On Thursday morning we headed to Cleveland for the weekend, so not much cooking was done, BUT a lot of eating was!

Whenever we have a week of lots of social obligations or if we are going out of town for the weekend, we try to keep it light and easy the days before and after the trip. That way there isn't a lot of clean-up involved or wasted leftovers. For example, last week we had breakfast for dinner at least two times because breakfast foods are always on hand, cheap, easy to make, and very filling.

Anyway, we had some fabulous meals on our mini Spring-ish Break, including the one I'm going to discuss today. Our friend Holly works in admissions at the International Culinary Arts and Sciences Institute in Cleveland. ICASI has this fabulous student-ran cafe for which senior students prepare luncheons for the public every Saturday. It. was. amazing. AMAZING! Each student has the opportunity to be head chef (designing the menu, heading the staff, etc.) and to work at each station in the kitchen through the course of a semester. There are two head chefs--one in savory and one in pastry. I wish I knew of a place like this in Arkansas because I would be eating there all the time. We had a five-course meal for just $25, and, upon consideration regarding the quality and quantity of the dishes we were served, I have to say that it was much better than the $200 meal we had on our honeymoon in Chicago. :)

We had lunch Saturday at 11 a.m. and I have never been so glad to have skipped breakfast because we were stuffed by the time we left! Fresh bread was already on the table when we were seated. We each got to try a cheese scone, a mini buttermilk cornbread muffin, and a slice of onion ciabatta bread. I didn't take a picture of my bread plate, but I think you can probably imagine them. *lol* I had the cornbread muffin first. It was very light and reminded me of the muffins they had at Joey's Seafood/Mickey's Seafood in Conway minus the beer flavor. I don't think these were as good as Joey's (maybe because it wasn't made with the beer), but I didn't miss the heavy, grainy texture and taste of traditional Southern cornbread. The ciabatta was my favorite! I quickly dribbled on olive oil and herbs and ate it up. :) The crust wasn't too chewy (a plus for me--I don't like chewy bread), and the inside was light and heavenly. It was the perfect white bread--indescribable otherwise. I didn't pick up on a strong onion flavor, which was fine either way. I love onion, but a hint is great, too. (I just read on Wikipedia that ciabatta was first brought to the states by a Cleveland bakery. Hmmm....) I had the scone last. I liked it alright; Jenni LOVED it. I think I was filling up on bread by this point, and the cheese flavor was a little too strong for me after the plain flavor of the ciabatta. I would eat it again, but it wasn't my favorite.

For appetizers, we had the choice of either Smoked Salmon Bruschetta or Roasted Polenta Cakes. I chose the bruschetta:
I love bruschetta, and I never pass up a chance to have smoked salmon since it is so expensive to buy it here. (In England, I LOVED smoked salmon and cream cheese sandwiches. *ahhh*) The bruschetta here was made using an herb and sea salt focaccia, which I honestly didn't notice. I don't think that is unusual, however, because typically the toppings soak into the bread anyway. I did like how the focaccia was thinly sliced and not too crisp so it neither filled your mouth or hurt it. Lately I've toasted our bread too long, so that it hurt our mouths whilst eating. *lol* The artichoke-spinach cream cheese was very tasty; you couldn't actually taste the cheese in it, which I missed a little since it was paired with the salmon. No complaints about the salmon, of course! The sauce in the picture is a roasted red pepper coulis, and it was rather tasty and just spicy enough. I also liked the texture of it--thick, but creamy. I liked just a bit on my bruschetta. The dill--at least, I think it was dill--was a nice touch. :)

In regards to soup, we could have either Hearty Peasant Soup or Potato-Leek Soup. I went with the second soup because I have been dying to try it. Zach got me a Julia Child tips and techniques book for Christmas that includes a potato-leek soup recipe as one of its base recipes. However, I've never had leeks before, and despite having heard they were very much like onions, I was afraid to buy and use them in case we didn't like them and had to throw them out.
However, I can now say that I LOVE leeks. This soup was wonderful! It was a pureed soup of potatoes and leeks, but there were enough chunks added back in that it wasn't boring to eat like other pureed soups. It would be a fine meal with bread. Also, the crispy leeks on top were a big plus! They tasted a lot like French fried onions. I could have done without the goat cheese because it's too pungent for me, but it blended well into the soup. I cannot wait to make Julia Child's recipe now! I just wish Zach had tried a bigger bite of one of ours so I know for sure he likes it. *lol*

I had the hardest time picking a salad, which doesn't surprise me because I am a little picky when it comes to raw vegetables. Growing up I tended to refuse vegetables unless they were potatoes or corn or raw carrots and celery. So I never ate salad really until high school, and I didn't start eating other veggies until I was diagnosed with Crohn's and my taste buds readjusted after not consuming anything for months. Our choices were Mesclun Salad or Romaine Salad. As much as I love romaine lettuce, I went with the Mesclun because the toppings sounded so much better.

Does this not remind you of a sea creature or alien? I'm fairly certain I wrote that in my comments. (We reviewed the meal anonymously for the students' benefit.) Now I'm a little embarrassed I wrote that. *lol* Anyway, the salad course was the weakest. First of all, I'm sure you are wondering what that hay-looking stuff is. That is a kataifi phyllo cup. We tried to figure out what "kataifi" meant, and I assumed it was shredded. According to the interweb, I am correct! Typically kataifi phyllo is used in sweets. Here, it added a nice crunch, but there was way too much; additionally it was messy when you attempted to incorporate it into the salad, sending pieces flying through the air. It would have been much better had the salad been inside/on the kataifi and if there had been less. The roasted garlic vinaigrette was tasty, but there wasn't enough salad to suit me. I'm not saying that the salad was swimming in vinaigrette; rather the vinaigrette's flavor overpowered everything else because there was so little of it. Mesclun green mix originated in Provence and should be more bitter and peppery than other salads, but I didn't pick up on this. Maybe my palate isn't refined enough? *haha* The salad included marinated red onions, radishes, and red peppers. (I like the alliteration!) There were more radishes than anything, but they were all tasty and complimented one another well.

For our entree, we could choose between Tilapia Milanese and Braised Short Ribs. I went with the ribs because its sides sounded better AND I have been craving some ribs since I tried one at Fred's Hickory Inn at our Valentine's Day dinner.

I was almost full by this point, but I ate as much as I could. The meat was so tender. I honestly cannot think how I could describe the sauce, although I do remember we discussed its vinegar undertones. I know it was a red wine sauce that was smooth and thickened--not like a steak sauce at all. The mashed potatoes were nothing special; I would have liked to have some cracked black pepper on them. *lol* But I always like pepper on my potatoes! (Salt and pepper were not provided.) Also, after having potato-leek soup, I guess they seemed redundant. I ate every bite with a bit of ribs or vegetables, so I suppose they acted as a pedestal for the dish. The caramelized root vegetables (carrots, squash, ?) were underdone and did not taste exactly caramelized. Holly and I decided they could have done without them. My favorite part? THE PARSNIP CHIPS! This were awesome! (I definitely asked if I could marry them in my review!) I had parsnips for the first time last fall; a parsnip is basically a pale carrot with a much headier carrot flavor. I wish I knew how to make these because I could eat them as a snack. I have found a recipe for kale chips on a blog I follow, so I imagine I can find one out there.

Thank heavens for the separate dessert stomach! There is always room for dessert, right? We could choose one of three: Raspberry Nouvelle Entremet, Poached Bartlett Pears, and Classic Baked Alaska. Zach and I went with the raspberry chiffon cake while Holly had the pears and Jenni the baked Alaska. For every course, we let each other try the others' dishes. The only things I didn't try were the Chopped Romaine Salad and the Tilapia Milanese. I am so glad I got to try all three desserts because it was a HARD decision to choose just one!

The Raspberry Nouvelle Entremet was truly a work of art. An entremet traditionally was something served between courses to cleanse the palate (from what I can tell). Now it seems to be a layered mousse dessert...this entremet was so sweet. :) I loved the raspberry Bavarian cream--it was an exact blend of tart fruit and sweet cream. The chiffon was light and fluffy. On top was a raspberry mirror glace, which has the taste of raspberry jam with the texture of a homemade marshmallow (with the grain of the jam). It was pretty to view, but I found it hard to break through to get a bite of everything on my fork. I liked it though. I didn't really taste the mango coulis on the plate. By that, I mean I didn't really pick up on the mango flavor. The chocolate, however, was a perfect addition, although it had hardened and had to be scraped off the plate. I loved how they decorated the plate...and the raspberries on top (and inside)!

I'm not sure what was going on with the tie-dyed side of the cake. It was pretty, but didn't exactly match the mirror glace, so it sorta bothered my aesthetic sense. *lol* It also didn't match the texture--it was crunchier or chewier than the chiffon and firmer, like a meringue cookie.

I've made poached pears before, so I wasn't surprised by the anchor of this dish. However, I definitely prefer to have sliced pears over whole pears because this one was hard to cut with my fork. The ginger ice cream was DIVINE. I also liked the twist the Romanoff cream provided. I could have eaten an entire bowl of these two creams. I also liked the tuille leaf, which was like a wafer cookie. The dots are raspberry cream, which I didn't taste. This dish was also very pretty to see.

Finally, the Baked Alaska. I've never had baked Alaska before, so I was excited to try this. I swear this is probably the best meringue I've ever had, and it reminded me of the cover of one of those cupcake books with the puppy cupcakes. :) The homemade vanilla, chocolate, and strawberry ice cream were just delish. I didn't get to taste the strawberry coulis, but I bet it was sweet!
Well, it seems we have reached the end of my luncheon at ICASI.
But this wasn't the end!
They gave us crescent almond cookies dipped in chocolate to take home! (I definitely devoured mine during Holly's Hellbombers Roller Derby game that night because I worked off this big meal cheering!) It was a scrumptious cookie.

Hopefully we will be back in Cleveland soon to visit Holly, ICASI, and the West Side Market (where vendors sell freshly baked breads, meats, cheeses, desserts, produces, and specialty items) again. Holly, thanks for having us and taking us on the gastronomic tour of Cleveland! :) Cleveland does, indeed, rock.

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