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.