A Year in Reviews

A curated collection of 'CityBeat' dining writers’ favorite stops of 2016

27 Bar + Kitchen

720 Monmouth St., Newport, Ky., 859-360-5579, 27bar.kitchen

Newport’s 27 Bar + Kitchen is a stylish brunch and dinner spot on Monmouth Street (aka Route 27, hence the name). The restaurant, which prides itself on being as farm-to-table as possible, is an extremely promising addition for this established stretch of the neighborhood’s business district.

When my husband and I stopped in for brunch late on a Saturday morning, there was ample seating in the restaurant, but we chose to take two seats at the bar. Everything about the remodeled space, which used to be a thrift shop, fits the modern mold of hip restaurant styling — clean lines, minimalist decor, exposed brick, white granite, black trimmings — all aesthetically pleasing.

For an appetizer, we immediately gunned for the elote ($5), a fire-roasted corn dip served with housemade tortilla chips. This was, by far, the very best thing we had. It was creamy, with a bit of a kick, and the perfect blend of sweetness and corn crunch. After the elote, we split two entrées: the chef’s frittata ($10) and the breakfast tacos ($8). The frittata-of-the-day featured steak, onion and red pepper. The breakfast tacos had black beans, scrambled eggs, sautéed pepper and onions and chimichurri sauce placed on top of corn tortillas. Of the two, the tacos were my favorite. Seeing how impressed I was with brunch, heading here for dinner is also now on my must-do list. (Katie Holocher)

3501 Seoul

3501 Erie Ave., Hyde Park, 513-873-9181, 3501seoul.com

As with all Korean restaurants, rice and noodles figure largely on 3501 Seoul’s menu. I honed in on the bibimbap ($25.95), literally mixed rice and a signature Korean dish, choosing the fresh bibimbap, a mixture of raw salmon, red snapper, tuna, flying fish roe, octopus and maguro-tataki. Like all bibimbaps, the protein was complemented by a tasty array of pickled and fresh vegetables, including shredded daikon, avocado, shredded cucumbers and seaweed salad, all topped with the crunch of tempura crisps. 

While 3501 Seoul is a Korean bistro, not a barbecue with tabletop grills, the kitchen does offer several grilled choices. The Kal-Bi ($25.95), hand-filleted beef short ribs, arrived on a bed of lightly grilled onions and was served with a delicious — and new to us — purple rice. 

With its outdoor seating, generous happy hours, specialty drink menu and late-night hours, it’s the perfect setting for drinks and small plates. 3501 Seoul also offers a full sushi menu with a wide choice of specialty rolls, as well as nigiri and sashimi, which I look forward to sampling on a future visit — maybe happy hour on that patio. (Judith Turner-Yamamoto)

Americano Burger Bar

545 Race St., Downtown, 513-345-6677, americanoburgerbar.com

The theme of the restaurant is all things American. Once inside, look up to find an American flag ceiling installation comprised of 3,770 beer cans. 

The theme continues into the menu, which also fuses food and drink from other cultures. According to owner Cristian Pietoso, because our country is a melting pot of traditions, they’ve taken the American staples we all love and elevated them with international flavors. For example, in addition to burgers, you can order German- or Chicago-style hot dogs, Russian slaw, New England clam chowder, paprika-topped corn on the cob and classic starters like chips and guac, wings, nachos, beer cheese and fried grits. 

They have 10 burgers on the menu, ranging from The Argentinean (chimichurri, grilled onions, provolone cheese and mayo), the hilariously named Florence Y’all (taleggio cheese, portobello, arugula pesto), a plain burger (lettuce, tomato and mayo) and a veggie burger (faro-cannellini bean patty, caramelized onions, brie, arugula, tomato and mayo). (Garin Pirnia)

Ché

1342 Walnut St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-978-1706, checincinnati.com

Along with charcuterie, I file empanadas under: “Things that are fun to eat and fun to say.” Which was all the excuse a friend and I — plus our tiny, dependent, car-seat-riding plus ones — needed to venture down to Ché. 

We both studied the menu for all of four seconds before admitting to each other that we wanted to try each and every empanada. The three “cheese” empanadas were basically quesadillas with an additional ingredient. One had baby spinach (De Espinaca; $3), one had sautéed onion (Queso y Cebolla; $3) and the other was a classic ham and cheese (Jamon y Queso; $3). Of the three, the ham and cheese hit that familiar and tasty spot.

Then there were the meat-centric ’nadas. But the final category is really worth chatting about: The real surprises of the night came from the Shrimp Scampi ($4), with sautéed shrimp tossed with garlic and herbs, mozzarella and provolone; the Buffalo Chicken ($4), with spicy chicken, mozzarella, provolone and creamy gorgonzola dipping sauce; and the Breakfast ($4), with country-style sausage, scrambled eggs and cheddar cheese. 

There are places in the word for mini dishes, like sushi and tapas and wings, and Ché’s empanadas fit snuggly in that category, just like its new spot on Walnut. (KH)

Coppin’s at Hotel Covington

638 Madison Ave., Covington, Ky., 866-501-1700, hotelcovington.com/dining

Coppin’s is the restaurant inside the new Hotel Covington, a much anticipated development in the heart of the city’s center. And it’s impossible to separate the hotel from the restaurant, since the hospitality is seamless. 

There’s a strong local identity to the place and to the menu, with lots of nods to history and to the new South, the bourbon and banter that starts at the Roebling Bridge.

For starters, we chose the sweet corn fritters ($6), savory bite-sized delights that are another nod to the Southern side. They were spiced with smoked togarashi, a Japanese pepper blend — in this case, made in Kentucky by Bourbon Barrel Foods — and served with buttermilk dressing with a mild pepper kick. The fritters arrived in a cast iron crock on a thick wooden plank that we learned was crafted from the hotel’s floorboards during renovation. 

Duke’s Mayonnaise, a kitschy favorite of the Garden and Gun magazine set, bound aged cheddar and roasted pimento peppers to make the Pimentadew cheese ($8), another good starter for sharing with a crowd. Crisp roasted pork belly ($11), a treat that has gone from rare to ubiquitous over the last few years, was perched on a ragout of white beans that was pure soul satisfaction.

The chef is using local ingredients as often as he can. Napoleon Ridge Farm’s chorizo added porky richness to the mussels ($12). My friend’s sassy fregola pasta ($18) featured delicious Kenny’s Farmhouse Norwood cheese, a local Swiss-style treasure. The perfectly cooked striped bass ($23) had a fine crust of earthy Weisenberger Mills’ cornmeal that tasted like sumac. One of the best bites of the night was the strip steak’s ($28) chimichurri sauce — emerald bliss. The other favorite was the pecan tart ($7). (Anne Mitchell)

E+O Kitchen

3520 Edwards Road, Hyde Park, 513-832-1023, eokitchen.com

Google E+O Kitchen and you’ll get 99 posts, but a bad review ain’t one. Seriously. Everyone and their mother has been saying run, don’t walk, to E+O Kitchen in Hyde Park. 

My party and I ordered half brunch options, but the rest of what we ordered also appears on the lunch and dinner menu. And the spread was pretty good. Pretty, pretty, pretty good.

Our preferences were schizophrenic at best, with egg sandwiches and waffles, kale salad and sushi. There was also miso soup and nachos, ahi tuna and bellinis. It was all over the board, but upon completion, awesome.

The salad ($11.95) was the clear winner of the day, the Best in Show by far. With fried kale, chilies, carrots and shrimp, it was a rockstar. The Eggwich ($4.95) also takes the proverbial cake. With eggs, cheese, turkey sausage and syrup, this one was laughable. Of course it was good. How could it not be? It hit every distinguishable taste bud.

E+O is definitely a place I would suggest to show off the Cincinnati food scene to out-of-town guests and a restaurant that treats dining out like an experience. (KH)

Fortune Noodle House

349 Calhoun St., Clifton Heights, 513-281-1800, fortunenoodles.com

You know your carbs are made with love when a restaurant dedicates an entire employee just to their production, but here’s the thing: Everything else at Fortune is delicious, too. 

Fortune sits on the corner of Calhoun and Clifton streets, perfectly situated for international students at the University of Cincinnati to get a taste of home and for local students to try something new. 

My dining partner and I ordered the sliced beef noodle soup ($9.49) and the pan-fried shredded pork noodle ($9.99), plus an order of kimchi fried rice ($7.99) for an appetizer. We also shared a coconut bubble tea ($3.75), because one does not turn down the opportunity to consume bubble tea. 

Overall, the soup was comforting and well-balanced, a little sweet and a little salty. Best of all, the noodles soaked up the broth like a sponge but still maintained a chewy denseness, which is so unique to homemade pasta. 

According to co-owner Steven Sun, that distinctive texture is accomplished by making fresh dough mixed with the proper proportion of water to baking soda and then skillfully hand-stretching, folding and twisting it into noodles. 

If you live in Clifton, you’re lucky to be within walking distance of Fortune. (McKenzie Graham)

French Crust Café and Bistro

202 W. Elder St., Over-the-Rhine, 513-621-2013, jrcincy.com

French Crust represents everything that makes me an admirer of chef Jean-Robert de Cavel — known to all as Jean-Robert or simply J-Ro — while it rings all my bells as a lifelong Francophile. The new and expanded corner location at Elm and Elder streets (the former café was housed in a small space on Vine Street downtown) faces Findlay Market’s beer garden and main entrance, sits right on the streetcar line and will brighten anyone’s day thanks to expansive windows and Provence-yellow walls.

The effect is as jaunty and friendly as its owner. Patrons sit at booths, tables or at a 20-seat bar and soak up the bonhomie of a lively bistro ambiance. The food matches the surroundings and delivers note-perfect versions of dishes you’d expect for breakfast, brunch or lunch — a variety of quiches, sandwiches on croissant or baguette, omelets and, of course, a croque monsieur. At dinner, more bistro classics tempt diners, from appetizers of snails and beef tartare to mains ranging from duck leg confit to steak frites. 

Our table mostly went with the pastries, although my husband selected the omelet du jour ($9), made with avocado, shrimp and herbs. I had a goat cheese, zucchini and tomato quiche ($10.50). You won’t find a better slice of egg pie anywhere else in this town. Not only was the crust a textbook example of short pastry done right, but the filling also balanced the custard with bits of veggies and creamy cheese. (Pama Mitchell)

Grill of India

354 Ludlow Ave., Clifton, 513-961-3600, grillofindiacincinnati.com

Amol India, an established Indian restaurant on Ludlow, has transformed into Grill of India. My boyfriend and I recently visited and were greeted with a beautifully decorated but empty party room. Turns out, everyone was just busy getting another plate at the buffet. 

Our waiter sat us at a booth near the full bar, where dapper men with neat aprons tied around their waists were popping straws into mango lassis. The restaurant’s lighting is dim, with curtains drawn around the far-off front windows, creating a cozy Indian diner vibe. 

I’m a sucker for what’s directly presented before me, so I ordered the buffet ($7.99) and the mango lassi ($2.99) I had been eyeing earlier. My boyfriend opted to order the aloo choley ($10.99) off the menu, as he prefers his Indian food spicy enough that I don’t pick half of it off his plate when he’s not looking. He ordered it spicy level 5 (out of 6). I grumbled and went to the buffet.

Grill of India’s daily lunchtime buffet offers not one but two buffet tables — the sandwich board outside advertised it as 36 items. While I didn’t count, there were more than 12 different types of entrée dishes available to pick and choose from on the right-hand buffet table. Luckily for this vegetarian, each entrée selection was marked clearly. There was also a free ice cream buffet, available from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., with more than 10 kinds of ice cream. (Madge Maril)

Harvest Bistro & Wine Bar

3410 Telford St., Clifton, 513-281-3663, harvest-bistro.com

I’ve been a huge fan of La Poste since it launched in Clifton’s Gaslight District in 2010. Anyone who opens a restaurant within walking distance of my house that features multiple certified sommeliers on staff can expect my faithful patronage. For any number of reasons, the wine-centric concept wasn’t sustainable for the long haul, and La Poste morphed into a farm-to-table concept renamed Harvest Bistro & Wine Bar.

When our foursome arrived for a 7 p.m. reservation on a Saturday night, we were able to select a table by the large window looking out onto Telford Street, and we settled in for a leisurely evening. We put in an order for first courses fairly quickly: Jim and Kathy split a roasted beet and kale salad ($12), I tried the “chef’s daily inspiration” flatbread ($10) and my husband had the roasted beet bruschetta ($9). The salad, heaped with golden and red beets, slices of watermelon radish, thinly sliced Brussels sprouts and candied hazelnuts, arrived having been split into two large plates. It tasted terrific with its tangy citrus vinaigrette. 

Our second courses ranged from a bowl of mussels to a burger, a veggie entrée and the featured seafood special. P.E.I. mussels ($12) were bathed in broth enriched by chorizo, roasted tomatoes and white wine and came with grilled Sixteen Bricks bread.

All told, I was happily reminded of a saying, plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose (the more things change, the more they stay the same). Harvest has become a worthy successor to my old fave. (PM)

House of Grill

14 E. Fifth St., Covington, Ky., 859-206-6324, kentuckyhouseofgrill.com

Tucked in a strip on Fifth Street in Covington, House of Grill’s interior is unassuming and relaxed. I was greeted with a complimentary glass of strong, loose-leafed black Persian tea upon arrival. 

I ordered the eggplant stew ($11.99) on my first visit. The rich sauce hit the spot; the eggplant is simmered to draw out the flavor, along with melt-in-your-mouth beef. A rich sheen of oil glazed the top of the stew. When a stew has that sheen, you know it’s done right — Persian cooking prizes that gloss, as it indicates all flavors from the spices (saffron and sumac, typically) and the vegetables and meat have fully co-mingled. 

On a second, solo dining trip, I indulged and ordered an extensive array of Persian favorites. The veggie gormeh stew ($10.99) — whose star ingredient is fenugreek, a pungent and flavorful herb — was rich and aromatic, comprised of cilantro, kidney beans and Persian limes simmered in a dark green sauce. The staple partner-in-crime for nearly every dish is Basmati rice, topped with golden saffron and served here with a pat of butter.

House of Grill offers an authentic taste of Iran. There were no offerings of generic hummus or tabbouleh, as happens in so many other Mediterranean restaurants trying to appeal to a generic familiarity. House of Grill sticks by the assertion that Persian food is good in its own right. (Leyla Shokoohe)

L

301 E. Fourth St., Downtown, 513-760-5525, lcincinnati.com

L, the latest endeavor by two local creative geniuses, has elevated Cincinnati’s dining landscape almost immeasurably. I could see it on short lists for best new restaurant in the nation this year. 

What’s on the plate springs from the culinary virtuosity of chef/owner Jean-Robert de Cavel, while everything that surrounds it has been meticulously selected by de Cavel’s partner, hospitality and design expert Richard Brown. Culinary Institute of America graduate and chef de cuisine Brett Crowe has collaborated with de Cavel to produce a couple dozen brilliant dishes topped off by pastry chef Katie Lopez’s equally fine desserts.   

This is special-occasion dining, the kind of evening most of us aspire to once or twice a year. And yet the $89 per person, four-course meal is more than fairly priced considering it includes tax, tip and validated parking. There are tempting menu supplements — such as $7 for lobster salad or $12 for the lamb entrée — but plenty to choose from without any extras. The only significant addition to your bill is likely to come from alcohol.

The food got serious with the second course. Among us, we tried four of the five offerings and loved every dish. For course three, we selected two fish entrées, one fowl and a steak. One doesn’t choose dessert; it just appears at the appropriate time. Diners also have the option of a “menu gourmand” — seven courses selected by the chef ranging from Jonah crab and the foie gras dish to cheeses and a plate of sweets ($125; $65 wine pairings). Or you can eat in the bar, ordering à la carte from about a dozen hot or cold appetizers ($18-$31) and a handful of main courses ($36-$48). (PM)

Maplewood Kitchen and Bar

525 Race St., Downtown, 513-421-2100, maplewoodkitchenandbar.com

Thunderdome Restaurant Group’s upscale “California-style” Maplewood Kitchen and Bar focuses on healthier foods, like cold-pressed juices, somewhat nutritious cocktails, organic superfood salads, egg-white omelets and buzzword ingredients.

During a recent lunch, my dining companion and I ordered the chopped salad ($13), the spicy chicken sandwich ($10), sticky ricotta toast ($5), a side of hash browns ($3), a side of roasted romanesco broccoli ($4), Brainstorm Coffee ($5), Sweet Greens cold-pressed juice ($10; cucumber, green apple, pear, spinach, celery, lemon and lime) and a roasted tomatillo bloody mary, served in a foot-tall glass and made with Tito’s vodka and Super Green juice. Something like a green bloody made with cold-pressed juice would be the norm on the West Coast, but not in the Midwest.

The salad — charred corn, green beans, purple cauliflower, goat cheese, pecans, figs and beets; I held the bacon — came with a ton of veggies and chunks of whole pecans and figs (no skimping here), drizzled with a light dressing and accompanied by a couple pieces of toasted bread. The spicy chicken sandwich, which featured rotisserie chicken, piri piri sauce, pickles, cheese and slaw on Sixteen Bricks bread, got its spiciness from African piri piri pepper — yet another innovation for Maplewood. (GP) 

Nashville Hot

564 Buttermilk Pike, Crescent Springs, Ky., 859-360-6632, nashvillehot.com

On my first visit to Nashville Hot, I was pleasantly surprised. The chicken can be ordered in four spice levels with cutesy names: 1) Yankee Mild; 2) Midwest Medium; 3) Southern Heat; and 4) Nashville Hot. I “chickened out,” har har, and on the advice of the woman at the counter and went with a level three. The dinners ($9-$11) come with two sides, and she recommended the Tennessee Caviar and the loaded baked potato salad and sold me some cobbler ($3) for dessert. There are multiple local beers available, including one from Covington’s Braxton Brewery on tap, as well as sodas and housemade milkshakes.

I loved the sides. They were original and fresh. The chicken really surpassed my expectations. The meat was very moist — it’s soaked in a buttermilk brine before frying — and the seasoning was aggressive but reasonable. 

But I was racked with guilt. A three? How can I review this place without trying their signature item? Then guilt won, and back I went. When the man at the counter asked me how spicy and I said, “Nashville Hot,” he couldn’t hide his skepticism. 

It’s a head rush. As I’d been warned, it wasn’t pretty. My nose ran, my eyes ran, my lips burned hotter than the most passionate kiss. I may hate myself tomorrow, but for now I’m feeling pretty buzzed. (AM)

Somm Wine Bar

3105 Price Ave., Price Hill, 513-244-5843, sommwinebarcincinnati.com

Somm Wine Bar makes it perilously easy to have a fun weeknight out. Their snacks range from marinated olives, mixed nuts and pickled vegetables to bondookies. I’m sure you know what to look for in a delicious bondookie. No? Luckily, general manager Kevin Armon does: “Bondookies are Lithuanian yeast rolls filled with crispy bacon and caramelized onions.”

And don’t be afraid to ask which wine from Somm’s selection should be paired with your bondookie (or olives or pickles). That’s the bar’s stock in trade — excellent pairing wines with approachable menu descriptions so you can choose what drink goes with which dish or ask your server, who will undoubtedly have an excellent suggestion.

Somm also makes mozzarella cheese in-house, showcased in a caprese salad, and there are several other salads available, plus a meat and cheese board and a list of paninis. My partner got the steak and blue cheese panini ($12), like a grown-up grilled cheese. It was delicious — the steak was tender and juicy and the cheese was high-quality — but don’t skip lunch in anticipation of an evening spent at Somm. The food is more reasonably portioned than our American stomachs are used to, but that allowed us to order from each and every section of the menu. (MG)

Taglio

3531 Columbia Parkway, Columbia Tusculum, 513-321-0454, eattaglio.com

It’s been five years since Jared Wayne, his brother Nick and friends opened Italian restaurant A Tavola in Over-the-Rhine. Continuing their Cincinnati pizza infiltration, the brothers opened fast-casual pizza joint Taglio — meant to be an addendum to A Tavola’s expansive menu, but instead of Neapolitan pizzas cooked in a wood-fired oven, Taglio focuses on large slices of gas-fired New York-style pizza (hand-tossed, thin crust, real cheese). 

The concept is simple: walk up to the counter, order a slice or a whole pizza, grab a six-pack or a bottle (or two) of wine from their booze wall, go home and stuff your face. Or place an order for delivery or carryout using their app. The pizza toppings here feature more straightforward options: margherita, veggie supreme, Hawaiian pizza and sundried tomato and artichoke. They make all of their meats in-house but import the ricotta and mozzarella from Italy. (GP)

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