Sunday, September 26, 2010

Ichiban - Mount Lookout Square

Hit up Ichiban last night for some half price sushi (Friday and Saturday after 9pm, maybe other times too).

The atmosphere is very cool.  Open sushi bar spanning one full end of the restaurant with sushi chefs hard at work.  There are funky booths on one side of the large dining rooms and some neat tables on the other end that make it feel like you are sitting below the ground level on a short table.  The general feel was swanky and hip.  Given that we were there late, it almost seemed as if this was the destination event for the night for most people.  Very cool.

The half price deal is great, but it is a limited menu.  Unlike some of the other new sushi places in town (like Mr. Sushi, Green Papaya, etc) this limited menu did not have lots of crazy rolls.  They have a few, but even the ones they have don't seem as flamboyant as I have seen recently.

We ordered a selection of their rolls and some pieces of nigiri sushi.  We had a dynamite roll (which is the first heated sushi roll I have every heard of), a spider roll, and a regular tuna roll.  Ordered a couple nigiri pieces each of salmon, tuna, scallop, and sea urchin.  Overall, the sushi was good but not great.  The heated dynamite roll just seemed a bit strange, and the tuna and spider rolls were good, but I have had better.  The nigiri was good except for the sea urchin.  It was the worst piece of sea urchin I have ever had, and I was a bit worried about my stomach after eating it.  Luckily there were no repercussions and we had a great night.

The cocktail list was inventive and enticing.  My wife ordered a mango and rum cocktail which sounded great, but as often happens, it was way too sweet and did not taste fresh like its description.  I had the cold sake which was nice.

The total bill (including drinks and tips) was $50 for the two of us.  Pretty good deal on half price sushi night, but I wouldn't have been happy if that number was closer to $75 during regular price time.

Overall, we had a very nice time.  The atmosphere trumped the average sushi, and the service was great too.  If you are looking for some late night sushi in Mount Lookout Square, it is definitely worth checking out.  Great spot for a date too.

Ichiban Japanese Cuisine on Urbanspoon

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Bella Luna Love

I can't believe how long it took me to try this place.  It is way too close to where I live, and people are constantly talking about it.  Bella Luna on Eastern Ave is a quirky italian restaurant that is authentically all about food, friends, wine and fun.

Walking in, this place looks a bit cosmic.  The decor is a bit wacky with stars, moons, purples, oranges and yellows.  I was a bit surprised, as I though I would be walking into an atmosphere that was a bit more authentic italian.  We sat down at the large bar which had some live music and ordered a drink.  Nice, anxious to sit down and try the food.

The dining room was bustling with large tables of friends and family, all clearly enjoying themselves so comfortably, that I thought they must all be regulars.

Our server came and was a bit zany and cosmic as the decor was.  The menu was a bit large and overwhelming (often a bad sign), but there was a special summer menu which she advised us to have a close look at.  We ordered a crab bruschetta and a cheesy bread dish to start.  They were good and satisfying.  For my main course, I was advised by the server to go for the Osso Buco, which was amazing.  The meat fell right off the bone and it was delicious.  For desert we had the dessert sampler, and all three items on the sampler were delicious.

The food was really good (though not gourmet), the atmosphere was fun and relaxed, and the value was terrific (we all left stuffed and with leftovers).  It is a casual fun place to eat where they really try to make you feel like family.  In fact, the owner seems to go around to every table and strike up a long conversation (as he did with my mother in law).  I could definitely become a regular here.

Some pics:

Crab bruschetta:

Cheesy bread with sauce (I could make this at home, but hey, it was good and satisfying):

Osso Buco:

Lasagna (I think):

Dessert sampler:

Bella Luna on Urbanspoon

Chalk Food and Wine is Back

Chalk Food and Wine was a favorite restaurant of mine from the day we moved to Cincinnati in 2008.  On our many visits, it always delivered excellent quality food, great presentation, good service, and a fun atmosphere.  And while on the expensive side, I always felt it delivered great value with a product comparable to Cincinnati's more expensive restaurants like Boca in Oakley.  

We took a hiatus from the place over the past year as we tried other restaurants.  During this time we heard a number of complaints that the menu had changed, the portions were tiny, and people felt ripped off.  This coincided with the change in management as Jean Robert left the restaurant group, and I figured it might be headed downhill like Lavomatic in the same situation.  So we went back last weekend to see for ourselves and hoped for the best.

We both ordered the "Farmers Table" menu which is a mystery menu of 3 courses for about $32.  Sounded like pretty good value. This was unique and I have never blindly ordered a 3 course meal without knowing the dishes.  I went on a limb, really hoping to be impressed by the Chef's creativity.  I ordered it straight up, and my wife asked for a vegetarian version of the Farmer's Table menu.

Basically, we were totally impressed.  The food was amazing.  We had yellowtail tuna, pan seared haddock, lamb, and amazing vegetarian dishes that totally satisfied.  To top it off, we each had an amazing desert.  I love this place and can confidently say I am still a major advocate.  The meals we had were worth double what we paid for them, and I will be back.  If you had a bad visit over the past year, give it another shot and go out on a limb with the Farmer's table menu.  You won't be disappointed.

Here are some pics:

Yellowtail first course (as delicious as it is beautiful):

Lamb second course:

Pan seared haddock third course:

Vegetarian courses 2 and 3:

Butterscotch desert and chocolate torte:

Chalk Food + Wine on Urbanspoon

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Otto's Deli - Covington

We hit up Otto's Deli in Covington with some friends a few weeks ago.  Honestly, I had heard very little about it, and was excited to give it a try.

It is in a perfect location right in the heart of the Covington action on Mainstrasse.  There are a couple of tables in the summer right on the sidewalk which give it a very welcoming feel right as you walk up.  We had reservations, and it is a good thing.  As we stepped inside the place was mobbed.  It is a relatively small restaurant with tables pretty close together.  It had a great vibe with every party in the place seemingly having great conversation over enjoyable food.  The crowd is a bit on the older side, but definitely the hip foodie type older crowd, not the stuffy formal older crowd - if that makes sense.  The atmosphere is eclectic with lots of character, and reminded me a bit of York Street Cafe in Newport.

They asked if we wanted to be seated indoors or out on the back patio.  Given how crowded it was inside, we opted for the back patio.  Again, very similar our back here as the back patio of York Street Cafe (though Otto's is a bit smaller inside and out).   The outside was fine, but did not have as much character as inside, and we were under a wooded deck.

The menu is gourmet and all of it sounds delicious.  To start we had the fried green tomatoes and the baked brie.  Both were delicious, here are the pics:

For main courses the table ordered the scallop dish, the salmon dish (which I don't think is on the menu anymore), and the special vegetarian pasta dish.  The scallop dish was phenomenal.  Scallops were perfectly cooked and atop a delicious bed of spinach and parmesan risotto.  The only complaint for the whole night is that the salmon was overcooked.  So be wary if you order that.  See photos below:

For desert we had a chocolate torte.  I would love to show you a picture of it, but it was too good to snap before it was gone.  See here:

Overall, it was a wonderful night out, and we will definitely be back.  The prices are a bit high (thought worth it) so we will save for out of town guests or special occasions.

Otto's Deli on Urbanspoon

Saturday, June 12, 2010

In-N-Out Burger

I have always wanted to eat at In-N-Out, and finally got my chance today in Mountainview, CA (home of Google).  I went for the straight up Double Double combo meal (number 1).  It was delicious.  Best fast food burger I think i have ever had.  Fries on the other hand were disappointing.  See the mouthwatering picture here:

Friday, May 28, 2010

Lavomatic in Over the Rhine

Ok, so I might vent here.  I don't like to vent, but I feel compelled to stand up and say something.  

I want Over the Rhine to make its comeback.  I don't know how long people have been talking about an OTR revival, but I have tried hard to believe it and contribute to it.  It would be so nice to have a downtown neighborhood with vibrant culture, restaurants, street cars, findlay market, etc.  I can't tell you how much I want that to happen.  Unfortunately, Lavomatic, while seemingly a perfect fit, has to go.

From the concept of the place, Lavomatic seems like it fits the bill.  It has a modern feel, proud city dwellers as chefs, bartenders, and waitstaff, and a great looking menu with inventive sounding offerings.  Its location on Vine street is perfect.  Unfortunately, I am writing to say that I have been tremendously disappointed TWICE now by this establishment.  

The first time, I didn't want to believe it and I did not write about it.  I will now.  We showed up last minute on the Friday after Thanksgiving.  I was incredibly surprised after facing a 3 hour wait at Rock Bottom on Fountain Square (same night as the tree lighting) that Lavomatic could seat our party of 10 immediately.  Friday night, cool restaurant in OTR, seating a party of 10 immediately with no reservation???  Not a good sign.  It may have been late (9-ish) but that didn't seem a good excuse to be out of so many menu items.  Of the 7 or 8 appetizers, I think they had about 3 or 4 we could still order.  Then the burger debacle.  Of our party of 10, 7 of us ordered the burger.  All 7 were ordered medium or medium rare, and all came out bone-dry well-done.  It was embarrassing.  We were incredibly nice and non-confrontational that night, only sending 2 back to the kitchen.  Unbelievably, they came back barely less than well done.  Very disappointing.  Hoping it was a fluke, I didn't write about it.

Then I gave it another shot last night.  And now I am writing to confirm, that Lavomatic should close immediately, and re-open under new management or a new concept entirely.  

So, last night.  Again I went with another group.  We ordered almost all of the appetizers they offered and they were ok.  The mac and cheese is decent, the tater tots are tater tots, the baked mozzarella is good, and the beer cheese is actually great.  Nothing to throw a red flag about yet.  

When placing my dinner order, I wavered between the steak and the burger.  Part of me wanted to confirm that the previous burger experience was a fluke, and I also thought ordering the steak would let them off too easy (tough to screw up a NY strip steak).  So I ordered the burger.  Man it sounded good topped with boursin cheese, bacon, and caramelized onions.  And it looked good too (see picture):

Oh, but the high hopes fell apart as I eagerly tried to take my first bite.  My lips were rebuffed by a cold, hard, stale bun.  I couldn't believe it.  I tried to stomach a few bites of the burger, but ended up eating the patty on its own with a fork and knife.  I really should have sent it back immediately, but I had given up.  It was true.  My previous experience was not a fluke, this place really did suck.  Epic disappointment.  

Adding insult to injury, they were out of many of the deserts.  How do you sell out of creme brulee?  How do you sell out of the sundae?  I don't want to blame chef laziness, but creme brulee is eggs, cream, and sugar.  A sundae just requires a freezer to house the ice cream and sufficient advanced ordering.  Incompetence really.  Since the rant is in high gear, I will also mention that they were out of a few of their advertised draft beer options.  Major bummer.

It really is too bad.  I hope they fix what ever the hell is wrong fast or re-open as something new quickly.  

While I am writing about Lavomatic (formerly a Jean Robert restaurant and now a Relish restaurant after the split between Jean Robert and majority owner), I must mention another crazy thing that has been eating away at me.  The first time I visited Lavomatic, it was properly a Jean Robert restaurant.  I actually had no complaints about the evening.  One thing I remember vividly, is that I enjoyed a few Moerlein OTR beers that night.  I enjoyed them with my first visit to Lavomatic, thinking how perfect it was that a restaurant central the OTR revival was selling the one beer named after the area.  

On my second and now third visit, the beer was nowhere.  I was so amazed that the restaurant was not supporting the local brew that I asked my friendly waiter what was going on (the waitstaff, by the way, is great at Lavomatic).  He told me that the new Lavomatic owners (since Jean Robert left the picture) had a tiff with the Moerlein owners.  How stupid and childish is that?  How are we going to bring back OTR when two of the most influential local business owners can't get along.  Pathetic really.  I don't know what is going on with Relish, but the waiter also mentioned that Jean Robert was an inspiration to the staff, menu, and restaurant generally, and that it had not been the same since he left the picture.  Though I have not written about it on this blog, I was not impressed with my first visit to Local 127 (another Relish restaurant).  I pray that my favorite Chalk Food and Wine in Covington stays as good as it always has been.  What a gem.  Relish, don't screw that one up.

So in the end, I recommend you not waste your time on Lavomatic until they change ownership, drastically revamp, or totally reopen as something new.  I am disappointed that this place can't deliver on its concept and by failing to do so, also lets down the whole OTR revival.  Finally, I am appalled that Relish and Moerlein can't get along for the good of the city (assuming the waiter's story is accurate).  

Sorry for the rant, I hate writing negative reviews, but as proud Cincinnatian, believer in the downtown Cincinnati revival, and avid food lover, I was compelled to write this.

Here is the link: , 

Lavomatic on Urbanspoon

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Mr. Sushi

Half price Sushi! We timed our visit perfectly (right at 10:30pm when the prices cut in half) and I was hungering for a boatload of raw fish and rice.

Late last Friday night after a Reds game and some wine tasting on Fountain Square, we hit up Mr. Sushi on 6th and Vine.  After 10:30pm, the sushi is half price and we strolled in looking for a great deal on some great sushi.  The menu was inventive and extensive.  Everything from the basics and classics to the most ornate.  We ordered:
- Scallop nigiri
- Tuna roll
- Spider roll
- Fire cracker roll
- Citrus salmon roll
- A yellow tail roll
-  And a fancy tuna and avocado roll

I was very impressed by the quality of the fish.  It is hard to find a good raw scallop, and this one was as good as I have ever had.  It just melted in my mouth.  The rolls were all very good.  Great quality fish, great balance of flavors and ingredients, and great presentation.  The spider roll was a bit sparse, and this yellow tail roll we had was a bit overspiced (a bit floral actually), but otherwise I was very impressed with the food.

The service was only ok.  It was a bit slow and could certainly have been improved.  The location is fantastic.  Right in the heart of all that is happening downtown.  The atmosphere was nice, but a bit on the casual side for a sushi place.  Not overly fancy, but who cares.

With the half price deal the wallet damage was minimal.  It is not cheap at full price.  Expect to pay between $10 and $12 for the nice rolls (at full price).

Definitely worth a visit if you are a sushi lover and hang out downtown.  Try to hit it after 10:3030 for the great deal.

Mr. Sushi on Urbanspoon

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Blue Ash Chili

I went for the chili, I'll be back for the sandwiches...  Intrigued by the write-up last year in Cincinnati Magazine's Chili special that highlighted Blue Ash Chili, this place has been on my list to try for a while.  So the day finally came this weekend and I rolled into the place to give it a try.

From the outside, this place is nothing special.  It has clearly been around for a LONG time, and that is reinforced as you step into the restaurant.  The place probably hasn't been remodeled since the 70s.  It strikes you as a greasy spoon diner with an open kitchen, lots of booths, and patrons that all seem like regulars.

The menu looked enticing, and I had also heard good things about the sandwiches, but I was there for one thing and one thing only, the chili.  I am a lover of Cincinnati chili and a regular at my local Skyline on Madison Rd. in Oakley.  I love Skyline and was really interested in seeing how Blue Ash Chili stacked up.  They serve the standard 3 ways, 4 ways, 5 ways and coneys.  They also have a 6 way which adds jalapeno slices on top.  I really wanted to give that 6 way a shot, but wanted to make the playing field level for the comparison to Skyline, so I ordered my standard 4 way with onions.  One thing that was curious was that they only had one size of each chili dish, rather than a small, regular, and large at Skyline.

The Chili arrived and looked appetizing.  See the great photo.

It was good, but on the bland side.  In comparison to Skyline, it seemed to lack spice and flare.  I ended up adding a ton of hot sauce, but that only got it so far.  Overall, the Chili was a bit disappointing.  I would have preferred if they put a new twist on Cincinnati chili rather than being very similar to Skyline, but just not stacking up.  I will not be back for the Chili, ....  but I will be back to try one of their sandwiches.

As I was plowing through my 4 way, my mouth was watering at the site of some corn beef sandwiches piled high on the plates of people at the next table.  As I walked to the front to pay my bill, I ogled many more massive deli sandwiches that looked amazing.  Most people in the restaurant were eating those delicious looking sandwiches, and not the Chili.  Maybe they should change their name to something more general than Blue Ash Chili.

Overall, don't go for the Chili or the atmosphere.  But just looking at those sandwiches piled high on the plates of large waisted regulars, I am sure the sandwiches are worth it for a trip to Blue Ash.

Blue Ash Chili on Urbanspoon

Sunday, April 18, 2010


Cornhole at a bar, I had to check it out.  Unfortunately, that is about all that this place has going for it.  Basically, Mulligan's is a giant space that is mainly a sports bar.  The cornhole is in a covered outdoor area that is also huge.  Mulligan's is cheap looking inside and feels like it was a popular college hangout 10-15 years ago.  I am actually surprised it is in business considering I was there on a Saturday night and the place had about 30 people in it.  It was almost all guys, and was not a very lively scene.  The corn hole was fun, and they also have pool tables, but otherwise, this place is totally skip-able.  They have decent draft beer selection with Stone, Great Lakes, Rogue, Bell's, Sierra Nevada, Red Hook, and other interesting beers to compliment the full domestic selection.  But in a boring, outdated, un-inspiring sports bar setting, even the best beer list couldn't help.  Unless you really feel like playing cornhole at a bar, I would not recommend this place.

Mulligan's Hyde Park Pub on Urbanspoon

Vacancies in Oakley and Hyde Park Squares

Can anyone tell me what is going on with all the vacant restaurant and shop space in Oakley and Hyde Park Squares?

Oakley has had the Kona Bistro spot vacant for at least a year, Oakley Cycles just moved out, the Arby's is out of business ... At least the square is under renovation which will hopefully help revive it and
fill the vacant space.

But the same seems to be happening to Hyde Park Square. Vineyard Cafe, a prime corner location with outdoor seating went out of business a couple months ago. The overpriced Red steakhouse just closed it's doors, and it looks like the English Traditions antiques store is moving soon. Oh, and of course the Persian rug store perpetually says it is having a closing/clearance sale. Maybe this time they are actually telling the truth.

Can anyone help explain what is going on?

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Nada, Nada, Nada...

Who doesn't like Nada?  Right in the heart of the downtown Cincinnati nightlife, a night out that begins with or includes Nada is most likely to be a pretty fun night.  How can you argue with top notch margaritas, Caipirhinas, and other fine tropical cocktails?  And then guacamole and chips, everyone loves those.  This place is always crowded and reservations are pretty important if you plan to go on a Friday or Saturday night (last Friday night at 8pm, I heard the hostess tell a party of 2 that they would wait for an hour and 45 minutes!).

I have been to Nada several times and as mentioned, always have a good time.  As far as the food goes, the appetizers are excellent.  The guacamole has massive chunks of avocado in it, and you know it is very fresh.  The chips are fried to order and are deliciously greasy and salty.  Their sliders are delicious and the mac and cheese is wonderful.  I am not really sure how sliders and mac and cheese fit into the mexican theme, but they are satisfying the tastebuds of their diners.

When it comes to the main courses, they are good, but not great.  It is hard to be bad in the mexican food arena, so I am not giving them a ton of credit for being good.  They have nice selection of gourmet tacos, some main meat entrees, and cazuelas (iron pots with sort of mexican style curry).  I have had the tacos on numerous occasions and have sampled all of the cazuelas.  The tacos just fall a bit short for me.  The tortillas aren't that great, and the combinations don't seem to taste as good as their descriptions.  The iron pots are good, but a little on the sweet side and seeming to lack some texture in the dishes.  Prices are reasonable but on the high side (taco plates from $12-$16, and cazuelas from $19 to $26).

The service can be a tad bit slow.

Overall, this is a great place to start a night out in downtown Cincinnati.  The theme is fun, it is always crowded, and the drinks will kick start any night.  It is right in the heart of downtown Cincinnati, so plenty of fun spots to go before and after.  Just don't expect the that the food is going to wow you.

Nada on Urbanspoon

Dilly Deli in Mariemont

A good friend of mine invited me out for a beer at Dilly Deli in Mariemont.  I must say, I was a big skeptic, and thought maybe he had lost his mind.  He is a city dweller, and we usually meet downtown at cool places like Grammers.  First off, this place is called Dilly Deli, what kind of a name is that for a place to grab a beer with a friend?  Secondly, it is in Mariemont.  Mariemont is nice if you want to live in perfect-ville, but I didn't even know they drank in Mariemont. But, he is a good friend, and I trust him.

Dilly Deli is actually a little gem.  It was a nice evening so the outdoor seating was in full effect.  We opted to sit at the bar which is small, but colorful.  There was a man playing the guitar nicely, and a welcoming character named Peanut behind the bar sporting a huge handlebar mustache.  We had come for a specific beer that they had on tap, The Maharaja, a double IPA from the Avery Brewing Company in Boulder, CO .  It was strong and delicious.  We continued, and sampled a few other of the rare and delicious beers they had on tap.  Fantastic selection.  Peanut was an expert and just seemed to love new beer.  We nibbled on their beer cheese appetizer which was the perfect companion to the strong beers.

That is all we ate, but the menu and food that people were eating around me looked great.  The place is an upscale casual deli/cafe/bar which seems to be a perfect local everyday type of place for those Mariemont Pleasantville folks.   They have a counter with gourmet cheese selections, and a small beer and wine store in the back.  Apparently they don't charge a corkage fee on their wine Monday through Wednesday.  I would like to go back and try more of the food, and of course more of the beer.

Is it worth trekking out to Mariemont for if you don't live close?  I would say no.  But if you happen to be in the area, you should probably stop in and check it out.

Dilly Deli Wines & Gourmet on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 12, 2010

Via Vite

Via Vite, great restaurant in the best location in Cincinnati.

My first visit to Via Vite was a 30th birthday party I organized for my wife.  Phenomenal visit.  I was raving about Via Vite for weeks.  It has to be the best venue I have been to in Cincinnati for a fancy large group dinner party.  We had their biggest of 3 private rooms (holds 30 people, the two others hold about 15 each).  The entire second floor of the restaurant is reserved for private parties in these three rooms.  The largest of the 3 has a bar and bar service.  We almost maxed the place out with 29 people and it was still very comfortable.  We had access to the balcony which overlooks the action of fountain square.  I was amazed when they gave us the option of ordering a la carte with such a large party and also running tabs for everyone.  Extremely accommodating.  The service was a tad bit slow, but I expected that with 30 people ordering at once.  The wait staff was very nice, professional, and attentive.  The cocktails and bar service were great, and the food was terrific.  I had a pork chop which was very memorable.  I chose the place for the group party due to the wide range of prices on the menu, allowing some guests to order pizzas and pastas on the low end ($11 to $20), and others to splurge on $25+ entrees and multiple courses.  It served everyone very well.

I recently returned for a special night out to thank my mother in law for watching our kids for a few days.  Again, another great night.  Not as magical as having 30 of your best friends in a private room, but very fun nonetheless.  The bar here is very cool, and the dining room is fancy with great views of fountain square all around you through the large floor to ceiling windows.  The menu is a bit on the expensive side, but there are cheaper options (pizzas and pastas from $11 to $20), though you feel cheap if that's all you order.  If I had one complaint, it is that we were constantly being offered the trade-up options (first the Pellegrino, then the multiple appetizers, desert, and coffee).  The starters and salads are NOT cheap, with an average price of about $10.  Don't get me wrong though, it is not overpriced, just be prepared for an expensive night out.  The food is great and the location spectacular, all things worth paying for.

I started with a special appetizer which was little cherry peppers stuffed with tuna and sold per individual stuffed pepper for $2 each.  They were small but fantastic.  I went for a carbonara pasta from the specials menu for my main course.  It was good, but a bit over the top with the cream sauce.  I thought something was up when it said "carbonara sauce".  In my book, carbonara is an almost sauceless pasta with its moisture from eggs and oil.  This was a real sauce, and heavy on the cheese and egg yolk.  Good, but very rich and a bit too much for a whole big bowl of pasta.  The ladies I was with had the eggplant parmesan to start, which they both enjoyed, and two other pastas for main courses.  We all enjoyed our meals and then indulged in the chocolate mouse for desert.  Again, delicious.   The wine list is great.

I will go again and again on the right occasions.  Great place, unbeatable location, and a launching pad for any type of downtown activity you might want to do.  It would be an excellent date spot place to impress out of town guests.

Here is are the peppers stuffed with tuna.
And here is the carbonara.

Via Vite on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Xoco Chicago

The pepito torta at Xoco in Chicago.

First time I have been to a Mexican lunch spot that didn't serve burritos. I was surprised, a bit confused, but very intrigued. The menu is meaty. Pork, beef, chicken and chorizo. The menu has a number of oven baked tortas (read sandwiches), griddled tortas, soups and salads with prices ranging from about $8 to $12 per main menu item. You order at a counter and then they bring you your meal. Service was good and swift. The place gets a huge lunch crowd and the line was out the door. So the service is quick for a reason, they don't want you to hang around too long. One bummer was that the one vegetarian torta on the menu wasn't available for my wife. They instead let her order anyother item without meat and maxing out the veggies. I had the pepito which was a braised short rib sandwich with jalepenos, cheese, and some other deliciousness. The sandwich was good. Not out of this world, but unique, tasty, and satisfying. Apparently this place is owned by Rick Bayliss and is adjacent to his Frontera Restaurant. I have heard good things about that and look forward to checking it out. The guacamole was really really good. It had red chilis initial which made it spicy.

Overall, this was an interesting place with some good mexican sandwiches.  I don't think it really lives up to the hype nor is it worth a 30 minute wait.

More photos:

Xoco on Urbanspoon

Monday, March 22, 2010

Zip's Cafe in Mount Lookout

Zip's Cafe in Mount lookout is a hidden gem that residents of the Hyde Park / Mount Lookout / Oakley area don't want you to know about.  Always crowded with locals, you may have to wait for a table, but just mosey back to the nook in the back (the bar) and you may just stay there all night.  The beer selection is good, the walls are dark, the space is cozy.  There is a train that cruises around the ceiling, and the menu is simple and delicious.

They are known for their burgers, and I really haven't had anything else there.  Some say they are the best in Cincinnati.  I think that may be a stretch, but when you wrap that burger in such a great little local spot, it is a wonderful thing that some may erroneously remember as tasting just a bit better than it actually did.

I was there last week with some friends for the umpteenth time.  I ended up being way early, but amused myself with a couple of fine Great Lakes Ales on tap, and some good people watching.  

All three of us ordered the Girth Burger, which is a traditional burger with a Kielbasa sausage on top.  Glutenous, yes.  It was good, but a little over the top, glutenous really.  I prefer their standard burger.  It was also a bit overdone.  I requested it medium rare, but the waitress didn't seem to discriminate between the burgers on the table and they were all cooked about medium-well.  Oh well, it was still pretty good.  Fries were great too.  Prices are reasonable, I think that Girth Burger (the most expensive burger on the menu) was about $9.  I think the Great Lakes beers were $5 each (cheaper domestics available).

Overall, this place is truly a gem.  The kind of place you can meet a friend for a beer and a burger any day of the week and end up staying for hours enjoying the beer, food, atmosphere and people.  Parking can be a bit of a pain as it is so limited in Mount Lookout square, but you'll quickly find the hassle of parking a half mile away is well worth it.  Enjoy, just don't let anyone know I told you about it.

Zip's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Beluga... Dining or Clubbing?

Having lived just around the corner from Beluga for the past 2 years, our visit was long overdue.  We had passed this place a number of times, considered it, and always passed over it thinking it was a bit expensive.  But last night we were up for a special night out and decided to give it a try.  

The website makes it look like a tranquil, very upscale, asian restaurant serving the finest sushi.  From an atmosphere perspective, we experienced the exact opposite.  We arrived pretty late (9:45pm on a Saturday), but as we walked in the door it was totally different than the expectation I had from looking at the website.  I felt like I was entering a club, and was surprised that no one stopped me for paying cover and stamping my hand.  The place was really like a party spot, and I didn't see anything that even resembled a dining room the whole time we were there.  

We had a reservation at 9pm, and I was not surprised that they didn't hold it (we were 45 minutes late, unacceptable and totally out of character for me).  We were told that the dining room was no longer seating people for dinner but that we could sit at the Sushi Bar.  They asked us to wait at the drinks bar until a spot opened at the Sushi Bar.  While there, I literally felt like I was at a club.  The music was loud, the lights were dark, there was neon all over the place, there were metrosexual guys with gelled hair and shirts opened up a couple of buttons prowling for chicks...  I was really questioning why we were there an if we really wanted to eat there.  We were considering leaving (realizing our other options at that hour were very limited) when we were called to our spot at the Sushi Bar.  

Just across the way they crammed us on the end of the sushi bar.  Unfortunately, we did not escape the drinks bar atmosphere.  All the other Sushi Bar seats were filled with the same crowd of people pounding beers (not eating sushi) like in any bar.  

We looked at the sushi menu and were very interested in some of the creative rolls.  They have a great selection of really cool sounding rolls.  In addition to the creative rolls (handsomely priced between $12 and $20), they also serve more traditional sushi and rolls on the paper menu where you tick the boxes.  This aspect could be missed, but shouldn't be, as those creative rolls are expensive.  The traditional rolls actually seemed reasonably priced between $3 and $7.  

One of the beauties of sitting at the sushi bar is typically to watch the sushi chef at work.  For some idiotic reason, you can only see the sushi chef from the shoulders up, and can't see him work.  Major design flaw with the sushi bar.  

Despite my negative feeling on the atmosphere, the sushi was really good.  The creative rolls delivered.  They were as fun and delicious as their descriptions on the menu.  My wife also ordered a Lychee martini which was fantastic.  Rare in this country to find Lychee, so it was a nice treat which brought back memories of a great trip we took to Australia.

My recommendation: don't go late on a Friday or Saturday night.  I will have to give this place another try at a more reasonable hour.  I am also interested in trying their hot menu as the dishes sound and look very good.

Beluga on Urbanspoon

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mmmmm, thanks for the Chocolate Fondant

Mmmm, look at this terrible picture of a chocolate fondant that my beautiful wife just made for me. After devouring it, I give it 2 thumbs up (how could I not...)!

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Rookwood Disappointment

The Rookwood... oh, the Rookwood. The first time I went out to dinner at The Rookwood over a year ago, I was tremendously disappointed. This is one of the most historic sites in Cincinnati, a beautiful space with amazing giant kilns where Rookwood Pottery became famous. But you know what they have done with those historic kilns? They have painted the inside of them with glittery silver paint, and have hung flat screen TVs in all of them. Tragic really.

I think I had the burger and was a bit underwhelmed. I just couldn't get over the fact that this historic site with so much potential for fine dining, had been turned into a cheesy place that felt a bit like a confused sports bar.

After a recent glowing review in Cincinnati Magazine, and the promise of a new chef, I gave it another try. As I walked in I crossed my fingers hoping that the atmosphere had been brought back to its historic roots. Oh, The Rookwood disappointed me again. The decor was still the same, the kilns dressed up in millennium glitz with flat screen TVs still prominently hanging in each one. I had the pork belly sandwich. it was gluttonous and the richest sandwich I have ever eaten in my life. Porkbelly and bacon... it even made me feel bad about eating it, which is hard to do.

Until this place gets some new management that want to return it to its historic glory, don't waste your time.

The Rookwood Bar & Restaurant on Urbanspoon

York Street Cafe

Leading up to our visit here, I had read a lot and had high expectations. Everything I heard was that this place was something special. And it is. The atmosphere is very unique, quirky, offbeat. The menu is diverse, and the food is great. So, what's not to like? Well, it is a bit pricey and just not as good as some other people say it is... A little overhyped... There, I said it. I liked it, had fun, will probably go again, but don't expect it to be the best hidden gem in the greater Cincinnati area.

We had a the Mediterranean conversation board and a salad to start. It was fantastic actually. The hummus and baba ganoush were some of the best I have had in the US. For dinner I had the steak special which was a rib-eye. It was good, but not great. I guess I should have known I wasn't at a steakhouse. That said, my wife had the stuffed fish dish which came HIGHLY recommended by the waitress as the thing they were famous for, and she thought it was only ok... Now, this would have been all fine, but the food is pretty expensive and it just seemed a bit too much. Entrees are between $19 and $26.

Verdict, definitely worth going to if you are bored with the limited Cincinnati dining scene and don't mind the prices.

York St. Cafe on Urbanspoon

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Newport Pizza Company

Hit up the Newport Pizza Company on Monmouth Street in Newport, KY last week. The menu is incredibly inventive for a pizza place. I was hoping to try the Cincinnatus, a pizza that looks like Skyline dip with cream cheese, cincinnati chili, and cheddar cheese, but couldn't convince my counterparts to go for it. We had a Monmouth Pizza (loaded) and a Buffalo Chicken pizza. Both were good, but nothing amazing.

Newport Pizza Company on Urbanspoon

Friday, July 3, 2009

Boca anticipation

I am off to Boca tonight to celebrate 6 wonderful years of marriage. Despite living close to Boca for almost a year now, this will be my first visit to the top ranked Cincinnati eatery. I am very excited, and have high expectations. Will it deliver, stay tuned to hydeparkfoodie!

Chalk Food + Wine on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


I love my Mio's!  Have you tried this place?  Mio's in Oakley?  Looks like a bit of a dive, tiny dining room up front, but the pizza is some of the best I have tried.  It is really hard these days to find a good local pizza place that is not a chain.  I love the multitude of local italian pizza places in New Jersey and Philadelphia, and didn't expect to find something to satiate my appetite for that greasy thin crust authentic pizza, but Mio's does it.  In fact, Mio's has a leg up.

We actually tried Mio's a long time ago and were not that impressed.  We knew we didn't give it a fair shot, my wife ordered pasta and I had a small pizza, but we weren't planning on giving it another try.  But over an over, people kept saying they loved it.  So we gave it another shot.  We ordered the Pizza Blanca, one of their specialty pizzas with sesame crust and it was terrific.  High quality, gourmet, and really interesting with the sesame crust.  We got hooked, and kept coming back for the Blanca.  

Well, we branched out recently, upon the recommendation from the man behind the counter and went for the Alfredo pizza.  Decadent.  Essentially, it is the blanca (which has no sauce) with a cream sauce.  Wow.  Greasy, rich, and delicious.  We are really hooked and seem to be ordering it every week.  

It is a bit pricey, with a large specialty pizza running a steep $17.99, but it is worth it.  They often have specials on their regular cheese pizzas, but don't get sucked in by the deal, go for one of the sesame crust pizzas, you won't regret it.  

I hope I can forego the Pizza Alfredo one day so I can try the rest of the menu.  But right now, I can't bring myself to bypass this delicious, original concoction.    Enjoy, here's the link:

Mio's Pizza on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 6, 2009

Chalk!!!! Kick ass dining in Cincinnati (well Kentucky actually)

I'm back!!!!  Not that anyone ever reads my blog, but I am happy to be back nonetheless.  So, apologies for the lack of posts in the past 9 months.  Wow it has been this long.  My excuse?  Easy, but depressing.  Since moving to Cincinnati last August, I have been so disappointed and uninspired by the dining options that I could not find anything worth writing about (unless you wanted to hear me whinge on and on).

Alas!!!  I found some inspiration, something to dream about, something to make my mouth water and make we want to spend all my money eating out again and again.  In Cincinnati you ask?  Well, not really, but close enough.  Just across the muddy polluted river in the great bluegrass state.  Yes, I mean Kentucky...  Even harder to believe.  But it's TRUE!!! 

Yes, and that wonderful place is Chalk!  Chalk in Covington, wow!  Worth the purgatory that my taste buds have endured for the past 9 months.  Ok, where to start.  Well, it was an ordinary Monday night.  My mother was in town so we had a free night out without the boy, and I decided to take my coworker up on a recommendation he had given me all the way back when we moved here.  Yes, it was my fault I had sat on this recommendation for so long.  But I had thought, Covington, hmmm, there has to be something better on the northern and more sophisticated side of that muddy Ohio river.  Well, I wish I could turn back the clock.  So, back to Monday night.  

We rolled into this fine place with relatively low expectations for our Monday night out without the kid.   There was a nice bar, small but personable, and we were escorted enthusiastically by the host to a cool booth in one of the dining rooms.  

The first thing I ordered was a beer.  They had a good looking wine list, but the draft beer selections, although few, sounded interesting.  I opted for a Kentucky Bourbon Barrel Ale.  Slightly disappointed when it arrived in a snifter glass when I was hoping for a solid pint, I was pleasantly surprised with the most unique beer I have ever tasted.  It was a beer that tasted as its name suggested, like bourbon.  For someone that doesn't like bourbon, it would have been repulsive, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Oh, enough about the beer, onto the food!

The menu was simple!  It wasn't the 'we do it all, but none of it good' menus I find everywhere and end up ordering a burger from.  It was a menu that said, "we have a couple great meat dishes, a couple great fish dishes."  They did still have a burger, but it looked gourmet.  

We shared the 'dip seven' to start.  Not sure exactly what it was, but it was delicious.  They also brought bread, with creamy whipped butter with sage (I think) in it.  Mmmm!

For main, I ordered duck which was served on savory sage waffles, with leeks, celery root, caramelized onions, and a blueberry sauce.  I ordered the duck medium rare, and it was cooked to perfection.  The dish was a great combination of sweet and savory, with some texture.  Fantastic.

My beautiful wife had the trout.  It must have been delicious, as I got no bites, and barely even remember seeing it other than noticing that it was white.  Good organic trout, not the fake pink stuff.  

Dessert.  We had a chocolate macadamia torte with walnut ice cream (or something like that).  It was delicious.  

The atmosphere was great, casual and fun.  The food was delicious, original, gourmet, but not pretentious.  The service was excellent.

My only beef was the beer selection.  After my delicious bourbon beer, I was looking for something less powerful.  I was impressed that they had Chimay on tap, but they only had 3 beers, and that meant that 2 of them were big, bold, flavorful ones.  Could have used a bit more variety, but no big deal.

This was our best dining experience, hands down, since moving to Cincinnati.  And our stops included fine places like Pigall's.  You have to check it out.  Here is the site: 

Chalk Food + Wine on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Mexicali Soho

As an American living in London, I was very excited (to say the least) when I heard there was a Tex-Mex burrito shop in Soho. I’ve been (many times), and it is good. It is as close as I have experienced in London to my beloved Anna’s Taqueria in Boston, and the ubiquitous Chipotle. Mexicali's Berwick Street shop is bustling at lunchtime with their simple menu of burritos, tacos, enchiladas, and nachos.

Overall, they serve a solid steak burrito. They are hearty, filled with beans, rice, meat, guac (+50p), and sour cream (+50p).

But they do fall a bit short. It is kind of clear from the size of their tortilla steamers that their tortillas just won’t live up. The steamers only fit about 3/4ths of the tortilla in them. This means that they don’t have the amazing (almost uncanny) elasticity of a tortilla at a premium burrito shop, and are a bit dry on the edges. You also only get one choice of beans, and generally, the food doesn’t seem as fresh or home made as even the most mass-produced burrito chains (like Chipotle) in the US, where the meat is cooked on open grills right in front of you.

The burritos are a bit pricey starting at over £5, and all the extras cost, well, extra. They are served with chips and an unlimited amount of hot sauce, much appreciated by the avid burrito fan.

The casual format in Soho is much different than their restaurant format in Notting Hill (which I have not tested).

Overall, as an American in London, I am very happy to have Mexicali (Soho) in town. It is also obviously a popular joint, with a line out the door every lunchtime. When you are craving a solid burrito - filling, spicy, and nostalgic – this is the place to go in London. But burrito connoseiurs beware, don’t spend £500 on a flight to London to check out how the Brits manage to do a burrito, as it will disappoint.

Category: Dining
Expectation: Indulgent takeaway
Satisfaction: 4 out of 5

Friday, June 20, 2008

Taste of London 2008

I spent an absolutely wonderful day on Thursday at the 2008 Taste of London in Regents Park. It was an excellent event, with some excellent restaurants, plenty of eager exhibitors, and tutorials on wine and food. I had some fantastic dishes as far as my £20 (crowns) could get me.

Most notably was a melt-in-your-mouth teriyaki scallop dish from Sumosan. This giant and perfectly cooked scallop came hand delivered from the chef on its shell, coated with a balanced and not-too-sweet teriyaki sauce with some shitake and enoki mushrooms, and fried leek. Washed down with a free shot of Sake, it was delicious and worth the entire trip to the festival. It is also hard to believe that they were so perfectly cooked when serving in such bulk. Their salmon and avocado roll covered in roe was also delectable. Does Sumosan mean heaven in Japanese?

The parmesan custard with anchovy toasts from the new Le Café Anglais in Whiteleys Shopping Centre in Bayswater was zing zing delicious! Salty, cheesy, salty, cheesy, salty, cheesy. Excellent! Just too small, I WANTED MORE!

Also delicious were the grilled lamb cutlets from Tamarind that were flavoured with chili, lime, and garlic. The two bite-sized lamb cutlets were very good and well spiced. The cubes of kingfish in a tomato curry (Meen Kozhambu) was good, but just a regular curry dish in the end.

The pork sandwich (pretentiously titled on the menu “roast middle white pig sandwich”), from Antony Worrall Thompson’s Notting Grill, was good, but small, a little sweet (with the apple chili jelly), and nothing special. The brownie was also good, but about the same caliber as a Starbucks brownie. I was hoping for a bit more from the celebrity chef I watched religiously on Saturday Kitchen a few years ago as he whipped up classic British comfort food.

And the braised brisket dish from Kai Mayfair (Chinese) was too sweet. It is really strange to have braised brisket (the hearty image of barbeque brisket lured me in) in such a sweet Chinese sauce. Kind of gross really, especially on top of that spongy bun(???).

On exhibitors, the Gaymers Cider booth was much appreciated, and the Bordeaux Tourist Board booth with about 20 free wines to taste is a must.

Though we had a great time and an excellent day out, we were a bit disappointed actually by the Taste of London. My idea of a “Taste of” festival is a city street event, open to the public (free of charge) with all the city’s restaurants and eateries selling their best dishes at promotional prices. This was a far far cry from that. The tickets were expensive and the food from the restaurants was way overpriced. My miniature pork sandwich from Notting Grill was £8, which is probably as much or more than the full sized version goes for in the actual restaurant. The cheapest menu items at any restaurant were £6. I was, and am, actually flabbergasted by the prices. With the amount of sponsors that the event attracted, you would think admission would be free. And the restaurants, they should be trying to attract customers by giving them samples at reasonable prices. I don’t know who made out like a bandit in this equation, but someone is laughing all the way to the bank.

It was also frustrating that we walked around Regents Park for an hour before finding the festival, as there were absolutely no signs in the park hinting at its location (and I am not a novice to this park). And another thing, while I am on the negatives, the Spanish Wine Tutorial is a waste as they just walk you through the 6 worst tasting Spanish wines available at the supermarket. If choosing between this and the BBC Good Food Show, I take the Good Food Show any day.

Enjoy the Taste of London, but next time I will be writing about the Taste of CINCINNATI!!! Cincy here we come!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Guinea Grill

As you walk through the doors of the dining room, escorted by the finest of English waiters from yesteryear, you pass at the entrance an enticing glass case filled with gargantuan prawns and beautiful salmon fillets, behind which the chef is grilling thick juicy steaks. But don’t be fooled, despite this tremendous choice of fine surf and turf, there is only one thing that you can order on your first trip (or 10 trips, or maybe ever) to the Guinea Grill – one of their famous steak pies.

I sat down with my friends in this classic oak-paneled dining room and when asked for our order it was 7 steak and mushroom pies, and 1 steak and kidney pie. Simple. Of course this is not your average ‘pie and a pint’ type of place – all tables in this small dining room reserved in advance by well-to-do business men from the boutique investment firms of neighboring Berkeley Square. The pies are a hefty £12.50, and a minimum food spend of £17.50 per person requires you to at least supplement those pies with some of the side dishes. We all made it out of there for £28 per person, steep, but worth every penny.

The pies are the best you’ll ever have, and have won many awards including pie of the century which just sounds awesome. They come in a glass dish (not sealed in a pastry), with a seasoned and toasted bready crust on top. The large chunks of beef taste like they have been slow roasted for days, while still retaining some pinkness, flaking with a fork, and practically melting in your mouth. The sauce is incredibly thick and rich, with a fullness undoubtedly from a hefty pour of red wine.

The sides are also good, but more just to get some greens with the massive helping of meat. I recommend the potatoes dauphinoise (cheesy and decadent) and the creamed spinach.

The service is old school English, from the hotel-like usher at the door, to the side dishes individually spooned onto all of the plates, the selection of mustards offered with the pie (I recommend the brown grainy one), and the funny gelatinous sweets offered with coffee.

And while most patrons will be sipping fine Bordeaux wines, this is actually a Young’s Pub, so you can wash the pie down with a fitting pint of Young’s Special Bitter (or two).

A treat in more ways than one, this place is an absolute must if you are in London for a Friday lunch.

Category: Dining
Expectation: Best steak pie in the world
Satisfaction: 5 out of 5

Category: Drinking
Expectation: Beer
Satisfaction: 4 out of 5
- Youngs ales, plus some lagers. Small bar, but nice alleyway outside in front for pints after work on a summer evening. Good wine selection in the dining room.