Diner: No Tinkering Needed

At Tink's the menu is Nouveau American Hip

In the abyss of suburbia, one gases up the 10 mile-per-gallon SUV to shop at the local (local meaning five miles down the road) ubiquitous MegaSuperStore, or dine at one of the 200-seat chain restaurants, perhaps followed by a trip to MovieDome where your choice of 20 Disney or DreamWorks movies awaits you (after a mile hike from the 10-acre parking lot).

OK, so obviously I'm not a big fan of suburban living. I like urban neighborhoods where you can walk to the grocery store, library, bakery, florist, bank or movie theater if you choose to, pet a dog or two on the way and interact with others doing the same. Perhaps in response to over-saturated suburban sprawl, many of these neighborhoods are once again thriving. One of the best is Ludlow Avenue in Clifton. This neighborhood is not only supported by the Clifton natives and UC students, but it also boasts interesting shops and restaurants that are drawing suburbanites.

The newest and one of the brightest destination spots is Tink's Café. From the outside, this restaurant looks as if it was lifted from the neighborhood of North Beach in San Francisco; walk inside and it's minimalist decor is Soho-esque. Café-au-lait hued walls, polished oak flooring, unadorned tables, handmade Italian glass lamps and bright, energetic paintings (by the executive chef/owner) say, well ... cool.

The menu is Nouveau American Hip: dressed-up, casual, colorful and diverse.

Our party of four started with soup and appetizers. (We were impressed by our server who committed to memory our entire order and did not forget a thing.) The Cream of Wild Mushroom Soup ($5) is a delicate, woodsy purée of shiitake, cremini and button mushrooms in a vegetable broth. Tink's Crabcakes ($10) are large, moist and zippy, served over a deliciously contrasting, crunchy fennel and red onion salad with sauce remoulade. We declared both AbFab. My son, 13, a recent expert on Caesar Salad (until six months ago, nothing green dared enter his system that might upset the delicate balance of simple sugars and carbohydrates) ordered the Romaine Salad with Caesar Vinaigrette and Parmesan Croutons with Grilled Chicken ($13). He was quite taken by the presentation of three crispy, whole Romaine leaves protruding from a modern Arts & Crafts bowl, the dressing drizzled down the center, "cheese toast" and a whole chicken breast, perfectly grilled and very moist. "Big and artsy" he proclaimed, "but really good."

We also had ordered the Jalapeno Burger with White Cheddar, Chipotle Mayo, Red Onion and Avocados ($11), Grilled Kibbeh with Tabouleh, Hummus, Yogurt and Mint ($14), and an Indonesian dish, Gado Gado ($13). The burger was ordered medium-rare and came medium-well, which normally my friend would have sent back. But after one enthusiastic bite, he practically inhaled the rest, punctuating his slurps and grunts with "perfect bun," "really tender" and "great burger."

My other guest, visiting from Boston, proclaimed her spicy kibbeh and lemony hummus to be very good, but she found the tabouleh boring. As we passed it around the table, we all agreed it was too heavy on starchy couscous, not enough parsley or tomato, and cried out for some seasoning. My Gado Gado with stir-fried vegetables, tofu and peanut sauce was so scrumptious, I'm salivating as I write. Crispy julienned carrots, snow peas, red onions and bean sprouts, soft tofu and spicy-sweet peanut sauce over rice, a satisfying alliance of flavor and texture.

We would have been fine ending our meal here and walking across the street for ice cream at Graeter's, but we had heard that Tink's desserts were not to be missed. If a pastry case inside the entrance filled with bigger-than-your-hand cookies and brownies isn't enough to entice you, try the Chocolate Molten Cake ($7.50) from the dessert menu. A warm, dense, chocolate cake that resembled a tiny island topped with a mint palm tree stands in a shallow pool of chocolate sauce, chantilly cream and dots of mint oil. I know Molten Cake is the latest dessert poster child, and I've tasted quite a few, but this is goooooooood. We also tried one of the features: a Chocolate Shortcake with Strawberry Sauce and Cream ($7.50). Yummy.

Many thanks to Mary Swortwood, executive chef and owner (she's also the mastermind of Brown Dog Café in Blue Ash) and her partner (and Clifton neighbor) Rob Hoopes for adding a hot dining spot to a cool neighborhood. Tony Efstratiadis is the chef and Jen Thieman is handling desserts.

So Loveland, Mason, Delhi and West Chester: Hop in your Explorer and drive to Clifton. Park and walk. Shop for brass Buddhas and incense. Take a yoga class. Browse the New World Bookstore. And have a great dinner (or lunch) at Tink's Café.

And while you're at it, tip the street musicians and pet the dogs. ©

Go: 3410 Telford Ave., Clifton

Call: 513-961-6500

Hours: Lunch: Tuesday-Saturday, 11a.m.-2 p.m. Dinner: Tuesday-Thursday 5-9 p.m., Friday-Saturday 5-10 p.m. Closed Sunday and Monday

Prices: Moderate

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Grilled Salmon, Shrimp Pasta, Grilled Mako Shark, Sweet Potato Ravioli, Free Range Chicken Breast, Gado Gado (vegetarian), Vegan Bean Burrito

Parking: It's a little work, but not impossible. And worth it.

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