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