So I often wondered what it would be like to be a judge on Iron Chef America. Having some amazing chefs, both the Iron Chef and the challenger, presenting their dishes to me, explaining how they made it and their inspiration for it. Of course, there would be the evaluation of their use of the secret ingredient. Well, maybe one day I will be lucky enough to have this experience. For now, the closest I have gotten is sitting at the Chef's Table at Crop Bistro and Bar in the Warehouse District.
Recently, a friend and I were looking to catch up over dinner. She suggested Crop since she knows one of the chefs there. This made me happy since I wanted to go to Crop for some time. I have heard of some of Chef Steve Shimoler's innovative techniques and Crop's reputation for using the freshest and highest quality ingredients but never experienced it for myself. I also heard good things about Crop from other foodie friends, so my expectations were quite high. Crop is tucked away on West 6th next door to the late Dick Jacobs' favorite spot, Johnny's. Unless you are specifically looking for it, it is easy to pass up. However, this is all going to change early next year when Crop moves across the Lorain-Carnegie bridge to it's new home on West 25th and Lorain, in an old bank building.
Since I was a bit early, I had the chance to enjoy a "Spooky Spice" martini and chat a bit with the bartender about the unique martini offerings. The Spooky Spice was their take on a pumpkin martini and everything a pumpkin martini should be. I have had my share of pumpkin martini's and this one takes the cake...or pie in this case. A pumpkin martini should be like drinking spiked pumpkin pie. Crop's "Spooky Spice" used fresh pumpkin puree shaken with pumpkin liquor and rum. It was garnished with nutmeg and a cinnamon twist. Other martini's that caught my eye were the "Bloody Devil" (pepper infused vodka, and chipotle bloody Mary mix), "Anthony's Caprese Martini" (a caprese salad in a glass), and, not that I would drink it, "The NASCAR" (Wild Turkey, BBQ sauce, peanut butter, and beer...I kid you not). This also gave me time to take in the intimate, cozy atmosphere which I hope will not be lost once they move to their bigger location. And now for the food!
If I had to give this a title like an Iron Chef battle, I would call it "Battle Innovation". Waiting for us, was a basket of buffalo style popcorn. Think movie-theater meets corner bar. The popcorn was drizzled with a blend of buffalo seasoning, sriracha sauce (a personal favof mine), bleu cheese, and celery. Everything came together perfectly. Now sitting at the chef's table we were able to chat with the chefs as they were cooking. Even Chef Steve came and talked with us throughout our meal about some of his innovative cooking methods. One menu item seemed to jump out at me and I had to ask "What is Lobster Latte". I love lobster and I love latte but how do the two come together? The name comes from the method used to prepare Chef Steve's interpretation of lobster bisque. He has discovered a way to use a cappuccino machine to prepare the dish. The bisque itself is not the thick, creamy bowl of goodness you are used to. Instead, it is a lighter broth, served with a claw and foam in a latte glass. A perfect appetizer. Next, we were served braised pork belly with a tomato based broth. I will admit, I am not a huge pork person (aside from bacon), but I enjoyed the crispy saltiness of the outside and the middle was so tender, it melted in my mouth. For my entree, I decided on Crop's interpretation of a soul food classic, chicken and waffles. I knew I was not going to get the traditional Southern fried chicken on top of a Belgian waffle drenched in maple syrup. Instead, I was presented with two deep fried chicken breasts on top green beans with bacon, and a rosemary infused waffle on the side. The plate was drizzled with a maple syrup based reduction to add just the right amount of sweetness to compliment the crispiness of the chicken with the saltiness of the bacon in the green beans. I also must add, there was enough to share or have for lunch the next day (and yes, the second piece of chicken made a fabulous lunch). The presentation was visually appealing however, the dish would have scored perfect with me for taste bud appeal. Another reason I wanted to take the second piece home was I spotted pumpkin strudel on the dessert menu and just had to have it. Again, it did not disappoint and met this high expectations of pumpkininess set by the Spooky Spice martini. If you are looking for a unique experience for date night, or a night out with the girls (or guys even), I would recommend Crop Bistro and Bar. For a truly memorable experience, make reservations for the Chef's Table. Either way, come hungry, prepared to share with friends, or take home a doggie bag.
Until next time...follow your heart, fulfill your hunger.