Best Of 2004

Depending on whom you believe, XO is shorthand for either extra old or extra-ordinary and is used in reference to top-shelf brandies, such as Courvoisier's XO Imperial Cognac. Aged between 25 and 35 years in French Limousin-oak casks, the Courvoisier has been called voluptuous, elegant, and subtle. Even before its first birthday, much the same can be said of XO, the restaurant. From its prime location on one of the busiest street corners in one of the city's coolest neighborhoods to its candlelit interior, the restaurant makes a perfect backdrop for Cleveland's Beautiful People. In fact, gliding through the spare, modern space in their evening clothes, the handsome clientele -- including the snazzy-dressing host and-owner, Zdenko Zovkic -- might have just stepped out of a fashion magazine. The menu is equally stylish, full of mascarpone this and truffle-oiled that, and the bar is always well stocked. And when one of the tall Palladian windows captures a perfect view of the glittering skyline . . . well, like that little farm girl with pigtails, you might catch yourself exclaiming, Toto, I don't think were in Cleveland anymore!
Cleveland may not have much in the way of genuine celebrities, but we do seem to have a corner on the reality-TV market. There's Fredo LaPonza and Michael Cardamone from Average Joe, Stephanie Cahn from Average Joe II, and Tammy Pescatelli from Last Comic Standing, to name a few. Several of these shooting stars got their start at Mercury Lounge, the chic Warehouse District bar where Cleveland's famous, wannabe famous, and dressed-like-they'll-someday-be-famous all hang out. When reality-TV casting directors come searching for Cleveland's hottest new thing (no, this is not an oxymoron), the Mercury Lounge is their first stop.
The best place to croon tunes from such beloved groups as Ace of Base, Madonna (pre-Esther), and Gloria Gaynor, as you slide back $1 Jell-O shots, is Tina's, a late-night dive bar at the edge of Edgewater. Here you can entertain your friends with your various warblings. That's arguably more sobering than a cup of coffee.
Anchored by the venerable West Side Market, this short stretch of pavement (including the tiny stub of Market Street) is home to a remarkable collection of worthwhile eateries. The ethnic options include Greek (OPA!), Irish (The Old Angle), Middle Eastern (Kan Zaman and Nates Deli), and Puerto Rican (Lelolai and Lozadas). Stylistically, you'll find everything from a carryout soup shop (the Souper Market, just around the corner on Lorain) to Chef Karen Small's elegantly contemporary salon (The Flying Fig). For wine and apps, check out the Market Avenue Wine Bar; if award-winning beer and above-average pub grub is more your thing, stop at the historic Great Lakes Brewing Company; and for snacks, sandwiches, and gourmet coffees, grab the laptop and head to Wi-Fi-friendly Talkies. Food courts, eat your heart out.
Only in Cleveland could 8 p.m. be called late night. Still, the after-work crowd that filters through MOCA on Thursday nights may be Cleveland's most eclectic group. Our suggestion: Munch some food, listen to music, and study Cleveland's best works of art -- and we're not just talking about the ones on the canvases.
Stop elbowing tourists for a spot in front of the art museum and Jacobs Field. If you really want that unique Cleveland photograph, head to the corner of Detroit and Clinton avenues, where this huge white sign hangs from a chain-link fence. Who says Cleveland's too conservative?
For most not-so-adept homeowners, finding an honest, reliable and reasonably priced handyman is akin to discovering cold fusion. Doug Mouat is a hardworking, multitalented fellow, with skills that encompass plumbing, electrical, wall-and-ceiling repair, drain-cleaning, roof repair, and damn near anything else that can go wrong around a house. Best of all, he's a relentless problem-solver who always tries to find the least expensive way to get a job done. As he says, "I charge what Id like to pay, if I were the customer."
Built on a pier that juts out into Lake Erie, Quay 55 offers better views of downtown and the lake than any building in the city. There's also an outdoor pool, heated indoor parking, and a boardwalk that runs the length of the pier. Rents go from $900 to $3,000 a month, so it's no wonder that the building is stacked with professional basketball and baseball players.
Sure, all the Metroparks are great, but the North Chagrin Reservation not only features fascinating trails (Buttermilk Falls Trail), terrific picnicking (Strawberry Pond), and fishing (Oxbow Lagoon); it's also home to one of the area's best golf courses, the maniacally challenging Manakiki. Since the 1920s, this park has been delighting families with it's natural attractions as well as it's very own royal domain, Squire's Castle, the gatehouse for a millionaire's mansion that was never built.
Located in a shopping mall in Parma, Corleone's serves up delicious Italian fare, beautiful Sinatra-inspired decor, and near-total anonymity. The helpings are huge, the service is impeccable, and the wine is free-flowing. Appetizers, $6-$10. Dinner prices, $12-$40. The knowledge that none of your colleagues will discover you or your non-significant other: priceless.
Stand anywhere in Tremont, swing a yuppie by the heels, and you're sure to hit either a trendy club, a cozy coffee bar, or a valet-parking attendant. This old ethnic neighborhood has become the ultimo place to hang out, for anything from sipping foo-foo martinis at the trendy Lava Lounge to chugging a beer at the casual Starkweather. And if you're hungry for culture after an afternoon of Frisbee in Lincoln Park, head over to the Liminis for another exciting production by the Convergence-Continuum group.