A Year in Reviews

Favorite reviews and food features from CityBeat's 2013 Eats section

Each week our intrepid dining writers review and profile new Cincinnati restaurants, and in 2013 they definitely had some favorites. The following are of some of their top picks from this past year along with some extra insights as to why.

8100 Blue Ash Road, Deer Park, arrechissimo.com 
“Arrechissimo” is Venezuelan slang for “spectacular,” and the restaurant offers a one-page menu of Venezuela’s most beloved signature dishes. Among the “breakfast” items ($3-$6.50), which can be ordered all day, are the arepas: round, lightly fried discs of cornmeal stuffed with a choice of nearly a dozen possible fillings, including shredded beef, chicken, “reina pepiada” (a chicken salad mixture made green from avocado), “perico” (eggs scrambled with onion and tomato), cheese and prosciutto. While many people are familiar with empanadas — fried, crimped turnovers stuffed with meat — Arrechissimo’s are unlike any other. Not quite the size of a calzone, these are enormous versions of the savory treat, nearly a meal in themselves. (Michael Taylor)

Bistro Grace

4034 Hamilton Ave., Northside, bistrograce.com

Food prices are mid-range, with appetizers and salads from about $6 to $14 for a bowl of mussels or Duck Poutine (a French-Canadian dish with “hand cut fries, duck confit, cheese curds and gravy”). Main courses start at $12 for a beef burger or a quinoa veggie burger and slide upward. For main dishes, I tried the Five-Spiced Duck Breast ($21), another generous portion, served with quinoa and spaghetti squash; my husband had the Airline Chicken Breast ($16) with coconut-mushroom sauce over asparagus spears. The quality of cooking in both entrées was impressive, and everything looked appetizing on the artsy, square plates. The bar serves six local beers on tap at $5 a pint, with a couple dozen more by the bottle, plus a 45-bottle wine list, including 17 available by the glass. Eight “signature cocktails” round out the drinks list. (Pama Mitchell)

Buona Terra
1028 Delta Ave., Mount Lookout Square, facebook.com/buonaterragelato
Owners Matt Wu, Eric Roeder and Stijn Van Woensel came up with the idea to bring a taste of European street food to Cincinnati. The shop features 24 flavors of gelato and sorbetto daily. As for ingredients, it rotates flavors regularly but maintains staples like caramel and chocolate. You’ll definitely see some unfamiliar gelato flavors, including Earl Grey and white chocolate lavender. The crepes are stuffed with your choice of sweet or savory ingredients. All of the combinations are simple, but very appealing. The Greco has spinach, tomato, goat cheese and a balsamic glaze ($7); and they couldn’t escape a classic crepe loaded with banana and Nutella, deemed the Belgian Breakfast ($5). They’ll also offer a featured crepe, like the Coconut Cream pie ($6) with optional berries or bananas. (Brenna Smith)

The Elusive Cow

519 Fairfield Ave., Bellevue, Ky., theelusivecow.com

The owner of The Elusive Cow, Jim Fisher, delivers a menu that supports the omnivore in us all, including dishes with bison, tofu, fish and, of course, hamburgers. The Elusive Cow has an extensive beer menu with 90 bottles to choose from and six beers on tap. We started our meal off with a half-order of house-made onion rings ($6.95). These onion rings far surpassed the typical vehicles for ketchup. For my main course, I chose the falafel special ($8.95) served with the vegetable of the day, Brussels sprouts. One big, tender pita folded and stuffed with three balls of falafel and crammed with pickles, fresh onions and tomatoes. To top it off, the tzatziki sauce served alongside the sandwich is house-made and dairy free. I’m definitely going back. Mostly, I want a good beer and those great onion rings. (BS)

Fifty West Brewing Company

7668 Wooster Pike, Mariemont, fiftywestbrew.com

Before they could start their own local beer empire, Whit Hesser, Blake Horsburgh (a seasoned, Siebel Institute-certified brewer); and Bobby Slattery wanted to make sure their brew was as good as they thought it was. After getting an enthusiastic thumbs-up from several key area beer experts like Jay Ashmore, owner of Dutch’s Larder, the three set out on establishing a name for their fledgling microbrewery and Fifty West (on Route 50) was born. The three soon secured Chef John Tomain, whose beer pairing background helped him design a rotating, seasonal small plate menu that deftly marries Fifty West’s lineup of more than a dozen brews. A six-beer flight is available for only $5 and each beer on the list comes with suggested food pairings. (MT)

French Crust Café

915 Vine St., Downtown, facebook.com/frenchcrustcafe

Master Chef Jean-Robert de Cavel and pastry chef Jean Philippe Solnom have brought a little bit of France to the Central Business District. The French Crust Café is cozy, seating just 26 people, and serves both breakfast and lunch. The full-service breakfast includes Solnom’s buttery croissants and rich brioche; Swiss granola with Snowville yogurt; puff pastry with local goetta and poached eggs; and eggs Benedict. There are fresh fruit tarts and other pastries, which are served with coffee throughout the day. With an eye toward traditional French fare, the lunch menu includes homemade soups and salads. French Crust offers not one but three selections of quiche: Lorraine, duo of salmon and goat cheese. Hearty “Les Casseroles or Le Creuset” will be most welcome come the colder weather. (Ilene Ross) 

Holtman’s Donuts
1332 C-2 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, holtmansdonutshop.com
Eating donuts with wild abandon is not something I can do. If I’m going to commit a caloric crime, the reward had better be worth it. At Holtman’s Donuts, it is. The bakery is clean and welcoming, with a good view of smiling bakers behind spotless glass windows and the scent of yeasty, sugary goodness wafting through the air. I tried the seasonal pumpkin cake donut with cream cheese frosting and it went straight into my “Best Bites of 2013” file. This pastry was worth every calorie. (AM)

Incline Public House
2601 W. Eighth St., Price Hill, inclinepublichouse.com
This pub’s name derives from the actual Cincinnati Incline that existed from the late 1800s-1940s, a trolley system that took people to the apex of a steep rise in Price Hill. The menu features sandwiches, pizza, epicurean appetizers and a slew of craft cocktails and draft beers; and they have a monthly beer series called “Meet the Brewer.” About 95 percent of IPH’s food is handmade, including their dressings and smoked meats. I’d recommend the fish sandwich ($11): large pieces of grilled cod (you can get it fried, too) with a heap of coleslaw sandwiched between a remoulade-smeared rye bun, and a side salad with authentic grated cheddar cheese. Sometimes restaurants with pleasant views have a lot of style without substance, but the food at IPH is as much of a draw as imbibing on a party deck overlooking the city. (GP)

1400 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, kazeotr.com
Kaze’s offers two distinctive spaces — a dining room and a bar with an outdoor patio. The warm sake — Tozai “Living Jewel” — ($14/carafe) was most welcome on the freezing-cold night we were there. It’s not premium sake — they are generally served cold — but it was plenty good. Have cold sake, like the sparkling Kurashizuku ($21/carafe) with an Uni Shooter ($6), sea urchin instead of oyster. Exotic! We tasted the entire menu, and there weren’t any disappointments. My favorites were the pork buns ($8) — crisped pork belly with curly frisee and tart apples on house-made yeast buns — and the short rib sliders ($8) with cucumber pickled kimchi and a rich Korean barbecue sauce. Kaze also offers a big selection of sushi. (Anne Mitchell)
“The best things I ate this year were in a one-block radius on Vine Street; a one-block triangle, really. Point one, for starters, the Omakase (chef’s choice) at Kaze. At most sushi restaurants, when you let the chef choose their favorites, you really can’t go wrong. At Kaze, chef/owner/partner Hideki Harada made the best sushi I’ve ever eaten. Each bite had a little ‘bonus’ that made it over-the-top. 
Point two, the entrée: a bowl of Viet Ramen Soup at Quan Hapa. Slurpy noodle goodness, topped with a crisp wonton and barbecue pork. Takes a long time to eat, so you can enjoy more than one of the excellent beers on tap. And then, dessert: a donut at Holtman’s. When you’ve had just enough beer to show absolutely no good judgment, cross the street — carefully! — and get a mad, crazy good donut. A blueberry or pumpkin cake donut with cream cheese icing, a maple bacon sweet porkgasm — you can’t go wrong. You only live once, and it may not be long, so enjoy it.” — Anne Mitchell

Kitchen 452
2714 Woodburn Ave., East Walnut Hills, kitchen452.com
Kitchen 452’s storefront space is very inviting, with exposed brick walls and handcrafted metal pipe-framed shelves. When it came time to plan a menu, Leah Joos and Jen Lile decided to sit down and write a list of everything they love to cook. They both like combinations of sweet and savory tastes, which led to dishes like their pear salad, with sweet bites of pear balanced against savory blue cheese and crunchy walnuts, and their hot ham and Swiss sandwich, with crunchy slices of tart green apples. All the sandwiches are made with Shadeau Bakery breads and all the salads are dressed with homemade vinaigrettes. Lile is the primary baker, and if her lemon shortbread cookies are any indication, she’s talented. (AM)

Main Bite 

522 Main St., Covington, mainbiterestaurant.com 

Main Bite creates delicious, seasonal fare with crafty culinary cocktails to go with each bite of your meal. Owner Margie Potts prepares everything fresh daily and all the sauces and dressings are made in-house. This isn’t a tapas-style restaurant, but Potts shaves down the portion sizes so one dish won’t stuff you. Our “First Bite” was the Shrimp Guac Nachos ($9.95), five blue corn tortilla chips individually dolloped with guacamole and topped with a shrimp. From the “Main Bites” section, we chose the signature crab cakes ($13.95) and blackened tilapia tacos ($12.95). The crab cakes were moist and pan-seared. The tilapia tacos had a great consistency. Along with the cocktails, all the bites tasted fresh and didn’t leave me feeling overindulgent. (BS) 

4227 Spring Grove Ave., Northside, maydaynorthside.com
Mayday, the storied Northside bar, jumped into the restaurant game in October when they hired chef Julz Lucas and added a full menu of gourmand dishes to their stable of Senate-like hot dogs. The most expensive items on the menu are the $12 fancy charcuterie board (cured meats, cheeses, housemade pickles) and cassoulet, a hearty French stew made with meats and veggies. The night I went, they offered a beet soup with rosemary cream swirled on top, a mac-and-cheese burger and a carrot and zucchini hash side. We tried a cup of the soup ($3.50), which was delicious. Mayday has seven hot dogs on their menu and a monthly dog. All their dogs can be made with a vegan wiener for a $1 upcharge or a gourmet dog for $1.50 more. The gastropub upgrade should be a welcome addition for new and old patrons alike. (GP)

Mazunte Taqueria
5207 Madison Road, Madisonville, mazuntetacos.com
Mazunte Taqueria owner Josh Wamsley creates an experience matching those spent as a hungry English professor in the Mexican state of Oaxaca, a place he calls the “unofficial mecca of Mexican cuisine.” Mazunte’s abbreviated but compelling menu is a homage to los antojitos, “little cravings” of street food filling Mexican streets. My tacos (braised chicken, shredded pork and beer-battered fish), while diminutive, packed bold, hearty flavors usually found at more expensive, trendier taquerias. My girlfriend’s chicken enchiladas offered an attractive stacked presentation showcasing the spicy braised chicken. Perhaps the biggest surprise was the Mexican rice — usually an afterthought, this wasn’t at all like the forgettable red stuff served at other Mexican restaurants. Essences of chicken and cilantro electrified our senses. Mazunte honors its ambitious theme of tradition, authenticity and care. (MT)
“A refreshing surprise, Mazunte Taqueria is like a soft kiss of authenticity from Oaxaca, Mexico. Try the memelitas, thick masa tortillas topped with chicken or chorizo, or a steamy bowl of Pozole, one of the most delicious soups in the city.” — Michael Taylor

Persian Nights
7967 Cincinnati-Dayton Road, West Chester, persiannightscincy.com
As someone who’s half Persian, I like to think I know Persian food. The Iranian Mostofi family opened Persian Nights in West Chester, making it the only restaurant of its kind from here to Columbus. The long menu centers on their kabobs: koobideh (ground meat), beef chenjeh (chunks of beef tenderloin), lamb, shish kabob and barg kabob (filet mignon), and for $45 you can get the The Night’s Feast consisting of all their chicken, lamb and beef varieties. The appetizer sampler ($11) is the best way to try three dishes at once like kashk-o-bademjan (eggplant), mast-o-khiar (a yogurt, mint and cucumber dip) and hummus, all of which are made just right. (GP)

Quan Hapa
1331 Vine St., Over-the-Rhine, quanhapa.com
“Hapa” is the word for a mixed race Asian or Pacific Islander, the perfect nomenclature considering Quan Hapa’s food is an iteration of the best dishes and spirits from Korea, Vietnam, Japan and Hawaii. Owners Duy and Bao Nguyen and David Lee established themselves with Findlay Market’s Vietnamese staple Pho Lang Thang, but at their new eatery with chef Matt Cranert, you won’t find banh mi sandwiches or pho. Their menu is made of small plates, steamed bun sliders, noodles, poké (Hawaiian marinated fish salad) and rolls, with all the dishes shareable. We tried one dish from each section, including the sweet and salty crispy pig ears ($6) and the Spider Slider ($10) — a flash-fried piece of soft shelled crab sandwiched between two flat, sweet, pancake-like buns. As we left, we pondered all of the dishes and spirits we’d try on our second, third and fourth visits. (GP)
“Their food has a lot of Southeast Asian influence, which makes all of their dishes flavorful. They use a lot of fresh ingredients and spices like fennel, turmeric, kimchi and coconut milk to create these dishes. Some people probably would find their food to be a little too exotic, but they really should take a chance on something different — just as long as they don’t try the fertilized duck egg! (That may be too exotic.) I also like their Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk. You can get it either hot or cold, and it’s quite delicious both ways. They also have a pretty good selection of foreign beer and cocktails made with soju, an alcoholic Korean distilled beverage. And all of their food is fairly affordable.” — Garin Pirnia 

Red Roost
151 W. Fifth St., Hyatt Regency, Downtown, cincinnati.hyatt.com
Red Roost’s philosophy is: “Food. Thoughtfully Sourced. Carefully Served.” They emphasize harvesting produce within a 100-mile radius of the restaurant, including Indiana and Kentucky. The Summer Salad ($7) came with pinkish, sliced heirloom tomatoes mixed with North Bend’s Carriage House Farms greens, strawberries, farmstead cheeses, almonds and a light dressing. Their house kettle chips came with Cincinnati hot links, scallions and a light-tasting blue cheese fondue. Obscure items like bone marrow help Red Roost push the envelope for potential adventurous eaters.And their conscientious details expound their philosophy, putting them in the pantheon of hotel dining greatness. (GP)

Seasons 52

3819 Edwards Road, Norwood, seasons52.com

A chain with dozens of locations around the country, Seasons 52 recently sprouted up in Norwood. Portions are reasonable, oils are carefully controlled and the result is nothing short of astounding — you get delicious food from a menu where nothing is more than 475 calories. We started out with one choice from Seasons 52’s gluten-free menu, the soy-free tuna and avocado sushi roll wrapped with soy-free nori ($9.95), and an item from the regular menu, goat cheese ravioli ($8.50). The sushi roll was just as expected, but the goat cheese ravioli was a lovely combination of sharp (the goat cheese) and fresh (tomatoes and basil). Get yourself to Seasons 52 and find out if you miss the butter. I sure didn’t. (Candace Miller-Janidlo)

SwampWater Grill
3742 Kellogg Ave., East End, swampwatergrill.com
SwampWater Grill is the brainchild of property owner Chris Ornella and partner Kirk Prest, who hails from Plaquemines Parish, La., just south of New Orleans. Prest, whose occupational history includes businessman, outdoorsman, shrimper and oyster farmer, brings with him a menu Southerners would find right at home. An ample lineup of classic Louisiana favorites like jambalaya, gumbo, po’ boys and red beans and rice are paired with a selection of hardwood-smoked ribs and barbecue. The Cajun Delight entrée ($15.95) offered a sampling of SwampWater’s signature items, including a flaky crawfish pie, a cup of a chicken and andouille gumbo and jambalaya. SwampWater Grill is worth the trek to Kellogg’s flood plain. (MT)


1400 Race St., Over-the-Rhine, zulabistro.com
A mix of wine bar and Mediterranean tapas restaurant, chef Tsvika Silberberg brings an assortment of dishes inspired from his hometown in Israel and other places around the Mediterranean Sea such as Italy, Spain and Northern Africa. Zula is huge, with easily more than 100 places to sit and enjoy dinner. We sat in the back by the wood-fire oven, with a full view of the kitchen and bar and checked out the wine list, which starts at a reasonable $5.70 for a glass. We ordered two pots of mussels, the Marinière ($14) and Thai ($15), both fragrant and filled to the brim with steamy, plump mussels. We also tried the four-cheese Goat Cheese flatbread ($15.75), topped with fresh mozzarella, fontina, taleggio and chives. Think of a rich, creamy fondue smeared across bubbly charred crust and sprinkled with chives. (BS)
“Zula’s flatbread is outstanding. The charred crust combined with the piquant ingredients make for a perfect shareable dish.” — Brenna Smith

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