The Symphony Hotel and Restaurant is quite the Cincinnati secret. Tucked away on 14th Street, adjacent to Music Hall, the hotel began as a mansion in 1871, built by a local music instructor and was later converted into the current hotel and restaurant.
Dining at the Symphony makes you feel, well, fancy. You have on heels and a tie (and if you are Annie Hall, you have on both) and, as you spy the metal treble clef that hangs above the entrance, you know you are in for something a little different.
Guests are to arrive between 5:45 p.m.-6:15 p.m. The goal of the restaurant is for diners to have a relaxing meal and be off to the performance across the street in plenty of time.
With all nine tables full of well-dressed concertgoers, the intimate Symphony dining room, decorated in the early-European style one would expect, was not hushed with people mulling over the menu.Guests had already ordered their soup, salad and choice of four entrées, so all that was left was a drink order and spirited conversation.
I found it odd to predict what I would feel like eating one week in advance, and it was even odder since our visit was planned for the night before the predicted “Rapture” in mid-May. No matter how skeptical you might be, it is a rare occasion when you are consciously aware that the meal you are eating might be your last. Might as well live it up!
The five-course “Light French” menu (prix fixe at $42) created by Chef David Buchman changes monthly. It always features entrée choices of meat, fish, vegetarian and one other, oftentimes fowl.
The offerings for the month of May were Spring Pea and Mint Soup, Caesar Salad, a palate-cleansing Lime and Sterling Mint Sorbet and entrée choices of Filet of Beef with Tarragon and Red Wine, Steamed Salmon with Asparagus and Fresh Herbs, Navarin Lamb with Spring Vegetables and Mushroom Crpes with Madeira Cream Sauce. We chose the Filet and the Crpes for our entrées and could decide dessert choices on the spot, the night of our visit.
One of the high notes of our evening at the Symphony was that I found it very liberating to not be concerned with a menu or having a server interrupt conversation for a meal order. By 6:30 p.m., we were all served our Spring Pea and Mint soup, virtually at the same time.
This soup was a fine starter, as it was fresh and light and the bright green color was appetizing, but the mint was understated and I’d have appreciated a little more salt. I was a bit put off by the anchovy filet draped across the chopped romaine and light scattering of toasted breadcrumbs of my Caesar salad, but I did clean my plate.
Then the Symphony started to soar again on the third course, a Lime and Sterling Mint Sorbet that’s house-made and was perfect. The citrus certainly prepared my palate for the rest of the meal. Chef Bachman makes many sorbets — I look forward to trying his gin and tonic sorbet next time.
The staff was so efficient (serving a room of 30 or so people simultaneously) that I was growing suspicious. Would my Mushroom Crpes have the unmistakable mark of a heat lamp? Once delivered, I knew they had been freshly made and plated. They were soft, luscious pillows filled with minced mushrooms, garlic and shallots with just a touch of Parmesan that gave me the salt I had been missing. The Madeira cream sauce made the crpes decadent without being over the top.
The Filet of Beef was a quality cut that would give area steakhouses a run for their money. It was perfectly seasoned and cooked exactly to order and the red wine and tarragon reduction gently accented its flavor.
Three desserts were offered. We passed on the fresh fruit option, as the other two sounded too good to miss. The Wildflower and Walnut Cheesecake was, hands down, the best cheesecake I have ever eaten — a cake-like graham cracker crust with a light, creamy middle, outdone by a topping of wildflower honey and walnuts. It had the texture and consistency of walnut fudge, sans chocolate. The Chocolate and Tropical Orange Pots de Crme was silky and the combination of chocolate and orange is always a great marriage.
The Symphony Hotel and Restaurant has seen an increase in business since the debut of its new website — they are expanding the space and extending restaurant hours. Dig up those cuff links and pull out your little black dress. This is the place for a proper grown-up night out.
Go: 210 West 14th St., Over-the-Rhine
Hours: Performance evenings only. Call for dates.
Entrée Prices: Prix fixe
Red Meat Alternatives: Yes (varies monthly)
Accessibility: Fully accessible