The Restaurant at the Phoenix
Go: 812 Race St., Downtown
Hours: Tuesday-Friday 5-9 p.m.; Saturday 5-10 p.m.
Prices: Moderate to expensive
Payment: Major credit cards
Beyond Red Meat: Fish, seafood and vegetable options
by lyn marsteller
Sometimes I like to travel in my own backyard. When I'm out of town, I tend to seek out an elegant dining setting to experience a memorable measure of the cuisine of the city. Back home, I wait for a special occasion or for visitors to seek out our Cincinnati treasures. For many reasons, I decided that a hometown holiday is a good time to experience many of the things that I don't include in my busy everyday life. And that started with a visit to The Restaurant at The Phoenix.
I've heard many people comment about attending special events or meetings at The Phoenix, but quite often only a few have returned for an evening meal there. Since the late 1980s, The Restaurant at The Phoenix has been an intimate and chic dining experience. Several chefs have come and gone, including the original team of Carl Bruggemeier, Jimmy Gibson and Paul Sturkey. Their newest chef, Corwin Johnson has been at The Phoenix for less than a year, but let's hope he chooses to settle here for decades.
The front corner dining room was full when we arrived, with a Jazz trio playing in the adjacent bar.
Seated in the center of the room, we were greeted promptly and told that the spring menu had just been introduced earlier in the week. Not an extensive listing, but an enticing selection, featuring seasonal vegetables and brighter meat and seafood offerings than heartier winter fare.
Crisp polenta wafers capped with a rich olive tapenade appeared to whet our appetites, followed by a basket of good, fresh foccacia and crusty peasant bread accompanied by a crock of tantalizing herbed cream cheese with sun-dried tomatoes and one of sweet butter.
For the budding or experienced wine connoisseur, the three-page wine list should please a wide-range of palates, as well as purses. Wine ordered, we settled into our hometown holiday.
For a change, I skipped the Jumbo Lump Crabcake ($9.95), a perennial favorite. The rich and smooth Lobster Bisque ($5.95) was chunky with sweet lobster meat settled into the rich broth and punctuated with a bit of sherry. The bisque was lighter and thinner than some I've enjoyed, and we greatly enjoyed this version. The Baby Romaine Caesar Salad ($5.95), although slightly overdressed for my taste, was bright and crisp, with a spicy pepper and garlic tang, topped with parmesan slivers.
An unexpected delight for the evening was the beautiful baritone on the wait staff who broke into birthday song, and later, harmonized with the trio and their mezzo-soprano. During our hometown holiday, it was nice to enjoy another's special occasion.
The beautiful presentation of the Seared Tuna ($19.95) showcased a large piece of crusted tuna perched on a bed of roasted artichoke wedges, tiny, sweet red potatoes and slivers of Niçoise olives. Seared on all sides with a salted pepper glaze, the meat was slightly warmed and fork tender. The fish was a great contrast to the delicate artichokes, the rich and earthy olive pieces, the vinegared potatoes and the sharp balsamic reduction drizzled over the vegetables and decorating the plate. A winning combination, it made me wonder how the execution of the Grilled Salmon and Shrimp ($15.95) might compare.
My partner, a true meat-and-potatoes lover, was delighted with the Grilled Filet Mignon ($22.95). The 8-ounce filet was moist and tender with a great peppered sear similar to that used on the tuna. Partnered with a grilled vegetable brochette of crisp red peppers, yellow peppers, succulent mushrooms and red onion pieces complimented the flavorful meat and brought to mind summer grilling done very well. Rounding out the plate was a mound of warm and creamy parsley mashed potatoes — comfort food at its best.
We were offered five dessert selections and chose a signature classic and an unfamiliar temptation. The shallow oval ramekin filled with Crème Brulée ($4.50) was accented with a crisp, rolled almond cookie, a pleasing addition. The crisp burnt sugar top was done perfectly and yielded to smooth, cool custard with vanilla bean flecks dotting the bottom of the ramekin. The surprising and fresh Burnt Orange Parfait ($4.50) was a fabulous palate pleaser and was presented on a dramatic black plate dusted with powdered sugar. The frozen mousse was mixed with mandarin oranges and drizzled with a strawberry coulis and tossed with blueberries. A refreshing conclusion to a lovely meal.
We realized we were served relatively quickly, but felt unhurried, as if on vacation. So whether we need a special occasion or just a home holiday, we concluded that we couldn't go wrong in visiting The Phoenix for the seasonal menus and fresh approach to fine dining. ©