Diner: Rookwood Re-Potted

Historic space has a new, eclectic menu

I guess I'm an urban conservationist at heart. I've always enjoyed going to buildings or establishments celebrating a second, third or 10th life in a different iteration of the original intent. Union Terminal, the Peterloon estate and the old Rookwood Pottery factory come to mind locally.

The latest is the Rookwood Pottery Bistro in the stead of the familiar burger joint that occupied the kiln space for decades. In fact, the names of the burgers provided a baseline for my early education about Cincinnati.

Arriving midweek, we had little difficulty securing a table among the theatergoers, family gatherings and after-work, after-cocktails dinner crowd. From polo shirts to suits and evening black with a little glitter, the patrons illustrated the wide range of appropriate attire for a Mount Adams evening.

The scrubbed up and brighter interiors provided a good counterbalance to the enormous plaid rug (the plaid is enormous, not the rug), dark wood and brick walls. The white paper over the white linens indicated that the menu was likely to be a notch up from the previous inhabitant.

Local businessman Joe Rippe Sr. has owned the building for 25 years and earlier this year completely revamped the menu and theme of the restaurant, reopening about six months ago.

Rippe also owns The Celestial next door, so he's been making a significant impact in the Mount Adams culinary circuit with a strong presence atop the hill.

Our eager, but somewhat inexperienced server showed great enthusiasm for the evenings specials and cooed over our wine choice. The wine list offered a somewhat eclectic range of selections presented in an unusual and light-hearted fashion.

I enjoyed having relatively few choices for each section of the menu. For appetizers, we chose the Fried Baby Calamari ($7), although we were tempted to order the Mussels Marinier ($7). The dusty beige calamari appeared to be more tiny octopi than the familiar rings. Served with a spicy rouillej (a garlic, red pepper, paprika mayonnaise), the seafood was a bit chewier than I care for, but a pretty and plentiful presentation over a bed of field greens.

The Hearts of Romaine Caesar Salad (appetizer $6, entrée $8; with chicken, salmon or shrimp for an additional charge) is made with an eggless dressing with a kicky blend of pepper that has a salty lemon bite. The large lettuce leaves angled across the plate dotted with croutons. Unfortunately, the large shavings of indiscernible cheese appeared to be from a pre-packaged zip-lock bag rather than grated from a good block of Parmesan.

We were presented with a basket of European-style peasant bread and a bottle of herbed extra virgin olive oil. The bay leaves, rosemary, garlic, red chili peppers and tarragon provided a superb blend of flavors for dipping the bread.

The Grilled Salmon ($14.50) was pleasing to the eye, piping hot and peppered with roasted hazelnuts. Done Napoleon-style, the layers began with Parmesan mashed potatoes topped with criss-crossed and crisp green beans, the salmon coated with a tomato/lemon salsa with herbs and the nuts. The salmon was moist in the center, slightly crisper around the edges. A good-sized portion, I was willing to share a bit. The salsa gave a nice lemon zest to the dish, and the hazelnuts were a luxurious addition.

One of the evening specials was Tri Tips ($15.50), described as the cuts on either end of a beef filet mignon. Served with tarragon mashed potatoes and a honey cabernet sauce, the meat arrived medium rare, as ordered. The thick, rich sauce with sautéed button mushroom quarters was a pleasant companion to the slightly chewy meat. The potatoes were interesting, but with the gray brown color, they lacked appeal. There appeared to be vegetable challenges in the kitchen: The carrots were crisp and bright, but the snow peas were soggy and dull.

Our server assured us that the Crème Brulée ($5.25) was "done the right way — with a blow torch." It arrived with a gorgeous crisp sugar crust, but obviously the torch stayed a bit too long. The custard was warm and soupy, although the bottom and corners of the ramekin retained the cool, firm texture with a good flavor. The Tart Tatin ($5.50) was a slightly different variation of the French classic. The apples were thickly sliced, unglazed and a deeper golden brown than most I've seen. The texture of the apples was closer to applesauce with a full apple flavor. The crust was firm, and the generous slice was topped with a very nice cinnamon ice cream.

One aspires to see the grandeur of the first life echoed in the latest incarnation of a great building. After a few months working out the kinks, Rookwood Pottery Bistro appears to have a promising future, holding its place on the hill.

Go: 1077 Celestial, Mount Adams

Call: 513-721-5456

Hours: Lunch: Monday-Thursday 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Friday-Sunday 11:30 a.m.-4 p.m.; Dinner: Monday-Thursday 4:30-9:30 p.m., Friday-Sunday 5-11:30 p.m.

Prices: Moderate

Payment: Major credit cards

Red Meat Alternatives: Fish, seafood, chicken, vegetarian pasta and salads

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