Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Doug Katz's Katz Club Diner Misses the Mark

When I first moved into my home the infamous Diner Cars on Lee road sat vacant. A few years ago Clyde's Bistro and Barroom [see my post here] -- owned by the eponymous Clyde Mart. It was generally excellent, and Mr. Mart was a fantastic host but closed after a bit more than a year. Immediately succeeding was Favor Bistro -- a concept that Rachel and I tried once (unknowingly -- the sign outside was still of Clyde's) and "never again" (Service was less than stellar, the menu was questionable, and, well I'm a picky eater and to sum it up... alligator was on the menu). Favor deservedly closed after a short run and the space has stood vacant since.

Thus when I learned that restaurateur Doug Katz was taking over the space -- and planning a return to the diner concept I was excited and looking forward to once again having an Americanesque food establishment a short walk down the street from my house. Rachel suggested dining for my birthday about two weeks ago, but they had not yet opened.

Opening date having passed, tonight Rachel and I walked over figuring that we'd try Mr. Katz's new endeavor. The short version: The staff was friendly and competent, the food was reasonably good, but the concept execution was beyond disappointing.

Reservationless, we were met with a 30 minute wait (estimated at 15-20), but with nowhere to really lean, much less sit in the foyer (there was precisely one chair available) to pass the time it felt much longer.

Having been seated, Rachel and I both decided to order sodas -- Diet Coke for her, Coke for me. Under the heading of "Soda Fountain" on the menu, imagine our surprise when a glass bottle of (real sugar) Coke and a can of Diet Coke were brought to our table--decidedly not Fountain, and considering that I'm not a fan of "real sugar" Coke [it tends to give me headaches] had there been any warning I may have tried something else. Imagine our surprise when Rachel's request for a refill on her beverage brought with it an unannounced doubling of the price on the check (really $2.00 per 12oz can? Hotel vending machines don't even stick it to you that badly and they aren't making margin on food). I'm honestly not sure which I'm more surprised by -- that it's labeled as a soda fountain but its not soa from a fountain, or the pricing structure.

Walking back to my place after, Rachel and I discussed the evening and the best conclusion we can come to was a "sit-down restaurant" wrapped in a "diner" theme, with above-market pricing, and adequate food -- but food the didin't deserve the pricing.

Service speed was also severely disappointing -- for a "diner" a 20+ minute wait for food (after the 30+ seating time) is not what either of us expected, and at least one other table was becoming visibly agitated.

I had the "Creamy Mac and Cheese", covered in breading, and served in a mini crock it was good -- but the portion size didn't create value for the menu price. More troubling, Rachel tried the "Diner Cheeseburger and Paprika Onions" -- found under the category of "Sandwiches" with the notation "All sandwiches served with choice of fries or chips and Dr. Katz's pickle".

Well -- the food Rachel was actually served was good ("nice bun, good fries") but tiny ("it looks like a single slider" both of us commented nearly simultaneously). More notable, however, was what Rachel wasn't served:  Both "Dr. Katz's Pickle" and the Paprika Onions explicitly specified on the menu were absent without leave or explanation. Also missing were any semblance of other burger staples -- like tomato, onion (paprika or otherwise) or even lettuce: Essentially a thin 3" diameter patty with American cheese, ketchup, and a bun. Period. For $11. Fundamentally the same thing -- with faster service -- can be found at Wendy's for about $4 including the drink.

The service wasn't worth the price or the wait, the food wasn't worth the price or the wait, and the ambience [including an obnoxiously loud table behind us, seemingly related to Mr. Katz] certainly wasn't worth either.

Maybe Rachel and I will try again in a few weeks but given the premium pricing on mediocre execution, it will probably be a while.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Honeck Conducts Tchaikovsky's Fifth

Martinsson: Open Mind
Beethoven: Piano Concerto No. 3 in C minor, Op. 37 (Lars Vogt, piano)
Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5 in E minor, Op. 64
Manfred Honeck, Conductor

Last weekend, Severance Hall played host to Case Western Reserve University graduation ceremonies; tonight -- as the last concert in The Cleveland Orchestra's 2012-13 Severance Hall Season -- seemed like the last day of school before Summer Vacation as ushers and frequent patrons exchanged calls of "Enjoy your summer", "Are you doing anything fun?", and "What will you do with all of your free time".

The Orchestra did not disappoint and during one of the ovations of the season, a gentleman in a nearby box could be heard to comment "[Honeck] really pulled everything out of the Orchestra". And he did.

Rolf Martinsson's Open Mind was a delightful 10-minute overture to the concert, starting with a bold and overtly cinematic punch, with explosions of musical energy, a gentle romantic interlude and the mystery of a dark dripping cave.

Beethoven's third piano concerto was a well balanced endeavor between pianist and orchestra, with the long orchestral introduction giving way to the pianists, taking up the music as if old friends conversing and occasionally completing the others sentences. The slow second movement was beautifully solemn and introspective and my favorite from the piece (I'll admit that the third didn't really hold my attention, though I have nothing against it).

The program concluded with Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony, another beautiful four movement piece, though the third movement was undoubtedly my favorite with the waltz -- a gossamer-like piece where the orchestra, lead by the strings, just gracefully fluttered in midair before turning into an orchestral battle cry full of weighty energy.

See you at Blossom...


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Cleveland Museum of Art: Art Crawl II

Almost exactly two years ago, the Cleveland Museum of Art hosted it's first Art Crawl -- still one of the most interesting events I've attended.

Tonight, Art Crawl Mark II was hosted after hours at the Cleveland Museum of Art. Though the Museum closed at 5:00, the doors reopened at 6:00 for eighty invited guests at the Circles donor levels and above. Divided into intimate groups of about twenty, we had four stops, each lead by a curator or conservator and paired with creative h'dourves and wine.

All four stops were wonderful and really demonstrated both  the passion and personality of CMA's staff. While it's easy to be intimidated by the academic aspects of art but the passion and enthusiasim is contageous.

Stop 1, Reto Thuring, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art with Janet Cardiff's Forty Part Motet

Until a couple weeks ago I can say I honestly had no idea who Janet Cardiff was -- until I got stuck at O'Hare with her when United decided to let our flight to Cleveland leave despite knowing our (different) arriving flights were only slightly delayed and arriving at the gate while the aircraft was still there. (No I'm not bitter, United).  Hearing the artist describe her work I wasn't sure what to expect, and to be honest based on other AV installations I was a little skeptical. Before tonight I had not experienced the work.

Reto provided some background on the artist and the work standing outside the 1916 building in the Atrium -- while occasionally the parting doors would let gasps of choral voices escape. Introduction complete we entered the 1916 building to a chorus of voices -- and the combination of voices and the imagery of the art displayed in the gallery was a powerful, almost religious experience much as if walking into an active cathedral. If you find the right pace in the room it is as if you are in the middle of a choir.

I highly recommend visiting the work (in a 1916-building level 2 gallery) before it disappears in early June.

Stop 2, Sona Rhie Quintanilla, Curator of Indian and Southeast Asian Art with the late 1400s Mandala of Vajradakini

Another relatively new curator to the Museum, Ms. Quintanilla provided  great insight into the Mandala of Vajradakini, currently in Gallery One's focus area just off the main entrance to the museum. Extending beond the surface artistic elements of the work I thought the discussion on Tantra, Yoga reincarnation and Enlightenment -- to be very enlightening (pun not intended).

Stop 3, Louise W. Mackie, Curator of Textiles & Islamic Art with Afruz Amighi's His Lantern.

A piece that I've walked by several times since the Islamic galleries opened and thought was interesting, Ms. Mackie's explanation of the piece -- a hanging woven polyethylene piece with projected light creating shadows -- brought an entirely new level of understanding to the piece and the artist. Connecting the symbols in the art to classic counterparts, such as a nearby prayer niche as well as subtle but more modern political statement -- keys echoing those worn in a war brought new understandings to the piece. Ms. Mackie's enthusiasm for the piece and her description of meeting the artist and artist's execution (hand cut with a hot metal knife) was also infectious.

Stop 4, Moyna Stanton, Conservator of Paper with Antonio del Pollaiuolo's Battle of the Nudes

The last stop was certainly not least -- and I'm not only saying that because paper conservation is an area of particular interest for Rachel -- Ms. Stanton's wonderfully in depth look at the history of Battle of the Nudes was a crash course in print making, differences between "states" in prints, the technique Antonio del Pollaiuolo's work, and the history of repairs to the piece and what has been filled in.

Like a good television drama she was really getting rolling and while I was on the edge of my seat (looking forward to hearing more about the work, particularly the photomechnical infill in one corner) the time was up and we had to move on.

The evening concluded with a light reception and quick remarks from museum director David Franklin, a nice way to wind down and chat with other patrons.

I can't wait for the next one -- and I really hope it will be less than two years this time.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Heights Arts: Schubertiade (House Concert/Close Encounters)

Schubert: Sonata in D Major for violin and piano, D.384^*
Schubert: Sonata in G Minor for violin and piano, D.408^%
Schubert: Der Hirt auf Felsen (The Shepherd on the Rock)^¹²
Schubert: String Quartet in G Majorª
At the Koelz Residence, Cleveland Heights
^- Rafael Sorka, piano; *- Isabel Trautwein, violin; %- Alicia Koelz, violin; ¹- Jung Oh, soprano; ²-Robert Woolfrey, clarinet¬™- The Omni Quartet (Jung-Min Amy Lee, Alicia Kolez, violins; Joanna Patterson, viola; Tanya Ell, cello)

It would be horribly neglectful to not note that tonight's concert -- the last of the Heights Arts 2012-13 Close Encounters house concert season -- also marks the last for Heights Arts founding Executive Director Peggy Spaeth before she retires July 2nd after 13 years of dedicated service. (And just to reiterate my standard disclosure: I do serve on the Heights Arts board)

Tonight's concert was our first expedition to the beautiful home of Ms. Kolez and her husband. While not Ms. Koelz's first performance with Height Arts, I believe the first time the host of a concert has also performed.

An all-Schubert event featuring six members of The Cleveland Orchestra alongside two other very talented musicians the music and company was even more delightful than expected -- and that bar is high. All four pieces on the program were passionately played and a joy to hear, although I didn't really attach strong imagery to any of the pieces -- the way I most effectively communicate about music.

Thus, I cannot say that I enjoyed any of the pieces any more or less than any other on the program. The first two pieces -- both violin-and-piano  sonatas -- were lovely and left me to just close my eyes and enjoy the beauty of music for a large swath of both pieces. The inner movement of the Sonata in D was lovely, while the first movement reminded me of the emotional release of crying.

Der Hirt auf dem Felsen with singer Jung Oh and clarinetist Robert Woolfrey joining Rafael Sorka changed things up with Ms. Oh and Mr. Woolfrey's playing faithfully echoing the sentiments of the lyrics -- from the brighter beginning to the sadness and grief-stricken middle.

After an intermission, gears shifted completely with the String Quartet in G Major, D.877 where despite an extended tuning necessitated from Cleveland's indecisive Is-it-Summer-or-Winter weather (I'm glad it's not just me) the passionate playing made it a memorable piece with finely textured drops into darkness and emergences into brightness. Adding interest to the piece were rapid-fire tremors of notes executed with precision.

Clevelanders are incredibly lucky to have access to this level of musicianship in these incredibly intimate settings

I'm already looking forward to the next season...


Friday, May 10, 2013

Cleveland Orchestra: Handel's Water Music

Handel: Water Music Suite No. 1 in F minor
Handel: Zadok the Priest, Coronation Anthem No. 1
Handel: Te Deum ("Dettingen") in D major
The Cleveland Orchestra Chamber Chorus, Robert Porto, Director; Jay Carter, countertenor; Steven Soph, tenor; Klaus Mertens, bass-baritone.
Ton Koopman, conductor.

So I made it back from Vancouver (no thanks to United Airlines) and I'll have to post an update on that trip later -- You may recall though, that for the first time I begged off last week's Cleveland Orchestra concert on the account of both illness and death in the family [it was not a good week...] -- and I was really looking forward to getting back to the hall tonight.

Conductor Ton Koopman has an effervescent stage presence, but unfortunately that didn't carry through to the music; both of the substantial pieces on the program (Handel's Water Music and Te Deum) largely felt hollow and passionless -- there was no technical fault with the execution, but the artists involved seemed to be enjoying plying roughly as much as observing an actual execution. Of course, neither piece was completely without redemption, and particularly in Te Deum, the Cleveland Orchestra Chamber Chorus came through with passages that would have felt right at home in any church.

The shortest piece on tonight's program at about five minutes - Zadok the Priest - was also the piece I most enjoyed as it was very focused, and had a consistent feeling and wasn't quite as devoid of passion as the others

[For the sake of disclosure, I should say that I was much further house (side) right than usual -- in the past I've noted differences in sound in the off-axis seats, though I don't think that played into my perception of tonight's program]

In two weeks my dad is visiting for a delayed birthday weekend, so I'll attend my last concert of the 12-13 season on Thursday evening... and the Blossom season is just around the corner.