Thursday, August 28, 2008

Red Squirrel

Red Squirrel
344 Walnut

Located around the corner and down the stairs from Huntington Bank, this locally-owned café is a popular haunt for the bargain-hunting lunch crowd. Get there early or be prepared to wait for a table.

Due to its underground location, the restaurant lacks natural light and can seem a little dark, but the quick service and bustling atmosphere brighten the bunker-like surroundings.

The Red Squirrel is famous for their triple-decker sandwiches, which come piled high with ham and roast beef and a choice of cheese, egg or turkey. Their double-deckers are also meat-based, so I steered clear.

There are a few veggie options available – there’s egg salad, which can be made as a sandwich (my girlfriend says their egg salad is one of the best in the city because they make it “without a lot of unnecessary ingredients like pickle relish”), two different cold cheese sandwiches topped with mayo, lettuce and tomato, a grilled cheese sandwich, and a small tossed salad. The Red Squirrel has 12 different salads, but only the egg salad and the tossed salad are vegetarian, with the latter being the sole vegan offering. On the plus side, they offer Newman’s Own dressings, which is a nice change from the standard Marzetti dressings one usually finds.

While the vegetarian offerings aren’t exactly inspiring, the prices at Red Squirrel are noteworthy. Most vegetarian sandwiches are $3.95 and come with a good-sized plate of potato chips and a pickle spear. The egg salad sandwich platter and the egg salad plate run slightly more but still clock in at under a fiver, and the tossed salad is under three bucks. Not bad.

Unlike the downtown location, which is only open for lunch, the Red Squirrel’s suburban locations in Sharonville, Tri-County, Fairfield and Colerain are open for breakfast and dinner, and kids eat free with each paying adult. The suburban dinner menu lists one additional vegetarian item: a veggie burger.
Red Squirrel on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fresh - an update

UPDATE: November 18, 2008 - This restaurant has closed.

Ok, so I just got back from having lunch with a friend and noticed that Fresh has reopened. The white paper that lined the windows last week is gone and the restaurant had a chalkboard shingle out front to let passersby know that they are open until 6 p.m.

I stopped in and spoke to the owner, who said they are trying out a "new, updated concept" called Southwest Fresh.

They do not have new menus printed yet because they are "still working out the kinks" but a cursory glance showed a few vegetarian selections, as well as Jarritos in the drinks cabinet.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Beer & Waffles!

From Market Wines at Findlay Market:

Thursday, August 28th
Belgian beer and waffles returns! Many of you have said that you were disappointed that you couldn't make the first so we are going to do it again. This time reservations can be made for two seperate flights. The first from 5:30p.-7:00 and the second from 7:00 - 8:30. Greg and I have been working on the beer selection and are happy to announce that we will be starting with Augustijn Abbey Ale again. This will be followed up by Moinette Bruine Ale and Lozen Boer, the latter being one of my favorite of all Belgian ales. To finish off the evening we chose Lindemann's Framboise(raspberry ) Lambic. Make reservations by replying to this email, calling Market Wines at 513-744-9888 or just stopping by. The cost is $15 per person.

Thursday, September 25th
We will be hosting another fundraiser to benefit the Corporation For Findlay Market. Fall wines will be the theme with a good assortment of food from the Market and area farmers. The tax deductible cost will be $25 or $40 per couple. Call us or visit the Findlay Market website for more info.

Market Wines is located at 128 W. Elder St. directly across from the main market building.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Fresh: Gone or Relocating?

UPDATE: November 18, 2008 - this restaurant has closed.

I know there has been a lot of aggro over at the Bartlett Building due to unpaid utility bills and foreclosure proceedings against owner Sterling Phoenix, and on my way home from work today I passed by Bartlett tenant Fresh and noticed white paper plastered over their windows.

Are they relocating, or are they closing for good? Anyone know? There's nothing about it on their website yet.

Thursday, August 21, 2008


18 E. 5th St
Newport, KY

My husband and I decided it was high time to get ourselves over to Mokka for brunch. We’d visited the restaurant a few times at its previous location on York Street but hadn’t yet checked out their new, larger space on Fifth Street next to The Syndicate. One of the biggest complaints about their previous location was the lack of space, an issue alleviated with the relocation. Tables are no longer crammed together uncomfortably; it’s cheery, bright, and there is plenty of elbow room.

We entered the building and were momentarily confused as to which way to turn, since it appears the restaurant shares a lobby with The Syndicate. We surmised that it probably wasn’t the area with the bar and white grand piano, so we looked toward the left and saw a blackboard announcing that they now serve Jean Francois’s exquisite Belgium waffles. Well then, there’s my choice sorted. I wanted to see how Mokka’s compared to those little bites of heaven that Jean Francois sells at his Findlay Market location, Taste From Belgium.

For those not in a waffle mood, there are a couple of other vegetarian options on Mokka’s menu, including at least one vegetarian daily special. On the morning we visited that special was a breakfast burrito stuffed with egg whites, yellow bell pepper, tomato and cheese, served with waffle fries and fruit for $7. I wish I had ordered it instead of the waffles, because apparently the Belgian waffles listed on the menu are NOT the Jean Francois waffles, and I wasn’t aware they sold two different types of Belgian waffle. I assumed that the waffles on the menu were the same as the ones being advertised on the blackboard, and I was wrong. What I got was a bog-standard waffle drowning in strawberry sauce and Cool-Whip. When I mentioned this to our waitress, she shrugged and said, “Yeah, you have to specially request those.” Nice of them to let me know that beforehand.Since I didn’t have a great brunch experience at Mokka, I felt it was best to give them another chance. I went back for lunch with a co-worker and had the grilled portabello hoagie with roasted red peppers and cheese and a side salad, which is the only vegetarian option available on the lunch menu. It smelled heavenly and was not as messy as portabello sandwiches can sometimes be, and the tangy brown sauce complimented the roasted veggies nicely. My (non vegetarian) lunch partner had the smoked salmon and bacon sandwich; flavors he wasn’t sure would work well together, but with which he was pleasantly surprised and pleased. There is also a pork and sauerkraut sandwich selection called a “Dutch Oven,” which had me giggling like a 6th grader. It doesn’t take much.

As nice as the food was, Mokka’s lunchtime service was very slow – it took 10 minutes for us to catch our waitress’s eye and ask for the bill, and another 15 for her to pick up the payment afterwards. The restaurant wasn’t busy so I’m not sure why service was so slow, but that makes it a poor choice for an excursion out of downtown if you only have an hour for lunch. If you can carve out more than that, the restaurant is only a short walk from the Monmouth St. stop on the Southbank Shuttle, and there is plenty of metered parking along the street (a quarter gets you an hour) for those with their own transportation. One other thing to keep in mind: the restaurant is only open from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. daily.

Updated review 25 January, 2009 here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Taj India

Taj India
7677 Mall Road
Florence, KY

Someone asked me why I haven’t reviewed any Indian restaurants, and the simple answer is that Indian cuisine is so synonymous with vegetarianism that it seemed unnecessary to even mention them.

There are two major culinary styles - the northern style emphasizes dairy; the south highlights rice, stew and pickle dishes. Those new to Indian cuisine can ease their way into this wonderful world by checking out an Indian lunch buffet, which highlights some of the more popular dishes. Quite a few places around town offer them and there are always several vegetarian options to choose from.

We were in Florence recently and swung by Apna on Connector Drive for a quick bite, only to discover that they have closed, so we tried our luck at Taj India a couple blocks up the road. We hadn’t visited Taj India in quite a while (we stopped going there when Apna opened), but things haven’t changed – the service is still excruciatingly slow, the décor as colorful as a glass of water, and the floor still looked as though it could use a good cleaning. I could excuse all of that if the food was good, but it was a disappointing experience all the way round.

Indian cuisine has a complex depth of flavor and isn’t supposed to be “all about the heat,” but you’d never know that if Taj India was your only reference point. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I love a dish that makes flames shoot from my mouth, but not at the expense of the rest of the ingredients. It’s a delicate balance, and one which Taj India doesn’t do very well.

I tried the mater paneer - cottage cheese cubes and peas in a spiced tomato sauce. It traditionally has a base of tumeric, asafoetida, cumin and chili browned in oil and combined with tomato, ginger, garlic and coriander. The heat level ranges from 1-5 and I requested a three. The level was fine but the balance was way off - all I could taste was the chili, which overwhelmed this usually delicious dish. I probably would have been better off ordering a level 0 and asking for a side of hot onion chutney to liven things up instead.

My husband’s non-veg lamb makhni fared no better. Makhni’s have a buttery, tomato base with a hint of yogurt/cream and garam masala (a mild but pungent spice mix), and those who shy from spicy-hot dishes – like my husband - tend to stick with yogurt or cream-based makhnis and kormas. He was surprised and dismayed that the restaurant skimped on the lamb – there were only a few small chunks swimming in a sea of gravy. It was also too spicy to enjoy. To deaden the heat he could have ordered a side of raita (a yogurt/cucumber sauce) but since we already felt we weren’t getting our money’s worth we were loathe to add to the bill. Most of his dish was left untouched, a $12 loss for us.

Although we went away disappointed, Taj India offers an inexpensive lunch buffet which we hear is much better and less fiery than what we experienced as evening diners, and might be a better option for next time. If there is a next time.
Taj India on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 8, 2008

The Terrace Café

Terrace Café
Cincinnati Art Museum
953 Eden Park Drive
Mount Adams

With a menu created by popular chef David Cook of Daveed’s in Mount Adams and executed by staff from The Bistro Group, the Terrace Café inside the Cincinnati Art Museum offers visitors an affordable and unique dining experience. The sleek dining room is a bright, airy, modernist space of blonde floors, black tablecloths and a wall of windows overlooking a pleasant courtyard which is open for dining during the summer months.

The restaurant packs a surprisingly efficient kitchen into a small space with stylish Danish Modern cupboards surrounding the prep area. The gleaming workspace is not hidden away as in most restaurants; instead it is a logical extension of the dining room, like a residential open plan kitchen. The minimalist design is lacking in sound-absorbing soft furnishings, however, so there is a serious noise issue when the restaurant fills up at lunch.

Usually I am under whelmed by the ubiquitous veggie burger, but the one at Terrace Café is a cut above. Topped with boursin spread, melted cheese and roasted red peppers, this vegetable burger packs an appealing mix of flavor. The menu changes seasonally and unfortunately it’s not on the current summer menu, but will probably reappear when the temperature and leaves begin to drop.

Menu selections are under $10 and there is a small but adequate wine list for those inclined to enjoy a glass during the workday. As for current vegetarian choices on the summer menu, there are a couple of salads, a vegetable wrap with potato chips and pickles, and vegetable soup. I opted for the wrap, which filled a gap but wasn’t anything special, and a cup of the vegetable soup.

Their tomato soup has a chicken stock base and should be avoided, but the vegetable soup is 100% vegetarian and tastes gloriously of the summer’s harvest. Generous chunks of potato, carrot, celery and cabbage mingle seductively with bulbous, juicy mounds of stewed tomato, producing a rich tang on the tongue with each tender bite. It is yummy.

The Terrace Café is open Tues-Sun from 11a.m.-4:30 p.m. with extended hours on Wednesday, and museum members receive a 10% discount (does not include alcohol). Each time I have visited during lunch the café has been busy, filled mostly with ladies who lunch and retirees enjoying a day out, but there’s also a healthy smattering of office workers liberating their senses. On a recent visit we made an all-too-brief detour across the corridor to check out the Gregory Crewdson photography exhibit, which runs through September. Lunch at the art museum is an enjoyable excursion away from the norm. As their slogan goes, “Come as you are…leave as you aren’t.”

Terrace Cafe on Urbanspoon

Heirloom Tomatoes!

The first of my heirloom tomatoes rippened last week!

I visited Mom's garden and picked a sackful of jalapeños and white onions, then came home and made a kick-ass salsa.

Simple Salsa
3 tomatoes, diced
1 med onion, diced
1-3 cloves garlic, minced
1-3 jalapeños, seeded and diced
juice of one lime
2-3 Tbs fresh cilantro, chopped
Salt to taste

This is a very basic but yummy recipe, and one that can be altered to suit any taste. Personally I go heavy on the garlic and jalapeños. We packed this salsa into a cooler along with some other goodies and had a nice picnic at Devou Park while enjoying the Kentucky Symphony Orchestra play the music of James Bond.