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