The empty dining room at Razzberry's on two different visits (a Sunday evening first time out, followed by a Saturday night) made me ponder the many variables that can affect a restaurant's success: location, menu, management, staff, ambience, value, consistency, marketing and public relations — even the economy and the weather. Sundays are often slower for restaurants in the Cincinnati area, but on a Saturday night at 7:15 p.m., the most popular time of the week for dining out, we shared the large dining room and bar area for 90 minutes with nine other people.
Our hostess/server (a second server and a bartender made up the entire dining room staff on Saturday) speculated that the lack of business was due to a severe fire nearby last month, which closed part of Madison Avenue for an extended period. In a later conversation, the chef suggested it was due to weather; adding, "Everyone dines down at the river in the summer." After two visits, I would add communication, inconsistency and value.
We tried the Spinarchoke Dip ($6.95) described as "Fresh Artichokes, Spinach, and Secret Seasonings with Pita and Toast Points." We couldn't taste or find one fresh artichoke, but there was lots of stringy, melted cheese; four small triangles of pita and a handful of yellow tortilla chips instead of toast points. "Secret Seasonings"? I'd say no seasoning. This appetizer, ordered before dinners with six other people in the dining room, was delivered after our salads were served and cleared (by the good-natured bartender, pressed into service when the server failed to show).
The house salad, included with dinner, was the best part of the entire meal. Spring greens, dried cranberries, shaved red onion, pine nuts and a few crumbled pieces of chèvre tossed with "razzberry" walnut vinaigrette, was light and delicious. Our server/bartender recommended Razzberry's Original Chicken Wellington ($15.95) as an entrée; we also ordered Vegetarian Van Gogh ($13.95). Like the appetizer, we were duped by the menu's pitch, describing the latter as "Grilled, Marinated Vegetables in a French Baguette 'vase,' Anchored with a Portobello Mushroom with Absolute Pepper and Tomato Cream and Smoked Gouda Cheese."
Sounded good to me. But it wasn't what was served: We received a charred portobello mushroom, a few sautéed yellow squash and grilled baby carrots, on an ample bed of white rice in a bland, white sauce with large chunks of barely melted cheese, topped with a grocery-store, pull-apart roll that had been sliced and sandwiched with two asparagus spears. No Absolute Pepper or tomato cream — in fact no pepper or tomato of any kind — and no French baguette "vase." The chicken fared a bit better in that it was almost accurately described.
Saturday night's selections were better. Fried Calamari ($6.95) were crisp, hot, not-too-chewy nor greasy. We couldn't discern any chipotle (smoky) flavor to the ketchup as depicted on the menu, but we enjoyed the calamari, nonetheless. Caesar or spinach salads offered with our dinners were fine, but not as outstanding as the house salad.
The one true winner was Razzberry's Renowned Meatloaf ($11.95). Designated as "famous" on the menu, it garnered at least one more fan in my friend who gobbled it down.
The Fresh Salmon with Vegetables ($19.95) suffered from a failure in truth in advertising, as well as value. A well-prepared, pan-roasted filet of salmon was entirely missing the "fresh herbs" and "Sauvignon Blanc pan reduction" as specified on the menu. The "assorted vegetables" were a few chunks of yellow squash, a couple cubes of eggplant, onion and celery, which did not work. There was an abundance of white rice (the "carbo du jour," as the menu states). At $20, this dish was overpriced for what amounted to a 6 oz. piece of salmon and rice.
Several days after my visits, I talked with Razzberry's chef, who happened to answer the phone when I called for hours and other information. She agreed we were not served food as described on the menu, although she said it was because the floor staff was not informing customers about changes in the menu. She told me she is simplifying various preparations because the local clientele doesn't "get" the fancier ones currently advertised on the menu.
It would behoove the chef as well as the entire restaurant to tighten up communication, service and menu direction before the end of the summer. An inconsistent menu can empty a dining room in this town faster than the inconsistent weather. ,
Go: 724 Madison Ave., Covington
Hours: TuesdaySunday 5-10 p.m.
Prices: Moderate to Expensive
Payment: Major credit cards
Beyond Red Meat: Salmon, game hen, grouper, two vegetarian entrées