Cleveland (well, one big storefront in it) felt very much like Columbus on Thursday night for the popup adventure collaboration between Fresh Street and Cleveland chef Jonathon Sawyer at his Noodlecat restaurant.

Cleveland (well, one big storefront in it) felt very much like Columbus on Thursday night for the popup adventure collaboration between Fresh Street and Cleveland chef Jonathon Sawyer at his Noodlecat restaurant.

Sawyer is enjoying much deserved buzz at the moment. His Greenhouse Tavern has received plenty of glossy-mag love. Food and Wine magazine named him a Best New Chef in 2010. And he just fought an admirable fight on "Iron Chef: America" (Battle: Mint. Iron Chef: Geoffrey Zakarian. Winner: Zakarian.)

When Sawyer met Kenny Kim and Misako Ohba from Fresh Street a couple of months ago, it was mutual admiration at first sight. And that showed Thursday night. The cooks and chefs were frenzied, yes, but also gleeful. Slinging skewer after skewer of tasty grilled meat never looked so fun. For three hours, the supply of skewers, crepes, octopus balls, and dessert and coffee grew, was depleted and was refreshed again.

Guests bought tickets that gained them access to an entire night of food, games, toys and merriment.

The theme of the evening was Japanese carnival. And, boy, did they run with it. We were greeted with children's masks at our communal table and encouraged to take a toy from a pile strewn across the restaurant bar. (Giant eyeglasses with blinking noses, check!) Anime played all night on the television screens to a background of Beck, classic rock and the "Rocky Horror Picture Show" soundtrack.

We darted from station to station like kids (at a carnival, yes) ready to try new things and satisfy hungry eyes. The fact is, our stomachs weren't hungry after the first couple of rounds, but the look and smell of everything in Noodlecat drove us onward.

I had seconds of the takoyaki, savory cooked balls of batter with a bit of tender octopus hidden inside. The beef tongue yakitori swept away all previous thoughts I had about tongue -- it was like any other slice of beef in texture, only more rich and satisfying. And the tuna yakitori, swathed in a tangy orange glaze, was a perfect pair for my glass of floral sake.

We saved room (willed room to be available?) for dessert, a very Japanese combination of flavors and textures. Little cubes of gelee thickened with agar (a seaweed that can act like gelatin), chopped strawberries, a spoonful of red-bean paste and mini mochi balls were tumbled together in a cup topped with whipped cream and a drizzle of brown-sugar syrup. It was a welcome far cry from the sickly sweet desserts I usually confront. And it was a nice foil to the fatty, savory meat we'd been gnawing happily for a couple of hours.

Columbus' Jason Valentine, who is Thunderkiss Coffee, was stationed right next to the parfaits, making pour-over coffee and talking shop with some of the coffee enthusiasts in the room.

Among plenty of moments in the evening when I had to remind myself I wasn't in Columbus, one stuck out in particular: As we left Greenhouse Tavern, I spotted a few copies of Crave near a small-scale model of Sawyer. Had to snap a shot and share it with everyone at home.

This is the part where you swell with pride, too.


On the menu
Yakitori (Pork belly, pork cheek, beef tongue, beef shortrib, chicken thigh with scallion, okra, tuna)
Ramen
Crepes (Salmon cream cheese, bacon okonomiyaki, bulgogi cheesesteak, chicken karage)
Takoyaki
Japanese parfait (Red-bean paste, agar gelee, mini mochi balls, strawberries, whipped cream, brown-sugar syrup)
Thunderkiss coffee