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


Jenny K said...

Lavomatic was a great restaurant up until October of 2009. That was when the Wades, in all their wisdom, stole the menu of the upcoming Senate which was scheduled to open by late fall 09. They hired new chefs, and turned the menu from food that was unique and delicious to bland boring "pub-fare", trying to knock out their "competition."

It's really a shame, because they can't possibly compare to Senate's food, and they've lost the touch that made Lavo a great restaurant. Now all the food is pretty much pathetic.

Laura said...

I had the worst experience of my life at this restaurant. I wasn't going to write about, but after reading your review I think I will. People need to be stopped from going there.