Diner: Dining That's Out of This World

Blue Moon is well worth a drive up to Dayton

Blue Moon Bistro Go: 520 E. Fifth St., Downtown Dayton
Call: 937-586-4250

Hours: 5-9 p.m. Monday; 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Friday; 5-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; closed Sunday

Prices: Expensive

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Poultry, seafood, pasta

Accessibility: Yes

Grade: A

With the torrid pace of growth in Cincinnati's northern suburbs, they say that Cincinnati and Dayton will soon end up as one large sprawling exurban agglomeration. That means it's time to start getting to know the restaurants on what will some day be the northern side of Cincinnayton.

On a recent weeknight, I made a journey north to Dayton's historic Oregon District to dine at Blue Moon, an upscale American bistro that's been around since 1997. The drive was not that bad — about 50 miles from downtown.

My report back from this culinary reconnaissance trip to the North Country is a good one: I thoroughly enjoyed my meal at Blue Moon. The food was inventive and well executed, the service outstanding and the atmosphere relaxed yet sophisticated.

We started out with the excellent Purple Potato Pierogi appetizer ($7).

This novel interpretation of a pierogi (normally cheap, bland, glutinous, comfort food) was filled with tasty purple potato purée. It came with a heap of delicious caramelized red onions; basil sour cream provided an interesting accent.

We also tried an appetizer special: Sour Cherry Stuffed Lamb Lollipops ($9) served over arugula and zucchini salad with peach chardonnay dressing. I wasn't sure what to expect here. I had in my head a vision of Kefta, Middle Eastern ground meatballs, on a stick. What came out, though, were two little lamb chops that had been stuffed with a sour cherry mixture (you held on to the bone to eat them). Again, inventive and unusual.

My only regret was that these were somewhat small. The appetizer was over before we knew it.

My companion definitely picked a winner from the menu with her entrée. It was simply outstanding — one of the better plates I've tasted anywhere from New York to Nashville in recent months.

The Black Sea Salt Dusted Tuna ($24) was an Ahi sushi block that had been seared rare and cut into small rectangular strips and then served over a bed of black lentils with candied baby and golden beets. It was accented by spicy mango vinaigrette that really packed some heat. The plate was beautifully presented and exceptional in every way. Even my companion, a normally hard-to-please foodie with culinary school training and a razor-sharp palate, was impressed.

For my entrée, I chose the Filet Mignon ($28). It was rich, artery-clogging fare, stuffed with Saga blue cheese and served with several giant onion rings that Blue Moon calls "Moon Rings." It came with an ample mound of delicious mashed potatoes and served in a pool of green peppercorn sauce.

The meat was flavorful — amply juiced by the oozing richness of the melted blue cheese — but as my companion pointed out while I was happily crunching my onion rings and sopping up the melted blue cheese, it was a bit stringy and tough for a filet mignon.

Desserts were good. I ordered the Bosc Pear Pine Nut Torte ($7.50), a nice integration of fruity and nutty flavors. The Crème Brulée ($7.50) was well sized and thoroughly respectable. Next time I'm going to try the enormous hunk of dark chocolate layer cake.

Service was excellent. Our server was enthusiastic, knowledgeable and professional. He provided some great recommendations, including steering us toward a half bottle of wine (a sultry, smoky, fruity Hendry Vineyard zinfandel) that was quite excellent, a great value and worked well with both our meals.

We availed ourselves of the lovely summer night to sit outside in Blue Moon's patio, set in a charming courtyard that forms the entrance to the restaurant (the restaurant occupies two adjacent buildings).

Blue Moon seems to have a loyal following of regulars. The friendly, chatty couple sitting next to us were big fans who keep coming back and have sampled almost everything on the menu (they had tried the Black Sea Salt Dusted Tuna dish before and concurred that it was excellent). On the other side of the courtyard, another regular was working his way through dinner, a pint of ale and the newspaper.

With the friendly patrons, great service, excellent food and pleasant atmosphere, there was definitely some good restaurant mojo going. It was a memorable evening that made me realize there are not many places like Blue Moon here in Cincinnati — restaurants that offer excellent food in a funky, relaxed, upscale yet unpretentious setting.

So if you're looking for a little something different and a chance to feel like you're getting away without really driving that far, head to Blue Moon. And make sure you leave some time for a stroll around the revitalized Oregon district where the restaurant is located. Dating back to 1829, it's Dayton's oldest neighborhood and a great backdrop for Blue Moon's inventive cuisine and vibe. ©

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