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