New chow town

About 70 foodies buzz excitedly as they peruse the cryptic menu atDinner in the Dark, a charity feast organized by chefs Brian Okin  and Jeff Jarrett. Each month, top Cleveland chefs gather at a different spot to cook a spectacular meal. Guests follow Dinner in the Dark online and snag spots in advance, with one little hitch: They have no idea what they’ll eat or even who will be cooking. Each course (on this night, they’ll get 12) becomes a guessing game as the chef emerges to introduce the dish: corn panna cotta, miso-glazed halibut and tongue as tender and tasty as corned beef, all paired with complementary wine and handcrafted cocktails for $87.

The success of Dinner in the Dark is no surprise to people who acknowledge Cleveland’s industrial roots but are positive about the food scene’s potential. A lot has changed since celebrity chef Michael Symon opened his flagship Lola 15 years ago. With his talent, mixed ethnic heritage and hip ethos, Michael bridged the gap between Cleveland’s blue-collar character and cosmopolitan ambitions. His success stoked local pride—and piqued curiosity. “The city has responded by raising its game from a meat-and-potatoes town,” Brian says. “People are getting really adventurous and trying different things.”

And so are chefs. Acclaimed restaurateur Zack Bruell just opened his fifth establishment, this one in a former jewelry store that keeps its original name, Cowell and Hubbard. He uses the shop’s former vault area for private dining; rich red fabrics throughout the restaurant and an open kitchen add a modern touch. “We have given new life to an old space that had lost its luster over the years,” Zach says.

This spirit of experimentation makes Cleveland a great destination for a foodie vacation—or at least a really delicious date night. Want nine more? Read on.

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