Thursday, May 15, 2008

$13 at ... Lago

Posted By on Thu, May 15, 2008 at 11:00 AM

In this weekly feature, C-Notes stretches your dollar at restaurants around the region, because you had to go and take the Celtics in five. Sucker. This week … Lago 2221 Professor Avenue, 216-344-0547, http://lagotremont.com/ For Scene’s full review, click here. What $13 got us: Split orders of quail parmesan ($8), veggie pizza ($4.50), two orders of fried goat cheese panzanella ($4.50 each), a glass of Chardonnay ($3). What else $13 can get you: Plenty of wine, beer and cocktails, as well as half-off apps and salads, including the calamari served sautéed with oven roasted tomato and basil ($5) and the house salad of wild greens, marinated fennel, roasted tomatoes, gorgonzola and balsamic vinaigrette ($3). The Verdict: As relaxing as a day on the Mediterranean. ... Lolita may be the most well-known happy hour in Tremont, but it isn’t the only post-work retreat in Cleveland’s funky-town. A host of other restaurants offer special dining deals, ideally suited for a diner on a $13 quest. And with Michael Symon’s popularity increasing by the day, you might have trouble scoring a seat during Lolita’s happy hour. Fortunately, you only have to cross the street to find all the booze and eats a fresh-off-the-clock bargain hunter could want. Lago, Tremont’s first Italian joint, specializes in fare from the Northern bit of the boot. The warm, rustic interior is full of Italian murals, dark woods, and low lighting. The soft music is matched by the low murmur of the assembled patrons—the after-work crowd, mostly, happy to drink away the day. It’s a respectful and sedate crowd, and the perfect setting for a private conversation. Happy-hour guests are welcomed at the bar or surrounding tables. My two companions and I were immediately supplied with water and fresh bread, presented with the menu, and kindly instructed that all beverages, appetizers, and salads were half-off. The drink menu – helpfully titled Happy Hour Drink Menu—wound up confusing me a touch. I assumed that since it was labeled as such, the prices already reflected the discounts. When we got the bill, it turned out the listed prices did not reflect the 50-percent discount. Which is good for you—because now you know, and you can drink more—but bad for me, because I limited my intake. Ah well. I had a lovely, crisp glass of Arbuzzo Chardonnay for $3, and my companions each enjoyed a $2.50 Blue Moon. On to the food. The rustic menu – heavy on fresh veggies, pasta, and seafood – was quite tantalizing. My companions and I decided to split everything equally to maximize our sampling capabilities, and thus decided on two orders of goat cheese panzanella salad, a veggie pizza, and an order of the quail parmesan. The panzanella salad was the biggest hit. Creamy, luscious fritters of goat cheese were fried to crispy perfection. The crunch of the outside deliciously gave way to the melty interior. Interestingly, the little nuggets were served atop a selection of chopped veggies in lieu of a more traditional leafy salad. Fresh and crunchy tomatoes, cucumber, and red onions were liberally doused in a red-wine vinaigrette, and finished with slightly-soggy but still tasty croutons. The pizza finished a close second. A mellow, smoky mozzarella topped a crunchy, thin crust dotted with tomatoes, peppers, and mushrooms. The last dish, the quail parmesan, was a nice riff on the classic chicken parm. It was somewhat alarming in its appearance, as the bird is ridiculously tiny and cute. (One companion went off the dish entirely when I cracked an ill-timed fetal bird joke. But it did lead to a fascinating discussion of aviary reproduction.) The wee breaded bird was stuffed with melty fresh mozzarella and topped with a grilled tomato coulis. It was rather a lot of effort to dismantle the little guy, but well worth it for the flavor pay-off. The service wasn’t the most attentive in the world, but that seemed to fit the relaxed, Mediterranean feel of Lago. Live and let live… except for teeny tiny, tasty birds, of course. -- Tori Woods

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