BOCA

Those of us who wrung our hands at the sad demise of the Maisonette, once our Queen City’s culinary shining star, should weep no more. Chef/Restaurateur David Falk’s Boca is now in that prime location downtown, an exceptional addition to Cincinnati’s thriving restaurant scene. Boca, in its new stunning surroundings, is even better than before and sure to garner top culinary accolades.

First, order a basket of pommes soufflé with sauce béarnaise; they are soo light and soo addictive! In fact, every dish we tried tasted divine from Mediterranean Sea Bass with braised leeks and mussels to Beef Wellington with foie gras, mushrooms duxelle, truffle sauce and prosciutto. There isn’t a separate bar menu, but you can choose a couple of appetizers or half portion entrees if desiring a lighter meal. My favorite combination is the Mangalitsa Prosciutto Salad followed by a half portion of the heavenly aromatic Seafood Risotto.

The décor’s textures are eclectic with a capitol E including a mix of clubby red leather seating in the bar, circular booths in the dining room as well as a long wooden communal table. Table # 45 gives a nod to the Maisionette with a replica of its former counterpart tucked discreetly into an alcove replete with peek-a-boo curtains. Upstairs, too, is attractive with exquisite chandeliers and several private dining areas.

Go to Boca to celebrate any occasion or for a light bite before or after a downtown event.
www.bocacincinnati.com

SOTTO

Sotto, Falk’s other new restaurant below Boca, where the Normandy was, is more casual. Some may find this “trattoria” a bit noisy, yet, dimly lit and windowless the ambience is one of an intimate hideaway from the bustle of city life, the kind of place where one is more likely to speak sotto voce. Silver candelabra on each wooden table add a romantic touch, and, like Boca, you can watch your food being prepared as theatre in an open facing kitchen. There is some menu sharing between the two restaurants, but at Sotto the focus is on authentic Italian food with dishes such as short rib cappellaci and penette vodka. Good food. Good service. Good ambience. A winner.
www.sottocincinnati.com

NADA

With Boca and Sotto just around the corner from Nada, David Falk has scored the perfect culinary trifecta downtown. Now seven years old, Nada was the first of his three distinctive restaurants. Serving authentic yet modern Mexican fare, some dishes have a surprising twist like Mexican mac n’cheese and Nada sliders with onion and jalapeno. According to Open Table, Nada is the most consistently booked restaurant in Cincinnati. Falk recently opened another Nada in Columbus. In fact, this contemporary Mexican restaurant is so successful Falk has a five year plan to open nine more. Hola Cleveland! Other locations considered include Tampa and Detroit.
www.eatdrinknada.com

SALAZAR

Salazar is another hot restaurant in trendy Over the Rhine. Formerly an award-winning chef at The Palace in the Cincinnatian Hotel, Jose Salazar is now the chef/owner of this small gastronomic haven. No reservations taken, but if there’s a wait you can hang out at the bar and nibble on such treats as a little fried oyster sandwich served with kimchi and radish sprouts with garlic mayo. But it’s not all fancy cuisine. On the main menu you’ll find a man size burger with fries and an Angus rib-eye, albeit accompanied by creamed kale, papas bravas, and black truffle butter. Yum!
www.salazarcincinnati.com

THE QUARTER BISTRO

The Quarter Bistro’s patio in Mariemont Square is primo people-watching real estate. Sitting there in your glam sunglasses, dining on mussels in white wine avec shoestring fries, you might feel like singing “No, No Regrets.” Inside the ambience is one of sophisticated conviviality with friendly staff who’ll greet you like a regular even if you’re not. Whether you want an appetizer, small plates, burger, fish, pasta, chicken or filet mignon, executive chef Christopher Montgomery is a wunderkind whose sides and sauces make even the simplest dish unique. The 18-hour braised short ribs are to die for!
www.quarter-bistro.com

JEAN-ROBERT’S TABLE

Chef/restaurateur Jean-Robert de Cavel is a culinary icon in Cincinnati, so when his much anticipated restaurant Jean-Robert’s Table opened downtown on Vine Street his legion of fans cheered. This comfortable bistro is just want diners hoped for: great food, fun ambience, reasonable prices. You can eat at the long bar, a communal table or in an intimate banquette. Chef de Cavel has combined the best of French traditional cuisine with his own contemporary flair, so whether you choose French Chateau Burger or Skate Fish Wings Grenobloise, you know it will taste delicieuse.
www.jrtable.com

FRENCH CRUST CAFÉ

Jean-Robert de Cavel opened a sister restaurant to his bistro downtown less than two blocks north on Vine called the French Crust Café. Joining him in this venture is his bon ami and pastry chef Jean-Philippe Solnom. The Café is perfect for a savory breakfast, brunch, lunch, or a coffee break enhanced by a delectable pastry such as a chocolate éclair or an almond croissant. Open Monday through Friday from 10 – 4pm.
www.jrtable.com/french-crust-cafe

LA POSTE EATERY

La Poste in Clifton was once a post-office, hence the name. The décor is appealing with changing artwork, well spaced tables, unadorned large windows and hardwood floors, plus a small but inviting bar. La Poste acquired the jewelry store next door too, which now serves as a wine room and a private dining area. Billing itself as an American restaurant Chef Andrew Mersmann’s cuisine is so good you’ll want to try it all! The menu changes often but with a few mainstays such as the Roasted Crimson Pear with prosciutto, herbed cheese, arugula and fried parsnip, and the Wild Mushroom Ravioli. Close to the Esquire movie theatre and the University of Cincinnati you’ll find an eclectic mix of diners here including yuppies and older professorial types.
www.laposteeatery.com

NECTAR RESTAURANT

Mimosa? Bloody Mary anyone? There’s nothing more relaxing on a lazy weekend than having Sunday brunch with friends. Chef/owner, Julie Francis’ Nectar restaurant in Mt. Lookout is a popular place to go. With Julie’s passion for organic and seasonally fresh food you have many appetizing dishes to choose from such as a Seasonal Vegetable Frittata, Marksbury Farm Pork Carnitas and her famous Goetta Melt. Have a date? As soon as the weather cooperates make a beeline for Nectar’s private patio. And sign up for notices about Julie’s Dinner Club series featuring a theme ingredient for each course such as artichoke or honey.
www.dineatnectar.com

RED FEATHER

Red Feather took over Boca’s former space in Oakley. The name derives from the legendary Mike Fink, who sailed up and down the Ohio River in the 1800s sporting a red feather in his cap, a sign to folks waiting on the banks he had fresh produce on board. Chef Brad Bernstein and partners have created an ambience and menu that conveys casual sophistication with the focus on “farm to table” locally produced food. I savored every morsel of my crispy skin salmon with shitake mushrooms and bok choy, followed by a scrumptious bread pudding. While the menu is concise, wine afionados will enjoy browsing through several pages of thoughtfully selected wines. My new fave is Au Bon Climat’s Pinot Noir.
www.redfeatherkitchen.com

METROPOLE

Across from the Aronoff Center, the new 21c Museum Hotel adorns its walls throughout with a stunning array of eclectic art. But foodies are raving about its restaurant the Metropole. Chef Michael Paley’s limited yet exciting menu changes daily with the focus on dishes cooked in a custom-built wood-burning fireplace. Give me more of those hearth-baked oysters with leek and celeriac soup!  The contemporary feel with its wide-open kitchen, large, bright yellow faux penguins that mysteriously reposition themselves and a young, hip-looking staff are further indicators that dining in Cincy these days is really somethin’!
www.metropoleonwalnut.com

The Cincinnati Symphony with its charismatic conductor Louis Langrée is thriving and so are new restaurants close to Music Hall, making it easy to catch a light bite before or after a concert.

KAZE

Kaze, a Japanese gastropub and sushi bar, fits right in to the “lofty” Gateway Quarter. Here you’ll find fashionistas and the artsy crowd in the hip bar/lounge and dining room. There’s also a landscaped beer garden open year round. A bargain is the pre-concert menu serving a variety of authentic Japanese fare for just under $20.00. What more could you want? Maybe tack on a half portion of sushi? On a chilly night a bowl of ramen with pork belly, bok choy and a poached egg is just the thing. Jon Zipperstein and Chef Hideki Harada co-own and operate the restaurant, which is now open for lunch.
www.kazeotr.com

ZULA RESTAURANT & WINE BAR

Zula at 1400 RaceStreet is owned by Chef Tsvika Silberberg. Born in Tel Aviv, Silberberg honed his cooking skills in England and France. Not surprisingly, the menu has an international flavor. At the lively bar, just inside the entrance, you can sip a “Washington Park” cocktail and gaze at the attractively revamped park through oversized windows. The dining area has an intimate feel, yet this modern restaurant is deceptively large with a seating capacity of 160. The menu includes small hot and cold plates and a variety of steamed mussel preparations served in a pot, including Thai, Spanish and the classic French mariniere. Wine and craft beer flights are also available.
www.zulabistro.com

THE ANCHOR

Cincinnati lacks an ocean, but it now has The Anchor, an urban fish shack and oyster bar on Race Street in Over-the-Rhine. If you don’t like a noisy atmosphere or even fish particularly, this is not the place for you. However, seafood lovers are happy as clams coming here for the lobster rolls, oysters and chowder they crave. Chef/owner Derek Dos Anjos offers more than the typical array of seafood and fresh fish, such as tiny Great Lakes smelts fried and served with a lemon, tarragon &mayo sauce. Yum! This 2,100-square-foot restaurant is on a corner across from the newly renovated Washington Park. It’s a good option for concert goers, who may want a light bite before the show at nearby Music Hall.
www.facebook.com/theanchorotr

THE SYMPHONY HOTEL Bed & Breakfast

Attending an event at Cincinnati’s historic Music Hall always feels festive. Why not make the evening more special by staying overnight at The Symphony Hotel around the corner on West 14th Street? Formerly a private mansion, this quaint hotel has rooms named after famous composers and a superb restaurant serving a five-course gourmet dinner before concerts and other events. Chef Chris Blanken creates dishes he terms new American cuisine, such as Dark Cherry and Balsamic Roasted Wild Salmon and Portobello Ravioli w/ Asparagus, Dill feta & Sun Dried Tomato Gratin.
www.symphonyhotel.com

ASH

ASH stands for Alex’s Social House. This small Hyde Park restaurant offers what many diners want: American Fare, cooked well, moderately priced, and served in a pleasant ambience. Most of the dishes have a lot of pizzazz, such as the half rotisserie chicken with a spiced rub, a nod to owner Alex Michaikhi’s homeland of Tunisia. Even the burgers have nine different toppings from the relatively simple to the unusual, such as one with short ribs, candied bacon, fonduta and truffled egg. The concise menu includes salads, steak, fish, lasagna as well as items to share. And there’s a contemporary bar with a separate entrance and some outdoor seating too. The interesting wine list, craft beers and distinctive cocktails and spirits contribute to making ASH a fun social house.
www.ashamericanfare.com

M WOOD FIRED OVEN

According to recent news reports there is a shortage of pizza makers in Italy; not so, in Cincinnati, where an increasing number of chefs are wielding pizza paddles.

M on Erie in Hyde Park is the latest restaurant to showcase a wood-fired oven, so diners can watch their individual pizzas with savory toppings emerge hot-off-the paddle. For a better view, sit at the curved bar which includes plenty of wines by the glass and handcrafted beers. The owner of M and ASH next door is Alex Michaikhi. Lest you forget the name the staff’s attire has the letter M emblazoned on the front or back. But you won’t—not when the food is this good. Other items include small plates of oven-roasted goodies and shareable entrees with some new creations by Chef Matthew Cranert.
www.m-woodfiredoven.com

FERRARI’S LITTLE ITALY & BAKERY

Ferrari’s is celebrating its 17th birthday, yet its spirit is so integral to Madeira—which bills itself as “The Friendly Town”—it could well be a hundred. The food is heartwarming and plentiful  such as the family recipe for Mama Bassano’s Lasagna. As you enter you are greeted by the oh-so-good aromas of just-baked breads, and when you leave you are accompanied by the strains of “O Sole Mio” or some other Italian classic sung by Dean or Frank. It’s that kind of place, full of good cheer, suitable for any occasion, whether for lunch, dinner or a large family gathering.
www.ferrarilittleitaly.com

VIA VITE

Blue skies and a sweeping view from the terrace of Via Vite overlooking Fountain Square makes you feel like you are dining al fresco in some Roman Piazza instead of downtown Cincinnati. Maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but the Italian food here isn’t including perfetto pizzas and pastas made under the direction of chef/owner Christian Pietosa. The restaurant has two floors and the overall ambience is cool, contemporary. Prices are reasonable especially on Sundays when a bottle of wine is half price.
www.viaviterestaurant.com

ENOTECA EMILIA

Enoteca Emilia is a trendy restaurant and wine bar of the exposed brick variety in O’Bryonville, where Balboa used to be. Chef Adam Cobb features an Emiglia Romana cuisine with a fine selection of Italian wines. With two bars, it’s the perfect place for cicchetti (bar snacks) or artisan pizza. For dinner, try heartier pastas such as lasagna with wild boar ragu. As for me, I love the garganelli with mushrooms and truffles – oh my!
www.facebook.com/EnotecaEmilia

Chef Adam Cobb’s father is a Lutheran minister, so it seems appropriate that his new venture with the owner of Enoteca, Margaret Ranelli, is called Son of a Preacher Man. Slated to open next door, Son of a Preacher Man will serve soulful Southern food.

PRIMAVISTA

Yearn for authentic Italian food? Chef Chris Prince of Primavista Restaurant in Price Hill offers a menu that’s both varied and delicious, including such classics as the oh-so-tender osso buco Milanese. The familial atmosphere embodies the “slow food” way of eating, where one savors each course as well as the conversation. New diners will be pleased to find it has a panoramic view of Cincinnati from the west side of town. Enhanced by a wall of glass and tiered seating the restaurant affords this vista to many, not just the tables hugging the windows.
www.pvista.com

Cincinnatians love dining al fresco. The temperature barely hits 60 degrees Fahrenheit, when seemingly overnight tables and chairs appear outside area restaurants. The Quarter Bistro, already mentioned, has a popular patio conveniently next door to the Mariemont movie theatre. You’ll find two other restaurants nearby with outdoor dining: the Dilly Café and the National Exemplar.

DILLY CAFÉ

The Dilly Café is a casual restaurant open for lunch and dinner. The outdoor area is a favorite hangout for local diners who enjoy good food, moderately priced and live music Wednesday to Sunday. Even the odd lab or two likes to loll in the shade watching their owners eat prized dishes such as Italian sausage with gnocchi and Baltimore style crab cakes. Kids will appreciate having their own menu. The Café offers over 500 beers and has a great wine selection. A bonus is its wine store with wine tastings on Tuesdays.
www.dillycafe.com

NATIONAL EXEMPLAR RESTAURANT

In between the Dilly Café and The Quarter Bistro is the historic, recently renovated, Mariemont Inn. Housed inside is the National Exemplar Restaurant run by The Phoenix Group, which includes the Golden Lamb in Lebanon. Chase Blowers has taken the helm as operating partner, general manager and executive chef. Chef Blowers trained at Boca and was chef de cuisine at Dutch’s Larder. His main focus is on seasonal dishes while retaining some old favorites like the Hungarian mushroom soup and prime rib. He’s also created several new dishes for vegetarians. The addition of the relatively new patio has made the Exemplar even more popular and yet another stop on the Cincy al fresco dining scene.
www.nationalexemplar.com

Tandoor ovens are in. If you love Indian food, here are two terrific Indian restaurants in the suburbs.

BOMBAY BRAZIER

Bombay Brazier bills itself as the “Finest Indian Cuisine & Bar,” and they’re not kidding! The décor is contemporary with an upscale feel, and not a strip of red-flocked wallpaper in sight. It offers a full bar with two private dining areas, the smaller one attractively flanked by wine bottles. The food is excellent and good value. Featuring dishes from Northern India, the concise menu has suggested food pairings that make it easy to navigate. My current fav is Lobster Jalfrazi. Sign up for their spectacular ten course meal with wine pairings held every three months. Just off Montgomery Road on Cooper, you’ll need to watch for the sign as it’s set back from the road.
513-794-0000

AZAD

Azad, too, could go unnoticed in a small shopping strip off Cornell in Blue Ash. By contrast, this restaurant is more laid-back, with the appearance and feel of a family diner. With the focus on dishes from Northern and Southern India as well as Indo-Chinese, the food is tip-top and the service is warm and attentive. Not to mention the bill will make you smile. Beer and wine are available.
www.azadindiarestaurant.com

SEASONS 52

Want to celebrate? Seasons52 in Rookwood is a good choice year round. It has four private dining rooms named after wine regions that all open up to the main restaurant via windows or cleverly designed see-through dividers. The restaurant itself is large with a lot of mahogany accents, yet the ambience conveys lightness and warmth. The bar area is particularly appealing. All entrees on the menu are less than 500 calories. A bargain at Happy Hour is a flatbread with a flight of three wines plus one glass of choice for under $20. And, at $2.50 each, the “mini-indulgence” desserts won’t break the bank or your diet either! This casually sophisticated fresh grille and wine bar is suitable for any occasion.
www.seasons52.com

CAPITAL GRILLE

Grills tend to be upscale and pricey. The Capital Grille next door to Seasons52 in Rookwood is no exception serving entrees such as a succulent Dry Aged Steak au Poivre with Courvoisier Cream and Broiled Fresh Lobster. It also has one of the most convivial bars in Cincinnati. You can choose items here from the main menu or simply savor tasty and exceptionally good value appetizers like the Pan-Fried Calamari with Hot Cherry Peppers and Lobster and Crab Cakes. The bar’s central location next to the enclosed veranda is ideal; in warmer months you can sip a cocktail while enjoying a gentle breeze wafting through its large open windows.
www.thecapitalgrille.com

THE CELESTIAL STEAKHOUSE

When its time for champagne and roses, The Celestial Steakhouse, atop Mount Adams, with its gorgeous view overlooking downtown is a safe bet. If owner Chanaka Delanerolle answers the phone, try cajoling him into a table for two by the window. When you’ve stopped ogling the magnificent central chandelier, so large it hangs between two stories, toast your loved one from a selection of over 600 wines. You can’t go wrong with the succulent steaks, but there are plenty of other tempting choices too. For Valentine’s Day and other occasions wine pairings and special features are included in the menu.
www.thecelestial.com

ORCHIDS AT PALM COURT

Putting on the Ritz is always fun and Orchids at Palm Court in the Hilton Netherland Plaza is the place to do it. The Art Deco décor and surrounding sense of grandeur enhances a reason to celebrate—not to mention Chef Todd Kelly’s superb cuisine. Kelly was named the American Culinary Federation’s 2011-2012 USA Chef of the Year. A perfect gift for your favorite gourmet is his cookbook, Todd Kelly’s Orchids at Palm Court.
www.orchidsatpalmcourt.com

MERITAGE RESTAURANT

Where the Gaslight Café once was in Glendale, is now the upscale yet casual Meritage Restaurant. Thirty-year-old chef/owner Kristie Fowee makes all her culinary creations in-house. Aside from steak, seafood or specialty sandwiches, expect to find many surprises on the menu such as sweet Tristan lobster tails from South Africa. Modern changes to both the interior and exterior of the old building give it a new vitality while upholding its historic integrity. Fowee earned a culinary degree from the California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, but her heart is now in Cincinnati. “This restaurant has always been my dream,” she says.
www.meritagecincy.com

GREEN DOG CAFÉ AND BUZ

Diners who seek organic, gluten free and generally all-round healthy eating at reasonable prices flock to the Green Dog Café, where even the recycled furniture speaks to its sustainable philosophy. Its partial counter service is more popular during the day, so that’s where Buz, adjoining The Green Dog, comes in, with its smaller, more upscale menu. While it’s hard to beat The Green Dog’s prices, the Buz’s exposed brick walls, full table service and late night bar serving tapas-style food adds a little more sophistication to this Columbia Parkway locale. Mary Swortwood is owner/chef of both restaurants and so far the buzz on the Buz is good.
www.greendogcafe.net

ALFIO’S BUON CIBO

Alfio’s Buon Cibo is new to Hyde Park. “Buon Cibo” means “good food” in Italian, although the restaurant also serves Argentine dishes, a tribute to the Argentine/Italian heritage of co-owner/chef Alfio Gulisano, formerly at Bella Luna and View. The additional palate perk of food and wine from two countries is fun – try the savory stuffed empanadas followed by braised veal short ribs ravioli. The dining room has a private feel, with plain wooden tables upfront near the convivial bar.
www.alfios-cincy.com

KEEGAN’S SPECIALTY SEAFOOD MARKET

Wanna lobsta roll? Keegan’s is the place to go. This specialty seafood market has two locations, one in Anderson and one in Hyde Park Square. Hyde Park is the newer of the two. It’s a cheery place with several butcher block tables in front and display cases of fresh fish and some gourmet items in back. Fancy a fish but don’t feel like cooking it yourself? Just bring it next door to Alfio’s Buon Cibo and they’ll cook it for you along with a vegetable, starch and a sauce for $20. At the Anderson location on Salem Road, “Thirsty Thursday” is every Thursday from 5.30 – 8.30 pm, where you can taste four wines for $12. They also feature special wine dinners here. Call 513.232.5959 for details. Both locations are open for lunch from 11:00 am to 3:00 pm.
www.keeganseafood.com

AWAKENINGS

Awakenings in Hyde Park Square has always been a bean scene for the WIFI set, but did you know that in addition to over 50 coffees, you can choose from 450 wines to enjoy there or take home? You can even buy a case. Most bottles are priced in the $10-$40 range, and they’re not the typical selection you’ll find at the grocery store. Owner Pierre Wevers says, “Our philosophy is that great wine doesn’t need to have a great big price tag. So we sell every wine at state minimum prices. We just can’t sell them any cheaper.”
awakenings@cinci.rr.com

BREWRIVER GASTROPUB

There’s lots of good cheer to be had in Cincinnati. Take the Brewriver Gastropub. Since it took over Maribelle Tavern’s former location on Riverside Drive, patrons have been lining up to get a seat in this small historic building. With about two dozen hand-crafted beers on tap (including house drafts), a small but interesting wine list, and plenty of comfort food, it’s a good choice for a convivial evening.
www.brewrivergastropub.com

HOLY GRAIL TAVERN & GRILLE

The Holy Grail Tavern & Grille is a new 6,000-square-foot venue directly across from The Reds Hall of Fame. Your favorite sport is sure to be playing on one of thirty 50-inch HDTV monitors. Tavern food is under $10 including their signature Reuben Wontons and award-winning wings, which go well with a Blueberry Grail Ale!
www.holygrailbanks.com

JAPPS

Uber bartender Molly Wellman, with co-owners from Neon’s Unplugged, recently opened Japp’s bar on Main Street in Over-the-Rhine. The site was formerly a bar of the same name, and before that a wig store owned by the Japp family dating back to 1879. Japp’s offers craft cocktails with homemade ingredients, bottled craft beers, a select wine list, coffee and no TV!
www.japps1879.com

JEFFERSON SOCIAL

The Banks development is alive with the sound of cutlery, attracting such quality restaurant groups as Crave and Ruth’s Chris Steak House. With just one commercial space left in its first stage, the latest restaurant opening soon is Jefferson Social. This 4,040 square foot venue is deemed “a neighborhood bar and restaurant serving Mexican street food.” There’ll be dancing, some communal tables and a bar featuring more than 25 bourbons and 16 taps rotating domestic and craft beers. Website to come.

BOBBY’S BURGER PALACE

At the recent opening of the $400 million Horseshoe Casino downtown, a loud voice could be heard in the kitchen of Bobby’s Burger Palace saying over and over, “Melt the cheese!”  That was celebrity chef Bobby Flay himself. And his secret to a good burger? Flay favors American cheese, but it has to be completely melted.  “I’m obsessed about that,” he says.
www.bobbysburgerpalace.com

UPDATES:

LA POSTE EATERY is now HARVEST BISTRO & WINE BAR – (New Owner/Chef)

ASH is closed and replaced by CAFE MEDITERRANEAN – Turkish

M WOOD FIRED OVEN is closed and replaced by FORNO OSTERIA & BAR – Italian

ENOTECA EMILIA is replaced by EIGHTH & ENGLISH.

THE HORSESHOE CASINO is now rebranded as JACK Cincinnati Casino. Bobby’s Burger Palace is still there.