Chef de cuisine Guillaume Brard left no question as to why Classics has captured Ohio's first and only Five-Diamond restaurant rating, with a seven-course banquet of earthly delights, beginning with a delicate squid-and-scallop ceviche and ending with a glorious dessert buffet, featuring made-to-order crêpes, lush bananas Foster, and more types of diminutive, jewel-like pastries, tarts, and cakes than Star Jones could imagine in her most sugar-besotted fantasies.
In between, the guests (local chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers, innkeepers, and the usual media freeloaders) oohed and ahhed their way through such fanciful treats as a velvet-smooth artichoke velouté, infused with black truffles and topped with an ephemeral crouton of toasted brioche, and a tiny slab of seared foie gras, underpinning a pearly bit of buttery red mullet.
To drink, sommelier Manuel Nieves culled some real gems from the restaurant's 10,000-bottle cellar, including a 1990 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage "La Chappelle" (made with 100 percent syrah grapes) and a stellar 1988 Chateau Latour Bordeaux. A 1994 Warre's Vintage Port, served with a cheese selection, guided taste buds seamlessly from the savories to the sweets.
While Classics scored AAA's top award, several other venues pulled down the not-so-shabby Four-Diamond designation, including the Baricelli Inn (Cleveland), Century (in the downtown Ritz-Carlton), the Leopard (in Aurora), Lockkeepers (Valley View), and Ristorante Giovanni's (Beachwood).
The Walden Country Inn & Stables (1119 Aurora-Hudson Road, Aurora) was also honored as the state's first and only Five-Diamond lodging.
Spring things . . . Pity those poor ingrates in Southern California, with their year-round access to all things green and leafy. Here on the hardscrabble North Coast, we really appreciate the return of our growing season and the chance to sate our winter-weary palates on spring's first greens. So grab those canvas shopping bags: Just like the swallows to San Juan Capistrano, the North Union Farmers Market returns to its roost on Shaker Square this Saturday, April 16, from 8 a.m. to noon, with the earliest Ohio produce, artisanal breads, organic dairy products, local maple syrup, crafts, and flower and vegetable plants for the home gardener. Opening-day events include the annual early morning sheep-shearing and a cooking demo with chef Doug Katz, owner of the nearby restaurant Fire.
And West Siders, take note: Beginning on May 7 and continuing through October 29, the Market's friendly farmers will be trucking their goods into Crocker Park each Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The new market will be located in the parking lot south of Trader Joe's, just off Crocker Road.
SOS . . . Most of us who love good food also embrace the idea of helping to stamp out hunger; and on Tuesday April 26, Marlin Kaplan, chef-owner of downtown's elegant One Walnut, will give area foodies a chance to indulge both passions. Along with guest chefs Suzette Gresham from San Francisco's Acquerello (the Bay Area 's premier white-tablecloth Italian restaurant) and John Dornback from Basi Italia in Columbus, Kaplan will host a 20th-anniversary dinner for Share Our Strength, one of the nation's leading anti-hunger organizations.
The seven-course Mediterranean-themed extravaganza will begin with passed apps and an amuse-bouche, and proceed to beef, seafood, and vegetable entrées, as well as a special risotto dish created by Gresham. The cost, including wine and tax, is $125 per person. Make reservations at 216-575-1111.
Incidentally, Kaplan will be launching a killer promotion in May: Each evening, 25 percent of One Walnut's dinner crowd will find that their meal is on the house. With odds like that, only losers stay home.