I really love success stories in the restaurant business — a business which is so high risk that restaurants open only to close within the first two years. Andiamo! is a wonderful example of a great comeback.
Andiamo! opened as a fine dining Italian restaurant in January 2003 to a barely tepid buzz. I reviewed it a year ago and wasn't too keen on the been-there-cooked-that food offered at Major-Dining-Experience prices. Apparently, neither was most of Cincinnati. Andiamo! barely missed the restaurant casualty list, except for the smart and swift choices of managing partners Joe Tato and Mike Belmont.
On a fact-finding mission in Chicago, Tato enjoyed an exceptional dinner at Spiaggia, Chicago's famed four-star Italian restaurant, and began courting Spiaggia's Chef di Cucina, Beth Partridge, to become the executive chef at Andiamo!
With roots and family in Cincinnati, Partridge and her partner, Spiaggia Grille chef Dan Pancake, were a natural fit with Andiamo!, selling out the house every weekend since their debut in October.
Indeed, a reservation for a weekend night was impossible to secure unless I wanted to dine sometime in March, so I opted for an available weeknight table and invited a good friend who happens to be a top-notch chef at another fine dining establishment.
Chefs Partridge and Pancake (what a fabulous name for culinary partners — as if they were chefs in Pee-Wee's Play-house!) have designed a menu of simply elegant Italian specialties, focusing on locally grown ingredients and unique delicacies to produce a harmonic blend of flavors and textures.
The menu features antipasto, pasta and main courses to create a traditional, progressive, Italian-style dinner, which I highly recommend to bathe yourself in a memorable experience. But a fine meal can be enjoyed with one or two courses.
Everything on the menu sounded so appealing, my guest and I fretted over which to choose, finally settling on one from the antipasti, two samplings from the pasta course and two entrées. I easily could have made an entire meal from the first page of antipasti alone, it is that well balanced.
We began with a cured fresh Foie Gras ($14), served with "figs, aged balsamic and pecan toast". It melted in the mouth, and the balsamic tang was a perfect counterpart to its sweet silkiness. According to how the description read, we both thought that fresh (or dried) figs would be present on the plate, but the only figs we noticed were baked into the sliver of toasted pecan bread.
Pasta "tastings" (an option for smaller portions) included a Risotto with Wild Mushrooms, White Truffle and Parmigiano ($8) and a handmade Saffron Pasta with Poached Fresh Lobster and Micro Basil ($9). Even though the saffron pasta was outstanding, the risotto stole the show. I'm hard-pressed to name a better risotto in a Cincinnati restaurant — this one, creamy, slightly sweet and earthy, could be the lone reason to avoid any low-carb diet.
Grilled Yellowfin Tuna ($26) with foccacia bread salad, capers, olives and artichokes was delicious, light and lemony; but our favorite of the two main courses was Dan Pancake's signature dish: A tomato broth "Zuppa" (soup) swimming with fruits of the sea — lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, scallops and calamari ($32).
The dining room, casually sophisticated and contemporary, provides the perfect setting for Partridge's innovative menu. Service, for the most part, was polished, knowledgeable and unobtrusive, except for the assistant pouring water that interrupted conversation every 20 minutes to ask us if we would like more water — usually when the glasses were nearly full.
The only disappointment in an otherwise sublime dinner was the dessert. We ordered Panna Cotta, a traditional Italian custard, and were served Blood Orange Tiramisu when the table captain discovered the Panna Cotta had run out. No matter, we love tiramisu and eagerly raised our forks only to put them down after two bites. Unfortunately, it was dreadfully bland and boring, with no discernable "pick me up" flavor (except for the hint of orange) and a distinct gelatinous texture to the marscapone cream. A menu of this quality should end the music on an equally memorable note.
With some minor elevation to the desserts and service, Andiamo! — and particularly the Partridge/Pancake family — is poised to redefine fine Italian dining in Cincinnati. ©
Go: 3235 'A' Madison Road, Oakley
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday. Closed Sunday
Prices: Expensive; expect to spend about $50 per person
Payment: Major credit cards, including Diners.
Red Meat Alternatives: Seafood items. Only a few vegetarian choices, but chefs can adapt most dishes.
Other: Reservations recommended. Private dining room available. Smoking in bar only. On-site parking.
Accessibility: Front and side entrance, plus bathrooms.