Diner: Down the Rabbit Hole

Brown Dog's food is adventurous for a Midwestern suburb

For me the best dining experiences are those that transform or transport. I like a little spice with my fries and a bit of mystery with my manicotti. Brown Dog in Blue Ash does this on several levels. The restaurant is located in a strip mall parking lot, behind a Bob Evans. As you pull up, expectations might be pretty low. But when you go through the front door you feel a little like Alice in Wonderland, and anticipation builds. The dining room is awash in 1960s Jazz that melts into the warm yellow walls and dark wood, and you can feel the suburban mall blandness lift as you drop into a cozy booth to study the wine list.

I picked a glass of the 2001 Californian Guenco Cabernet Sauvignon ($8) and my husband ordered a vodka martini ($8) while our server described the specials. One of Brown Dog's strong suits is their knowledgeable wait staff who are obviously well-versed in the restaurant's kitchen lore and more than willing to find the answer if they don't know it.

As we perused the dinner menu I realized I came with a clichéd sense of what to expect.

I thought it would offer the usual choices — a beef dish, a pork, a chicken, a fish and a pasta. Brown Dog, however, is a different sort of animal, and this is stated right up front with one of the first items: the mixed Game Grill ($28), a combination of venison, elk tenderloin and quail. Along with other meat selections such as bison and boar, the menu initially seems to create an Atkins-on-steroids meets Wild West theme, but more subtle Asian nuances are soon apparent.

We started with two of the Asian-influenced appetizers — Lobster Wontons with hot sour rice ($12) and Duck Confit Lettuce Wraps ($11). The presentation for both is excellent. The wontons, shaped like egg rolls, are reminiscent of crab Rangoon, but these little packages completely transformed the traditional recipe. The delicate, crispy shells surround creamy lobster meat, blue fin crab and ricotta. The texture is nicely offset by the sweetness of a raspberry chipotle hoisin dipping sauce. The only flaw with the dish is the hot sour rice. Rather tasteless, its main function is to hold up the wontons encircling it.

The duck is accompanied by Bibb lettuce, vegetable slaw and three dipping sauces: hot mustard, a sesame soy and sweet and sour. The duck is excellent with the sesame oil sauce, but the others taste like the plastic-packed versions you get with Chinese carry out.

Not sure when I'd ever have another opportunity to eat an uncastrated male swine, I selected the Boar Tenderloin ($26) for my entrée. It was served with oyster mushroom spinach bread pudding, haricots verts with root straws and a cherry brandy demi-glace. The server suggested I order the boar a little more done than I would order a steak, so I went with medium well. While I should have ignored her advice, the meat was still quite tender. It fell somewhere between the flavor of a beef tenderloin and a pork tenderloin. The spiced cherry demi-glace was a well- chosen accompaniment, but the bread pudding was rather dry and lackluster.

My husband's entrée, the Ahi Sesame Yellow Fin Tuna ($24), was good, but he was visibly saddened that there were only two smallish hunks of fish. Even so, the hunks were prepared nice and rare and very peppery. The tuna was served in a deep-fried won ton bowl over a flavorful stir-fry of lemongrass rice, bean sprouts, carrots, snow peas, broccoli, ginger and avocado.

While our entrées were not quite what we had hoped, Brown Dog really shines at desserts. Most of these are served with a scoop of homemade ice cream. We chose the Pears in Amarone with cinnamon ice cream ($8) and the Chocolate Banana Bread with malt ice cream ($8). The sweet wine was a good foil for the warm spiciness of the pear. When I stole a bite of my husband's dessert, however, I started to laugh. (Rule No. 52: If the dessert makes you laugh, it's really, really good, so don't stop eating it.) It was served with a coconut praline studded with slices of caramelized bananas. The bread, which is really more like cake, has a very delicate banana flavor and a warm liquid center that melts with the ice cream into a delicious puddle of goo.

Brown Dog's food is adventurous for a Midwestern suburb. It's a little exotic and generally well prepared. The entrées, which sounded more interesting than they actually tasted, were the only disappointment. The appetizers and desserts, on the other hand, were worth the trip down the rabbit hole. ©

Brown Dog
Go: 5893 Pfeiffer Road, Blue Ash

Call: 513-794-1610

Hours: Lunch: 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Monday-Friday; Dinner: 5-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Prices: Expensive

Payment: All major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Semolina Scallops, Ahi Sesame Tuna, Jamaican Chilean Bass, Sweet Potato Ravioli and salads

Accessibility: Building is fully accessible.

Grade: B

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