Dante – Cleveland, OH

I wasn’t thrilled to be away from home on my birthday, but a scheduled dinner with clients at Dante in the Tremont neighborhood of Cleveland made it one for the ages!  Tucked into an old bank on a quiet street, this beautiful little spot is perfect for a special night, a business dinner or everyday night out.  The warm atmosphere is cozy and comfortable with plenty of seating and a short bar for cocktails and starters.

Being with a group, we were luck to sample a few things to start our evening.  The goat cheese tartlets with cranberry orange chutney were creamy and rich with the right balance of sweet.  Crispy calamari and shrimp were given a little kick tossed with spicy mayo.  It was a good take on traditional calamari you might find anywhere else.  The highlight was absolutely the charcuterie plate.  A huge portion of house-made salumi, terrine, mortadella, duck confit and chicken liver pate was accompanied by bacon onion jam and various chutneys and fruit.  You can take a look at their curing room in the old vault and see Chef Dante’s passion in the variety and beauty of his charcuterie.

The well-curated menu has a lovely selection of vegetables, meats, pasta and seafood.  Portion sizes are adjustable based on your preference, but we stuck to dinner portions for tonight.  Both the beef cheek and ribeye were beautifully cooked and came dressed with vegetables.  The salmon was a work of art worthy of praise for taste and presentation.  The creamy broccoli risotto was also noted as delicious.  My dinner was the venison osso bucco with celery root and an apple donut (apple ring battered and deep fried).  It was rich, tender and a wonderful balance of flavor and texture.  You’ll be hard-pressed to find someone cook venison better.

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Overall, it was a perfect dinner in every way.  With an ample wine list, craft cocktails and great beer selection (try the Italian peppercorn IPA) there is plenty to keep your interest throughout the night.  The friendly and knowledgeable staff also made it a great night out.  Compliments to Chef Dante Boccuzzi for creating this gem in Tremont.  And thank you for making my “birthday dinner” (that no one knew about) really special!  You can find out more about the location and view their full menu at dantetremont.com.

Fireweed Whiskey – Glacier Distilling

Ten years ago, you would never have imagined that you would be able to sample craft spirits along with craft beers on your travels.  The movement has exploded though and we are all benefiting from thoughtful and creative distillers making some excellent locally-produced spirits.  On our trip to Montana, I had the chance to taste Fireweed Whiskey and was pretty impressed with it.

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Back in 2009, some local wannabe moonshiners came up with an awesome idea to take up distilling in Coram, MT.  Thank God the founder has a North Carolina soul that had a taste for shine and decided to make whiskey!  Fireweed is a blend of locally produced whiskey aged in charred oak barrels and mixed with local Montana Cherry Brandy.  The result is a glorious blend of spicy, sweet, rich and smokey.  Now, this is not the smooth undertone of a typical bourbon.  It has the bite of moonshine, but a great mouthfeel and smooth finish.

I had both an Old Fashioned and a splash of coke in two cocktails and both were excellent.  I sure would have liked to try their gin and rye, but we ran out of time!  I definitely recommend getting your hands on some of the Fireweed though – these guys are really onto something.  Check out more at glacierdistilling.com.

H-M-G Iced Green Tea

The early heat of this summer calls for cool refreshment!  I love iced tea and have taken a liking to using green tea as a lighter alternative to traditional varieties.  Try this sun-brewed recipe for my Honey, Mint and Ginger tea to add flavor and sweetness for a perfect summer afternoon or a little happy hour cocktail with the addition of vodka and a splash of soda water.

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HMG Iced Green Tea

Ingredients

  • 2 Quarts Water
  • 4 Green Tea Bags
  • 1/4 Cup Honey
  • 1 “Thumb” Fresh Ginger
  • 3 Large Sprigs Fresh Mint

Instructions

  • Peel a thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger and cut into slices.
  • In a small saucepan, combine two cups water, honey and ginger.  Bring to a boil and then turn down to let simmer for 5 minutes.
  • In a large glass pitcher, combine remaining water, tea bags, mint and honey/ginger liquid.
  • Cover pitcher with plastic wrap and place outside in the sun.  Allow to step for at least 4 hours.
  • Remove tea bags and mint.  You can also remove ginger pieces, but I like to leave them in to continue to flavor the mixture.
  • Serve over ice.

If you’re feeling like a cocktail, add 2 ounces of good vodka to an ice-filled glass, fill 3/4 with tea and then top with soda water.  Garnish with mint sprigs and an orange slice.  Either way you make it, sit back, sip and enjoy!!

Love & Salt – Los Angeles

Big cities provide big opportunities for a great dining experience and Love & Salt in Manhattan Beach did not disappoint!  Located just blocks from the pier, it’s a small, warm and comfortable place for an easy dinner with friends or solo, as I was this week.  The atmosphere is California-cool with ample seating at tables, the bar and the kitchen bar.  I was early for dinner at 6:30, but the place was completely full an hour later.

The menu is a beautiful collection of Italian-inspired dishes with a California twist.  Choices include small plates, salads, meats, pasta and seafood.  It’s really well put together with just enough choices to appeal to a wide audience.  Of course I started with a cocktail and the dirty martini was nearly perfect, but for the absence of blue cheese-stuffed olives.

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Fresh ingredients are abundant on the menu.  I sampled the Fava Bean Toast made with whipped ricotta, preserved lemon and pecorino.  It’s beautiful, fresh and the perfect size starter for the evening.

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While the pizzas, meats and pastas all looked and sounded wonderful, I went to the lighter side with my entree and chose the Grilled Octopus.  Another work of art on the plate, it was slightly spicy and grilled to a perfect light char.  The dish also includes crispy potatoes, chorizo, salsa verde and a bit more preserved lemon.  I can’t tell you enough how good this was!  I am definitely going to have to try my hand at making my own preserved lemons.

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The prices were reasonable and the service was friendly and timely.  Chef Michael Fiorelli has a deft hand with local ingredients, flavor combinations and an interesting menu.  I would absolutely recommend this place for your next trip near LA/Manhattan Beach.  You can find out more on their website loveandsaltla.com.

Sable Kitchen & Bar – Chicago

If you’re looking for inspired craft cocktails and delicious small and medium plates, I have a place for you!  On my trip to Chicago last week I had a chance to eat at Sable Kitchen & Bar after a few cocktails at The Berkshire Room.  I figured after a few great bourbons, I was going to need to follow up with the same caliber of cocktails.  Thankfully, Sable is just a block and a half away.  The cocktail menu here is vast, creative and intriguing.  Think of your favorite bourbon or gin elevated with combinations of ingredients like tarragon syrup, cola bitters, cinnamon-infused pear brandy and caraway liqueur.  I loved the Wheatley Convention Center, a blend of Buffalo Trace bourbon, averna (an Italian citrus liqueur), vanilla, Lemon Wetherby’s cola bitters and angostura bitters – smooth and sweet with a brightness from the citrus.

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I love the food menu here as well.  Executive Chef Lawrence Latrero knows what he’s doing in this kitchen!  There are a handful of selections in each category of snacks, seafood, meats and veggies.  The lobster rangoon were perfectly crisp outside and creamy inside.  We also really enjoyed the flatbread with asparagus, mushroom and truffle, but anything with truffles is a no-brainer for me.  Being a meat-lover I really appreciated the Wagyu beef sliders.  Tomato jam, garlic aioli, cheddar and a quail egg make these anything other than your typical slider.  They were so good that we ordered two and had to order two more right away!

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If you save yourself any room, I would highly suggest the churro ice cream sandwich with brandied apples – whoa!!

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Honestly, you can do no wrong here.  Everything was well-executed and definitely has me ready to come back to try more!  If you’re in Chicago, get to River North and check them out.  Detailed info and menus can be found on their website sablechicago.com.

The Berkshire Room – Chicago

I travel to Chicago for business – a lot.  Needless to say, there’s no shortage of fantastic places for dinner and drinks.  Sometimes though, you need somewhere a little less busy and a little less pretentious to enjoy a craft cocktail and nosh a few snacks to unwind.  I found the perfect place a few years ago in The Berkshire Room and have made it a regular stop ever since.

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Located in the River North area just around the intersection of Ohio and State (that alone should indicate it’s awesomeness) this small lounge is on the first floor of the ACME Hotel.  The interior is just dark enough and is a great mix of Prohibition-cool and modern style.  There’s a decent selection of beers and ample wine choices, but this is a cocktail lounge.  They are true mixologists here creating interesting craft cocktails with a selection of bourbons, gins and liqueurs.  Think Willy Wonka with booze to get an accurate picture here.  This week I stuck with a simple Bulleit Rye Old Fashioned – OK, maybe two!

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There’s a limited selection of small plates and desserts for accompanying your drinks, but the true gems are the cocktails.  Try the “Dealers Choice” – you pick the liquor, the flavor profile (sweet, savory, herbaceous, etc.) and the glassware and the mixologist creates something on a whim for you.  Great for happy hour or after dinner, I can’t tell you enough how much I love this place!  Check them out at theberkshireroom.com.