Saturday, August 16, 2014

Restaurant review: Presidents Room @ the Phoenix (Restaurant Week)

We took the opportunity of Cincinnati Restaurant Week -- which runs through 8/18 -- to try the newly reopened restaurant at the Phoenix, downtown. The chef who opened Enoteca Emilia a few years ago is now chef at the Phoenix, and you can see some of the same menu items that he cooked at Enoteca.
But I think the cured meat and cheese plate, pickled dishes and such unusual pasta dishes as Spaghetti Nero actually worked better at the casual, boisterous Enoteca than at the staid -- and rather stuffy -- old Phoenix.
For Restaurant Week, as at all the other higher-end participating establishments, you choose three courses for $35 from a significantly limited menu. First course choices were a couple of salads or what they called clam chowder, which my husband and I both ordered. It was a tasty enough soup but the greenish puree included just a few tiny pieces of clam and was lukewarm. It was only OK.
Same had to be said for the entree choices -- quail, the spaghetti Nero, a vegetarian dish with polenta and a fried egg, and a pork dish. I tried the polenta and it too arrived lukewarm; the fried egg didn't add anything special to the flavor profile and all in all was rather bland.
My husband had the spaghetti, which was spicy thanks to chorizo breadcrumbs tossed throughout, but I'm afraid it was otherwise unremarkable.
Popcorn Polenta (but nothing popped--?) @ Phoenix

Another thing we didn't care for was the "fried biscuits" that they served instead of rolls or regular dinner bread. They were greasy and unappealing.
Dessert was somewhat better -- I enjoyed the sweet corn panna cotta but didn't like the (again greasy) little crullers that came with it. He had their version of German chocolate cake with a small scoop of vanilla bean gelato. The cake was cloyingly sweet and the gelato ho-hum.
Phoenix desserts: German Cake (l) and Panna Cotta

The evening started with a very good Sazarac cocktail, and (I remember this from the old Phoenix) the wine by the glass choices were nice. That's a reliable thing carrying over from the restaurant's glory days: excellent libations.
I hope this experience was just a Restaurant Week (RW) miscue, but alas, it didn't make me want to rush back.
I think many restaurants screw up RW by trying to serve the least expensive things they have in the kitchen so they can make money on the $35-for-three-courses deal. But in my opinion RW should be seized as an opportunity to gain new customers. Serve your very best stuff and make everyone want to bring their friends and family again. We've see other local restaurants do that -- for instance, La Poste and Metropole last year. It seemed to us that the new Presidents Room was filled with people who hadn't been there before, all ordering from the limited menu (even though the regular menu was available), and I can't imagine that too many fellow patrons made return reservations on their way out.
It was disappointing, but so it goes.

Monday, August 11, 2014

New in Oakley: Stone Bowl (Sushi and Korean)

We had a terrific meal last weekend at Stone Bowl, which has been open for about three months on Madison Road in Oakley, near Oakley Nails and in a building that was a chop house. It still has the chop house decor -- an old Tudor style building, it has no Asian touches whatsoever. And it's set back from Madison Road enough that it can be easy to miss.
But don't miss it! This family-run restaurant -- the owners live upstairs with their two young sons -- is the real thing.
Now, I have to admit that I didn't know much about "the real thing" when it comes to sushi OR Korean dishes, so we brought along my sushi-savvy friend Beth and another couple who have some affinity for Korean cooking.
Beth in particular was a huge help. When we looked at the long list of sushi offerings, scratching our heads a bit, Beth took charge and selected a range of delicious options. In fact, we heard from a staffer that when the order came in to sushi master/chef/owner Young Park, he remarked something to the effect that someone out there knows a thing or two about sushi.
Our first sushi boat was so excellent that we ordered another selection.
Artistic, yummy sushi: Stone Bowl

The evening turned into a feast!
After all that marvelous sushi, we couldn't manage five entrees, so we split two: Stone Bowl Bibim-Bap, the crown jewel of Korean dishes (we had ours with chicken, but you can add beef, pork, seafood or tofu) and a seafood version called Hwe-Dup-Bop (with, to quote from the menu, 2pcs of fresh tuna, salmon, white tuna, shrimp, white fish, avocado, lettuce, cucumber, sesame seeds and seaweed salad on a bed of sushi rice.
The Bibim-Bap was sizzling hot, with crunchy rice on the bottom, while the seafood dish--using sushi seafood--was almost like a salad. We also got an order of tempura shrimp and veggies, listed as an appetizer. Those two entrees and the crispy tempura made for a more than sufficient meal for our table.
Bibim-Bap (before mixing)

Raw fish Bibim-Bap (also before mixing)
Owner Misook Gwan (Young Park's wife) insisted we try a couple of other dishes, and sent the table an incredible vegetable and seafood pancake. Even though we were completely sated, we managed to polish it off, as it was one of our favorite dishes. She also gave us an order of a dessert called Mochi Ice Cream (little balls of ice cream"embedded inside a thin rice cake"). We chose the green tea flavor; others included mango and strawberry.
Mochi Ice Cream

Full disclosure: Misook was a graduate student who worked closely with my husband before he retired. We didn't announce our arrival in advance but she was beside herself with happiness to see Professor Bishop at her table.
This restaurant definitely qualifies as a winner for its health profile! They use no MSG, their sushi has a higher than usual ratio of good stuff (fish and veggies) to rice, they pride themselves on the freshness of all ingredients -- particularly the abundant vegetable portions and the wonderful fish -- and their care shows.
Here's a link to the main menu:
Stone Bowl serves lunch Monday - Friday and dinner nightly. On Friday and Saturday nights they stay open until 3 AM, and apparently get a good crowd of restaurant workers and partyers who are ready for some lip-smacking sushi.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Cape Breton, Nova Scotia

Cape Breton National Park is at the top of Nova Scotia -- wild and remote, surrounded by the Atlantic and a mecca for outdoor enthusiasts. Its famed Cabot Trail draws thousands of cyclists every summer/fall who are up for the challenge of its mountainous terrain.
Good for hikers and runners, too.
For foodies, it's not that fantastic but there is one pretty good option, the Purple Thistle at the Keltic Lodge in Ingonish Beach, just inside the national park -- way, way north of Halifax.
Here are a few photos of the Lodge, its beautiful grounds, and some of the food we had at the Thistle.
Keltic Lodge, Ingonish, NS
On the grounds, Keltic Lodge
Purple Thistle, Beef Carpaccio

Breakfast, in Halifax actually

Expensive but mmmmm...lobstah!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Sweet corn: use some in this salad

Corn, tomatoes, radishes -- all are fresh and at peak season at your local farm markets.
Add some creamy avocado and for protein, shrimp.

Delicious, cool (no oven or heavy stove use) and easy.

RECIPE: Shrimp and Avocado Chopped Salad
Serves 4

For the dressing:
2 T prepared Dijon mustard
3 T red wine vinegar
2 T chopped herbs (cilantro, thyme, or dill)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
For the salad:
1 pound peeled and deveined shrimp (cooked and cut into bite-size pieces)
1 bag pre-washed mixed salad greens, chopped
2-3 large radishes, chopped or thinly sliced
I cup cherry tomatoes, cut in half lengthwise
1 cup corn kernels
1 cup edamame, cooked
½ red bell pepper, diced
1 ripe avocado, diced
¼ cup chopped cilantro
Salt and pepper to taste

1.      Make the dressing (or use another vinaigrette of your own): in a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, vinegar and herbs. Add the vinegar while continuing to whisk, stir in the salt and pepper, and set aside.
2.      In a large bowl, mix together all the salad ingredients except salt and pepper (shrimp through cilantro). Add dressing and gently toss to coat. Adjust seasoning by adding more salt and/or pepper, if desired.
3.      Serve with tortilla chips (optional)

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Road Trip: Nova Scotia (Part 1--Halifax)

One of Canada's Maritime provinces, Nova Scotia was a new experience for me. My husband had been up that way before I knew him, years and years ago, but for me this was terra incognita.
My knowledge of Canada in general was woefully inadequate, so one of the best things about taking this trip for me was to learn something about our neighbor to the north.
N.S. markets itself as part of "Atlantic Canada" or the "Atlantic Lifestyle." Along with Prince Edward's Island and Newfoundland, N.S. has a thriving tourism industry in summer and early fall.
The weather was warmer than we had expected -- never wore the windbreaker I'd packed, and stayed in shorts more often than jeans -- but otherwise it was just about as I had expected and imagined it would be.
That goes for the food, as well.
Lobster is plentiful, if not especially inexpensive, and for the most part, seafood rules.
In fact, by the end of our 10-day visit, we started seeking out non-seafood menu items.
We started and ended our trip in the capital city of Halifax, population about 300,000. What my husband remembers as a sleepy coastal town in the 1970s seems to be in the midst of a building boom along the waterfront, although we heard from many locals that young people still tend to leave in droves. (That is even more true in the province's rural areas, of which there are many!)
Not surprisingly, Halifax has the best and most varied choices for foodies, although it also dishes out plenty of mediocre meals for tourists.
Seafood @ Salty's
 First night in, we hit one of those tourist spots, the long-established Salty's on the waterfront. The lower level, which includes a large patio, serves standard fare to families and young people on dates or in groups (mostly). We stopped there for a drink and appetizer before going upstairs to the more refined dining room, which was populated by our own demographic of old fogeys who want wine with dinner instead of tropical cocktails.
I had a decent linguine with lobster meat and sun-dried tomatoes, while hubby had a seafood sampler that he later named as one of his top seafood entrees of the trip.

We also tried and very much liked a trendy spot at the other end of the boardwalk called Bicycle Thief (named after the famed Italian film of the 1950s). We overindulged there at dinner one night, ending with a decadent and FABULOUS butterscotch cake that our waitress said was "life-changing" and drinking too much wine. On another day, I went for lunch on my own while George went on a sightseeing cruise, and had a much healthier and quite delicious meal: asparagus soup, barbecue chicken panini and spinach salad.
Lunch @ Bicycle Thief (Halifax)
 One disappointment was a place called Press Gang: it's in one of the oldest buildings in Nova Scotia and has an appealing ambiance. But the food was overpriced and mediocre. We wouldn't recommend that one; it seems to be living on tourism and some kind of past glory.
Press Gang: Ambiance Galore, but otherwise....

One day, we took a longish walk to have breakfast at Cora's, known for elaborate, fruit-based breakfast entrees. It was interesting, but actually a bit over the top and we didn't go back again. All in all, it's hard to find anything interesting at breakfast in downtown Halifax.
Breakfast @ Cora's

Our favorite restaurant turned out to be one called Two Doors Down, where we had a great lunch, then stopped that night for dessert, and back the next night for dinner. There was nary a false note in everything we ordered, from cocktails to wine to generally healthy and not expensive savory fare. We WOULD recommend that one, along with Bicycle Thief. Two Doors Down is the stepchild of the more high-end Chive's, which we just didn't get the chance to try.

Two Doors Down: Cod and Veggie Korma
NEXT: Dining around the province -- Good stuff up on Cape Breton!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Pleasant surprises and disappointments

We have had our share of both here in Nova Scotia.
I will be back on a regular schedule, posting from home, in a couple of days....with a wrap-up of this Nova Scotia road trip....and enjoying another month (or more) of delicious summer produce. Recipes to come!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

On the Bay of Fundy

We are in Annapolis Royal for two nights so my husband can do some genealogical research in nearby Digby.
This whole trip is about George getting in touch, spiritually speaking, with some of his ancestors who settled in this part of Canada back in the late 1700s.
Food has been adequate, nothing exciting, but the scenery and walking/hiking has been very good. I especially liked the western coast of the Cape Breton Island. Otherwise, Halifax is more appealing to me than these out of the way spots.