Monday, January 28, 2008

La Mexicana

La Mexicana
642 Monmouth St
Newport, KY
859-261-6112

There are plenty of restaurants in town that claim to serve genuine Mexican fare, but this little eatery on Monmouth Street in Newport is a magnet for the local Hispanic community - always a good indicator of authenticity.

La Mexicana doesn’t sport the usual trappings associated with chains - sombreros, piñatas, chili pepper-shaped dinnerware and extended happy hours with jumbo margaritas - and the menu offers only a handful of choices, but if you are hankering for delicious, authentic burritos and tacos in a rather spartan setting, this is the place to go.

I was a bit wary of giving this place a try, mainly for fear of lard lurking in the legumes, but when I asked, our friendly server assured me that their beans are 100% vegetarian. As with most Mexican restaurants, you get a basket of chips and salsa while perusing the menu. The difference is that La Mexicana's salsa is a fabulous homemade guacamole that is refreshingly light with just the right amount of heat. It is nothing like the thick pasty stuff you find at the grocery.

The menu lists the basics: tacos, burritos, tortas, gorditas, quesadillas and sopes, then you decide which filling you would like from a list of 20 items, which includes vegetarian beans, chile relleno (poblano pepper stuffed with cheese), flor de calabazas (seasoned pumpkin flowers), hongos (seasoned mushrooms), huitlacoche (seasoned corn flower), queso (chihuahua cheese) or queso con rajas (chihuahua cheese with jalapenos). Selections come standard with onion, cilantro, tomato, cheese and lettuce. Only the burritos cost more than a fiver; they come with the addition of beans and rice. It's great value for the budget conscious.

For non-vegetarians there are the usual suspects like chicken, steak and pork, plus some very interesting traditional choices like birria (seasoned goat), tripa (beef tripe), lengua (beef tongue) and sesos (beef brains). Be as adventurous as you like!

La Mexicana also offers larger meals like flag burritos (traditional burrito covered with green salsa, sour cream and red salsa ala the Mexican flag), enchiladas, tamales and mojarra (talapia)- all are dinner-sized and come with beans and rice. I was intrigued enough to order the vegetarian flag burrito, and it proved to be an excellent choice. It was delicious and massive - so much so that despite my best efforts, I could not finish it. The burrito filling had layers of delicately seasoned beans, cheese, cilantro, rice with a hint of lime and a cornucopia of veggies: corn, peas, carrots, and lima beans, topped with sauces bursting with flavor. It was incredibly fresh tasting and not at all what I was expecting. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

The restaurant serves a variety of soft drinks; choose from bottled Mexican Coca-Cola, Jarritos, Sidral Mundet (apple soft drink), Sangria Senorial (non-alcoholic sangria flavored soft drink), and Mansanita Sol (fruit punch). They also serve horchata (rice water), coffee and Mexican and American beers. If you venture to the back of the restaurant you'll discover a small bar with a television and posters of Hispanic futbol stars. It looks like a good place to watch the beautiful game. If you continue through the bar and around the corner you will stumble into the attached Mexican grocery - perfect for picking up authentic ingredients to help you replicate the dishes at home.

La Mexicana may have a Soviet-style utilitarian interior, and could really benefit from double-glazed windows to help keep out the cold, but what it lacks in décor it more than makes up for with delectable, no frills Mexican food.

Muy delicioso!
La Mexicana on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 25, 2008

Hong Kong Grand Buffet

Hong Kong Grand Buffet
1781 Monmouth St.
Newport
859-431-6666

Chinese buffets are a dime a dozen in Greater Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky. They all seem to have basically the same cookie-cutter décor, the same carry-out menu, and the same meat-centric buffet items to choose from. In that respect, Hong Kong Grand Buffet is no different.

Located in a Newport strip mall, the restaurant looks a bit bleak. If you happen by and peer in the window you might reckon, as we did, that the restaurant is carry-out only, even though the word "buffet" is in the restaurant’s name. There are a couple dozen fading photographs of classic Chinese dishes hanging on the wall next to the counter, a refrigerated cabinet of bottled sodas near the door, and no tables; only a few chairs lined up along the wall for carry-out customers to wait for their orders.

Hong Kong Grand Buffet

It wasn’t until my husband stopped in one day to place a carry-out order that he noticed the door leading to a large buffet room in the back. Seeing the cheerful room nearly packed out for lunch, he decided to give it a try and came home raving about how tasty it was. Trusting his judgment, I figured I’d give it a try as well, although a quick tour around the stations told me that I’d be ordering ala carte from the menu, since there was very little for a vegetarian on the buffet.

The buffet station

I ordered Bean Curd Szechuan Style from the "Vegetable" portion of their vast menu and it was superb; huge chunks of tofu and crisp-tender veggies stir-fried in a delicate brown sauce laced with chili pepper flakes. When I order this particular option from other local Chinese buffets the brown sauce is usually an overpoweringly salty, congealed hoisin sauce; and a few times I’ve encountered an oily, non-vegetarian version containing oyster sauce. In comparison, the sauce used at Hong Kong Grand Buffet is light and lets the natural taste of the crisp-tender vegetables shine through. My taste buds could hardly believe their good luck – it was really delicious, and the portion was so large that I couldn’t finish it. I was hooked.

Although it isn't listed on the menu, you can order a lunch-sized portion of Szechuan Bean Curd

The restaurant's menu boasts over 100 different ala carte dishes, eight of which are vegetarian. I haven’t worked my way through the list yet, mainly because the Szechuan bean curd rocks my world, but I do plan on trying the other offerings eventually. Nothing on the veggie section of the menu costs more than $5.75, which is seriously good bang for the buck, and non-vegetarians can enjoy a better-than-average buffet for a mere $5.50/lunch or $7.95/dinner.

One thing to be aware of is that being in Kentucky, the restaurant still sports a smoking section - and it's not too far from the buffet stations. The conscientious wait staff do try to seat smokers as far from the stations as possible, but sometimes it just isn't possible, especially during the noon lunch hour. To be fair, the restaurant seems to have a very good exhaust system in place because we haven't really noticed a second-hand smoke smell on the occasions we've dined there. In fact I'd have never known the section existed, save for the few times I've seen someone light up.

Hong Kong Grand Buffet may not win any awards for interior design, but the food is leagues above your typical Chinese buffet. It's affordable, tasty, and vegetarian-friendly, and ultimately that's what matters most.

Hong Kong on Urbanspoon

Monday, January 21, 2008

Sorrento's Pizzeria

Sorrento Pizzeria
5143 Montgomery Road
Norwood
513-531-5070
www.sorrentos.biz

Not to be confused with Sorrento’s Restaurant & Lounge on Reading Road, Sorrento’s Pizzeria is owned and operated by the de Luca family and has been a Norwood landmark for over half a century. The restaurant suffered a huge blow a few years ago when it was nearly destroyed by fire, followed by the deaths of patriarch Enrico and son Willie, but the family vowed to reopen, and did so in June of 2007.

The restaurant has won numerous awards for their pizzas, based no doubt on the superb, homemade crusts and distinctive pizza sauce that “Mama” de Luca makes from scratch daily. It is a recipe for success that has served the family-run restaurant well, and when friends invited us to Sorrento’s for a birthday get-together recently, we could hardly wait to try it out.

I’m sorry to say that I wish I hadn’t, and nearly didn’t write about my experience because I hate having to knock a locally owned and operated business. The family has put their heart and soul into the restaurant and are obviously doing something right or they wouldn’t have survived for over 50 years. I will say that non-vegetarians will have no problem whatsoever with Sorrento’s, and if I was a carnivore would probably agree with their fans (who include Pete Rose and former U.C. Bearcat coach Bob Huggins) that theirs is some of the best pizza in town.

The problem is, unfortunately, that the restaurant doesn’t seem to know how to handle those with dietary restrictions. In our group there was one vegetarian (me) and one lactose-intolerant individual, and unfortunately the kitchen just couldn’t deal properly with either of us. We were both very clear about our specific needs with the server, but somehow the information either didn’t get passed on to the kitchen, or the kitchen didn’t bother to actually read and heed the requests.

Most of our group ordered pizza, since that is what the restaurant is famous for, but I thought I’d give their manicotti a try. The meal comes with salad and garlic bread, and my first surprise of the evening was being served a salad laden with sliced pepperoni, which I had to send back. The server was very apologetic and swiftly brought out a new, meatless one.

Our lactose-intolerant friend specifically ordered a cheese-less pizza, which the server dutifully jotted down, but when the pizza came out it was covered with cheese and had to be sent back. Likewise, when I asked the server if the marinara sauce used in the spaghetti, manicotti and ravioli was vegetarian or meat-based she assured me that the sauce was vegetarian. So imagine my surprise when, after two-thirds of our group had gotten their meals, the server came over to me and said, “I’m afraid to bring out your manicotti because it’s ‘chunky’.” I said, “Is it chunky with tomatoes or chunky with meat?” and she said, “I think it’s chunky with meat. It looks like maybe a meatball or two got broken up into it.” At least she was honest about it, and suggested that perhaps I might like to order a pizza instead. I asked about the pizza sauce and was assured that there was no meat in it, but she couldn’t answer my question about whether or not the sauce had non-vegetarian stock in it, possibly because the recipe is a family secret.

I felt it was best to err on the side of caution and order a pizza without sauce. So while everyone else in our group enjoyed their food, my lactose-intolerant friend and I sat and waited for our cheese-less, sauce-less pizzas. When our orders finally arrived nearly half an hour later, his was cheese-less but mine had a thin layer of sauce on it. I felt like giving up.

I know I should have sent it back, but I didn’t want to wait any longer to eat. Everyone else in our group was finished with their meals by the time my pizza arrived, and I couldn't fathom waiting yet another 30 minutes, so I ate some of it. Not a lot – only a couple of pieces, but it was enough to cause me a great deal of grief when my churning gut woke me in the wee hours of the morning. I won’t go into detail – suffice to say it felt as though I had stinging nettles in my stomach, and someone was trying to wring them out like a sponge. Not fun. I was sick nearly all day, which leads me to believe that the sauce at Sorrento’s is NOT vegetarian and should be avoided.

As much as I’d like to be able to recommend something from Sorrento’s menu for vegetarians, I cannot in good faith do it after my experience. Simple requests were overlooked or went unheeded, the wait staff couldn’t answer simple questions about the sauce, and a lot of food was wasted as a result. It’s no wonder their prices are higher than similar Italian restaurants in the area; they need to mark up the difference for the kitchen’s various mistakes.
Sorrento's Pizza and on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 18, 2008

Tea Cozy Cottage Tea House

Tea Cozy Cottage
7664 Wooster Pike
Mariemont
513-532-8299
http://www.teacozycottage.com/

Traditional afternoon tea is quite common in Great Britain but not so much in Greater Cincinnati, yet it is thriving at this quaint little cottage tucked away behind the long-vacant Heritage Restaurant on Wooster Pike. The Tea Cozy Cottage is one of the best-kept secrets in Cincinnati: it has been serving fully-booked sittings two weekends per month since its opening in 2005, yet most people are unaware that the tearoom even exists.

Tea Cozy Cottage

Part of the reason for its obscurity may be the location; the tiny house sits high above Wooster Pike and is somewhat hidden by the dilapidated Heritage, with whom it shares a parking lot. On top of that, vandals have twice stolen the Tea Cozy’s custom signage, which for a small independent business is costly to replace. Then there is the Heritage itself, which continues to sit empty and uninviting, making most passersby assume that nothing else is happening on the grounds.

Those who persevere and locate the little tea house, however, are in for an enjoyable and delicious afternoon of homemade soup, quiche, scones and savories while enjoying a pot or two of tea from a vast menu of options.

The bright and cheery tearoom

First things first: you MUST make reservations to attend a sitting. The Tea Cozy Cottage is indeed cozy, seating only 30 guests per service, and because many sittings sell out they cannot accommodate walk-ins. Proprietor Michelle Boyles will also need to be aware of any dietary restrictions in advance, so that she can plan accordingly.

On the day I phoned to book a reservation I was surprised and pleased to learn that the entire service that particular weekend was going to be vegetarian. It wasn’t listed as such on the web site, and the menu changes each weekend, but I took this to be a fortuitous sign that the experience was going to be enjoyable.

And it was. Upon entering the establishment each patron is guided to the cloak room to play dress up from a large trunk filled with vintage hats and gloves - reminiscent of childhood tea parties - then seated in the cheerful dining room. Michelle visits each table to inform guests of the day’s menu and help guide the uninitiated through the wide variety of teas, which includes over 70 varieties of Black, Decaf, Herbal, Green, Oolong, and White. My girlfriend chose Candy Apple black tea, which was bursting with caramel apple flavor, so much so that neither of us needed to add a lump of sugar to our cups. I chose Almond Vanilla white tea, which was a more delicate offering but nonetheless tasty, especially with an added splash of whole cream.

The soup course

The set menu began with a small bowl of roasted tomato soup, followed by a gorgeous quiche comprised of sweet potatoes and feta. The flaky golden crust was absolutely perfect and the quiche was bursting with flavor. Next up were delicious homemade raspberry scones with clotted cream, and a 3-tiered tea tray filled with scrumptious finger sandwiches, cheeses, fruit and sweets. On the day we visited, the finger sandwiches consisted of cucumber/cream cheese and baguette slices topped with tangy corn relish and Muenster cheese, while the sweets included cupcakes, tarts and spiced pumpkin mousse.

Yummy quiche

Three tiered tea tray

Although it may sound like a lot of food, it’s actually just enough to satisfy without ruining your dinner. It is the epitome of English afternoon tea, which is traditionally a light meal of snacks and sweets with a pot of pick-me-up, meant to stave off hunger until the evening’s main meal. It’s akin to the American version of a coffee break, but focuses more on actual relaxation and socializing. The Tea Cozy Cottage’s sittings run approximately two hours each - enough time to unwind, sample some good food and enjoy a nice cuppa while catching up with friends.

Tea Cozy Cottage on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Spirits

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers & Spirits
9434 Civic Center Blvd.
West Chester, Ohio
513-759-6532
http://www.redrobin.com/

As a childless couple my husband and I don’t really fit the Red Robin demographic, but we found ourselves celebrating a birthday there recently with family and I am happy to note that the restaurant chain offers several meat-free options for vegetarians.

The restaurant itself is something of an assault on the senses: the décor leans heavily on bright, primary colors; the walls are covered with an assortment of framed memorabilia; there are TVs in every nook and even lurking beneath the plexiglass floor of the lobby; and they’ve got the classic rock cranked. Add to this mix dozens of families with small children, birthday celebrations, balloons, and beer and you’ve got the makings of either a festive afternoon or a migraine.

A view of the bar area

Red Robin’s claim to fame is customizable gourmet burgers with a "bottomless basket of fries," which can be refilled as many times as diners like. It’s not exactly the healthiest of gimmicks, and the fries aren’t anything special – just your basic steak fries with a shake of a special Cajun-style seasoning. They would be better off touting their delicious Freckled Lemonade, which comes in a tornado-shaped glass filled with strawberries.

The Freckled Lemonade

My five-year-old nephew was greatly amused by the Towering Onion Rings (seen in photo on right), a 13-stack tower of sweet yellow onions that have been breaded, seasoned and crispy-fried. He wasn’t keen on actually eating the onion rings, but loved trying to restack them on his plate. He said it reminded him of his little sister’s Fisher-Price Rock’a’Stack toy. I’m not much on fried food, but the onion rings and the two dipping sauces were pretty good.

On the entrée menu there are two vegetarian selections: Red’s Rice Bowl, which is a tame stir-fry of veggies and rice; and a Garden Burger, which was surprisingly tasty and fresh. All burgers come with bottomless fries, but they allow the substitution of a side salad, which is what I opted for. The salad was ok but certainly nothing to write home about. It was bafflingly full of tortilla strips – I’m guessing that perhaps it was an attempt to give some crunch to otherwise limp salad greens. The burger made up for it though, as it was one of the better veggie burgers I’ve tried in awhile. It was juicier than most and you could see bits of shredded vegetables and cheese binding it all together, plus it came topped with fresh shredded lettuce, tomato and red onion on a thick whole grain bun.

The Veggie Burger

Red Robin’s staff is enthusiastic and friendly, and we found the service to be fast and efficient. The food, however, was mediocre. Although I was happy with my Garden Burger, one of our group remarked that their (non-veggie) Royal Red Robin Burger was "probably one of the worst burgers I’ve ever tasted" and another was disappointed in their choice of Carnitas Fajitas because there were only scant amounts of peppers & onion, and the pork was on the dry side. The desserts scored better marks, as their massive Mountain High Mud Pie defeated the best efforts of five adults and two kids to finish it, the milkshakes were rich and creamy, and the birthday celebrant got a free chocolate sundae.

All in all, the restaurant isn’t a place I would go back to in a hurry, but it was a huge hit with the under-six crowd, who were excited to see a guy in a Red Robin costume walking around the eatery, and were delighted with the free helium-filled balloons they received as we were leaving.
Red Robin on Urbanspoon

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Boi Na Braza

Boi Na Braza
Carew Tower
441 Vine St.
Downtown
513-421-7111
http://www.boinabraza.com/

Boi Na Braza, which translates from the Portuguese as "steer over embers," is an upscale, authentic Brazilian churrascaria featuring 15 different cuts of open-roasted beef, lamb, pork and poultry, served continuously at your table by Gauchos. Upon being seated, each guest is given a colored disc: green means "Hey Gaucho, come over here with a skewer of meat and carve some off for me" and red means "leave me alone, I’m eating!" It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet where the food circles you instead of vice versa.

Yes, I know what you are thinking: "Why would a vegetarian go to a steak house?!" I’ll admit it sounds crazy, but just settle down and bear with me. Basically, I was outnumbered. We had some British friends visiting recently and they were all quite keen to give this place a try, and I’d heard that the restaurant has a really excellent salad bar, so what the hey. After being assured by the maitre de that I’d have plenty of choice, I decided to give it a go.

And I’m glad that I did, because Boi Na Braza does have an excellent salad bar, although "salad bar" is a misleading nomenclature for what is a good-sized buffet with both hot and cold items; everything from stuffed artichokes and pasta salads to hot, creamy mashed potatoes, garlic mushrooms and steamed broccoli in cream sauce. There are also dessert-type selections like chilled fruit salad, which was magnificent. They offer a nice selection of cheeses, and boast several different types of salad, plus a large number of toppings, including stuffed olives, gherkins, sun-dried tomatoes and marinated asparagus. Although there were only a few of the hot dishes that were vegetarian (I was gutted to see chunks of ham in the black bean soup), there was more than enough choice for a vegetarian to fill up on, and I did my best to oblige.

At over twenty bucks for the salad bar (the full dinner experience is fifty clams) it’s not cheap, and vegetarians will probably have a hard time getting their money's worth because appetites can only be stretched so far, but that is not to say the place is poor value. The food was excellent, our friends couldn’t get enough of the leg of lamb, and the gorgeous creamy mashed potatoes pushed me right over the edge until I couldn’t possibly have eaten another forkful. Steak houses are obviously not really my thing, but if I'm ever asked to go to Boi Na Braza again I know that there are enough veggie options on the salad bar to sate.

If you go, be sure to try a Caipirinha. It’s a Brazilian rum drink with lime and sugar which is light, refreshing, and as we found out, will knock you for a loop and make you really mess up at Guitar Hero later in the evening.
Boi Na Braza on Urbanspoon

Discounted Gift Certificates from Cincinnati Originals

Cincinnati Originals discounted restaurant gift certificates will be available beginning tomorrow morning, Friday, Jan. 11.

A partial list of local, independent restaurants participating in the past include:
Andy's Mediterranean Grille
Behle Street Cafe
Bella Luna
Jean-Robert at Pigalls
Daveeds at 934
Pompilios
Nicholson's Tavern
The Pub at Crestview Hills
Universal Grille
Kona Bistro
Mesh
Red

Past offers include $25 certificates for $17.50, and $50 gift certificates for $35. Log on early - they go quickly.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Sung Korean Bistro

Sung Korean Bistro & Lounge
700 Elm St
Downtown
http://www.sungkoreanbistro.com/
513-721-SUNG

I’m embarrassed to admit that until a few weeks ago I’d never before tried Korean cuisine. I had assumed – wrongly – that there wouldn’t be a great deal of vegetarian options available. I should have known a country with such a rich Buddhist heritage wouldn’t steer me wrong, and a quick look at Sung Korean Bistro’s online menu tempted me enough to visit. My dining companion was also new to Korean cuisine, but being the adventurous sort was quite eager to give it a go.

The restaurant serves authentic but approachable Korean fare in a chic, modernist setting. I’ve heard that it gets uncomfortably crowded there some evenings, but on the afternoon we visited it was pleasantly calm; an oasis of feng shui serenity. My only quibble with the décor is that the groovy paper lanterns hang low enough that I saw three people bump their heads on them. I’m short enough not to have to worry about such things, but anyone over 5’7" should beware.

Korean food is surprisingly healthy, with most dishes being steamed, broiled or pan/stir-fried rather than deep-fried, and there is a wide assortment of fermented foods, vegetables, rice and grains. I noted a couple of vegetarian appetizers on the menu: Goonmandu (pan fried dumplings stuffed with tofu, scallions, onion and cabbage); Yangnyum Dubu (pan-fried soft tofu topped with toasted seaweed, onion, egg and red pepper mixed with soy sauce, vinegar and sesame oil); and Gimbab (rice roll with pickled radish, egg, and cucumber). I wanted to try the vegetarian gimbab (there is also a version with crab meat and beef) but the server informed me that although it is listed on the lunch menu, it was only available during dinner service.

Shrugging it off, we decided to forego an appetizer and dive straight into the lunch entrées. There are three vegetarian options available on the lunch menu: Bibimbap (watercress, bean sprouts, carrot, radish, lettuce and pan fried egg over rice with tofu); Stone Bowl Bibimbap, which is similar to the regular bibimbap but served in a piping hot stone bowl, which cooks the contents while you stir; and a Lunch Tray Special of yangnyum dubu served with three sides, two pan-fried dumplings and two pieces of gimbab and rice. Because vegetarian gimbab was unavailable for lunch, the server told me I could opt for extra dumplings if I wanted to order the Lunch Tray Special.

My dining companion chose a non-veggie option from the Lunch Tray Specials list, which, when it arrived at the table reminded me somewhat of a Japanese bento box. When I lived in Japan I used to dread the bento boxes as much as my Japanese friends looked forward to them, because the boxes usually housed an assortment of traditional foods that I wasn’t crazy about (raw octopus tentacles, for example) but knew I had to eat so as not to offend my hosts. The Lunch Tray Special, like a bento box, is a compartmentalized lacquered tray which houses each item individually and has a shallow well in the center for the sauce.

Sung’s Lunch Tray Specials are very tame by comparison, and my companion was very pleased with the Doeji Bulgogi (grilled, marinated spicy pork) he had ordered.

Instead of ordering the vegetarian Lunch Tray Special I chose the Stone Bowl Bibimbap, and was a little disappointed. When it was brought to the table – piping hot and sizzling – the server offered to stir the contents to get it cooking properly, but he refused to add any of the hot chili paste that accompanies the dish, warning me that it was "incredibly spicy" and that I should be very careful when adding it to the dish.

I happen to like spicy dishes – the hotter the better actually – and I found the dish to be too bland. Adding bits of the chili paste to the dish after it had cooked gave it a patchy heat rather than a nice evenly spiced taste, and I made a mental note to add the paste at the beginning next time. What I did like about the dish was the way the hot bowl cooked the rice crispy and golden, which added an interesting texture to the meal. It also made eating with chopsticks a breeze, as everything held together really well.

Our meal was accompanied by a trio of tiny side dishes; a tasty daikon radish salad, a cucumber salad with a kick, and a fiery spiced dried radish salad, from which my friend shied away and I ate with gusto. It provided the heat that the bibimbap lacked. The trio of sides changes daily, as evidenced on my second visit, when the fiery dried radish salad was replaced by a moderately spiced kimchee.

Because I felt that it wasn’t representative of how the meal should taste, when I revisited the restaurant a few days ago I again tried the Stone Bowl Bibimbap, this time stressing to the server that I like (and can handle) spicy foods, and instructed her to dump all the chili paste into the dish. She still erred on the side of caution, however, and only added half the saucer of chili paste. She probably figured it was better to be safe than sorry. It made a world of difference from my previous visit and I was pleased with the results, but next time I think I will opt to stir it myself so that I can add ALL the chili paste.
Sung Korean Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friday, January 4, 2008

Northern Kentucky Food Service Inspection Database

Ever wondered if the restaurant you are considering has health violations or is up to code? In Northern Kentucky, you can visit the Northern Kentucky Health Department's Food Service Inspection page to find out.

The food inspection score database has been improved so that you can now search by establishment name, city, zip code or inspection score. The page also provides a link to a list of Northern Kentucky restaurants that are 100% smoke-free; the list leans heavily toward fast food establishments and doesn't appear to be a complete listing, but hopefully it will continue to be updated.

This is an incredibly handy and helpful site - it's the kind of transparent government we all deserve.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

BD's Mongolian Grill - Deerfield Towne Center update

Just got off the phone with the friendly folks at BD's Mongolian Grill and I have some excellent news - BD's in Deerfield Towne Center (8655 Mason Montgomery Road, Mason) will be opening Tuesday, January 15.

My husband is already queueing up...

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Greenup Café

Jean-Robert’s Greenup Café
308 Greenup St.
Covington, KY
859-261-3663
http://jeanrobertgroup.com/greenup

I like to believe that things happen for a reason. The other day I missed my regular bus and had the choice of standing around for another 30 minutes in the cold, schlepping it 45 minutes home in ill-suited shoes, or catching the Southbank Shuttle, which doesn't stop at the end of my street like the #23, but does at least skim the outskirts of the historic neighborhood I live in. So I hopped the shuttle, knowing I wouldn’t have too far to teeter in my clogs once I disembarked. I mention all this because I could have cursed my bad luck at missing my regular bus, but instead it gave me a chance to relax, slow down and enjoy the scenery and holiday decorations as I walked through the neighborhood that evening. And as I passed by the de Cavel residence I realized that it had been too long since my last visit to one of his fine establishments.

Having caught a Jean-Robert jones that wouldn’t let up, Sunday morning my husband and I bundled up and walked the 1.7 miles to Greenup Café, located inside a lovely, classic old brownstone in Covington’s Riverside Historic District. The restaurant sports an eclectic mix of French bohemian tsotchkes and ephemera, and the rich, vibrant colors and cheery atmosphere are enough to chase away the dreary grey Midwestern winter lurking outside.

You simply cannot go wrong when Jean-Robert is involved, and although we’ve enjoyed both lunch and dinner at Greenup, our favorite time to visit is for brunch on Sunday mornings. We’ve been countless times and introduced a number of our out-of-town friends to its delights, and never has the food been anything less than sumptuously delicious. There is really no where else in town that offers this kind of top-notch quality at such an astonishingly reasonable price - only one item on the brunch menu will set you back double digits, and it’s not vegetarian ($10.75 for the Greenup Salad with chicken).

Vegetarians need not worry at Greenup Café, as Jean-Robert's got us covered. There’s the omelet with a medley of mushrooms, tomatoes, gruyere cheese, asparagus and crème fraiche; so light and fluffy that it just melts in your mouth. There’s the Tart du Jour served with two fried eggs, with a buttery crust that is surprisingly light and flaky. The buttermilk pancakes come with your choice of banana and sautéed seasonal fruit or goat cheese and sweet corn relish, giving an exotic touch to the classic American staple. Likewise, their version of the Mexican breakfast dish huevos rancheros is a tip of the hat to former building occupant Wildflour; their "Wannabe" Wildflour Huevos Rancheros is a gigantic flour tortilla, brimming with vegetarian black beans and fresh veggies. I cannot recommend it highly enough, as it is absolutely gorgeous.

The croissants are out of this world. Light, airy and just the right side of chewy, you can taste the expertise with which they are made in every savory bite. They offer the croissants with cinnamon and honey and a side of sautéed seasonal fruit, or as a sandwich with tomatoes, avocado and brie, served with a side of salad and country potatoes. Both are superb.

Our biggest regret this trip was forgetting to order our dessert before we sat down – they go quickly and it’s a good idea to make your way to the pastry counter upon entering the establishment to put dibs on your choice from their assortment of made-from-scratch, scrumptious offerings. Eating one may cost you an extra 30 minutes in the gym later in the week, but oh, they are so worth it!

Everything at Greenup Café is incredibly fresh, and Jean-Robert’s team takes great pains to source local produce for each dish, which is why there are subtle changes in the menu depending on the season. When we visited the restaurant in the summer months, the country potatoes were made with waxy red-skinned potatoes and tossed lightly with caramelized onions, but now that winter is upon us they are heartily seasoned, roasted white potatoes.

A visit to Greenup Cafe is guaranteed to be delicious and filling for vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike, and the warm, friendly vibe reverberates long after you've left for the cold slog back home.
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