Sunday, February 1, 2009

A Comforting Meal on a Cold Winter's Night

After my recent visit to Cleveland earlier last month, I discovered that That Place on Bellflower had been replaced with a new restaurant, L'Albatros. At the time my group and I sort of made fun of the change as we walked towards our fatefully bad dinner at the newly re-opened Euclid Tavern. Had we known any better, we would've stopped there instead. While checking out the Cleveland Food & Wine Forum, I discovered that several people had actually eaten here and really enjoyed themselves.

So I gathered 10 of my closest foodie friends and we descended upon L'Albatros last Saturday night. As with it's predecessor, parking is in front of the restaurant, but the lot is owned by someone else. There is a self-service machine that you feed money to (or credit cards) based on how long you think your stay will be. I choose the 3 hour option (which costs $5). I know that seems like a long time for dinner, but I can assure you, it took us that long (actually just a shade over 3 hours) to get through everything.

First, a shot of the front of the restaurant:

It is at this point that I must apologize for the next two photos. L'Albatros is very dimly lit and my poor camera phone sans flash just didn't cut it. I very much liked the interior, it had very clean lines and was modestly decorated. There is a small bar area, but it was quite full of diners who couldn't get a table. I arrived about 20 minutes early and got a glass of Tokai, but felt a little odd trying to find a spot to park myself until the rest of the party arrived.

When we finally did sit, the servers immediately began filling water glasses and brining bread to the table. It was a nice sourdough with an excellent crust and very fresh taste.

I could eat this bread unadorned, just as it came. But the butter they served with it was simply divine, rich and creamy. A little sprinkling of the course salt that was on the table and all I could say was "Yumm!"

With eleven of us, it was not surprising that most of the items off the menu were ordered and shared. We also tried two of the pizzas that were on the menu. The pizzas were decent, but weren't really what I had expected them to be. Maybe the flavor profiles just didn't appeal to me.

I ended up ordering the frisee salad with a poached egg and lardon.

On taking an intial bite from the top of the salad, I would've said that it was over salted. However, one I cut into the egg and mixed the salad a bit more, the seasoning was spot on. The lardon were nice, but several were almost crouton-like in their crunch. This was a good dish, but not really a stand-out.

For my entree, I ordered the cassoulet. I've used a photo taken by another diner (with permission) there that evening, Stuart. His Flickr set for the entire evening is here. He also documented what others had as well. Definitely check it out.

To get that nice photo, he actually used a camera with a flash. This dish was served in a saute pan and had a lovely combination of ingredients: white beans, confit dug leg that was crisped up, housemade sausages, and some lovely pork fat. It was delicious. It was also extremely rich and I was able to really only eat about half of it. Which is really okay because I had some excellent leftovers for lunch the next day.

I finished up my meal with some french press coffee. You had your choice of four different coffee bean blends; I went with the Hawaiian Kona blend. I'm not a huge coffee drinker, but I occasionally enjoy a nice cup. Now, granted, the french press coffee service was $6 and a standard cup of coffee was $2. However, I considered this to be my dessert, so I decided to splurge. I'm glad I did. It was bold, smooth, and rich. It had the taste of a stronger coffee, like a Turkish coffee.

I was afraid that this would be a meal that would break the bank. While it's certainly not an every day kind of meal, my glass of wine and dinner came to roughly $60, which isn't as bad as it could've been.

I definitely recommend L'Albatros and I know that I will be back soon. Make your reservations early; when we went at 6:30 PM on Saturday night, the place was completely booked.

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