Lunching Pads

Give credit (cards) to one of the hippest spots for midday dining.

I Spy
Hey, we may be one of the fattest locations in the nation, but apparently it ain't all bad. Even in this lagging economy, our passion for the plate has been fueling a mini restaurant boom. Just look at downtown's Vivo (347 Euclid Avenue; 216-621-4678). While businesses haven't exactly flourished on this end of Euclid, the newly opened dinner spot has been doing so well that management decided last week to add weekday lunch service. Lola's Michael Symon has called Vivo's executive chef, Todd Stein, "the best chef in the city." So that means no more drab Panera lunches for you -- as long as you're willing to break out the plastic.

And it's not just high-end spots that are attracting the chowhounds. In Cleveland Heights, the ultra-retro Dottie's Diner (1975 Lee Road; 216-932-3663) has been serving such homey faves as buttermilk pancakes, meat loaf, and fried chicken to SRO crowds since it opened in early October, even though only half the facility (the 48-seat Sweet City dining car) has been operational. Service hit some rough spots not long after the diner opened -- one recent Sunday morning, the wait for seats was so tedious that frustrated patrons, unplacated even by free mini-muffins and the funky displays of Bettie Page lunchboxes, were ditching the waiting area in droves. But fortunately, things on that front are improving: The 64-seat Dottie's dining car finally opens for business today.

The same hungry hordes haven't yet discovered Pacific East (1763 Coventry Road; 216-320-2302), but it'll happen soon. The Japanese restaurant and sushi bar opened in mid-October, in spiffed-up space that once housed the so-so Taj Mahal. Chef-owner Freeman Ngo came to Cleveland by way of Manhattan and, more recently, Akron's Mustard Seed Market, and his sushi and sashimi are killer. Chirashi, a $10.95 lunch special, knocked us out with velvety tuna, salmon, and whitefish draped over sticky rice, seasoned with bonito flakes, garnished with salmon and flying fish roe, and sided with daikon, eggplant, and plum pickles.

MVP . . . As always, last week's annual Cleveland Browns Celebrity Dinner scored some cash for the Cleveland Foodbank, with 21 of the city's finest chefs serving tasty tidbits to fans, who paid $150 per person to sample items such as Michael Herschman's (Mojo) seared pork tenderloin with Shanghai noodles, and Michele Gaw's (Watermark) she-crab bisque. But in our book, it was Jon Bennett's (Moxie) elegant offering -- buttery slabs of Hudson Valley foie gras, on paper-thin triangles of sweet, toasted panettone, garnished with fig confit -- that made the biggest play.

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