I spent a recent week in Cleveland, Ohio. Cleveland gets a bad rap from many people, not the least of which is its own population. I entered the city with a fresh perspective and eager hopes: I was greeted with a mass of grey upon grey upon grey. I suspected this was a temporary confluence of weather and season until the fog rolled in from Lake Erie and I discovered whole new levels of grey, combined with such low visibility that the tops of street lamps were fuzzy.
At right: the steamship William G. Mather, built in 1925 and six hundred feet long. It used to haul ore and coal throughout the Great Lakes during much of the 20th century. Currently it's parked on the shore of Lake Erie down by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Browns Stadium.
Despite the economic depression and the fact that the population has fallen by half since the 1950s, I discovered ways to find happiness in this town. A martini after work, dinner at one of the dozens of mom & pop Italian joints, followed by driving back to the hotel listening to a great local jazz station.
As part of my commitment to try indigenous wines when traveling, I chose the 2004 South River Vineyard "Karma" from Geneva, Ohio. $15, 12%abv, 42% Cabernet Franc, 39% Merlot, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon. Aggressive nose of herbs, grass, underlying cherry. Flavor is a bit odd but you really get to taste some of the unique elements of Cabernet Franc.
Perhaps my favorite meal of the trip was at McCormick & Schmick's. Actually a chain but it's definitely a great, upscale seafood restaurant. Dinner was a glass of Sauvignon Blanc with a pasta/shellfish entree, but the best part was the first half.
I started off with a cocktail. Their bar menu helpfully arranges the cocktails in chronological order, going back to the 1800s. I picked one from the Depression-era, the Negroni. It's equal parts gin, sweet red vermouth, and Campari, an Italian liquor made from 60 different secret ingredients but tasting strongly of orange peels. This cocktail is deep red and bitter as all hell, which means that I loved it.
And then a sampler of oysters (afterwards, the server was kind enough to discuss my notes with me--the man knew his bivalves):
Hog's Island Oysters from Norfolk, VA: big, full-flavored, salty
James River Oysters from the James River, VA: small and mild
Hood Canal Oysters from the Hood Canal, WA: sweet and earthy and delicious (these also have shells so pretty if you found one on the beach you'd take it home with you)
Steamboat Oysters from Bay Center, WA: long, rich, and herbal
Delaware Bay Oysters from Delaware Bay, NJ: big and meaty
Cameron Shoal Oysters from Totten Inlet, WA: long and satisfiyingly chewy
Cleveland has a lot to offer, and if you know where to go and are willing to roam around a bit, there's a lot of nice spots in town. Next time I hope to hit Michael Symon's Lola.