The last time I was at Vitor’s Bistro was several years ago when we went for a CityBeat Best of Cincinnati breakfast feature. They were just starting to experiment with serving dinners on the weekend in the small storefront they occupied on Harrison Avenue in Westwood.
Vitor’s, now serving breakfast, lunch and dinner regularly, has moved up and “grown up,” as co-owner Gina Valerius put it the night we stopped. I was practically gushing as we came through the door of Vitor’s new home in the former Rondo’s space, a quaint 1864 European-looking building complete with an outside terrace that will offer seating in the summer under newly planted grapevines.
I immediately felt comfortable in the space, which glowed with candlelight against the room’s rich, deep colors. While the nearness of the building to the road makes a window seat less than usually desirable, the sound level in the room made it ideal for eavesdropping. I didn’t miss the din that comes with some of the city’s “hot spots,” and enjoyed the conversations about money, local restaurant gossip, breakfast and what sounded like a yummy recipe for bean soup.
The space is divided into cozy smaller rooms and achieves what chef and co-owner Vitor Abreu calls their goal: a laid-back atmosphere with good food. The servers all have a pleasant, casual style, even though they could brush up on their menu knowledge a bit. I was particularly struck by some on the minor details of Vitor’s, like the napkin fold that resembled a cinnamon bun, the attention to the menu design, a Jazz soundtrack that featured the late, great Bill Caffey and the fascinating centerpieces that were a combination floating candle and fresh flower display.
Vitor has an honorable goal of giving the West Side something it’s been missing — a fine dining establishment. With the closing of Rondo’s and the earlier demise of The Italian Inn and even the Wine Cellar, the latter two formerly run by the LaRosa family, West-siders have had a dining hole in their neighborhood. But don’t fret, because Victor and Gina, partners in life and business, have plenty of plans for filling that hole: Along with adding a late-night sushi and tapas bar to the restaurant, they are opening a B&B in the upper part of the building.
Vitor, who is of Portuguese descent, tries to offer a mix of things on the menu. There are Italian dishes such as Pasta Bolognese ($16) and a Savory Seafood Pasta ($23) with crab, shrimp and lobster as well as classically influenced dishes like Vitor’s Chicken Oscar ($24) with a crab and dill Havarti compote and black truffle aioli and a Philippine dish Chef Vitor ate as a child, Chicken Adobo ($15).
We started with the Walnut and Coconut Crusted Shrimp ($14) and a Southern Style Crab Cake ($9). The shrimp was phenomenal. They were crunchy and glorious and served with a peach mango reduction for your dipping pleasure. Just the night before I had sworn off crab cakes, but I was glad I made an exception. Vitor’s wasn’t dressed with fancy garnishes or swirls of sauce — it didn’t need it. It was one good-sized, meaty cake set atop peppery lobster cream sauce and filled with chunks of corn and peppers.
My only complaint was the sauce was a little on the salty side, and I wouldn’t even have that compliant if it hadn’t been a trend in some of the other dishes.
For dinner we had the 16-ounce New York Strip ($31) with caramelized onions and asparagus and the Chicken Adobo. I have never seen the latter dish served in a restaurant and I almost peed my pants when I saw it on Vitor’s menu. Back in my archaeological days one of my camp-mates had lived in Puerto Rico as a youth and regularly made it for us. If you look at a recipe you can’t image you’d be concocting anything so delectable — it includes plain white rice and chicken braised in soy sauce and vinegar laced with tons of garlic. Vitor’s was less garlicky than the memory of my friend’s version, but it was excellent, and I can almost guarantee he’s the only place in town serving this dish.
My husband’s steak was simplicity at its best. The onions were indeed caramelized — while many places say they serve this, they never actually cook the onions long enough for caramelization to occur. The onions, like the crab-cake sauce seemed a little salty, but maybe I’m just more sensitive to it than other folks.
We ended dessert with breakfast — one of Vitor’s fabulous French Toasts ($7.95) and a robust cup a breakfast blend decaf. Old-timers will know what I mean when I say the dessert reminded me of trips to Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor. The toast, dipped in a vanilla bean batter and crushed Frosted Flakes, was topped with a creme brulee pastry cream, real whipped cream, chocolate sauce, caramel and banana slices and usually comes with Godiva chocolate shavings (unfortunately they were out of those the night we were there).
And, no, it didn’t feel weird at all to end dinner with breakfast. I think Vitor might start a new trend!
Go: 3232 Harrison Ave., Westwood
Hours: 8:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5:30-10 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
Entrée Prices: $15-$31
Payment: Visa and Mastercard
Red Meat Alternatives: Salads, chicken, seafood
Accessibility: Fully accessible