Diner: Exemplary Dining

Popular Mariemont restaurant offers First Watch menu for breakfast-lunch, then traditional entrees for dinner

Take a stroll through Mariemont Square and witness how it has successfully combined old with new. The charming village has maintained the simple, quaint feel of a small town while successfully blending in contemporary necessities — like Graeter's, Starbucks and good dining.

We had the chance to visit one of Mariemont's notable restaurants, the National Exemplar, on a recent weekday evening. Inside the historic Mariemont Inn, the Exemplar boasts a historic feel itself, decorated with tasteful antiques and reproductions. The main dining room houses only tables (no booths) with Windsor-style chairs, arranged with enough space between tables to hear only your own conversation.

Since the demise of Bistro Gigi (never one of our favorites) and the Silver Spring House (sorely missed), I had rarely considered Mariemont as a spot for dining with friends. However, the Exemplar's bar, Sotherby's, had been a favorite for a cocktail before movies at the Mariemont Theater or for a relaxing nightcap. Sotherby's feels like an old English Pub with dark paneling and cozy seating. It's especially welcoming on chilly winter evenings for a cup of Irish coffee or a Bailey's Irish Cream.

However, when it came to dinner at the Exemplar, my husband and I both had thought of the restaurant as a place that catered to an older crowd, and past visits had usually confirmed that thought.

Breakfast and lunch (when the restaurant serves the same selections as First Watch) attracts families, couples and seniors alike. The versatile menu of First Watch features several healthful choices, as well as hearty, traditional breakfast and lunch choices. Guests may choose Fresh Fruit Crepes ($4.95) or the Pope John ($6.25; polish sausage, topped with mustard, onions and Swiss cheese, two eggs, English muffin and potatoes) depending on their whim.

Dinners are more traditional, perhaps appealing more to folks our parents' age. However, on this evening, we were surprised to see many more thirtysomethings scattered throughout the dining room. We saw that as a good sign.

We were greeted promptly by our server, who was friendly, but seemed a little harried, considering the restaurant wasn't busy. She recited the evening's specials and took our order for drinks and appetizers. We opted for the Crab Cake Remoulade ($5.95 for one). The cake was large and tasty, but only about one-half crab to the breading. Our guest's soup, the Hungarian mushroom, was delicious. She described it as a thick and "brothy," full of beefy, mushroom flavor. It's easy to see why it has become a favorite for regulars.

The entrée choices evoked my earlier suspicions that the Exemplar would be a favorite for the early birds. Several are offered at special prices for diners ordering before 6:30 p.m. But, the food is tasty, not the bland-early-bird-special quality I anticipated.

Our guest raved about her Veal Suzanne ($14.95). The veal was pounded flat and dredged in an herbal crepe batter, then sautéed with a wild mushroom sauce and served over linguine. She found it not too heavy, but still full of flavor. Our second guest's selection of Calves' Liver ($11.95) was one of his favorites, and a repeat choice for him. He liked the sautéed bacon and onion that gave the dish its flavor. His dish also included fresh, French-style green beans that were crisp and flavorful.

I opted for one of the evening's seafood specials: the Blackened Halibut Filet ($14.95). The seasonings definitely added to the firm filet, which needed nothing more than a little lemon to bring out its flavor. Accompanied by a large baked potato, the special was, once again, more than I could finish alone. My husband also enjoyed his Steak K.P. ($19.95). The six-ounce filet topped with crabmeat, shrimp and béarnaise sauce, was good, although a little smaller than he would have liked for the price.

Passing on dessert, we opted instead for coffee. And, as the early evening movie ended, we were happy to see a crowd begin to fill the dining room ... leaving room at Sotherby's for us, and a nightcap to a fulfilling meal.

Go: 6880 Wooster Pike, Mariemont

Call: 513-271-2103

Hours: Breakfast-lunch, 7 a.m. ­ 2 p.m. Monday-Sunday; Dinner, 5-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5-10:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and 5-9 p.m. Sunday.

Prices: Reasonable to Moderate

Payment: Major credit cards accepted.

Vegetarian Friendliness: Plenty of options on the breakfast and lunch menus. A few modified salads and pastas at dinner.

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