Chi-Town snobs impressed by a night out in Cleveland

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Artist's rendering of a guy who's hard to impress after being impressed by a night in Cleveland
I had the pleasure of entertaining some of my husband’s business colleagues from Chicago last week, including one of the fiercest foodies I’ve ever broken bread with. As well as being an avid home chef, he’s a rabid devotee of the Chi-town dining scene – one of those guys who can rattle off the number of stars the Tribune has awarded to every haute spot in town, and who snags his reservations at the city’s newest boîtes before the ink has dried on the menus. In other words, not an easy guy to impress… So, of course, dinner had to be at Lola (2058 E. 4th St.), where we not only introduced him to our own Iron Chef Michael Symon and feasted on Symon’s savory New-American creations, but also spotted San Francisco chef Chris Cosentino (Incanto) sitting at the nearby Chef’s Table. Cosentino, one of Symon’s competitors last year for the title of Next Iron Chef, was in town to join him at the annual Chef’s Fantasy benefit for cystic fibrosis, later in the week. Between getting to meet Symon, sighting Cosentino, and sampling the fabulous food – signature starters of braised pork belly, sweetbreads, and beef-cheek pierogi, followed by a “chef’s choice” quartet of entrees, including trout, black bass, braised shortribs, and roasted duck breast – even Mr. How Many Types of Homemade Stock Do You Have In Your Freezer? was understandably impressed. But I couldn’t leave it at that. We followed up with nightcaps at the legendary Velvet Tango Room (2095 Columbus Ave.), where Mr. I’m Growing Eight Varieties of Heirloom Tomatoes From Seeds This Summer How ‘Bout You? was blown away by the swanky digs, the stylish $14 cocktails, and – maybe most of all – by the fact that we had to drive around the block a couple times before we could even find the joint since, like Chicago’s Charlie Trotter’s, the hideaway is completely without signage. (If you don’t know where it is, you aren’t cool enough to go there.) We laughed, we drank, we ran up a $90 tab without blinking an eye, and when we finally rolled out of the place (around midnight on a Tuesday), I felt about as chic as any foodie in the country. Cleveland did us proud that night, and our guests couldn’t have been more delighted. As we headed back to their suburban hotel, Mr. I Squeeze My Own Cucumbers For My Famous Cucumber Martinis wondered why he hadn’t booked a room downtown instead. “Next time, we’re staying in Cleveland!” he declared to his Chicago colleague. “With everything there is to do here, why the hell are we staying in Beachwood?” -- Elaine T. Cicora Read Elaine Cicora's restaurant reviews, food news, and comprehensive dining guide on the restaurant page at clevescene.com.

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