Chew On It
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By Andrew Kochirka GoErie.com staff blogger
Food has been an integral part of Andrew's life from a young age; from cooking with his mother and grandmother to creating recipes in his own kitchen. Now he scours the area's non-chain restaurant scene to find the best of the best of local food from chicken wings to French cuisine.   Read more about this blog.
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Seafood

Places where the Beard ate Seafood
Posted: January 3rd, 2012

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After my long holiday break, I was looking forward to getting back to Erie and starting my seafood tour. The voting numbers were not that high due to the holiday season, but Monday night’s winner was Joe Root’s Grill. Through the snow, Amanda and I found our way to 2826 W 8th St. for dinner. The restaurant wasn’t too crowded so we were seated right away. Our server, Emily, got our drink orders and directed us to the winter specials as well as our menus. When Emily returned, I asked her for some suggestions and she was happy to oblige. Amanda decided on the Mahi-Mahi and I ordered the Lake Erie Walleye. We ate our salads and the fantastic garlic bread as we waited for our meals.

Although you can order your fish a number of ways, the Mahi-Mahi is typically served broiled with an Asian-style, Teriyaki glaze. Mahi-Mahi, sometimes called the dolphinfish, is a very mild fish that is a bit on the sweet side. The glaze really highlights the natural sugars. By broiling the fish, it flaked apart in large pieces and was cooked perfectly. Amanda also got some of the homemade rice pilaf as a side. The rice was slightly under seasoned; a little more salt would have made it perfect.

As recommended by Emily, I ordered my Walleye broiled and Cajun seasoned. The fish looked delicious, but was bland to the taste. Walleye is one of the nicest freshwater fish you can get. It has a very clean white meat that flakes easily. The flavor was just a little lacking on the Cajun. It needed to have more of a bite and more texture. I added salt and a squeeze of lemon which added some good brightness to the fish, but I would try a different preparation next time; maybe blackened or lemon pepper. I found 2 small pin bones in my filet, but luckily I didn’t eat them. I also got the rice pilaf as a side.

The entrees were very reasonably priced, both were under $18, and came with a choice of salad or soup, one side item, and bread and butter.

As a first stop, this was a successful trip. The restaurant’s decor is a little dated, but good tasting food and a knowledgeable staff make up for it. Thank you to Emily for the great dinner. I cannot wait to try more locations.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Joe Roots Grill on Urbanspoon

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Posted: January 11th, 2012

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The first time I visited Theodore’s Restaurant, located at 9690 West Lake Road in Lake City, was almost a year ago and I had pretty good food.  This time, it was even better. I only really sampled their soups and appetizers the last time and I am glad I waited until now to try their seafood.  Owner Bill Esser is there to greet you at the door and light the candle on your table to start your dining experience.  Amanda and I were seated and our server, Cara, came over to take our orders. She told us the daily and weekly specials and we had her put in an appetizer of crab cakes while we finished looking at the menu. After some careful deliberation, Amanda decided on the Potato Crusted Cod and I ordered the Crab Stuffed Scallops.

I know I talked about the Crab Cakes in my last review of Theodore’s, but they are definitely worth mentioning again.  The crab cakes are lightly fried and have an amazingly creamy texture.  The crab melts in your mouth and is seasoned very well.  The cakes would be good on their own, but the remoulade  they are served with is what really makes the dish.  Remoulade is a tartar sauce-type condiment that is usually mayonnaise or aioli-based and is a delicious accompaniment to many seafood dishes. Theodore’s remoulade  is bursting with many different flavors from mustard, garlic, vinegar, and other spices.  I not only used the sauce on the crab, but I finished it off with my bread.

Our entrées came out shortly after we finished some soup, salad and bread.  The smell of both dishes was intoxicatingly delicious.  The diver scallops were about two inches across and filled with a crab mixture.  The scallops themselves were cooked perfectly and were buttery sweet.  I asked Cara about the crab stuffing and learned that it is the same mixture used in the crab cakes.  The scallops are firm, but can be cut easily with a fork.  I do, however, recommend eating this dish with a spoon so you get some of the lobster cream sauce with every bite.  The sauce was incredible.  It had all of the buttery flavor and richness of lobster without overpowering the scallops. I added a squeeze of lemon on top to add a layer of tang and brightness.  Like the remoulade, the lobster cream sauce was cleaned off of my plate with the help of some bread and my spoon.  For side dishes, I had some lightly buttered and sautéed vegetables as well as some fried zucchini sticks.  I used the lemon on both of those as well and it really brought out the flavors.

Amanda’s dish came with three medium-sized pieces of cod.  The potato crust was made from shredded potatoes and various seasonings and then was pan fried to give it a great crunch.  Imagine fresh hash browns coating a piece of fish.  It was fantastic.  It had the perfect level of saltiness from the seasoning and the frying gave the fish beautiful color and texture.  The cod was light and flaky, but at the same time hardy enough to stand up to the breading and frying.  The fish was served in the same lobster cream sauce that my scallops came with and it really elevated the potato flavor.  Amanda had double order of the veggies as her side dish.

As a side note, Theodore’s Restaurant is one of 26 regional restaurants on the Erie Fine Dining Card which entitles the holder to a free entrée with the purchase of another entrée.  We used our card last night which gave us Amanda’s entrée for free.  However, with their seafood dishes priced between $15 and $18, Theodore’s is extremely reasonable for the high quality of food you receive even without the Erie Fine Dining Card.

Thank you to Cara and Bill for the great service and incredible food.  I will be visiting again soon.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Theodore's Restaurant Incorporated on Urbanspoon

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Posted: January 17th, 2012

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I have lived inEriesince 2003 and have never been to Hook’s Catfish Kitchen.  During my lunch break on Tuesday, I made my way to 38 North Park Row downtown with my co-worker Jenny Sholtis to get some food.  After spending five years at a location onBuffalo Road, Rahman Hooks moved his business to the downtown district.  Now, in their fourth year downtown, the business is booming.  Jenny and I got there around 12:15 and just beat the lunch rush.

There are paper menus at the counter, but there is a large board menu on the wall.  For fish choices, you have catfish (fillets or nuggets), monster whiting (fillets or nuggets), perch, walleye, and tilapia.  There is also a shrimp basket, chicken tenders, or chicken wings.  Seeing as how it’s called Catfish Kitchen, we both felt like we should get the house specialty.  All of the meals come with your choice of fries or onion rings as well as two pieces of white bread.  In addition to our fries and bread, I ordered a side of fried okra and Jenny got a split order of sweet corn nuggets and mac & cheese wedges.

We were the only people there when we placed our order, but by the time our food was done, there wasn’t a seat left.  Our food was served in Styrofoam containers for easy clean-up as well as take-home packaging.  We had a table right next to the counter so it gave Rahman an easy way to hand us our food as well as giving us easy access to the condiments (hot sauce, ketchup, vinegar, and ranch dressing).  You can ask for tartar sauce if you’d like, but you might get some weird looks in your direction when you do.

I started with our sides.  The fried okra was light and the frying got rid of the typically slimy texture. I put a little malt vinegar on it for a bite and then dipped them in either ranch or hot sauce as the meal continued.  Jenny’s sweet corn nuggets and mac & cheese wedges were great as well.  The corn was a cream style corn with a crunchy fried batter coating.  The sweetness of the corn mixed with the saltiness of the batter and a dip of hot sauce was perfect.  The mac & cheese was the same way.  The bites were super cheesy without being hard to eat.  The insides were molten hot so be careful when eating.  Using ketchup on these was my personal favorite.

The fish really was the star.  The fish is breaded and not battered like most fried fish places aroundErie.  The breading is a secret blend of flour, cornmeal, Cajun seasoning, and other spices. The cornmeal gave it some sweetness while the Cajun spices added all of the flavor.  At first, I was just ripping it apart with my hands, but then I proceeded to make small sandwiches with the slices of white bread.  I covered the fish in both malt vinegar and hot sauce which really makes the flavors explode.  The slices of bread gave the fish body and made it easier to eat.  The thinner parts of the fish got extra crispy and were delicious.  Next time, I would ask for the entire filet to be fried longer to make it crispier, but it really was fantastic as is.

My two filets with fries and okra was $12.50 and Jenny’s single filet with mac & cheese wedges was $7.50.  A full lunch for $20 was well worth it.  They are cash only so remember to stop at an ATM before you go.  Although everything was fried, I didn’t leave feeling like I was weighed down.  Thank you to Rahman for the fantastic lunch and hospitality on our first visit to Hook’s Catfish Kitchen.  You will see me back for sure.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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Posted: January 24th, 2012

I have been to Under the Clock in the Boston Store downtown a few times for the original menu as well as for some appetizers, but I haven’t had a chance to try the new “Gastropub” menu. Amanda and I sat down to dinner around 6:30 Monday, and we were hungry. There were a few other tables of people, but it was pretty empty. Our server, Meg, let us look over the menu while she got us some drinks. The menu has a seafood section that contains six entrées ranging from Lake Erie Perch to Seared Ahi Tuna. After some deliberations, I decided to order the Baltimore Crab Cakes, and Amanda couldn’t pass up the Seared Ahi Tuna.

Our meal started with some garlic bread sticks and salads and then promptly moved on to the main course. Although the food smelled fantastic, the presentation was a little lacking. The Seared Ahi Tuna steak was a fantastic portion size for $22.95. For Ahi Tuna, the steak was a little over-cooked, but the Cajun seasoning crust on the outside was fantastic. We both were disappointed that the Asian slaw, wasabi and teriyaki reduction were missing from the plate. They would have given a fantastic Asian flavor to the dish. The sides both dishes came with were lightly cooked green beans and a lemon risotto. The beans were barely above room temperature and were lacking some salt. The risotto had a great creamy texture and fantastic flavor. The lemon flavor was subtle and not overpowering which really let the fish shine on the plate. That teriyaki reduction would have put it over the top.

My crab cakes were good, but they tasted like they were missing something. The texture was on the soft side, and they needed some sort of vinegary brightness. The lemon given on the plate helped some, but the peach chutney was two sweet to really add anything. My portion was on the small side in comparison to Amanda’s and its price. For two crab cakes, beans, risotto and a salad, it was $19.99. For almost $4 less, I can get three crab cakes, two sides and a salad at Theodore’s. The price point drops this from a good plate of food to an OK plate of food.

Our service from Meg was great. If the food was priced and presented better, the whole meal would have been great, too.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Gastropub Under the Clock on Urbanspoon

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Posted: January 31st, 2012

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1201 Kitchen at 1201 State St. has been a planned dinner destination for me since the day it opened. I had lunch there when it was still 1201 Restaurant and Wine Bar, but since Chef/Owner Dan Kern took over, I hadn’t made the time to return. Last night, Amanda and I were joined by our friends Brandon Sease and Katie Winterhoff. Neither of them is a huge seafood fan, so they didn’t participate in this week’s review. Our server, Chuck, was there with menus and taking drink orders shortly after we were seated. Before arriving, Amanda and I both received several recommendations from friends about what seafood dishes we should order. 1201 Kitchen has something to suit any taste, as there is a full, seasonally changing menu, in addition to a fresh sushi/raw bar. We really had some incredible choices for dinner. Instead of revealing what we ordered right off the bat, I am going to let it be revealed in turn.

I was the only one who ordered a traditional entrée. I ordered the Scarlet Snapper. The cut of fish was the perfect size and doneness. Both sides of the fish were golden and crispy, while the center was tender and flaky. The fillet was served over sticky rice and crispy fried potatoes tossed in a sweet and spicy chili sauce. The bowl was also filled with a kanto broth that was delicious. On top of everything were some slices of marinated English cucumber. With everything combined into one bite, it was really good. The fish held up to the heat of the sauce while the potato and rice gave each mouthful some texture. As everything sat in the broth, flavoring it further while I ate, the final few spoonfuls were the best part of the dish.

The main course was good, but the plates from the sushi/raw bar were the real stars. I started my meal with the Honey-Bourbon Cured Salmon Tacos. Three small tortillas are fried until lightly crisp and then topped with a citrus-tarragon crema. On top of that is the fresh, diced honey-bourbon cured salmon and double smoked bacon. The fresh, sweet salmon combined with the salty bacon was incredible. Each taco was topped with watercress slaw and star anise, which really elevated the overall flavors of the dish. The crunch of both the tortilla and the slaw combined with the meaty fish made for a really fantastic taco.

Amanda’s meal started with a lightly seared scallop appetizer. The almost-raw scallop was thinly sliced and layered with smoked prosciutto and avocado. It was served with a side of aged soy sauce and togarashi agave. The scallop melted with the creaminess of the avocado and created an almost butterlike mouth feel that was delightful. The prosciutto added just the right amount of smokiness and salt. The flavors worked well together, and both sauces elevated the plate to a new level.

Her entrée was an order of the Spicy Tuna Maki. Maki is the shortened name given to a sushi roll. This roll consisted of fresh chopped tuna, avocado, and scallions. It also came with a side of spicy sauce, pickled ginger, wasabi paste, and soy sauce. The rice was cooked perfectly and gave the roll great body. The nori used to wrap it gave a little snap to each bite. I tend to think avocado gets overshadowed in a lot of sushi rolls; its creamy texture blends in with the soft fish and I never really taste it. The scallions, however, gave it fantastic crunch. The spicy sauce, as well as the wasabi, added an extra punch of flavor at the end.

Our dinner companions enjoyed, among other things, a seared kobe beef appetizer as well a special pork belly mac ‘n’ cheese that were both incredible. Regardless of whether reviewing for a blog entry brings me back, I will be returning soon to try more delicious items from the menu. Thank you to Chuck for the attentive and very knowledgeable service. Also, thank you to owners Dan and J.B. for your warmth and hospitality.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

1201 Kitchen on Urbanspoon

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Posted: February 7th, 2012

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Sensory 3 Restaurant & Lounge is located inside of Presque Isle Downs & Casino. For those who were a fan of La Bonne Vie, Sensory 3 should still be high on your favorites list. Although the menu did receive a large overhaul, they still feature some of the best dishes from La Bonne Vie. The casino was crowded as usual, but Sensory 3 wasn’t at all. We made a reservation and when we showed up early, we were seated immediately. We had glanced at the menu online before we arrived so we had an idea of what we wanted to order. While our server got our drinks, we narrowed down our entrée choices as well as an appetizer. There are so many appetizers and tapas that sounded amazing, but we finally decided on the Seared Ahi Tuna. For entrees, Amanda ordered the Chilean Sea Bass and I wanted to try the Lobster Wellington.

The dining room is surrounded by televisions that display art pieces as well as classic movies and TV shows. This is a nice conversation piece while waiting for your food. Our Ahi Tuna came to the table and we couldn’t wait to eat. The tuna was served with a very light Cajun style sear on the outside. With dark edges, the inside was perfectly raw with a beautiful red color to it. It was served with a julienne of pickled vegetables as well as ginger, wasabi, and a side of ponzu which is a citrus based dressing similar to soy sauce. The texture of the tuna was buttery and delicious. The Cajun sear on it gave it a hint of spice that was elevated by the wasabi. Each piece was easily rolled around the veggies and ginger to make a riceless maki-style sushi. It was worth every penny.

We had a little time before our entrées were served, but the wait just escalated our hunger. Amanda’s Chilean Sea Bass was a beautiful plate of food. This large filet was served skin on and was seared to perfection giving the skin and the entire dish a crispy texture. The fish itself has a mild flavor with a firm, almost steak-like texture that still melted with each bite. It was served on a bed of Haricots Verts which are a longer and thinner French green bean. They were lightly cooked and lightly seasoned and added color as well as some more good textures to the plate. On the bottom of everything were lobster raviolis in a mushroom jus. The ravioli and mushroom sauce combination was rich and creamy and was a perfect side to the Sea Bass.

My Lobster Wellington was great as well. The full lobster tail is wrapped in a buttery, flaky puff pastry and served in a lobster cream sauce. The tail was just slightly overcooked, but the flavor of it was spot on. I would have loved for the cream sauce to be inside the pastry as well. I could have eaten it with a spoon it was so good. For sides on my plate, I had roasted seasoned broccolini and crab mashed potatoes. The broccolini was roasted with garlic and Cajun style spices with gave it layers of flavor and a slight bite of heat. The mashed potatoes were incredible. Between ordering dinner and it coming to the table, I had forgotten that the mashed potatoes were made with crab and was pleasantly surprised when I tasted them. The crab added a depth to the potatoes that I didn’t know they could reach. The meat was succulent and melted in to the potatoes. There also were some diced vegetables that added texture to each bite.

The meal was very filling, but we couldn’t pass up trying the crème brûlée for dessert. The burnt sugar crust on top was thick and wonderfully crunchy. It gave a protective shell to the luscious custard-like cream underneath it. This was a dessert that I would have gladly asked for seconds had they been available.

We used our Erie Fine Dining card for dinner and even after one dish was taken off of the bill, it was still a $100 meal. Don’t let the price scare you, the food and service is well worth it. If you haven’t had a chance to try it, get up there and see for yourself.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

Sensory 3 Restuarant & Lounge on Urbanspoon

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Posted: February 14th, 2012

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Valentine’s Day is always a busy day for restaurants. When Colao’s Ristorante got the most votes in the weekly poll the day before Valentine’s Day, I was worried that getting a table would be difficult. Fortunately, there was room for me and Amanda last night. We were seated at a booth just inside the door, and our server, Patrick, was with us shortly with glasses of water. He offered us a wine list and told us about the daily features. The Delmonico Steak special sounded amazing, but I was there for seafood. He left us to our menus for a few minutes and came back with bread and dipping oil. We finally decided, and Amanda ordered the Cioppino special and I went with the Fra Diavolo Frutti di Mare.

We both got a small starter salad before our meal. Instead of tiding me over, that just made me hungrier, and I wanted dinner more. Our food arrived and looked delicious. Both plates were a good size and full. Though both were in a red sauce, they were very different. Amanda’s dish, Cioppino, is a stew-style dish that originated in San Francisco. It is tomato broth filled with various seafoods. Colao’s makes it with clams, mussels, calamari, large shrimp, and chunks of sea bass. The mussels and the sea bass were so buttery, they just melted in your mouth. The clams had a very rich and succulent flavor that was really accentuated by the broth. The shrimp were meaty and held their own against all of the other seafood. I was worried that the hot broth would continue to cook the shrimp once it was at the table, but surprisingly it did not. The calamari, however, was slightly overcooked. It had a really good taste, but it was a little rubbery. The seafood all played off each other well and made for a successful dish.

My Frutti di Mare (Italian for seafood) was tasty as well. Instead of a tomato broth, my seafood was in a thick and chunky tomato sauce full of peppers and loaded with spice. Fra Diavolo translates to “From Hell” or “Brother Devil.” I wouldn’t say this was so hot that it was from hell, but it had some good heat. The sauce, which was filled with large scallops and shrimp as well as calamari rings, was served over a bed of linguine. The scallops were a good two inches across, if not larger, and were perfectly cooked. My fork cut through them like butter, and they were fantastic. The shrimp had their tails left on, and that added a ton of flavor to the sauce. Each shrimp formed a little cup that just made eating the chunks of peppers and tomatoes easier. The calamari, like Amanda’s, was chewy. There were many small rings as well as tentacles, which mostly blended into the sauce, so they weren’t too noticeable.

We both were full from dinner, so we decided to pass on dessert and just get our check. When Patrick brought our bill, I was a little surprised by the price of the Cioppino. I know it was a lot of seafood, but at $32, I felt it was a little high. Everything should have been perfect at that price. Some people say it is rude to ask for the price of a dish before ordering, but restaurants tend to not tell you the price on purpose.

As a server, Patrick was good. He was prompt and made sure our water glasses were filled. His routine seemed a little overly rehearsed and lacked personality, though. We were bid farewell by whom I assumed was the owner. He wished us a Happy Valentine’s Day and told us to come back soon. I definitely want to come back to try more from the menu, but for the price, it isn’t a place I will be frequenting often.

I still have some tickets for the 6th Annual SafeNet Chill-E-Cook off on Sunday, February 26th, that I will be giving away through Facebook. Like Chew On It: Beard vs. Food there for your chance to win.

Until next time,

Andrew – Beard vs. Food

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