Best Of 2000

As that grande dame of gastronomy, M.F.K. Fisher, liked to point out, sexual passion and wonderful food are intimately intertwined. After all, don't we each "have a belly below our heart?" Hence the wise lover woos not just with flattery, but with food. Here, then, are four dining rooms where the combination of sensual foods and beautiful atmosphere is almost certain to fan the flames of passion.

Kosta's
2179 West 11th Street, Cleveland; 216-622-0011.

Kosta's svelte, dimly lit dining room is a sophisticated backdrop for Executive Chef Brandt Evans's gastronomic lovemaking. This is food so full of life and passion -- dizzying flavors, beautiful colors, and tongue-tingling textures -- that one may be tempted to declare, in the words of the French woman, "I wish I had taste buds all the way down to my stomach!"

Johnny’s Bistro
1400 West Sixth Street, Cleveland; 216-774-0055.

Yes, wonderful food is an aphrodisiac. But then again, so is money. How can you miss when you combine them in a visit to this drop-dead-gorgeous dining room, where the French cuisine is impeccable, the service discreet, and the scent of wealth hangs in the air like fine perfume?

The Baricelli Inn
2203 Cornell Road, Cleveland; 216-791-6500.

This beautiful turn-of-the-century brownstone is a showcase for Chef Paul Minnillo’s earthy yet elegant dishes. Minnillo’s creations are so vital and vibrant — roast lamb loin, breast of chicken, long-boned veal chops — that sometimes we get excited just reading the menu. Is it a mere coincidence that the inn also offers several luxurious guestrooms on the upper floors? I think not.

Blue Point Grille
700 West St. Clair Avenue, Cleveland; 216-875-STAR.

What better spot for a romantic tête-à-tête than a restaurant whose motto is “Voro Ostifer Amor Diutius?” Eat oysters, make love. Certainly do eat the oysters (perhaps from one another’s lips?) and sip the champagne. But be forewarned: An affair that begins in this magnificent dining room — a soaring space filled with golden stars, midnight blues, and rosy brick — may very well end up as the love of a lifetime.

The men and women in the gray flannel suits flock to this sophisticated downtown dining room, with its tufted walls, sleek deco bar, and precise service, to fling back martinis ("Shh . . . don't tell the boss. Hey! I am the boss!) and feast on Marlin Kaplan's sometimes-quirky, always-celebrated, great American cuisine. Whether they're wheeling, dealing, or just feeling like recharging those $200,000-a-year batteries of theirs, they know One Walnut is the spot where business gets done over delights like Lobster Nachos and Pastrami Salmon with goat cheese and caper mayo on rye. That sack lunch isn't looking so good anymore, now is it?
Your soulmate just called you by your best friend's name. That page was the school, telling you your kid has been suspended -- again. And you would swear that right here is where you parked the Lexus, but obviously it isn't here now. Does that about sum up your life in the fast lane, Bunky? Obviously, you need a break, a peaceful interlude to smooth your frazzled nerves and get you back on your feet -- at least until the cops find that damned car. And what could be more soothing than an alfresco meal on the beautiful, secluded patio of the Baricelli Inn, where the honeybees buzz, the flowers bloom, and pleasant servers shower you with rustic but exquisitely prepared foods from chef-owner Paul Minnillo's inspired kitchen. From fine wines to platters of artisanal cheeses, to Armagnac ice cream and berries, an alfresco dinner here is bound to remind you -- just when you need it most -- of what the good life is all about.
If you were going to write an instruction book on how to create a top-notch restaurant, Mise could be your case in point. A nearly mystical confluence of the classic and the contemporary, the precise and the reckless, the stylish and the timeless, Mise is that rare spot where the food is thrilling, the service is near-flawless, and the atmosphere is friendly and fun. Chef-owner Jeff Uniatowski has crafted what he calls his "last restaurant" into a real contender on the Cleveland dining scene in less than six months. We can't wait to see what develops after a full year.
A fine cut of meat (like the Steak Kosar, a nine-ounce filet) coupled with smooth, professional service in a sophisticated and tranquil atmosphere: That's Hyde Park, where even non-red meat eaters have plenty of delicious choices. So relax, order a drink, listen to vintage Sinatra wafting through the sound system, and feel like a million bucks.
The Cleveland area is home to a handful of noble eateries forwarding the vegetarian cause. But it's impossible to ignore the city's glut of fabulous ethnic eats, and the unassuming, inexpensive Pyramid gets the nod for its fine Middle Eastern fare. Order the creamy hummus -- and grin and bear it when they ask, "Would you like lamb on that?" -- or the soothing, pine-nut-studded fattah, and you'll understand what we're talking about. Lorain Avenue is laden with worthy authentic Middle Eastern and Asian dining options, but none surpass the Pyramid for meatless eats.
They're big, they're buff, they're spicy. They are the two-fisted superburritos at Chipotle's, a Denver-based "quick serve" restaurant with a gourmet twist. Despite the chain's phenomenal national growth over the past few years, ingredients and preparation techniques remain closely regulated by founder and professional chef Steve Ells, who ensures the fresh quality and robust flavor of each taco, fajita, and burrito that comes rolling down the line. As a result, this is grown-up food with spirit and energy, not soggy goods filled with artificial ingredients and stuffed into cardboard boxes. And, oh yeah, the grills hold liquor licenses, too, which means margaritas and Mexican beers -- rather than McShakes and McSodas -- are the beverages of choice.
Nothing radical here; no fancy, new-age ingredients or anything like that. But there's something to be said for knowing when you've got something right, and Mi Pueblo Taqueria has definitely got the burrito down: the basic burrito infrastructure of beans, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes thrown in with your choice of steak, shredded beef, chicken, veggies, and (God bless them) chorizo. And if you're used to the paltry morsels dished out by fast-food Mexican places, consider yourself forewarned: There'll be no dining in the car, no one-handed foodstuff frivolity. This will require some work. It's well worth it.
Next to the issue of prayer in public school, nothing is so likely to spark debate as the matter of what goes into "real" chili. In Texas, it's a simple, fiery blend of coarsely diced beef and chili peppers. In certain enclaves on the Ohio River, it's a mellow assemblage of ground beef, chocolate, tomatoes, and cinnamon, served over spaghetti. But here on the shores of Lake Erie, chili generally means a sort-of-spicy, sort-of-soupy bowl of ground beef, kidney beans, assorted vegetables, and seasonings, served perhaps with a bit of grated cheddar and a pack of Saltines. Our favorite comes from the kitchen at homey little Guv'nor Pub. Thick and subtly flavored, the restaurant's well-rounded chili -- not too spicy, not too bland -- is as comforting as a soft fleece blanket on a wintry Cleveland day.
Under the close supervision of their instructors, high-school juniors and seniors in Polaris Career Center's chef and foodservice programs prepare and serve gourmet lunches Wednesday through Friday afternoons during the school year. A typical $4 lunch is Beef Wellington, steamed vegetables, and a thick slab of cheesecake. Everything is prepared on the premises, and it's all delicious.
In this quickie mart's hodgepodge of stop-and-go goods, peanut-butter-and-chocolate lovers will find a frozen treat that's potentially habit-forming. Try it in any of three sizes -- 16-, 24-, or 32-ounce -- and settle on whether you want chocolate or regular milk. Then enjoy. It's like lapping up a Reese's Cup.