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Posts Tagged ‘oakley’

and his name is sam hill.

i am a difficult woman to please. i have lived in this fair city for almost 20 months, and while this blog makes it look like i’ve spent most of that time eating out, i have actually spent most of that time scouring the city for a new hairdresser, taking friends’ recommendations and trekking as far out to kenwood to find that special someone. c’mon, girls — i know you know what i’m talkin’ about: not just someone who gives a good cut but someone you connect with. someone you want to sit down and talk to, someone who makes you feel your best when you’re in the chair and look your best when you stand up and get out of it. 

sam is that person.

i learned about sam in cincinnati magazine’s 2008 “best of” issue, where he is voted best of … for being “super nice.” you’d think i’d be drawn to kristen kuelber (at christopher george salon), who won kudos cutting short hair — but she’s out in milford, and i was looking for someone closer to home.

to say that sam wins for being “super nice” is some kind of polite understatement. he is nice, that’s true. but he’s so much more. he has a truly winning personality. he is warm and funny, genuine and edgy, hip and yet caring. the kind of guy you invite to dinner parties to help ensure that conversation is interesting and invigorating. the kind of you guy would be thrilled to take home to introduce to mom (although sam’s wife and child would not be too happy with you).

i called sam to make an appointment back in december when i decided that i just had to get myself a decent cut before the holidays. his win in the mag had brought on a rush of popularity that meant he was booked until now, but he gave me a very good recommendation to tide me over in the interim. and that cut — from rae at tanya’s wellness salon in hyde park — was quite good. but back in december i had made last thursday’s appt with sam and even though i was no longer desperate for a new ‘do, i intended to keep it.

i’m so glad i did. when i sat down, we talked about what i did (and didn’t) like about my past and current cuts, what i’m willing to do (and not do) with my hair, what my hair (by virtue of its length, texture, and general orneriness) seems inclined to do, and what i want on the top of my head. all i really wanted, i told him, was a hip cut that is easy to style and maintain but that is also, well, a little girly. i need some femininity goin’ on up there. he listened, tousling my hair as we talked about pros and cons of various choices. he moved things around, showed me options, and then gave me the hands down best haircut i’ve had since moving to cincinnati. 

no lie. hands down. and this from a girl who is hard to please.

so aside from the perfection that is an hour spent with sam hill (i could wax rhapsodic about the mirrors in his salon and the perfection with which they are strategically placed; about the great music that was playing; about everything, perhaps, except for what i think might have been a dead goldfish in a bowl in a room i only saw from a distance), my favorite thing might be that he’s in my ‘hood. right now he’s in temporary digs in hyde park above arthur’s (have a burger, get your hair cut, your day is complete), but he’s moving soon to a new location in oakley, right on madison road. look for him there this spring in the space that used to house de la art. even if oakley is not in your neck of the words, it’ll be worth the trip. i promise. just leave an appointment open for me.

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kona leaves oakley

good-bye to all that: kona leaves oakley

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ah, the pleasaures of joseph beth booksellers: quiet music piped in to soothe as you browse a wide selection of books, magazines, gift items, music and movies, soft light perfectly reflecting off the blond wood shelves, fresh coffee, a pastry, or even a full meal available at the adjoining brontë bistro. Such a calm, adult refuge from the cold and noise outside.

but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. if you walk in the front door, take a right and keep on walking, you’ll hit joseph beth kids, one part playroom, one part library reading hour, and two parts diabolical retail masterpiece.

they’ve got a whole set of thomas the tank engine tracks and trains for kids to play with; each item also availbable for sale. they’ve got a melissa & doug kitchen console (the particular favorite of a certain member of this family) for pretend baking, or egg-frying, or pizza-making; yours for $199, not counting accessories. and they’ve got thrice-weekly story hours for kids, featuring (natch) readily available books from their shelves.

don’t get me wrong: i love the place: it’s a five-minute walk from home, and actually closer than our public library; it’s a chance to get your kid around other kids on those stir-crazy at-home days, and it somehow manages to be both kid-friendly and still have the same calming atmosphere that’s so inviting throughout the rest of the store. but it took a few visits before i recognized that i was regularly getting played by a two-year-old who would go in, amuse herself for thirty (precious peaceful blissful calm lovely and did i say peaceful?) minutes, then walk up and say, “daddy i want,” holding out train/ball/book/stuffed animal/you name it. and i’d be so grateful for those thirty (precious peaceful blissful calm lovely and did i say peaceful?) minutes that, before i knew what was happening, my wallet would open itself. nowadays, more often than not i say “maybe next time,” or just “no” and — in the face of protestations and crumpling faces and tears and collapses on the floor — tell myself it’s practice for later on when she and her brother are asking for more substantial purchases.

so go, and play, and enjoy … but be forewarned. you will be tested.

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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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neighborhood pride?

we recently added cincyblurg to our blogroll — she has recently resurrected her blog –er, blurg — after a hiatus. i never saw the first incarnation, but am enjoying the irreverent yeah-i-like-cincinnati-but-hey-it’s-a-little-crazy-just-like-all-cities tone. that’s right, folks — cincinnati’s problems are nothing unusual for a mid-size metro area, they don’t mean the city’s going to hell in a handbasket, and commenting on them does not make you a hater.

anyway, saw this link over on her blurg, and am thinking about getting one that’s probably a size too small, you know, the slim fit t-shirt look that all those skinny hip twenty-somethings wear. except, of course, that i’m no skinny hip twenty-something, so i’ll just look like i’m trying too hard to recapture some lost (and perhaps never-even-lived) version of my dissolute youth. and my belly will peek out between the tee and my jeans.

probably better if i get the right size, huh? but which one? i really like this one, for it’s implicit salute to the never-ending sy leis era. i could alternate it with this one’s irreverent take on our municipal icon. you can never go wrong with a reds-themed t-shirt, and there are several to choose from, including a nice chris sabo reference. the roebling bridge negative image is classy, too, if you’re looking for a classy one.

i think i need to go with the one that points out that oakley is not hyde park — mostly because it got me. i read it the first, second, and third times as a badge of honor — “heck yeah, i’m from oakley, and that’s cool!” and it was only on the fourth read that i got the joke: it chides folks who like to pretend they live in hyde park, even if they’re on the other side of madison rd. you know, like the occasional oakley home-sellers who list their houses well over the going neighborhood rate and describe them as being in hyde park.

oakley.jpg

so i’ll wear the shirt the way i mean it: i like oakley, and i like living there, and i don’t have any interest in “confusing” it with its tonier neighbor. and if some people see it as a message directed at their own misguided aspirations, all the better.

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i have to admit to being baffled by ‘nati natives who ask new folks, first off, where they went to high school. i mean, really, WHO CARES? but this obviously displays my west-of-the-rockies mentality. here in cincy everybody cares where you went to high school, precisely because, unlike in so many other places, where you went to high school reveals quite a bit about you. i’m only starting to get a grip on which school means what, and which school is affiliated with which part of town, and when those affiliations break down and why, but i figure when i *do* understand it all i’ll be as close to a native as i’ll ever possibly be.

but last night i enjoyed the fruits of this strange tradition: dinner with new friends. well, new to me (if not to s, who, you guessed it, went to high school right here with two of the guys). so our mutual friends j & a hooked all of us up, and eight adults plus one still-nursing infant headed out for a big social night in oakley.

one of the perks of the evening was being able to walk. we walked to j & a’s house before dinner, and then walked home from the restaurant afterward. it was briskly cold and, for our walk home, snow was gently falling. it felt good — a little romantic, a little community-minded, a little wintry — to be able to walk to good spots in the ‘hood, and reminded us (yet again) why we chose our neighborhood. let’s call “walking to most good things that we could need and want” reason number #7 that we love cincy.

another perk of the evening was finding out that dinner at kona bistro kicks butt all over lunch. that’s not to say the lunch fare isn’t good — among other things, we’ve sampled the butternut squash and pear soup, the woked salad, and the kids’ quesadilla — all of which were very pleasant if not super-memorable, but none of which made me feel like i just had to return to kona for another meal. (i’m told that my mistake was not ordering the bbt: the bacon, basil & tomato sandwich which is apparently addictive.) but dinner? dinner was yummy.

i scarfed down a generous portion of spicy jambalaya with tender chicken and soft, buttery shrimp. it could have done with less spice — the heat overwhelmed the other flavors — but since so many places are afraid to spice their meals up i was pleasantly surprised by the dish’s assertive heat. s didn’t even offer me a bite of his espresso-rubbed pork loin in a porter sauce, which was obviously so good it drove him to distraction. a enjoyed her parmesan-crusted salmon which came with a tarragon-tomato sauce on the side, where we believe all sauces should be served. b ate the pasta with chicken & pancetta in a rosemary-smoked cheddar sauce, which looked sooo good that i had to remind myself that i don’t know him well enough to eat off of his plate. we topped it all off with a couple bottles of zin and called it a scrumptious meal.

kona is a friendly place to boot. nobody minded that a baby tagged along at dinner time (in fact, one of the waitresses entertained her by making faces from across the room), the staff easily accommodated a party of 8+1 that showed up half an hour early for its reservation, and they were brave enough not to add a gratuity to our bill but instead to trust us to do the math. nobody minded that we sat around and chatted and were more interested in socializing than in ordering desserts. it felt comfortable, and welcoming, and fun. big bonus points, all, for a great neighborhood joint.

if you’re ever tempted to dine at a chain in rookwood, drive the extra half-mile east on madison and sample kona instead. especially at dinner time. and take your friends from high school.

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scene at the corner of drake and wasson on monday november 19:

drake-wassson.jpg

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