Cincinnati, OH

Via Vite on Fountain Square – Cincinnati, OH

If a chef from Florence, who worked in several of Italy’s most prominent restaurants, and arrived in Cincinnati via the Savoy Hotel in London, does not qualify the Via Vite as an authentic Italian restaurant, then the definition of “authentic” needs to change.

Cristian Pietoso has been the chef here since opening day in 2007, and eventually took ownership in 2012. He comes from a family of chef’s, and it shows in the way he designs his menu, sources and prepares his food, and treats his patrons. Perhaps that is why USA Today recently ranked Via Vite #5 on its list of Top Ten Restaurants in Cincinnati.

Via Vite’s location is great, right in the downtown business district of Cincinnati, on picturesque Fountain Square. There is a great second floor outdoor dining terrace overlooking the square, which we took advantage of during our visit, enjoying a warm spring evening.

In many instances a waitperson can make the difference between a good meal and a great meal, and at Via Vite ours was the best. David was very attentive without “hovering,” knew the menu inside and out so was able to make excellent suggestions, and anticipated our every need.

Our table started with a crispy gnocchi appetizer, which was a great beginning, with tasty sauce and fresh Italian bread. I followed that with a pepper soup, which was very flavorful – rich, with just the right about of cream to give it a nice texture.

For an entrée I was tempted by both veal and the pork shank. And the pork loin one of my companions ordered looked awfully good.

In the end, I took a chance on the scallops, fully aware that we were hundreds of miles away from the nearest ocean. They were delicious, and perfectly prepared. The best scallops I have experienced west of Massachusetts. High grades also went to the salad.

A dinner companion with deep oenophile credentials selected our wines, and his choices did not disappoint. The white (Le Rive Gavi Del Comune Di Gavi) was crisp and clean, while the red (Isole e Olena Chianti Classico) was flavorful without being overpowering.

By the end of the meal we were sated and could not be swayed by the dessert descriptions proffered by David. All in all an excellent meal made better by top-notch service and good company.

520 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH  45202
513.721.8483
http://viaviterestaurant.com/

The Mercer OTR – Cincinnati, OH

The “OTR” in this restaurant’s name is code for “Over-the-Rhine,” a burgeoning Cincinnati neighborhood that was once a center of the city’s German immigrant population. The “Rhine” in this instance was actually the Miami and Erie Canal that was just south of the area.

OTR is now a busy area of shops, microbreweries and more restaurants than you can count. The Mercer OTR just happens to be one of the best, as will be attested to by everyone in our group of six diners who recently enjoyed a scrumptious meal there.

We entered a restaurant which was starting to get crowded and noisy, yet through some acoustical trick were able to carry on conversations without resorting to shouting. The effect was to boost the excitement level without raising the stress level with it.

The small plate selection to start is pretty creative. I enjoyed the veal meatball slider, nicely spiced with tomato-pepper sauce. Some of my dinner companions ventured to try the rabbit stew and reported that it was delicious. Fortunately, they were the sharing type, so I was able to sample the pork belly risotto, which (an interesting combination) and a simple, but elegant Caesar salad, which was crisp and cold – just the way I like it.

For an entrée I chose a pork loin with pureed potatoes and Brussels sprouts, set off with apples in brown butter. Just a delightful combination, well prepared and tasty.

Happily, a member of our group is something of an oenophile, and he made excellent selections from both the red and white site of the wine list. It reminded me just how much the right wine in the glass adds to the enjoyment of the food on the plate.

Just when we thought we were sated, our clever waitress tempted us with the dessert menu. I chose to share again and split an order of doughnuts, which were only distantly related to the breakfast staple you might be imagining. These were a pastry chef’s dream, drizzled with a chocolate-orange ganache and mascarpone, set off with strawberries. A yummy way to end a memorable meal.

I must make a special note about our waitress, who deftly managed an active and outspoken group, paced the meal nicely, and was quick to make suggestions that always seemed to be on target. Unlike many servers encountered nowadays, this professional knew her menu inside and out. She made our experience at The Mercer OTR an enjoyable one.

If Cincinnati is on your travel itinerary, take the trip “over the Rhine” and make your way to The Mercer OTR. It is a great stop in a very pleasant town.

1324 Vine St.
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 421-5111
www.themercerotr.com

Bakersfield Over the Rhine, Cincinnati, OH

Yes, this is a review of a taco joint. A really classy, really compelling taco joint that I found in, of all places, Cincinnati, Ohio.

All my friends know I enjoy a great meal, and I have had the pleasure of dining at some of the finest restaurants in the country. But whenever I travel I always have an eye open for those out-of-the-way places that are a little less formal, a little rougher around the edges, but often serve the most delicious food. Bakersfield Over the Rhine is one.

Guy Fieri, host of the Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives, visited Bakersfield Over the Rhine earlier this year and delighted in the “elevated tacos” and torta sandwiches. It’s no wonder the place is packed nearly every night. A friend and I visited on a Monday and, while we secured two seats at the bar fairly easily, the place quickly filled up.

I love Mexican food and Bakersfield did not disappoint. After all, when you kick off a meal with an ice cold PBR served in a glass shaped like a cowboy boot, what could go wrong? We started by sampling the guacamole, a true test of any Mexican restaurant, and were not disappointed. It had the perfect balance of texture and spiciness, in an ample portion.

We moved on to try a variety of the restaurant’s signature tacos, each assembled on a light, flavorful hand-made tortilla. We devoured tacos stuffed with fish, chicken, steak, pork and shrimp, each of which was tastier than the last. All washed down with more cold beer and, for my dinner companion, a brace of agreeable margaritas.

Bakersfield Over the Rhine is located in a revitalized section of downtown, adjacent to the business district and a short walk from the riverfront area. My only advice is to get there early and be patient. You’ll be glad you waited!

1213 Vine Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
(513) 579-0446
http://www.bakersfieldtacos.com/

Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse, Cincinnati, OH

Chef Jeff Ruby says the purpose of his business is to deliver an absolutely incomparable total dining experience, known as “The Jeff Ruby Experience.” I’m here to tell you that Jeff and his staff deliver on that promise.

I’m a steak guy, and I was convinced that nothing could ever top the steakhouses of Chicago. But Jeff Ruby’s in Cincinnati is simply the best steak place ever.

The décor is rich and elegant, with dark woods, toned down lighting and deeply upholstered seating. It creates an atmosphere that says (quietly, of course), “You are about to enjoy a very special meal.” The payoff to this assertion comes quickly, with attentive service and a look at menu filled with an array of steak options. This place is focused – even the seafood choices are listed as “Ocean Meats.”

I went all in and ordered a bone-in rib eye, sautéed with mushrooms and onions, with hash browns on the side. The steak was the most flavorful I have ever had, a great cut that was prepared to perfection. It was accompanied by a terrific red from the restaurant’s extensive wine cellar that put an exclamation point on the entire meal.

If you are ever in – or near – Cincinnati, take the time to have lunch or dinner at Jeff Ruby’s Steakhouse. You’ll call and thank me later.

Speaking of which, Jeff Ruby also has steakhouses in Louisville and Nashville, so now I am looking for excuses to visit those cities. If you have a law firm in either locale and are looking to improve your business development and client management efforts, let’s do lunch – at Jeff Ruby’s.

700 Walnut Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202
Phone: 513.784.1200
http://www.jeffruby.com/cincinnati