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Cincinnati Restaurant Reviews

Cincinnati cuisine is so much more than chili. There are great restaurants in town that will provide you with exceptional food in a wonderful atmosphere. This blog is a collection of reviews and personal observations from the current Cincinnati dining scene.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Eating Your Way Out Of Cincinnati

Welcome back from Thanksgiving break, and welcome back to my stomach. I had a horrible experience as I was out of town, visiting family: I caught a stomach virus. I couldn't play with my niece and cousins, and to make matters worse, I couldn't eat.

Well, nothing but toast and crackers. So I'm glad that I finally feel like eating again.

Speaking of which, I stumbled across this fun article from CityBeat. It appeared a couple of months ago, when their dining writer, Craig Bida, literally ate his way out of Cincinnati. He went to all of his favorite spots one last time, as well as finally made his way to the places he'd meant to go.

I'm amazed it had taken him so long to get to Knotty Pine On The Bayou. That's one of the first great restaurants I went to when I came here. And I love it. I'm sure I'll write about it more at some point, but needless to say, it's great Cajun food in a very fun atmosphere.

But it makes me feel good to see that even a professional dining writer hadn't been to the crown jewel of the Cincinnati culinary scene: Jean-Robert at Pigall's. I haven't been either, and I feel a bit like a phony when I write this blog without having been there. It's not a restaurant you just up and go to. Knowing that he hadn't been there either makes me feel just a little less unqualified. (How's that for a double negative?)

And listen to how lovingly he describes his experience:

Pigall's is clearly operating on a very different plane from most of its restaurant brethren, serving up amazing food made with diverse, quality ingredients and a fantastic, fanatical devotion to flavor and aesthetics.

It remains very much on my to do list.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

On this, the most "foody" of holidays, have a great Thanksgiving.

I'll be back next week.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Top-Rated Jean-Robert at Pigall's

Zagat's recently released their rankings for 2006, and lo and behold, Jean-Robert at Pigall's is one of the top 11 restaurants in the United States.


I'm having a hard time getting my head around this, but it's definitely exciting. Upfront, I want to admit that I've yet to dine at Pigall's. THis restaurant on Fourth Street downtown has been through many incarnations throughout the years, as it has gone through many different owners. A couple of decades ago, it was on a par with the Maisonette, but then it went downhill.

I once went there when it was reimagined as a BBQ spot called Pig Al's. That is probably a chapter in the history of the restaurant that Jean-Robert de Cavel would like to forget.

But one of the top restaurants in the country is right here in town! That's great, that's amazing, I'm having trouble coming up with the words. And I haven't been there, partly because it's not cheap. Let's hope that this restaurant is the rising tide that raises every other restaurant in the city.

I look at the influence of the Maisonette on the local scene. Jean-Robert came from there, as did David Cook of Daveeds, and I'm sure many of the other greatest local chefs cut their teeth in that kitchen. Now that that restuarant has been mismanaged into obscurity, let's hope that Pigall's can serve a similar purpose.

Congratulations to Jean-Robert at Pigall's.

And let's give local diners some credit for supporting the restaurant so that it could get to this point.

And here's hoping I can enjoy a meal there soon.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

915 in Florence, Zola in Covington and Oakley Pub and Grill

A friend of mine works at the Oakley Pub and Grill and she tells me all about the growing empire of neighborhood pubs the owners are building. The Enquirer did a review of 915 in Florence yesterday, so I asked her about it.

She hadn't been there, but said that it's very similar to the other two restaurants. And that means good food in a very low key and relaxed environment.

I haven't been to 915 either, but I've been to both Zola and the OPG. They have very similar menus. They are known for really good burgers, and a very typical bar experience.

It's funny to find such good sandwiches in a bar that is bordering on what could be described as a dive.

My personal favorite is a burger with sliced banana peppers and pepper jack cheese. The first time I had it was at the OPG, and I loved it. It didn't have bacon on it, but the second time I had the burger, at Zola, it did have bacon. My friend said that it should at OPG, so maybe they were out of bacon the day I was there. But I actually preferred it without bacon.

The secret to their burgers is high quality meat. The menu makes a big point of telling you they use Black Angus beef. They also use a good bun, not too thick and bready.

I don't care much for cole slaw, but I was forced to try the Asian slaw at Oakley Pub and Grill, and it's a tasty and interesting take on the traditional side. A sharp, gingery dressing makes this unlike any other slaw you've ever had. Make sure someone at your table gets it so you can at least taste it.

I don't know the next time I'll be in Ft. Thomas, but I do know what I'll say if someone says, "anyone hungry?" But for now, I'm happy to head back to OPG.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Tinks Cafe in Clifton

My dad and I went to our first dinner at Tink's Cafe off Ludlow in the Gaslight District in Clifton recently. There were only five occupied seats when we were there, and that was a shame. Tink's has been one of my favorite dining experiences in Cincinnati.

The atmosphere is beautiful and simple. A large white room, with white tables and booths. Their was some artwork on the walls, and a pleasant jazz band playing. The space was comfortable, and inviting.

Tinks has a good wine list. For some reason, though I'm not a big wine drinker, Tink's is the kind of restaurant that makes drinking wine seem appropriate. And the food was great. I had a wonderful chicken after I finished devouring the arugala salad. My father had the pan-seared salmon, which was also delicious.

Here's a review from CityBeat. Unfortunately, the reviewer makes the stupidest statement in the world, in my view.

For Tink's newbies, the initiation script goes approximately like this: "Wow, I feel like I'm somewhere else, definitely not Cincinnati," followed by "How come I've never heard of this place?" then "I'm definitely coming back"
How come reviewers in this town keep saying this place makes me feel like I'm not in Cincinnati? First, it's unoriginal. Second, tell me what Cincinnati feels like. Third, if all of these places don't feel like Cincinnati, yet here they are in Cincinnati, you're obviously not going to enough of them. It's an admission of ignorance.

Despite that, I love Tinks. You should go. It's great destination for dates. And it's in a great part of town.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Precinct

Recently, I was reminded of my last dinner at the Precinct, Jeff Ruby's signature steakhouse in Columbia-Tusculum. As usual, my steak was wonderful. But that was the only wonderful aspect of that meal.

When I was younger, the Precinct was the nicest restaurant in the city. At least that I knew of. This is but one jewel in Jeff Ruby's crown, but it isn't the shiniest.

At the meal in question, I was surprised at how poor the service was. The waiter took friendly to an unprofessional level. The table behind me was full of loud jocks who made sure their dates, and everyone else, knew they were eating at the Precinct. And the tomato, onion and smoked mozzarella salad was very disappointing.

As long as the Precinct keeps getting the great meat that it does now, it's worth going to. But the atmosphere in this restaurant isn't as classy as it used to be, and not all of the food lives up to the standard the meat sets.

Ruby has spread his empire into Louisville and Indiana. I wonder if he's spread himself too thin. This was the restaurant that made his name, but I'm not impressed anymore. I want to have a meal at this other restaurants and see if this is an isolated incident, or if my memory of his restaurants was off.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Best burger in Cincinnati--City View Tavern

I've been feeling that I've been being too negatice over the last few posts about the food. So I'm going way positive here and put out my vote for the best burger in Cincinnati.

And it's.........

City View Tavern

I gotta warn you before you go to the site...it's one of those webpages that change your browser size. I hate those. And I'm amazed by how high-tech the site is, because the tavern is everything but high-tech.

And you can tell by the menu. No salads, no fries even. Just the Big Ted, the best burger in Cincinnati that I was referring to earlier, a BBQ sandwich, a Mettwurst and a grill cheese.

But the burger is great meat, seasoned well, and cooked to perfection. It has a slightly peppery taste that is unique to me. And it's big, and the bun is just the perfect size without being too doughy. It comes along with a bag of Husman's. That's right-no frier.

This tavern feels like a bar that decided to do a couple of meals, but nothing much. And then they decided to do it better than everyone else.

I should also mention the view. Great view of the backsiddde of downtown, looking right at Procter & Gamble's worldwide headquarters. But you can see all the way to 275 in Wilder, Kentucky. Simply a beautiful view of the river.

This is one of my favorite restaurants ever, anywhere. It does one simple thing, but it does it well.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Guido's in Mt. Adams

I committed foodie sin last week. I had dinner two nights in a row in the same restaurant. Not only that, but I didn't enjoy eating there the first time!

The restaurant in question is Guido's, an Italian eatery crossed with a sports bar on St. Gregory in Mt. Adams. Not feeling very adventurous on either Thursday or Friday, I went with the pizza. Both times the pizza was split half cheese, half meat.

Some people would complain about Domino's not having a distinguishable taste--a bland pizza. Well, compared to Guido's, Domino's offers a world of flavor. I felt like I could actually taste the flour in the crust. It seriously needed some salt or something to add to the flavor. But how can you have a good pizza when the most distinguishing taste is flour?

Of course, this is pizza, and the sex rule applies: Even when it's not that good, it's still good. And the second night I was there, one of my dining companions actually said, "I like the crust." I almost spit the pizza out of my mouth.

I also tried the garlic fries and the asparagus frites. The garlic fries were a poor excuse for a true garlic fry; they would have been ridden out of the city of Gilroy, California on a rail. But the asparagus frites were worth the price of admission by themselves.

Now, I'm probably being too harsh on Guido's. With a name like that, it's probably not trying to be the paragon of Italian American culinary pride. It's great to come in after having some drinks somewhere else on the Hill and top off the night with a couple of slices. And it's a great atmosphere for that as well, with a 60 HD TV.

So Guido's keeps things lowkey and simple, and they do it very well.

Definitely go there if you're looking for a place to grab a bite and a drink with some friends. And order the asparagus frites.

Don't go there is you're looking for a great slice of pizza.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Aqua in Mount Lookout

As part of their Hot Spots Series, the Enquirer attempts to quantify what it is about Aqua, the great new restaurant in Mount Lookout Square that makes it cool. I don't know what the point of doing this article is--if you need to explain why something's cool, then it isn't.

But Aqua is cool. Despite this article, it's cool. It's got plenty of style and atmosphere, to go along with great food.

They have great sushi, I'd venture to say that the spicy tuna roll was the best sushi I've had in town. The Kobe beef carpaccio is a showy dish. It looks better on the menu than it tastes, but it still tasted good.

The lamb t-bone is a perfect red meat dish. It's unique, just like Aqua. A high-quality cut of lamb is expertly cooked. My medium rare serving was like eating butter.

Aqua has earned its hotspot reputation. This is a great place to take date or with a group of friends to start a classy night. Just save yourself the trouble of trying to explain why it's worth going to.

Friday, November 10, 2006

McCormick and Schmicks opening soon

This Dining News Column has some info on the opening of this seafood chain.

Apparently, this is a great thing for downtown dining because M&S are a great restaurant. I'm unconvinced. I am not a big fan of chain restaurants of any sort, even if they have great food. Part of the dining experience should be the local flavor you get--and I don't believe you get that at many chains.

I'm heartened to see that they are doing some interesting things that will make this feel more local, like a Cincinnati mural. And the menu will not be something handed down by M&S corporate. That's partly due to the trickiness of getting fresh fish. I don't get the impression that the menu will be driven by the chef, though.

But this is a high-quality restaurant right on Fountain Square, which I'm excited for. Perhaps I should have said earlier, however, that I don't really like seafood.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Smoking Ban Passes in Ohio

This was a hotly contested issue among my friends. I guess everytime there's a smoking ban issue on the ballot anywhere in the U.S., this becomes a hotly contested issue.

I think we can all agree that a smoking ban in Ohio is a good thing for public health. Not so good for smokers, perhaps.

The owner of Murphy's Pub worries that this will seriously hurt his business, in this report from News 5.

My guess is that it will hurt his business some, as smokers are now more likely to go over to Northern Kentucky to enjoy a few wobbly-pops. But I think he'll find that there are many, many patrons who'll appreciate the smoke free atmosphere. I know I will.

This might be bad news for one Cincinnati business, however. I think that P&G's Febreze Fabric Refresher is purchased primarily for use on jackets and sweaters coming home from smoky bars.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

The National Exemplar

The National Exemplar in Mariemont, in the Best Western Mariemont Inn, was profiled by Jim Knippenberg in the Cincinnati Enquirer today.

This is the type of restaurant your parents drag you to when your grandparents are in town. And I'm not saying that in a negative way, there is definitely a need for that kind of restaurant. And I'd say that it does that well. They have a serious prime rib.

One interesting thing I took from the article was that YPs seem to be stopping there on their way home from work. Which makes sense, if you live in Mariemont. Why drive home drunk from downtown? Drive home drunk closer to home.

Overall, go to the National Exemplar for a family dinner with older relatives. When you aren't trying to work your way into grandpa's will, go eat someplace that doesn't feel like an elk's lodge.

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