Bites: The Umami Moto Food Truck 

And more local food news

Jae Stulock and Sandy Madachik were planning a move to Boulder to launch a food truck business. The business partners had heard how difficult it was to set up shop in Cleveland, so they had no intent of even trying. Before skipping town, however, they learned about the City of Cleveland's program to encourage mobile dining options. In six short days, they assembled the necessary paperwork and were accepted into the program.

Madachik, a former office manager at an IT firm, and Stulock, a carpenter, launched Umami Moto in early November.

"I have always wanted to get into the food business," says Stulock. "Cooking has always been a passion of mine. Following the downturn in the construction business, I said, 'Now's the time.'"

Working from a fully equipped rig purchased in Los Angeles, the partners are quickly building a following for their Thai, Vietnamese, and Asian-fusion fare. The concise menu features pad Thai with tofu (or chicken, or shrimp), massaman curry on rice, pork potstickers, and a Vietnamese bahn mi sandwich made with pulled pork. There are options for vegan, vegetarian, and gluten-free customers too.

"Business is going really well," says Stulock. "Being outside in winter isn't too pleasant, but I come from construction, so I'm used to it. We didn't want to start in summer and be inundated. Launching in winter gives us a chance to grow our customer base, streamline our systems, and ease into the business."

Umami Moto roams all over Greater Cleveland. You can track them down via Facebook (facebook.com/UmamiMoto) and Twitter (@UmamiMoto).

Asian Town Center is set to score two new eateries. Going into space originally set aside for the former Crust and Crumbs is Miga Korean BBQ, a more contemporary version of Seoul Hot Pot. Six tables will include grills for diners to prepare bulgogi and kalbi. Also on the menu: shabu-shabu, a dish that features thinly sliced meats cooked tableside in simmering broth.

Look for Miga, which the owner says translates to "beautiful taste," to open in March.

Meantime, Pho 99 should be ready to go in two weeks, according to owner Vinh Nguyen. Located on the ground floor, the 40-seat Vietnamese restaurant will specialize in pho, but also rice and noodle dishes.

Nguyen has been perfecting his parents' pho recipe, which they perfected at Pho Batu, a now-defunct Vietnamese restaurant on Denison. He will offer various styles of the beef noodle soup, including a less common spicy variety. Pho will be sold in two sizes: large and jumbo, which is "huge," says Nguyen. Prices will be around $7 and $9.

Named for the owner's lucky number, Pho 99 will also offer bubble tea, espresso, and Vietnamese coffee.

Asian Town Center is at 3820 Superior Ave., on the near east side of downtown.

A recent visit to Washington Place Bistro & Inn (2203 Cornell Rd.; washingtonplacelittleitaly.com) was a treat. Highlights included a velvety roasted cauliflower bisque, dotted with a smidgen of blue cheese; and the kitchen's chicken thigh confit was nearly flawless, with savory pieces of salty, crisp-skinned meat surrounding a dreamy cornbread pudding. Even the meatloaf — a true test of technique — passed our tests with flying colors.

But here's the interesting point: Washington Place Bistro, as we well know, took over the spot long occupied by the Baricelli Inn. If we remember anything about the Baricelli, it is how expensive the food was, right? Well, I happen to have the last menu from Paul Minnillo's erstwhile inn, and guess what? Washington Place Bistro ain't much cheaper.

That wonderful oxtail pierogi appetizer everybody is rightly raving about costs $13 — more than anything on Baricelli's app list, save for the artisanal cheese and meat boards. Salads are priced exactly the same: $7.50 to $8.50. While Baricelli Inn offered four half pastas priced under $12, Washington Place offers two — and they both come in at higher prices. The biggest difference is among entrées, but even here we're talking just a couple bucks.

Funny how perceptions can cloud our judgment. — Trattner


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