Since it opened, InCahoots has been offering Blue Ash residents food and drinks in what its Web site calls "a new restaurant and bar with universal appeal." One of the first things my wife, who is Asian, and I notice when we enter InCahoots is that she's the only non-white patron.
There are no African-Americans, no Hispanics, and no other Asians. There are a couple of white, thick-shouldered college guys sitting at the bar wearing ripped jeans; there are a few knots of white, older potbellied men wearing cowboy boots; and there are white, well-dressed couples wearing matching Christmas sweaters that make my eyes swim in and out of focus.
Of course, this is neither the fault nor hopefully the design of InCahoots owner Howard Zuefle, but it's worth mentioning all the same. We are, without doubt, in Blue Ash.
While waiting for a table, we stand in the pleasantly furnished bar area dotted with TV screens and high-top tables. Our spirited struggle to get a drink makes the 20-minute wait just fly by. By the time we catch the eye of the barman and each get a drink, our table is ready.
We are seated in a booth in the dining area, which is a homey and comfortable room with a two-sided brick fireplace accentuating but not overpowering the center of the room.
The chef at InCahoots, Zuefle's daughter Nicola, previously worked at Honey in Northside, so I'm excited to try some of the more unusual items on the menu.
The Spanish Poppers ($8.99) are a surprise: dates stuffed with chorizo and cheese, rolled in panko and fried a crispy golden-brown. Served with a sweet and spicy chili sauce, the combination of flavors contained in each heavy golf ball-sized popper is simply wonderful.
First the savory exterior gives way to the rich and chewy flesh of the date, which is followed by the creamy cheese and chorizo filling, complemented perfectly by the competing flavors of the sauce. It works. It's a revelation.
The Mussels Nicola ($10.99) are also very good, the tarragon in the sauce imparting a subtle aniseed-like flavor reminiscent of the delicious mussels appetizer at Honey in Northside, which has long been one of my favorite dishes in town.
I order a New York Strip Steak ($21.99) and choose sides of herb roasted beets and hot German slaw. My dining companion selects a Ginger Chicken Sandwich ($7.99) and an order of Inca Fries ($3.99), which is a combination of sweet potato and Yukon gold potato fries. We order some Asparagus Fries ($6.99), tempura fried asparagus served with lemon herb aioli.
There are several very affordable wines on the InCahoots wine list, with a few bottles costing as little at $11 a bottle, and we order one of them.
I really don't want to be unkind, but things begin to unravel a little during the main course. The service is extremely friendly and personable, but when the food arrives, it's the wrong order. Instead of a New York strip steak, I'm brought a Smoker Steak ($16.99).
When I mention this to our server, she apologizes profusely and sends the order back to the kitchen. Within 15 or 20 minutes, I have a perfectly cooked and delicious medium-rare New York strip steak sitting in front of me.
Unfortunately, by this time my dining companion has eaten her food. I've watched her eat, and now it's her turn to watch me eat.
The unexpected wait did give me a chance to carefully sample my companion's ginger chicken sandwich. After a bite or two, I conclude that it's been named incorrectly: There isn't even the slightest hint of ginger or sesame flavors, both which are normally strong and immediately recognizable.
Even after removing the generous clod of sprouts we cannot taste any ginger, although at least we can taste the chicken. According to the menu, the chicken has been marinated in a ginger sesame sauce with mushroom ragout, smoked Gouda and sprouts. It's a tasty sandwich all the same, although the sprouts are a little overpowering.
By the time we've almost finished our Inca fries, we mention to the server that they look more like normal potato fries. "Is that what they gave you?" she asks before disappearing into the kitchen to bring us a plate of sweet potato fries to go with our finished plate of potato fries. They're deliciously sweet and crispy.
All in all, the food was was really quite good, and the service was was friendly and did its best, although it was overshadowed by the errors, the omissions, and the fact that we had to watch each other eat.
For dessert, we order peach cobbler a la mode ($4.99). When it arrives without ice cream, we have to ask our server for some. By this time, the omission is oddly reassuring.
Predictably enough, once the ice cream arrives, the cobbler is delicious.