Thank of hot spots on the river for an elegant, romantic dinner and only a few places may come to mind. You can add to this list an unexpected find: the house restaurant of one of the city's newer hotels. Zebo's Bistro, tucked inside Covington's RiverCenter Marriott, offers thoughtfully presented food and attentive service in an upscale setting — with a million-dollar view.
As a frequent business traveler, I rarely think of the "downstairs" hotel restaurant as an option for an enjoyable dinner and evening out. I'm not referring to high-end hotels (such as The Omni or The Cincinnatian, where restaurants sometimes are adorned with four stars), but the types of hotels that cater to business travelers. Nowadays, however, hotels are doing more to boost their images besides offering an extra phone line for your laptop. Many newer hotels also draw non-travelers with trendy restaurants offering the benefits of hotel dining, including ideal locations, minimal waiting and all-day hours. Toss in an incredible view of the river and Cincinnati's skyline, and you've summed up Zebo's appeal.
Covington's RiverCenter Marriott doesn't feel like a business traveler's hotel, either. Sure, it's right across the street from the Northern Kentucky Convention Center, but it seems miles away from the daily grind.
The open lobby has a courtyard feel, complete with an indoor rock fountain using varieties of colored stone from around the globe. The walls nearby feature bright oil paintings (including one of several hound dogs that would look great over my fireplace). Zebo's cozy lounge is front and center, offering an inviting oasis for a pre-dinner cocktail. The dining room, just beyond the lounge, faces the river, with a view from nearly every seat in the house.
We were fortunate enough to try Zebo's outdoor patio on one of the surprisingly pleasant, fall-like evenings we've had during August. With a pair of binoculars, we would have had our own private peak at the new Paul Brown Stadium. The facility looms over the river's edge like a new trophy atop a mantelpiece, and was the topic of conversation at the nearby table of out-of-town visitors.
The view is impressive, but we also were more than pleased with the attentive and accommodating service. From the gentleman who took our reservation, to the host who seated us, to our friendly server who greeted us immediately upon settling in, every individual focused on creating an enjoyable dining experience, while remaining unobtrusive.
For an appetizer, we shared the Blue Crab Quesadilla ($9). Although tasty, it was an odd mix of temperatures: Cold crabmeat, just slightly warmed by toasted flour tortillas, blended with melted cheese and a cool, orange-colored sauce dabbed on top with the consistency of a spiced and blended sour cream. The corn, onion and tomato salsa that decorated the plate also had a cool vinegary, peppery taste. Additionally, we admired our neighbors' Lobster Strudel ($10), a mix of lobster meat, goat cheese, mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes tucked into a pastry and served with lemon-butter sauce. It looked and smelled wonderful.
Before our entrées, my husband enjoyed a cup of Louisiana Seafood and Sausage Gumbo ($4), a traditional gumbo, full of baby shrimp, scallops and andouille sausage. We passed on the salads (all are à la carte), though the house salad ($5) of baby greens, tossed in balsamic vinaigrette, topped with Stilton, caramelized pears and honey roasted walnuts tempted us.
My meat-lovin' spouse ordered the Filet ($24), a 10-ouncer, served with stacked au gratin potatoes and sautéed wild mushrooms in a Cabernet glaze. He was pleased with his steak, and even took home the unfinished portion for a late-night snack. I sampled the potatoes, which were delicious and cheesy, but still firm. I chose from the seafood selections, which offered several preparations, including grilled and served with garlic spaetzle, seared with Cajun pecan coating, or sautéed with olive oil and Pinot Grigio. I loved my Seabass ($21.95), baked with crabmeat, topped with a white wine butter sauce and served over creamy polenta. The fish was flaky and fresh, and the polenta was sinfully creamy, a nice compliment to the crisp, fresh veggies. We could have easily split an entrée and still had plenty for both of us.
For dessert, we split a piece of the Irish Cream cake ($6.95), a creamy cake with a consistency between cheesecake and mousse. The rich, Bailey's flavor and the cookie crust disappeared pretty quickly between the two of us.
Keep in mind, there's always a price for that million-dollar view. Including tip, our bill topped out at over $100. But for a special night out, Zebo's offers an elegant riverside dining experience, for natives and travelers alike.
Go: 10 W. RiverCenter Blvd., Covington
Hours: Breakfast: 711:30 a.m.; Lunch: 11:30 a.m. 2:30 p.m.; Dinner: Sunday-Thursday 510 p.m.; FridaySaturday 511 p.m.
Prices: Moderate to Expensive
Payment: All major credit cards
Vegetarian Friendliness: From the dinner menu, just a couple salads or Wild Mushroom Ravioli