December 29, 2011

ZZ's Pizza

I forgot to bring my camera to dinner last night so I’m hoping my words do justice to the great experience I had at ZZ’s Pizza in Walnut Hills. 

For a little back-story- I drive past ZZ’s on Gilbert Avenue everyday on my way to work.  It wasn't until about the 20th time I drove past that I realized it was a restaurant. I thought to myself “Is that place really open? Is it legit? "  After a bit of research I learned the establishment has been around more than twenty years, closing for a couple years in the mid-2000's before re-opening under new ownership.  The awkward shape of the building gives the impression the space is much smaller than it really is.  It’s shaped quite like a slice of pizza, narrow at the entrance and flares out into a triangular/oblong shape.  A mixture of high-top and regular tables line the walls as well as a long bar that takes up about half of one side of the restaurant. 

My eyes were immediately drawn to the Ikea wine racks and once I perused their selection of bottles I knew this place had something going.  House bottles are $20 and then some higher priced from $26-$44.  It’s not just pizza, after all.  The beer selection is decent, the liquor selection is a small 2 foot long shelf with about one bottle of each of the major liquor groups.  But why go with liquor when there’s plenty to choose from in the wine department?    

With a wine list longer than the actual menu it took me longer to choose a bottle than a pizza.  Not much in the way of starters, some simple salads, a couple soups, a few sandwich choices and then the pizza menu. We ordered a bottle of the Cebastiani chardonnay.  The pizza took a few minutes to make its way out which gave us plenty of time to enjoy our Caesar salads and most of the chardonnay.  I was surprised by the flavor of the Caesar, it wasn’t drenched in dressing which sometimes seems to happen.  The romaine was very green and leafy and served slightly at room temperature; I’m starting to realize how much I prefer lettuce when it’s not quite so chilled.

We ordered the Cajun pizza from the specialty pizza menu.  The toppings really made it a work of art with all the colors and shapes the pie had going on: sour dough crust with light pizza sauce, cheddar cheese, ground sausage, shrimp, green peppers and onions.  Sometimes specialty pizzas worry me because I can get annoyed by the toppings after just one piece but this combination was very balanced.  When I’m eating pizza I want to feel like I'm eating pizza.  Although the Cajun had a variety of toppings, there wasn't so much that the crust and traditional pizza flavors were altered.  It was supposed to have jalapenos but I didn't find any on my two pieces which was fine with me because the spice of the Cajun seasoning was enough to get my face sweating a bit. 

I feel like there are a lot of restaurants I try one time and say I’m going to go back, but time or geography or habit get in my way and I don’t end up returning for a second trip.  I really mean it when I say I will go back to ZZ’s Pizza.  The menu is not extensive, but everything they have to offer is done just right.
ZZ's Pizza Company on Urbanspoon

December 20, 2011

The most wonderful time of the year...

Is when our company’s law firm gifts us with a holiday platter of cookies and dessert bars from BonBonerie.  I’ve had cookie platters from Busken's and Graeter’s but those seem like knock-offs compared to this bliss.  

My favorite is the Coney Island cookie. It is normally heart-shaped but they changed it up for Christmas; luckily the change in shape did not compromise the taste of the cookie.  It's a shortbread base topped with raspberry jam and additional shortbread is decoratively piped around the perimeter of the cookie.  The piped cookie dough almost reminds me of a churro, almost.  Slightly crunchy on the outside of the dough and soft and chewy on the inside. The cookie base is very rich and dense which is what makes this gem so satisfying. 
The first runner-up was the Tart Lemon Square.  Lemon squares always seem to have that addictive quality, for me at least.  The sweetness verges on too much until it is off-set by the sour of the lemon and then you just want to keep eating and eating so you can experience the flavor extremes.

This tray of treats started in my boss's office, then traveled to a conference room, then landed on my desk, back to my boss's office and now it sits in our break-room.  The iced sugar cookies were decorated with such detail, almost too pretty to eat, almost.

The dessert bars and other pastries were delightful. Surprisingly, I was not impressed by the double fudge brownie. Most of the bars contained coconut so if you're not a fan you probably want to stick with the basic cookies and cakes.  I loved the Petite Blackbottom cupcake with the chocolate snowflake and glitter on top.  The Caramel Walnut Bar reminded me of a larger version of a Christmas cookie my aunt used to make with graham crackers covered in brown sugar, melted butter and pecans. 

I want to open a patisserie.

The Bonbonerie & Cafe on Urbanspoon

December 16, 2011

A Tavola

My first review but third trip to A Tavola...4th if you count the time I tried to go for lunch, 5th if you count the time I was too hungry for the hour and a half wait.  We had a 1/2 hour wait and the space has limited standing room so we walked across the street for a drink at Lackman.  I already knew what I was going to order but I wanted something green before my meal.  I smartly chose the grilled asparagus salad. 
The bed of soft lettuce was served at room temperature and lightly, almost unnoticably (in a good way) coated in a lemon vinaigrette and seemed, dare I say, fluffy?  The salty, crunchy prosciutto paired well with the mild flavor of the dressing, the nuttiness of the pine nuts and the crunch of the asparagus.  It was like everything in this salad was meant to be served together.    
This is where I declare my love for the beef meatballs.  They're made with Wagyu beef (high quality, enhanced flavor, tender, mostly unsaturated fat, etc), served in a bowl of tomato sauce and topped with the salsa verde, goat cheese if you prefer and 3 slices of blue oven bread.  Originally I thought the green sauce was some type of pesto but it's a salsa verde and adds a touch of spice to this dish.  If you order the meatballs and you're not a fan of soggy bread remove the 3 pieces of bread immediately after you receive the dish.  I prefer to let the bread sit and by the time I get to the last piece the bottom edge is completely soaked in sauce and I love the mushy goodness.   If my face was smaller or the bowl was bigger I would have licked up every drop of sauce.
My friend went non-original with a pepperoni pizza.  I stole a corner and the dough was chewy and not over-sauced with nice crispy peices of pepp.  I generally prefer alternative sauces on pizza or a simple olive oil and garlic.  On my first visit I loved the radicchio, house bacon and caramelized onion pizza with fontina and a balsamic reduction. 

The only complaint was that my salad and meatballs came out at the same time and about 15 minutes before my friend's pizza.  By the time I got to the meatballs they had cooled down a bit.  
 Lately, when people ask me to recommend a restaurant A Tavola is the first place I mention, and not just because of the food, it's the contact high you get from the energy running through this place. 

A Tavola on Urbanspoon

December 8, 2011

Taste of Belgium

Some pics and a few quick remarks about my visit to Taste of Belgium in OTR a couple weeks ago.  (The pictures are posted in the order of their description)

I ordered a bowl of beef vegetable soup, fries and a cinnamon crepe.  Don't let the picture of greenish-brown broth fool you, the soup was perfect and I would have been happy to never see the bottom of the bowl.  If you're not already aware, the fries with Chipotle mayo are habit-forming.  I would be a strong supporter of TOB installing a walk-up window that serves nothing but their fries 24/7. The cinnamon crepe under-whelmed me.  It was dry and lacked enough flavor, or maybe way too much in the way of cinnamon.  I felt like it needed a sauce or maybe I simply prefer my crepe to have more substantial filling.

I tasted a bite of my friend's chicken and waffle.  The hot sauce and maple syrup combination was suspect but it worked really really well.  Another friend enjoyed the pumpkin waffle sandwich with turkey, Gruyere and cranberry sauce- it was Thanksgiving weekend and the last day on the menu for this item.

Before our food arrived our server apologized for the long wait (which didn't seem long to me) and offered us each a complimentary dessert.  Of course I wasn't going to pass up the muffin-style bread pudding.  Another amazing dish.  The dessert selection was extensive and included an array of cookies, macaroons and cupcakes etc.

And in breaking Facebook news today there is beer in the house, you better believe I "liked" this.

Beer on tap at Taste of Belgium, the authentic waffle's new OTR location at 12th and Vine!

Jean-Francois Flechet's Photos
Yes! We have beer!

 ·  ·  · 5 hours ago · 
Taste of Belgium (Vine St) on Urbanspoon

December 3, 2011

Best of the City

I nearly ate my weight in food last night at the Cincinnati Magazine "Best of the City Party".  The food and the view from the 29th floor of the Great American Tower were amazing.  The party was $20 and included 3 drink tickets, unlimited food and goodwill towards women/men since proceeds benefited both the Barrett Cancer center and the Lindner Center of Hope.

One of the party sponsors was Barefoot Bubbly so I started with a glass of the pink moscata and did a quick loop see check out the prospects.  I went with a shrimp salad from Cilantro.  This dish did not agree with me mostly because I'm not a fan of cilantro in general, but I'd love to a different dish from Cilantro.
Next was the chicken nachos from Taqueria Mercado.  Delicious.  Their homemade flour tortilla chips were covered with re fried beans, shredded chicken, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream and a few jalapenos. Probably one of my favorite tastes of the night.
I followed this with one salmon and one spicy tuna sushi piece from Fusian.  Fusian gets the award for friendliest workers at the event.
When I noticed one of my friends eating the glazed donut grilled cheese from Tom + Chee I made a beeline.  I enjoyed a small slice of the grilled cheese with their tomato basil soup.  I don't think the tomato basil and the glazed donut were the best pair but separately, each dish held its own and warrant a trip to the restaurant very very soon.
I followed this with cheddar cheese and corn grits with lobster cream sauce from New Orleans To Go and then a couple bites of a Philly from Cafe de Wheels.  The Philly was one of my least favorite dishes, too much bread and not enough flavor of any kind.  I don't want to judge any of the restaurants too harshly, though, since this event was outside of the normal environment for preparing their dishes.  Some things just don't translate well when they're in warmers or dry ice for hours on end.

I have never been to Oriental Wok so I was pleased to see their table; the General Wong's Chicken was quite tasty.  Oriental Wok was voted "best place to celebrate a birthday" by Cincinnati Magazine.
For dessert I enjoyed one of Donna's Gourmet Cookies- chocolate chip with an Oreo baked inside. Aglamesis was serving up Neapolitan sundaes, one small scoop each of vanilla, strawberry and chocolate ice cream with the topping of your choice and whipped cream and nuts.  I concluded my selection with a small bite of the Orchid's Buckeye Whoopee Pie with raspberry infusion.
I missed a trip to Smoq my friends took a few months back but I had a chance to try their ribs tonight.  I loved the sweet brine and the fact that it was crispy on the outside, I felt like I was biting through a layer of sugared barbecue sauce to get to the meat, it was delightful. 

When I had almost reached the point of being sickeningly full I remembered the corn bread covered with jambalaya from Anna Ree's Andouille and had to try a couple bites.  I wish I'd had this dish earlier in the evening so I could have eaten the entire thing.  I love me some sweet/savory foods, not to mention all the texture going on.

And just when I knew I couldn't handle anymore one of my friends walks up to me with a Streetpop.  Anyone who know me knows there is always room for a popsicle or 2 or 3 or 6.  I enjoyed the white chocolate raspberry and the chocolate with sea salt was a major crowd-pleaser.

Cincinnati Magazine puts on one hell of a party.  Now I know what heaven is like...and I've scratched several places off my "restaurants I need to try or I'm not really a foodie" list.

November 27, 2011

Three Tiers- Contemporary Cakes and Cupcakes

I was enjoying a lazy day off work last Friday and decided to head out on a bike ride.  Part of the allure of biking, for me at least, is riding to a destination where I can indulge in some type of delectable food and only feel 1/2 the amount of guilt.  It's not easy finding a nice physical activity to indulgent food ration.  So I googled bakeries in my area and found Three Tiers in Bellevue, KY.  Serendipitous for 2 reasons:
1.)Bellevue, KY is one of my favorite neighborhoods and totally bikeable.
2.) Friday was Three Tiers second to last day of operations.   

I rode out the Bellevue/Dayton flood wall and back and then up to Fairfield Avenue to Three Tiers. 

I chose a nice assortment including: cookies  n' cream, chocolate with chocolate ganache, red velvet with raspberry buttercream and white with caramel buttercream.  Didn't want to gorge myself so I decided one healthy bite of each cupcake was the way to go.  Each time I took a bite I proclaimed that particular cupcake to be my favorite. 

The cookies n' cream tasted like an Oreo cookie.  The white cupcake had bits of crushed Oreo cookies throughout and it was topped with a buttercream that mimicked the cream of an Oreo almost exactly.  I liked that this one had some additional texture with the pieces of cookie.  It was topped with a few cookie crumbles as well.
I was so pleasantly surprised by the red velvet with raspberry buttercream.  I don't generally love red velvet cake but the addition of a fruity topping intrigued me.  If I  had to pick a favorite of the bunch it was this one.  One of the best flavor combinations, mostly because raspberry buttercream is a beautiful thing.

Chocolate on chocolate, can't go wrong here.  Three Tiers uses imported Belgian chocolate and I think it really shined through in the quality of this chocolate cupcake topped with chocolate ganache and the tiniest dollop of buttercream.
Last but not least was the white cupcake with caramel buttercream.  Tasted surprisingly like a pancake with syrup.  Not overdone with caramel in the least and the cupcake itself wasn't overpoweringly sweet. 

Best of luck to Three Tiers and their new business venture in Austin, TX.  Now I'm on the hunt for another place to get my cupcake fix.

  Three Tiers on Urbanspoon

Wine Guy Bistro

My Groupon for Wine Guy Bistro was burning a hold in my pocket for almost 2 months.  The space is very different than I expected but different in a good way.  Wine store and tasting area (including bar) on the right and dining area on the left.  It is open and spacious with a couple of cozy window spots for dining and drinking with a bit more privacy.

We started with a flight of reds and a flight of chardonnay. 
How adorable are these little wine flight holders?  I've never seen something like this and although they took up quite a bit of space on the table it was really handy for keeping track of which wine was which.  Each slot was numbered according to how it was listed on the menu which made it very simple to compare and contrast.  So clever!

We enjoyed the complementary whole wheat pita slices with a garlic/sun-dried tomato herb cream cheese.  It paired nicely with the wine. 

I chose a full order of the spicy shrimp pasta.  It was full of juicy shrimp and had all kinds of texture going on.  Large, chunky tomatoes, creamy garlicky sauce and it was topped with julienned scallions which added a nice crunch to the whole thing.  Plus 2 slices of grilled and buttered bread.
I enjoy spicy dishes, not crazy "I'm harming myself" spicy, but I like a nice kick every once in a while.  This spicy shrimp pasta fit that description so well that it made my face sweat the whole time I was eating it; yet it was so flavorful I couldn't put my fork down.  This is similar to the effect that spicy Thai curries have on me.  Can't stop myself.  The portion was huge and easily enough for 2 people, they offered this dish (as they do many of their other dishes) as a tapas portion.  The full portion was only a few dollars more so I figured I'd go with the full.  I ate half of it and then decided to save the rest for lunch the next day; you know, to give the flavors even more time to develop.  As it sometimes goes, I got home and couldn't bring myself to put away the pasta so I sat in bed and shamelessly devoured the rest of it.   

The bacon-wrapped prawns got rave reviews, they were served over fried squash and a tomato-based vinaigrette. 
Wine Guy offers flights starting at $14.99, wine by the glass and also has a selection of 4,000 bottles to choose from.  $10 corking fee if you go with a bottle.  I had a nice experience and will be back to taste more of the menu items in this unique space that adds much-needed variety to the Rookwood Commons restaurant scene.

 The Wine Guy Bistro Wine Bar & Wine Shop on Urbanspoon

November 12, 2011

Tour de Vine

Or should I say tour divine? 

What started out as a trip to try Abigail Street evolved into a Vine Street restaurant crawl. Abigail Street had a ½ hour wait so we headed down to The Lackman to grab a drink. It was insanely hot inside and smelled of stale beer, but the bartender fixed my friends up with some fru fru island cocktails and I enjoyed a pint of the Left Handed milk stout. 

Let me begin my description of Abigail Street by saying that any restaurant that has wine on tap is obviously the coolest thing ever. The selection included a nice variety of both red and white and prices range from about $8-$11. I had the Cabernet Sauvignon and it was lovely. The wine is mostly sourced from wineries in California and the Pacific Northwest. The server described the menu as Mediterranean tapas-style but also mentioned something about family style. When I think of family style I think of huge portions that can satisfy at least 3 people. The portion size at Abigail Street is bigger than tapas but smaller than family-style and at least 2 menu choices per person are required if you want to make a meal out of it.

I dined with 2 friends and we each chose one item to start: Cheese tray, Gnocci and Scallops.  Our server recommended our cheese selections and the tray was garnished with small portions of toasted cinnamon raisin bread, grapes and nuts.  It was a crowd-pleaser at our table.

The two scallops were served over a bed of savory bacon and carmelized onion cous cous and topped with a lobster cream sauce. So decadent.  The picture below does nothing for the presentation, it was taken after one of the scallops was eaten.  The flavor of the cous cous was perfect and the lobster cream /scallop/bacon combination was excellent.

The gnocchi was in a very light saffron sauce with large pieces of crab meat and cherry tomatoes. I quite liked it but I am not a gnocchi aficionado so I don't have anything to compare it to. I believe gnocci is usually served with a heavy cream sauce which would certainly overwhelm me. I thought the lighter broth complemented the doughy creamy texture of the gnocchi quite well.  (Again, the picture below was taken after several bites.)

I look forward to going back to Abigail Street for another tapas and wine tasting. The bouillabaisse was calling my name.

After splitting 3 dishes between the 3 of us we had room for more and decided it would be fun to do a restaurant hop. (Side note: after publishing this post I logged on to Urbanspoon to read A Tavola reviews.  Apparently I'm not the only one who appreciates the dining options of Vine Street in OTR.  Great minds, I tell you.)

During our dinner conversation it surfaced that one of my friends, who loves Sentate, has never tried their poutine!?! Duck fat fries, short ribs and cheese followed our tapas perfectly. We had another drink including a special mixture concocted by Mike, the oh so friendly bar tender. I had some sort of Gin/Grapefuit mixed drink that was extremely refreshing- not too much gin, not too sweet. After having a drink and splitting one order of poutine between the 3 of us we decided we would round out our evening with A Tavola.

I dined at Tavola earlier in the week and had been thinking about their beef meatballs with goat cheese since that visit. Four beef meatballs drowned in delicious red sauce and topped with a smooth pesto-like puree, goat cheese and adorned with 3 nice slices of Blue Oven bread. To die for. I mean, I would seriously die for these meatballs. And to really bring this home- I went to A Tavola on a Wednesday and had meatballs, then went back this past Saturday and I'm headed back again tonight...for meatballs.  Don't get me wrong, the wood-fired pizza is awesome, but the meatballs have my heart.
Hopping from restaurant to restaurant and sharing dishes is the way food should be experienced and I love that Vine street in OTR enables this.

  Abigail Street on Urbanspoon

October 30, 2011

Sugar 'n Spice

And everything was nice.  Especially the owner, Stephen Frankel, who offered complimentary cinnamon sugar cupcakes and Halloween favors during brunch this morning.  The cinnamon sugar cupcakes were adorned with a light marshmallow icing, delightful.
Earlier this week one of my friends emailed me the link to their website as a suggestion for ROTM (restaurant of the month) and I frowned in disbelief that Sugar n' Spice had not registered on my radar.  Seriously, how did I miss this?  I'll blame it on the fact that I did not grow up near this part of Cincy and it seems to be more of a neighborhood spot where many patrons are regulars.

After perusing the website all I could think about for 3 days straight were "wispy thin pancakes".  I have always been more of a thin crepe-like pancake girl than a fluffy cake-like pancake girl.  I went with a half order of the cakes and my, oh my, were they ever so wispy and thin.  If you are not sure what "wispy" means, you will have to try these pancakes to find out.  The half order was the perfect portion and I was pleased it did not have the heavy, saturated taste of most greasy spoon pancakes.  Because the pancakes are so thin, I recommend going easy on the syrup- it's very runny!
I adore pancakes, but if I eat them by themselves I end up feeling an imbalance unless they are accompanied by a savory side.  When it comes to breakfast there is really no point in choosing between salty or sweet. Today I went with the breakfast platter which included home fries, Glier's goetta, 2 eggs and toast.  The platter and half order of pancakes came to $13.05 and was easily enough food for 2 people  (side note:  I ate around 12pm, it is now 5:30pm and I still have a slightly full belly.)

The restaurant is also known for their "huge fluffy" omelets.  Everyone raved about the taste and portion size of the omelets- seriously HUGE.  Below is the Gyro Omelet; seasoned ground beef, red n' yellow peppers, onion, feta and mushrooms.  Another friend ordered the Mexican, which included chorizo, salsa and sour cream- I'm certain this is what I will order when I go back.
Sugar n' Spice prides themselves on being consistent and offering many of the same menu items they have offered during their 70 year history.  After my first visit I aspire to at least become a semi-regular.  The food, service and ambiance created quite the experience for me and I hope they continue flipping wispy thin pancakes for at least 70 more years. Sugar n' Spice on Urbanspoon