My favorite dining experiences tend to happen when I least except them. Fancy restaurants with fancy reputations are great, but when you’re not really excited about a restaurant and it turns out better than you expected — that’s delightful.
I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I set out to review The Summit. It’s part of a training ground for chefs, so that sounds promising. Cincinnati State’s Culinary Arts Institute has gained a very good reputation and I’d heard praise for The Summit under previous chefs. Chef de Cuisine Sean Kagy, who took the helm recently, earned his chops at The Maisonette and The Cincinnatian before heading his own restaurant, One, in Mason.
Still, I just wasn’t sure about the setting. I spend a lot of time at schools, and they tend not to have the ambiance I look for in a dining experience. And I was right — the setting is probably the weakest element of The Summit. But the food and service are so good that you almost don’t notice.
Getting to The Summit is a little challenging. We followed the directions on their Web site, which got us onto College Drive from Central Parkway easily. But steering back behind the buildings to the valet parking, you really have to rely on posted signage. I recommend a good navigator in the passenger seat. The valet service is fast and free, though, so that’s a big plus.
We followed the valet’s directions to get into the building and into the elevator, then followed the hallways to The Summit. It’s a bit of a stroll, but when we arrived I felt they’d done a valiant job of creating an entrance that sets the space off and changes the mood from purely functional to something more like an upscale airport lounge. Remember how your school had the father/daughter dance and when they put tablecloths in the cafeteria and lowered the lights it felt kind of special? This is a couple steps up from that, but bistro chic it’s not.
Enough with the drawbacks, though. How about the pleasant surprises? The Summit has cocktails! The menu offers a half dozen “featured” drinks, and they’ll also make your usual. I had the Summit Perfect Manhattan ($9), a worthwhile variation on the classic. The only flaw was a little lemon peel that just didn’t belong there. Hubby went with a vodka martini, which they made with Ketel One ($9). Simple and straightforward, as ordered. We were offered a choice of still or sparkling water and our server brought a delicious amuse bouche — an itsy bitsy grilled cheese sandwich with fig preserves and brie cheese on buttered white bread. Lovely!
The menu is brief, but the choices were almost all appealing. My husband’s special request — that the Seared Scallop appetizer ($13) be prepared without bacon — was easily accommodated. Hooray for chefs who learn that customer-friendly attitude! On our server’s suggestion, I ordered the Sweetbreads ($12). Hey, not everybody looks at a plateful of perfectly sautéed thymus glands and says, “Oh, yummy,” but I do. And these were very tender and creatively combined with a maple syrup reduction that gave them a nice sweet/savory contrast.
We decided to switch to wine with our main courses and settled on two glasses of a good Sauvignon Blanc after a brief hiccup with a Malbec that was uninspired and a Zinfandel that was, unfortunately, corked. They were graciously whisked away and taken off the bill and we weren’t charged for the Sauvignon. That’s hospitality.
Both of us were delighted with our entrées. I barely got to taste hubby’s Papparadelle with shrimp and lobster in cream sauce ($22). He shared just one bite so that I could confirm that it was rich and delicious. Again going with our server’s suggestion, I had Arctic Char ($25), one of my favorite fish dishes that, I was happy to read recently, is one of the few “sustainable” Atlantic catches still available. It was perfectly seared and served over a bed of sautéed fingerling potatoes and winter veggies.
Dessert pleased me even more. After a rather ordinary cup of coffee, I enjoyed an extraordinary Ginger-poached White Plum ($7) served with top quality vanilla ice cream and a rich shortbread cookie. It was an A treat. I thought hubby’s Creme Brulee ($7) was well prepared, if not original.
The Summit’s a bit of a hidden gem, with attentive service that’s not at all rushed, very helpful and unobtrusive and top-notch food at a very reasonable price. On Fridays, they feature three courses for $33 and half-price wine. I’d recommend The Summit without hesitation if you’re up for a quiet night out focused on quality cuisine, supporting the chefs and culinary staffs of the next generation.
Go: 3250 Central Pkwy., Clifton
Call: 513-569-4980 (online reservations are recommended via opentable.com)
Hours: Open for dinner only, 5:30 p.m.-9 p.m. Thursday-Saturday
Red Meat Alternatives: Yes
Accessibility: Fully accessible