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Archive for the ‘FoodScenes’ Category

nada

this was almost a post about terry’s turf club, but we had been advised to get there around 5:30 if we wanted a seat and we did not heed that advice. so when we showed up, friends in tow, at 7:30 the place was PACKED and the wait was long and we thought perhaps it would be best to go elsewhere. and that elsewhere was nada.

now, nada is not the kind of place we intended to head on this particular saturday evening. we were seeking a casual joint for a quickish, comfortable bite to eat; nada is a little pricier, a little more sit-down-y, a bit more scene-y than we were geared up for. but we shifted gears, headed downtown, and made a mexican night of it.

it took a while to get a table, but the people-watching and margaritas eased the pain. it really is a scene — even the best-dressed real man in america showed up. so did a quintent of blondes, loudly celebrating their bff’s last night as a single woman. and i’m thinkin’ a few things didn’t show up: the rest of the poor black skirt that otherwise ended at a nice young woman’s crotch; the back of a dress that dipped low enough to reveal a colorful thong. no wonder i was worried about overdressing.

fortified with tequila and a few good shots of snark, we sat down to a fun meal of really good food . apps included the sopes and queso fundido, which we inhaled and would certainly return for. entrees included tinga poblana cazuela (a tasty spiced shredded chicken stew served in an iron pot) and the mahi-mahi soft tacos. (i liked that the fish was oh-so-fresh. i did not like the absence of mango, which for better or worse, i really gotta have in my fish tacos.)

the scene at nada may not have been our scene (or more accurately, was a bit more scene than we were ready for), but at least now we know how to dress to fit in next time.  and the food is the real deal — good stuff, well-prepared, and most definitely not your average tex-mex take on south-of-the-border cuisine.

but we still gotta get to terry’s. i’ve a feeling we’ve already got the right attire.

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kona leaves oakley

good-bye to all that: kona leaves oakley

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…nor is it a post about the pike, although a week ago we had high hopes of posting about both, when we had an evening planned that began in the vineyard cafe at ended with drinks & dancing at the pike. but factor in the loss of an infant-prepared babysitter and our desire not to take our now-tagging-along infant to a loud dance bar (yeah, well, maybe next month), we ended up staying closer to home.

we started the evening at a small cocktail party in the vineyard cafe’s wine room. the wine was good — something red, i think perhaps a syrah — and the eats were finger-lickin’ good finger food (quesadillas, artichoke dip, cheese & crackers), everything made nicer by being sponsored by our hosts. the space is a decent size for a wine bar — small enough to be intimate without feeling claustrophobic — and is accented on the west wall with three large, bright paintings. you know the sort: the kind you look at and think “hell, i could paint that,” while the truth (which you’ll eventually admit to yourself) is that if you tried to spatter and smear oils on a canvas it would come out looking closer to a kid’s art project than an expensive piece of art. the back of the room is decorated with low-lying stuffed chairs, a primitive-looking wine rack, and a microphone and stool clearly set up for musicians. i didn’t even know a wine bar was within walking distance rookwood: chalk one up for hyde park’s hidden treasures.

another of which is arthur’s. locals are right to extol the virtues of an arthur’s burger, which comes dripping with lots of flavor and a manageable amount of grease. the fries are hot and fresh, and while the draft beer choices are minimal they are at least diverse: saturday night we could choose from, among others, bass ale, guieness, stone ipa, and some weird blueberry beer.   most important to us tonight was not being shunned or mocked for dragging an infant around. and ours was not the only baby in the joint — a testament to the early hour, no doubt, but also perhaps to the general friendliness arthur’s brings out in folks.

so while missing a nice sushi dinner might have tonight’s lowlight, the highlight was parking once and walking to a nice wine party and then a down-home beer & burger joint. not bad for a short night out.

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tazza mia

next time you find yourself downtown hoping for a quick and simple bite to eat and something warm to drink, consider heading to tazza mia at 441 vine street. while it is still true that, for me, nothing compares to some quality time at the coffee emporium, i’ll wager that tazza mia might give them a run for their money, if only for its central location (adjacent to the carew tower, right near fountain square) and for its more regular weekend hours (they’re open saturdays til 10 pm, and sundays 9-2).

this particular saturday afternoon past, as i walked the streets of downtown chatting and decompressing with a friend who suggested we stop somewhere for a cup of tea, i was delighted to find a local competitor to starbucks that was closer to my central downtown location than central parkway. and while tazza mia does not look particularly inviting from the street — the interior seems bright and spare rather than cozy and welcoming — it would be a mistake to pass it by. the upstairs seating area, while small, is quite comfortable, suffused with a golden light and a gentle hum of busy-ness from the first floor.

the tea was hot (something that should be a given, but isn’t) without removing my tongue’s taste buds. the “serene green” tea had a wonderful hint of fruitiness that added a little something extra to the fresh wholesomeness most green teas evoke, and the ginger tea smelled so good i wanted to sit and steep in it myself. and while i didn’t sample their food or taste their home-roasted coffee, i’ll be back for both. it would make for a picture-perfect ending to an afternoon of shopping in carew tower, or skating in fountain park. or, as was my case, just wandering around, downtown, just because.

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recently we secured a babysitter and made our way out for an evening of holiday merry-making. our plan? grab a dinner out and head to a holiday party. once we recovered from the vertigo of not having children in our arms (or on our hips or heads or knees), we headed on a lark and several word-of-mouth recommendations over to tinks in clifton.tinks-interior

we walked in without reservations, and were welcomed to sit at the bar…tinks-wine

…and suddenly we didn’t care if we ever even made it to the holiday party.

maybe my impression was affected by the pleasure of dressing up just a little, or the holiday season, or an awareness of the rarity of such evenings out recently, or a combination of all of these, but all those together don’t dim the fact that tinks has a great atmosphere, with great food, and (in our case at least) great service.

the menu is inflected with  southern flavors, but by no means limited to them. we had the shrimp & grits and focaccia & olives to start. i think the focaccia & olives were good (i know they were), but i was busy gushing over the best shrimp & grits in town. hands down. how good? we almost ordered the entree portion after slurping down the appetizer, but then we would’ve wanted shrimp & grits for dessert, and breakfast, and — it wouldn’t have been pretty, so we had to break the chain early and diversify.tinks-sg

over our delicious entrees (kobe burger and gumbo) we chatted with our server and he introduced us to the chef and we praised his shrimp & grits and the rest of the food on the menu and the atmosphere and promised to come back and we meant it.

after dinner we wandered next door to paolo, a small jewelry and design shop. we were pleased to find another locally-owned shop producing beautiful, unique goods, and we’re intrigued by the growing trend for adjacent businesses to open their shared doors to each other (walk back and forth between lavomatic and metronation next time you’re in the gateway quarter). fun, too, to eyeball the servers’ jewelry (they often model paolo’s newer designs) and then dash through the door to see if you can find something that looks that good on you. (odds are you can.) priced somewhere between tiffany’s and your local art fair, paolo’s jewelry is now our go-to jewelry shop when we need a little extra special something. especially since we can get our shrimp & grits fix at the same time.

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it’s cold outside, and most of us probably prefer whiling away our evening hours in front of fires sipping wintry-warm bourbon or cognac to sitting on our porches eating ice cream. but jeni’s ice-cream — the divine, i-can-not-praise-it-enough jeni’s ice cream — brings you the best of both worlds.

local to columbus, jeni’s ice creams and sorbets are made in small batches and, often, from local ingredients. their black coffee ice cream is made from actual coffee from stauf’s, a columbus roaster.  their butterscotch black brownie uses sugardaddy’s brownies, which beat bobby flay in food network throw-down. even their bourbon egg nog ice cream is made with midwestern saboyan, which, whatever it is, at least sounds local. ish.

but take note: this is not ice cream to waste on your children, no matter how much you love them or how precocious they are. nor is this ice cream for the unadventurous. this is ice cream for those who love dense, rich, subtle flavors. who are not afraid to jump, spoon in hand, into the unknown. so…if you are maybe the ben-and-jerry’s type although you prefer to buy closer to home,  then jeni might just be your new best friend.

the list of flavors should start your salivary glands. i can personally — and giddily — vouch for the salty caramel, the queen city cayenne (like skyline for ice cream, except with chocolate where once there were beans and noodles), the thai chili, the black coffee, the goat cheese with cognac fig sauce, the blood orange, the buttercream chocolate freckles (like homemade frosting ,only better!), the torrone, and the riesling poached pear sorbet. and that’s just from one trip, where i was allowed, by staff and customers alike, to stand in front of the cold case tasting sample after sample after sample. i have been craving something exactly like the queen city cayenne since moving to cincy, and was delighted to finally find it. and the riesling poached pear sorbet? pears are getting in line to be poached, pureed, and chilled. this is seriously fun goodness.

besides being local and delish, jeni’s has two things going for it that make it truly special in our house: they ship! and they sponsor a cyclocross team.

i know it’s heresy to live here and not love graeter’s or aglamessi’s. but i don’t. don’t get me wrong — i’m very happy to have flagship locations within walking distance from my front door — but these are not ice creams that send me. but jeni’s ice cream? i’m over the moon in love.

[and while i’m at it: whole foods? shame on you. when a customer asks you if you will consider stocking something that is a high quality item, bound to sell, and locally made — oh, you know, when a customer asks you to abide by your own values you should do better than to say “we don’t take customer requests.” even if you don’t take customer requests, can’t you do better than being so blatantly rude? (and why, exactly, would you not want to listen to your customers’ requests? who is it, again, keeping the stores in business?) really. for shame.]

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it is hard to pass up shrimp and grits, and so it was hard for me to continue passing by hugo without stopping in. we tried to drop in one evening but it was during the summer, we felt a little sweatily under-dressed, and we had a fussy toddler in tow. so we made a date, dolled up, and went back for some quality grown-up time.

and we had it, and i’m grateful. hugo has a warm space, decorated in the earthtones of the moment (pumpkins, mustards, greens…all colors with good foodie feelings). the tables are close enough to help you feel like you’re in a busy, desirable restaurant — and who doesn’t want to be? — but far enough away that privacy is possible. the waitstaff is helpful but not obtrusive. our server was sweet, if unseasoned — when describing the “new mushroom he’d never heard of” he referred to his notes, only to slowly sound out “chan-ter-elle.” the sommelier wears a nice suit. it’s a lovely and charming place, and i enjoyed my dinner there.

i really liked the corn fritters and the carolina peach salad, two of our early choices in this share-everything-on-the-table dinner date.  and the pork belly was prepared to near perfection: as an appetizer, its richness was manageable and its flavor delightful. it would have been overwhelming as an entree, which the chef seemed to know and appreciate. in preparation it vied with the fabulous pork belly at slim’s, no mean feat.

still, i would hazard a guess that there is a fair bit of cleverness but not a lot of refined tasting going on in the kitchen. i hate being one to criticize (okay, okay, who am i kidding?) especially about things i understand less-than-well (like professional cooking), but i know what i like and what tastes good and i can generally identify what makes a dish work or not. and while there is plenty that *does* work about hugo’s dishes — including individual ingredients — tasting is one place where someone in their chef whites has missed the mark. it’s not even that the flavors don’t work together, since they often do. it’s just that the balance seems off. whether there isn’t enough sauce in one dish to make a discernible difference or not enough differing textures in another dish, some of hugo’s dishes give off the defeated promise of the almost-ran.

sadly, this is most evident in the shrimp and grits.  they were perfectly fine, but this was not not the to-die-for dish i fantasized about. my friend from the south would not dream of serving grits without cheese. my friend from the east coast would not dream of serving cheese with seafood. so where does that leave this dish? in hugo’s hands, it leaves the cheese — very good white cheddar, i should add — cooling and congealing on the side of the grits, near the shrimp, but not really improving the taste or texture of either one. i think a less fancy cheese, more smartly placed, would have given the dish the home-cookin’ pizazz it so richly deserves.

so i’m not all that keen to go back, at least not to the dining room. although the DR serves a a tasting menu (paired or not, your choice, with wine), i have determined instead to return only to the lounge, where the prices and the plate size seem to be a better gamble. and where, not having dropped two c-notes on a dinner, i won’t need to worry that my server in this upscale restaurant does not even know what a chanterelle is.

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