December 27, 2018

A Year in Reviews: Some of CityBeat Dining Writers' Favorite Stops in 2018

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Sacred Beast
1437 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
“Simple food. Taken seriously” is the motto for Sacred Beast, the new modern diner at 15th and Vine streets in Over-the-Rhine, helmed by chef Jeremy Lieb, most recently of the Boca Group, and his wife Bridget. The menu is a collection of Lieb’s favorite things, which run the gamut from literally the best French-style omelet in town — fluffy, soft and full of goat cheese and piquillo peppers — to a “Diner Breakfast” with scrambled eggs, maple-glazed pork belly and ricotta pancakes and a double or triple burger with Dijonnaise, onions, pickles and American cheese on a freshly made Blue Oven bun.
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Sacred Beast

1437 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
“Simple food. Taken seriously” is the motto for Sacred Beast, the new modern diner at 15th and Vine streets in Over-the-Rhine, helmed by chef Jeremy Lieb, most recently of the Boca Group, and his wife Bridget. The menu is a collection of Lieb’s favorite things, which run the gamut from literally the best French-style omelet in town — fluffy, soft and full of goat cheese and piquillo peppers — to a “Diner Breakfast” with scrambled eggs, maple-glazed pork belly and ricotta pancakes and a double or triple burger with Dijonnaise, onions, pickles and American cheese on a freshly made Blue Oven bun.
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Agave & Rye
633 Madison Ave., Covington
Agave & Rye faces both Hotel Covington and The Madison Event Center and is just around the corner from the Braxton Brewing Company. With its full bar and kitchen open until 2 a.m. seven nights a week, this glossy taqueria has been an instant hit for patrons of those neighboring establishments and pulls in families and young couples earlier in the evening as well.
Except for a few small side dishes and a couple of desserts, the menu consists entirely of tacos ($3-$5). They’re organized as “Graze” for meat-based fillings, “Swim” for fish-filled tortillas and “Grow” for veggie versions. Graze is the largest category, with eight different options that include a taco based on kangaroo meat — we didn’t try that one — as well as chicken, pork, beef and duck confit. Altogether we selected from 15 taco options, including a monthly feature: “cheese-filled mini beef meatballs, mac and cheese, white cheddar and vodka sauce.” We skipped that one, too.  
One unusual feature of the menu is that each taco comes in a crispy corn shell and a soft flour tortilla. A taco called The Bee’s Knees would have been better if the chicken in it hadn’t been too dry, but we all loved The Alderman — ancho grilled steak with Mexican street corn salad and a good salsa. The Swanky One came in a fried wonton shell — the only non-tortilla wrapped taco — with a filling of ahi tuna poke, serrano aioli and guacamole. It tasted good, but the shell fell apart when you picked it up. One of the veggie tacos, The Bang Bang, hit the right notes with crispy cauliflower, spicy carrots and a creamy cheese sauce. (Pama Mitchell)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Agave & Rye

633 Madison Ave., Covington
Agave & Rye faces both Hotel Covington and The Madison Event Center and is just around the corner from the Braxton Brewing Company. With its full bar and kitchen open until 2 a.m. seven nights a week, this glossy taqueria has been an instant hit for patrons of those neighboring establishments and pulls in families and young couples earlier in the evening as well.
Except for a few small side dishes and a couple of desserts, the menu consists entirely of tacos ($3-$5). They’re organized as “Graze” for meat-based fillings, “Swim” for fish-filled tortillas and “Grow” for veggie versions. Graze is the largest category, with eight different options that include a taco based on kangaroo meat — we didn’t try that one — as well as chicken, pork, beef and duck confit. Altogether we selected from 15 taco options, including a monthly feature: “cheese-filled mini beef meatballs, mac and cheese, white cheddar and vodka sauce.” We skipped that one, too.  
One unusual feature of the menu is that each taco comes in a crispy corn shell and a soft flour tortilla. A taco called The Bee’s Knees would have been better if the chicken in it hadn’t been too dry, but we all loved The Alderman — ancho grilled steak with Mexican street corn salad and a good salsa. The Swanky One came in a fried wonton shell — the only non-tortilla wrapped taco — with a filling of ahi tuna poke, serrano aioli and guacamole. It tasted good, but the shell fell apart when you picked it up. One of the veggie tacos, The Bang Bang, hit the right notes with crispy cauliflower, spicy carrots and a creamy cheese sauce. (Pama Mitchell)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
LouVino
1142 Main St., Over-the-Rhine
Take your taste buds on a journey from the marigold-lined pathways of Château Guiraud in France to the Alps-framed Castelfeder winery in northern Italy — all while dining at LouVino in Over-the-Rhine. The concept restaurant opened in late August on Main Street and offers 60 wines by the glass as well as small plates inspired by Southern cuisine. 
You’ll see some familiar names on the wine list, too, as flights are named after Ohio and Kentucky celebrities like Carmen Electra and John Legend. They are served in three 2-ounce pours and can be paired with cheese for an additional $2. Individual glasses are 6 ounces and range in price from $8 to $29. 
While their wine selection is impressive, their elevated comfort food deserves a spotlight of its own, too. There are two menus: classics and seasonal. The former features dishes that are permanently available while the latter is a rotating menu dictated by the chef. 
For food we shared the Brussels sprouts salad ($10) which came in a cilantro lime vinaigrette, the steak and hoe cakes ($14), the beef sliders ($12) and the loaded baked potato tots ($9). While they’re called small plates, you get very generous portions. Two per person would be more than enough to leave you satisfied. (Lauren Moretto)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

LouVino

1142 Main St., Over-the-Rhine
Take your taste buds on a journey from the marigold-lined pathways of Château Guiraud in France to the Alps-framed Castelfeder winery in northern Italy — all while dining at LouVino in Over-the-Rhine. The concept restaurant opened in late August on Main Street and offers 60 wines by the glass as well as small plates inspired by Southern cuisine. 
You’ll see some familiar names on the wine list, too, as flights are named after Ohio and Kentucky celebrities like Carmen Electra and John Legend. They are served in three 2-ounce pours and can be paired with cheese for an additional $2. Individual glasses are 6 ounces and range in price from $8 to $29. 
While their wine selection is impressive, their elevated comfort food deserves a spotlight of its own, too. There are two menus: classics and seasonal. The former features dishes that are permanently available while the latter is a rotating menu dictated by the chef.  For food we shared the Brussels sprouts salad ($10) which came in a cilantro lime vinaigrette, the steak and hoe cakes ($14), the beef sliders ($12) and the loaded baked potato tots ($9). While they’re called small plates, you get very generous portions. Two per person would be more than enough to leave you satisfied. (Lauren Moretto)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
CityBird Tenders
1344 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
The deep-fried offspring of The Eagle in OTR, Citybird dishes out cage-free, all-natural chicken paired with housemade craft sauces.
CityBird’s “house-brined, fresh fried” chicken leans more toward tenderness than crispiness, but still packs a considerable punch paired with green chile hot sauce. The tenders boast a full-bodied flavor: mostly mellow and savory, but tinged with spice. They’re at their best wedged inside the Spicy sandwich, topped with Green Goddess slaw, Sriracha, mayo and a toasted potato bun.
Surprisingly, the chicken is almost eclipsed by the quality of their sides. Coleslaw is my favorite chicken partner, and CityBird does the dish justice with a recipe that eschews excess creaminess for a distinct, mustard-infused tang. The fries steal the show, though. Dusted with parmesan, parsley and sugar, they’re an addictive base that soaks up the tenders’ spice. Together, these flavors stick with you long after you’ve put down your fork. (Jude Noel)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

CityBird Tenders

1344 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine
The deep-fried offspring of The Eagle in OTR, Citybird dishes out cage-free, all-natural chicken paired with housemade craft sauces. CityBird’s “house-brined, fresh fried” chicken leans more toward tenderness than crispiness, but still packs a considerable punch paired with green chile hot sauce. The tenders boast a full-bodied flavor: mostly mellow and savory, but tinged with spice. They’re at their best wedged inside the Spicy sandwich, topped with Green Goddess slaw, Sriracha, mayo and a toasted potato bun.
Surprisingly, the chicken is almost eclipsed by the quality of their sides. Coleslaw is my favorite chicken partner, and CityBird does the dish justice with a recipe that eschews excess creaminess for a distinct, mustard-infused tang. The fries steal the show, though. Dusted with parmesan, parsley and sugar, they’re an addictive base that soaks up the tenders’ spice. Together, these flavors stick with you long after you’ve put down your fork. (Jude Noel)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey
1201 Broadway St., Pendleton
At Boomtown, the true delight comes plated. The signature biscuit isn’t a run-of-the-mill thousand-layer flaked baked good. It’s a buttery, soft disc with a close crumb and a browned, lightly bubbled top that no breakfast chain can compete with.
The food menu starts with “Pick & Shovel Sandwiches.” All of these options feature fillings like fried chicken, barbecue short ribs or mush cakes with chimichurri tofu, stuffed between two biscuits.
The most popular sandwich — and the one I ordered — is the Yukon ($11), with fried chicken, gravy, smoked cheddar and thick-cut bacon. The option to add an egg is, theoretically, optional (and a $2 upcharge), but better thought of as an intrinsic part of the dish. This sandwich was sumptuous.
Besides the sandwiches, the menu offers “Prospector Plates,” which are more entrée-style than the sandwiches; “Bowls of Gold,” which are the requisite beans and grits but gussied up; “Sundries,” aka the sides you’ll want at least a few of; “Nuggets of Gold,” for condiments and dips; and “Sweet Fixins” for dessert. (McKenzie Graham Willits)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Boomtown Biscuits & Whiskey

1201 Broadway St., Pendleton
At Boomtown, the true delight comes plated. The signature biscuit isn’t a run-of-the-mill thousand-layer flaked baked good. It’s a buttery, soft disc with a close crumb and a browned, lightly bubbled top that no breakfast chain can compete with. The food menu starts with “Pick & Shovel Sandwiches.” All of these options feature fillings like fried chicken, barbecue short ribs or mush cakes with chimichurri tofu, stuffed between two biscuits.
The most popular sandwich — and the one I ordered — is the Yukon ($11), with fried chicken, gravy, smoked cheddar and thick-cut bacon. The option to add an egg is, theoretically, optional (and a $2 upcharge), but better thought of as an intrinsic part of the dish. This sandwich was sumptuous.
Besides the sandwiches, the menu offers “Prospector Plates,” which are more entrée-style than the sandwiches; “Bowls of Gold,” which are the requisite beans and grits but gussied up; “Sundries,” aka the sides you’ll want at least a few of; “Nuggets of Gold,” for condiments and dips; and “Sweet Fixins” for dessert. (McKenzie Graham Willits)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Orchids at Palm Court
35 W. Fifth St., Downtown
If I’m lucky, I’ll get to Orchids once or twice a year, and I’ve almost always had a stellar meal. In June, I dined there with friends to see whether that level of wonderfulness is still attainable under the new direction of executive chef Maxime Kien, a native of southern France with deep experience at excellent restaurants from London to Las Vegas and New Orleans. In a word: yes.
If I had to select one feature of the meal that we all agreed was over-the-top spectacular, it would be all of the “freebies” that accompanied the dishes we actually ordered. That bounty started with a delectable amuse-bouche consisting of a savory panna cotta topped with a bit of local caviar and a sprinkling of herb salad. Between the appetizer and entrée came a small portion of the freshest pea soup you can imagine, enhanced by a shaving of black truffle. A pre-dessert treat centering on not-too-sweet strawberry sorbet prepared us for the desserts we had ordered, but there was even more after that: petits-fours and a take-home granola bar. 
As you would expect, the seasonally-attuned menu takes advantage of midsummer produce and combines those ingredients with top-quality seafood and meat from a variety of sources. Kien says he has enjoyed teaching his mostly young kitchen staff how to handle and prepare whole salmon, or a lamb saddle. During his months at the helm, he’s started to share his knowledge and show his team his vision, he says. 
That vision produces dishes that are never overly complicated either in ingredient combinations or presentation. Case in point was the vichyssoise appetizer — a chilled potato-based soup. It was marvelous: a creamy purée without the tiniest of lumps, topped with a spoonful of local Big Fish Farms caviar, a sprinkling of fines herbes and melba toast croutons for the all-important crunchy contrast. (Pama Mitchell)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Orchids at Palm Court

35 W. Fifth St., Downtown
If I’m lucky, I’ll get to Orchids once or twice a year, and I’ve almost always had a stellar meal. In June, I dined there with friends to see whether that level of wonderfulness is still attainable under the new direction of executive chef Maxime Kien, a native of southern France with deep experience at excellent restaurants from London to Las Vegas and New Orleans. In a word: yes.
If I had to select one feature of the meal that we all agreed was over-the-top spectacular, it would be all of the “freebies” that accompanied the dishes we actually ordered. That bounty started with a delectable amuse-bouche consisting of a savory panna cotta topped with a bit of local caviar and a sprinkling of herb salad. Between the appetizer and entrée came a small portion of the freshest pea soup you can imagine, enhanced by a shaving of black truffle. A pre-dessert treat centering on not-too-sweet strawberry sorbet prepared us for the desserts we had ordered, but there was even more after that: petits-fours and a take-home granola bar.
As you would expect, the seasonally-attuned menu takes advantage of midsummer produce and combines those ingredients with top-quality seafood and meat from a variety of sources. Kien says he has enjoyed teaching his mostly young kitchen staff how to handle and prepare whole salmon, or a lamb saddle. During his months at the helm, he’s started to share his knowledge and show his team his vision, he says. 
That vision produces dishes that are never overly complicated either in ingredient combinations or presentation. Case in point was the vichyssoise appetizer — a chilled potato-based soup. It was marvelous: a creamy purée without the tiniest of lumps, topped with a spoonful of local Big Fish Farms caviar, a sprinkling of fines herbes and melba toast croutons for the all-important crunchy contrast. (Pama Mitchell)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Crown Republic Gastropub
720 Sycamore St., Downtown
Crown Republic Gastropub is located on the first level of the same building as Encore Apartments. I stopped by on a Saturday for a solo, pre-theater meal, and because my eyes are always, always bigger than my stomach, I ordered enough food for two: the octopus tabbouleh ($16), fried chicken gobbets ($8) and pappardelle ($16).  
The octopus was tender, served on a bed of farro tabbouleh under creamy, zesty duck-fat hummus and loaded with fresh herbs and merguez. When I ran out of the four pieces of housemade pita, I shoveled the rest of that delicious food confetti into my mouth with a fork.
Did you know the name “pappardelle” comes from the Italian phrase “to gobble up”? Well, it does, and that’s exactly what you’ll do. The housemade noodles are at least two-inches wide and curled in a winding nest under a nice Bolognese sauce, topped with a pat of green ricotta gremolata and sprinkled with parmesan cheese and parsley.
Oh, and the gobbets. You’re probably wondering what those are. They’re basically adult chicken nuggets, soaked in the malt brine the crew makes their pickles in, then fried and served with honey hot sauce on the side. (Leyla Shokoohe)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Crown Republic Gastropub

720 Sycamore St., Downtown
Crown Republic Gastropub is located on the first level of the same building as Encore Apartments. I stopped by on a Saturday for a solo, pre-theater meal, and because my eyes are always, always bigger than my stomach, I ordered enough food for two: the octopus tabbouleh ($16), fried chicken gobbets ($8) and pappardelle ($16).
The octopus was tender, served on a bed of farro tabbouleh under creamy, zesty duck-fat hummus and loaded with fresh herbs and merguez. When I ran out of the four pieces of housemade pita, I shoveled the rest of that delicious food confetti into my mouth with a fork. Did you know the name “pappardelle” comes from the Italian phrase “to gobble up”? Well, it does, and that’s exactly what you’ll do. The housemade noodles are at least two-inches wide and curled in a winding nest under a nice Bolognese sauce, topped with a pat of green ricotta gremolata and sprinkled with parmesan cheese and parsley.
Oh, and the gobbets. You’re probably wondering what those are. They’re basically adult chicken nuggets, soaked in the malt brine the crew makes their pickles in, then fried and served with honey hot sauce on the side. (Leyla Shokoohe)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Maize OTR
1438 Race St., Over-the-Rhine
Maize specializes in a unique fusion menu that honors traditional recipes from across Latin America, with an emphasis on Venezuelan cuisine. The restaurant takes its name from maize, a corn flour dating back some 10,000 years and first utilized by indigenous Mexicans. The flour serves as the basis for the arepas, cachapas and empanadas served at Maize, and indeed, is the starting point for the restaurant’s whole concept. 
To that end, the menu is colorful and varied, with dishes from across the region that complement one another while retaining their traditional roots like the Peruvian ceviche, Mexican street corn and Venezuelan cachapas and asado negro. 
For appetizers, my friend ordered the ceviche ($9) and, on our server’s recommendation, I tried the guasacaca gruesa ($8), which is a chunky Venezuelan avocado dip, similar to guacamole, but prepared with olive brine for acidity instead of lime. Allow me, briefly, to exalt the ceviche: it was perfect. Crisp, bright, tangy, fresh; it tasted like the ocean.
For my main dish, I ordered the reina pepiada arepa ($9), stuffed with avocado chicken salad, red onion slivers, queso de mano (think mozzarella but saltier) and cilantro. It was filling and very, very good. Empanadas and traditional Venezuelan cachapas, a sweet corn pancake, are also available. (Leyla Shokoohe)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Maize OTR

1438 Race St., Over-the-Rhine
Maize specializes in a unique fusion menu that honors traditional recipes from across Latin America, with an emphasis on Venezuelan cuisine. The restaurant takes its name from maize, a corn flour dating back some 10,000 years and first utilized by indigenous Mexicans. The flour serves as the basis for the arepas, cachapas and empanadas served at Maize, and indeed, is the starting point for the restaurant’s whole concept.
To that end, the menu is colorful and varied, with dishes from across the region that complement one another while retaining their traditional roots like the Peruvian ceviche, Mexican street corn and Venezuelan cachapas and asado negro. 
For appetizers, my friend ordered the ceviche ($9) and, on our server’s recommendation, I tried the guasacaca gruesa ($8), which is a chunky Venezuelan avocado dip, similar to guacamole, but prepared with olive brine for acidity instead of lime. Allow me, briefly, to exalt the ceviche: it was perfect. Crisp, bright, tangy, fresh; it tasted like the ocean.
For my main dish, I ordered the reina pepiada arepa ($9), stuffed with avocado chicken salad, red onion slivers, queso de mano (think mozzarella but saltier) and cilantro. It was filling and very, very good. Empanadas and traditional Venezuelan cachapas, a sweet corn pancake, are also available. (Leyla Shokoohe)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Overlook Kitchen + Bar
5345 Medpace Way, Madisonville
Foodies, take note: a lot of excellent food is coming out of the kitchen division of the new Overlook Kitchen + Bar at Madisonville’s The Summit hotel. But you’re going to have to put up with a significant disconnect between the high-level cooking and the garishly-lit, noisy bar where you have to eat it. Six of us raved about the food while just tolerating the rest of the experience. 
Chef Kyle Goebel most recently was executive chef at Cooper’s Hawk, and also previously worked with chef Todd Kelly at Orchids. He’s now overseeing all the food service at The Summit and deserves attention and praise for the delightful fare he’s created for Overlook.
We tried almost all of the entrées, and there wasn’t a dud in the batch. Two of us had the gnocchi with lion’s mane mushrooms (a variety I hadn’t seen before), spring peas and white truffle ($19) — savory, toothsome and satisfying. The bass ($29) was cooked just right, with a browned, toasty exterior and velvety center. The fish sat atop Yukon potatoes, parsnip and spring onion, all covered in a light butter sauce. Those dishes were the consensus favorites at our table, but the duck preparation earned accolades, too. Slices of medium-rare duck breast drizzled with duck demi-glace accompanied diced sweet potato and apple ($21). A substantial Kentucky grass-fed ribeye steak ($32) pleased our meat-lover as it benefited from the sweetness of caramelized spring onion and the umami of tender morel mushrooms. (Pama Mitchell)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Overlook Kitchen + Bar

5345 Medpace Way, Madisonville
Foodies, take note: a lot of excellent food is coming out of the kitchen division of the new Overlook Kitchen + Bar at Madisonville’s The Summit hotel. But you’re going to have to put up with a significant disconnect between the high-level cooking and the garishly-lit, noisy bar where you have to eat it. Six of us raved about the food while just tolerating the rest of the experience. 
Chef Kyle Goebel most recently was executive chef at Cooper’s Hawk, and also previously worked with chef Todd Kelly at Orchids. He’s now overseeing all the food service at The Summit and deserves attention and praise for the delightful fare he’s created for Overlook.
We tried almost all of the entrées, and there wasn’t a dud in the batch. Two of us had the gnocchi with lion’s mane mushrooms (a variety I hadn’t seen before), spring peas and white truffle ($19) — savory, toothsome and satisfying. The bass ($29) was cooked just right, with a browned, toasty exterior and velvety center. The fish sat atop Yukon potatoes, parsnip and spring onion, all covered in a light butter sauce.
Those dishes were the consensus favorites at our table, but the duck preparation earned accolades, too. Slices of medium-rare duck breast drizzled with duck demi-glace accompanied diced sweet potato and apple ($21). A substantial Kentucky grass-fed ribeye steak ($32) pleased our meat-lover as it benefited from the sweetness of caramelized spring onion and the umami of tender morel mushrooms. (Pama Mitchell)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger
Zundo Ramen & Donburi
220 W. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine
Cincinnati’s Han Lin, the chef behind Montgomery’s traditional Japanese sushi restaurant Mei, aims to captivate OTR’s foodies with ramen done the soulful way.
Ramen, a traditional Japanese dish consisting of a meat- or fish-based broth, noodles and a range of vegetables and protein, has grown in popularity in recent years, but Lin believes the balance between authenticity and modernism has yet to be struck. As such he calls his ramen “incomparable” to Greater Cincinnati’s current offerings.
In addition to pouring proper Japanese authenticity into each bowl, Lin hopes to introduce locals to authentic eating techniques, as well. 
“The thing is with the United States is when people eat ramen, they eat it slowly,” he says. “When I eat ramen, it’s like a two-minute or three-minute finish. I eat it while it’s hot. When it gets cold, the noodles soak in too much and it’s not good.”
Tackling a bowl of hot ramen with haste can be a test of willpower for those that can’t stand the heat, but speed is a running theme at Zundo: Donburi, a Japanese stew that consists of various meats and vegetables served over steamed rice, is also considered a “fast” food.
Whether topped with chicken teriyaki, eel or sashimi, donburi is a versatile dish that brings together protein, sauce and rice in a three-part harmony. It is seldom found on local menus, so this is truly a treat. (Austin Gayle)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger

Zundo Ramen & Donburi

220 W. 12th St., Over-the-Rhine
Cincinnati’s Han Lin, the chef behind Montgomery’s traditional Japanese sushi restaurant Mei, aims to captivate OTR’s foodies with ramen done the soulful way.
Ramen, a traditional Japanese dish consisting of a meat- or fish-based broth, noodles and a range of vegetables and protein, has grown in popularity in recent years, but Lin believes the balance between authenticity and modernism has yet to be struck. As such he calls his ramen “incomparable” to Greater Cincinnati’s current offerings.
In addition to pouring proper Japanese authenticity into each bowl, Lin hopes to introduce locals to authentic eating techniques, as well. “The thing is with the United States is when people eat ramen, they eat it slowly,” he says. “When I eat ramen, it’s like a two-minute or three-minute finish. I eat it while it’s hot. When it gets cold, the noodles soak in too much and it’s not good.”
Tackling a bowl of hot ramen with haste can be a test of willpower for those that can’t stand the heat, but speed is a running theme at Zundo: Donburi, a Japanese stew that consists of various meats and vegetables served over steamed rice, is also considered a “fast” food. Whether topped with chicken teriyaki, eel or sashimi, donburi is a versatile dish that brings together protein, sauce and rice in a three-part harmony. It is seldom found on local menus, so this is truly a treat. (Austin Gayle)
Photo: Hailey Bollinger