appetizer, one entrée and one dessert with two glasses of wine - a steal!). The bartender was very accommodating to my pairing whims, allowing me probably another glass and a half in samples of various wines by the glass.

I started with a somewhat underwhelming appetizer of a crab cake fried in a nest of shredded phyllo dough that ended up being drier than I would have liked (and could have used a touch more sauce). The phyllo, and the starchy crab cake, seemed too heavy for a starter. The warm salad of roasted peppers and Ohio sweet corn popped nicely, however, and should have been more prominent.

Were I to revise the appetizer, I would have wrapped a single lump crab cake in phyllo and lightly fried it, serving atop a mound of the afore-mentioned corn and peppers, with a curry corn broth (or some other light broth).

My Yoga instructor friend guilted me into ordering the vegan entrée: a round of grilled sweet corn polenta over a late-summer vegetable melange with tomato and pepper broth. The entire dish was beautifully presented, delicious and filling - following the heavy crab cakes it was hard to finish, I brought the left-overs to my mom.

I finished lightly, with a trio of ice-creams (including a vegan mango sorbetto so my companion could steal a few bites).

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Taste may have lost some of the intrigue and lustre it held during its debut year (and really, the one-eyed French chef was part of that mystique), but it is a restaurant that I would still recommend and revisit.

Where the original (one-eyed, French) chef served much more stripped down, almost austere food, Taste's current Executive chef Elio Orozco is willing to take chances and puts out high quality food (and the occasional miss - not even Top Chef Master Chris Cosentino is immune).

The "prix fixe" cannot be beat anywhere in Cleveland, to my knowledge. If you are in the area, I encourage you to drop in for "food, wine and fun" sometime soon - even if you are a Republican from Philly. For the record, his answer to "the question" was "steak wit". It's a big, small world. We may differ, but more often than not we agree.

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Taste: A Place for Food, Wine, Fun
2317 Lee Rd
Cleveland Heights, OH 44118