LOLA — Cleveland
On Wednesday, October 8, I found myself in Cleveland Ohio for a work-related event. Once that event was finished, the evening was my own, so I went to LOLA BISTRO, one of Iron Chef America Michael Symon’s places.
Despite not being able to make a reservation on Open Table, I was able to walk right in and was seated immediately. It annoys me when restaurants participate in Open Table only to lock out entire evenings, especially during the week when restaurants are slower. The dining room was not full by any stretch.
The first-floor dining room is spacious and decorated in dark, soothing colors with nicely appointed tables — padded tables, linen tablecloths, and nice, funky silverware. I especially liked that the steak knives were engraved, “Live to Cook”. A nice touch. Chef Symon was not in the restaurant. He is opening a new place (in Detroit? I don’t remember…) and was there this evening.
My server, Gina, was friendly and knowledgable without being overbearing. After discussing the menu a bit, I was torn between a couple appetizers — a sweet corn & bacon soup or the charcuterie plate. I decided on the charcuterie plate and, surprise!, Gina brought me a taste of the soup. The sample of the soup was sweet and bacon-y. Nice interplay of flavors.
The charcuterie plate contained a delicious bacon-wrapped rabbit pate with pistachios, pork salami, another type of salami, and an amazing air-dried pork. All served with whole grain mustard, pickled onions, and cornichons.
From there, I moved on to the Beef Cheek Pierogi (as recommended to me by Michael Ruhlman, who was unable to join me after all due to family commitments) and they were… pretty good. Thick dough, nicely seared on the outside, stuffed with shredded beef cheeks and smothered in a wild mushroom sauce and a horseradish creme fraiche. The mushroom sauce was overly thick and bore a striking resemblance to a jarred mushroom sauce. Everything was cooked well and seasoned appropriately, but it lacked the OOMPH and balance of flavors I’ve come to expect with meals at restaurants run by Iron Chefs (this being the third such restaurant I’ve dined in). And so begins my general complaint about LOLA: The flavors were big but one-dimensional.
The next example of this complaint came with my entree… Squab with foie gras, chanterelles, confit, sweet potato puree, dried cherries, and a wine reduction/demi-glace. Again, cooked nicely. Presented well. Obviously a thought-out dish, but the execution left it one-dimensional — the expected lift from the dried cherries was simply overpowered by the rest of the ingredients. The foie gras was “B” grade and hidden in the wild mushrooms, which I thought was a strange choice for a premier ingredient. The sweet potato puree, while very silky, was not served at the right temperature (instead it was cool to the touch). The plate was not warmed, either — certainly a contributing factor to the temps being off.
I didn’t have any desire for desserts, but enjoyed the two cookies Gina brought for me. I respect what Chef Symon is trying to do, but overall, LOLA was …pretty good… Is it worth dining at LOLA? Sure. The prices aren’t terrible — I paid $70 (before tip) for the above and a glass of wine. Is LOLA going to redefine the way you think about food? No.
Have you dined at Lola? What’s the best restaurant in Cleveland? Let me know in comments.