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Drive-by Dining 

Food & Wine editor fast-guns it through Cleveland's hot spots.

Think life is just a bowl of cherries for a national food writer? Then consider the chore confronting Food & Wine magazine's undercover operative, in town for a mere 48 hours over a recent weekend.

The time may have been short, but the to-do list was long indeed: 10 restaurants, one café, and two markets -- including the venerable West Side Market in Ohio City and the North Union Farmers' Market on Shaker Square. It all added up to an anonymous eat-and-run extravaganza, the dining world's equivalent of a drive-by shooting in its cool, calculated efficiency. Remarkably, when we joined the editor for a late Sunday-night dinner at downtown's Lola (her final destination), she looked only slightly frazzled; more remarkable still, she even managed to do justice (mostly) to the array of tidbits that chef-owner Michael Symon placed before her. (As the mag's pick for Best New Chef in 1998, Symon is considered part of the F&W "family"; as a result, he got a heads-up on the impending visit.)

What did she recall most warmly from her whirlwind tour? Crisp tempura green beans from Flying Fig (Ohio City); tender kolachky from Babushka's Kitchen (Northfield); Light Bistro's inventive small-plates menu (Ohio City); lemon soufflé pancakes at Fire's Sunday brunch (Shaker Square); inventive guacamoles and margaritas at Momocho (Ohio City); ginger cookies at Lucky's Café (Tremont); Lolita's charcuterie (Tremont); and just about everything at Lola, where the lineup included beef-cheek pierogi, smoked-lobster salad, Copper River salmon, and an array of showstoppers from pastry chef Cory Barrett, including his signature 6 a.m. Special (brioche French toast and bacon ice cream), along with Pretzels and Beer (chocolate-covered pretzels and stout ice cream) and a new creation combining black-pepper ice cream, plump bing cherries, and milk-chocolate sauce to fine effect. And those were just the highlights.

Her visit was part of a series on dining in America's "smaller cities" -- i.e., any place that isn't New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. The competition was tight: To snag a slot, Cleveland had to beat out hot spots like Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Buffalo, and Columbus. Fortunately, this was not difficult. Look for the Cleveland feature to run in Food & Wine's November edition.

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