The Town Jewels

Classics celebrates Ohio's lone Five-Diamond rating.

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Polish Joke Beck Center, 17801 Detroit Avenue, Lakewood Through May 1; 216-521-2540
North Union Farmers Market brings its fresh local - produce to Shaker Square this Saturday.
North Union Farmers Market brings its fresh local produce to Shaker Square this Saturday.
The good folks at Classics (9801 Carnegie Avenue, inside the InterContinental Hotel & Conference Center) really know how to throw a party, and last week's blowout, honoring AAA's Four- and Five-Diamond Award winners, was no exception.

Chef de cuisine Guillaume Brard left no question as to why Classics has captured Ohio's first and only Five-Diamond restaurant rating, with a seven-course banquet of earthly delights, beginning with a delicate squid-and-scallop ceviche and ending with a glorious dessert buffet, featuring made-to-order crêpes, lush bananas Foster, and more types of diminutive, jewel-like pastries, tarts, and cakes than Star Jones could imagine in her most sugar-besotted fantasies.

In between, the guests (local chefs, restaurateurs, hoteliers, innkeepers, and the usual media freeloaders) oohed and ahhed their way through such fanciful treats as a velvet-smooth artichoke velouté, infused with black truffles and topped with an ephemeral crouton of toasted brioche, and a tiny slab of seared foie gras, underpinning a pearly bit of buttery red mullet.

To drink, sommelier Manuel Nieves culled some real gems from the restaurant's 10,000-bottle cellar, including a 1990 Paul Jaboulet Hermitage "La Chappelle" (made with 100 percent syrah grapes) and a stellar 1988 Chateau Latour Bordeaux. A 1994 Warre's Vintage Port, served with a cheese selection, guided taste buds seamlessly from the savories to the sweets.

While Classics scored AAA's top award, several other venues pulled down the not-so-shabby Four-Diamond designation, including the Baricelli Inn (Cleveland), Century (in the downtown Ritz-Carlton), the Leopard (in Aurora), Lockkeepers (Valley View), and Ristorante Giovanni's (Beachwood).

The Walden Country Inn & Stables (1119 Aurora-Hudson Road, Aurora) was also honored as the state's first and only Five-Diamond lodging.

Spring things . . . Pity those poor ingrates in Southern California, with their year-round access to all things green and leafy. Here on the hardscrabble North Coast, we really appreciate the return of our growing season and the chance to sate our winter-weary palates on spring's first greens. So grab those canvas shopping bags: Just like the swallows to San Juan Capistrano, the North Union Farmers Market returns to its roost on Shaker Square this Saturday, April 16, from 8 a.m. to noon, with the earliest Ohio produce, artisanal breads, organic dairy products, local maple syrup, crafts, and flower and vegetable plants for the home gardener. Opening-day events include the annual early morning sheep-shearing and a cooking demo with chef Doug Katz, owner of the nearby restaurant Fire.

And West Siders, take note: Beginning on May 7 and continuing through October 29, the Market's friendly farmers will be trucking their goods into Crocker Park each Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The new market will be located in the parking lot south of Trader Joe's, just off Crocker Road.

SOS . . . Most of us who love good food also embrace the idea of helping to stamp out hunger; and on Tuesday April 26, Marlin Kaplan, chef-owner of downtown's elegant One Walnut, will give area foodies a chance to indulge both passions. Along with guest chefs Suzette Gresham from San Francisco's Acquerello (the Bay Area 's premier white-tablecloth Italian restaurant) and John Dornback from Basi Italia in Columbus, Kaplan will host a 20th-anniversary dinner for Share Our Strength, one of the nation's leading anti-hunger organizations.

The seven-course Mediterranean-themed extravaganza will begin with passed apps and an amuse-bouche, and proceed to beef, seafood, and vegetable entrées, as well as a special risotto dish created by Gresham. The cost, including wine and tax, is $125 per person. Make reservations at 216-575-1111.

Incidentally, Kaplan will be launching a killer promotion in May: Each evening, 25 percent of One Walnut's dinner crowd will find that their meal is on the house. With odds like that, only losers stay home.

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