Monday, December 20, 2010

Qdoba holds food drive for Freestore Foodbank

Local Qdoba Mexican Grill restaurants are holding a canned food drive to help restock the shelves of Freestore Foodbank after the holiday. The Cans For Queso promotion runs from January 1st through January 9th at all Greater Cincinnati locations, including Blue Ash, Colerain, Deerfield, Florence, Tylersville, and Union Centre. Customers who bring in a canned or non-perishable food item will receive one order of FREE chips & warm 3-cheese queso.

Please note that the Cans for Queso offer is valid for ONE free chips & warm 3-cheese queso order per person, per day. Donation quantity does not increase offer.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


505 Vine St.
tel: 513-381-1300

Because it isn't located at street level, Palomino isn't as noticeable as other Fountain Square restaurants. The entrance, sandwiched between Tiffany & Co. and Brooks Brothers, looks at first glance like an alternative entrance to Macy's - and it is. Palomino is an escalator ride up to the second floor. Those who persevere are rewarded with stylish surroundings and a lovely view of the Square through the floor-to-ceiling windows.

Take the escalator up to Palomino

Welcome to Palomino

The restaurant offers a good selection of vegetarian options for both lunch and dinner, including several pastas, sandwiches, salads, and pizza. Their lunch combo provides sampling opportunities, as you get a choice of two for under $10.

Modern decor with an 80's flair

While I have been known to frequent Palomino for lunch, their dinner service was an unknown quantity for me so Steve and I decided to stop in after work and give them a shot. Our server informed us that happy hour had just begun, so I ordered a glass of chardonnay ($4) and nibbled the complimentary crusty bread while perusing the menu.

Complimentary crusty bread and tomato chutney

While the Baked Four Cheese Trenne sounded tempting, I opted instead for the Farmhouse Garganelli, which consists of pasta (similar to penne) and vegetables prepared with olive oil and romano cheese. The salty cheese gives this dish a pleasant tang, but it was a little on the dry side. I also expected more than a few small hunks of carrot.

Farmhouse garganelli

Steve opted for the grilled sirloin with a side of fries and grilled onion pesto. While he found it to be a very tasty selection, he thought the dish needed a vegetable accompaniment, or a small side salad at the very least.

Grilled sirloin with fries and grilled onion pesto

Prices and portions increase in the evening, as does the noise level; urbane cocktail chatter competes with boisterous young professionals as hypnotic house music pulses throughout the restaurant and bar. Don't get me wrong - I love music (and was a DJ for many years) but when a restaurant's music is so loud that normal table conversation is impossible, the dining experience is no longer enjoyable. Palomino understands vegetarianism and gets the food right; it's a shame the volume control lets this place down.

Palomino Euro Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friday, November 12, 2010

Apsara closing this weekend

Looks like Apsara's final night will be Saturday, Nov. 13. This is from server Curtis:

"Saturday night (Nov. 13) and that's all. Hurry and try Chef John Lees' sushi one more time, because he probably will leave the Cincinnati area. Apsara might be going out of business, but he's the best sushi chef in town. He might even sell you the big wooden boat!

We might be going out of business, but we might have the best server in Cincinnati, Jeremy. But, Saturday night he'll be behind the bar making drinks, conversation and watching college football. Ask him to make the Sunday night special, while you're asking him what's the matter with those Mountainers?

Chef Charlie won the NFL betting poll last week. But do you think he'd happily remake one of his great specials that came out too spicy for a customer? No way! And hey, if you know a nice restaurant where the employees are nice and the customers plenty, let me know. I need a server job.

And last of all, I want to say we have some great customers that enter in our restaurant who we have a lot of fun with. And I will miss them all."

My review of the restaurant can be found here.

Sunday, October 31, 2010


521 Main Street
Covington, KY
tel: 859-491-6678

This family-owned cafe, sandwiched between Bouquet Restaurant & Wine Bar and the Enchanted Florist on Covington's Mainstrasse, offers a friendly atmosphere and delicious, made-from-scratch specials like tomato pie. If the weather is with you, a sidewalk table is ideal for people-watching. During colder, wet weather the cozy cafe's cheery decor can brighten the grayest of days.


Cheery, eclectic decor

Otto's has several unique vegetarian offerings: the aforementioned tomato pie ($8) is one of them. Chock full of cheesy, tomato-y goodness in a homemade pie shell, it's sure to satisfy. According to their menu shingle, it's a Joey Votto favorite!

Specials board

The restaurant also offers a veggie focaccia ($8), and their Greek pasta ($8) is easily made vegetarian by omitting the bacon. My love of tomatoes (and certain Reds first basemen) sealed the deal for me - tomato pie it was.

If it's good enough for Joey Votto...

As you can see from the photo, the pie comes with a side of mixed greens, complete with olives and feta cheese and a tangy-tart balsamic dressing. Very nice.

On another visit I decided to try a couple of their appetizers. While some of Otto's daily soup specials are geared toward the carnivore crowd, their lovely tomato-dill soup is vegetarian and available daily. Other veggie-friendly fare includes salads, sweet potato fries with horseradish 'n honey dipping sauce ($6), baked brie ($10) and fried green tomatoes ($8).

Fried green tomatoes

When I ordered the fried green tomatoes our server informed me that it's the #1 item on their menu. One bite and I understand why. They're by far the best I've ever eaten.

Not to be left out, my friend insisted on taking a photo of the ultimate in (non-veg) comfort food - his Kentucky Hot Brown. He proclaimed it to be the best hot brown he's ever had, and also the largest. It's massive! Consisting of homemade French bread topped with roasted turkey, smoked ham, creamy mornay sauce, and shredded cheese, and finished off with thick slices of bacon and fried green tomatoes.

The gigantic Kentucky hot brown; sweet potato fries; tomato-dill soup and fried green tomatoes

Be sure to save room for dessert. Otto's apricot-banana bread pudding with bourbon glaze won the toss-up, although the carrot cake and flourless chocolate torte also looked fantastic.

Apricot-Banana bread pudding

Otto's is open Monday through Saturday 11 a.m.-3 p.m. for lunch and dinner is served Tuesday through Saturday from 5-10 p.m. Otto's serves up Sunday brunch from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. and reopens from 5-9 p.m. for Sunday dinner.

Otto's Deli on Urbanspoon

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Recipe: Mejadra

I saw this recipe in the Guardian the other day and thought it sounded right up my alley; rice, lentils, sweet spices and fried onion combine for a dish that can be eaten hot or cold. It's delicious, filling and difficult to stop eating once you've tasted it. The original recipe serves four, but I have scaled it down to two servings, and changed the metric measurements to imperial.

Serves 2

8 Tbs sunflower or grapeseed oil, divided
2 medium onions, thinly sliced
1/2 Cup green or brown lentils
1 tsp cumin seed
1 1/2 tsp coriander seed
1/2 Cup basmati rice
1 Tbs olive oil
1/4 tsp turmeric
3/4 tsp ground allspice
3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp sugar
Salt and black pepper to taste
3/4 Cup water


1. Heat 4 Tbs of sunflower/grapeseed oil in a heavy skillet or saucepan. When oil is very hot, carefully add the first sliced onion. Fry for 5-7 minutes, stirring occasionally until onion is golden brown and turns crispy.

2. Transfer onion to a colander and sprinkle with salt. Repeat procedure with remaining 4 Tbs oil, onion and salt.

3. While the onions are frying, put lentils in a saucepan and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil and cook for 12-15 minutes, or until lentils have softened but still have a little bite.
4. Drain lentils and set aside.

5. Wipe clean the pan used to fry onion. Add the cumin and coriander seed and place over medium heat for a minute or two, until the seeds release their aroma. Add rice, olive oil, turmeric, cinnamon, allspice, sugar, 1/2 tsp salt and plenty of black pepper. Stir to coat the rice with oil, then add cooked lentils and water. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer on very low heat for 15 minutes.

6. Remove from heat, lift off lid and cover pan with a clean dish towel. Replace lid and let sit for 10 minutes.

7. Tip the rice and lentil mixture into a large mixing bowl, add onion and gently combine.

Enjoy hot or cold!

For printable recipe, click here.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


4785 Lake Forest Drive
Blue Ash
Tel: 513-554-1040

In Indian mythology, Apsaras are beautiful, young, and elegant supernatural women, similar to the Greek muses or English water nymphs. That this rather posh Asian fusion restaurant takes its name from these celestial maidens is apt; everything about Apsara - from the exquisitely carved tables to the hand-forged copper menus to the tinkling waterfalls behind the sushi bar - is breathtaking.


The building was originally built as a large brew-pub, and unfortunately the current incarnation suffers from being too cavernous. It's not that the restaurant doesn't try to make good use of the space - there's a weekly swing dance, and live music on Sundays - but there's a distinct lack of intimacy at Apsara.

Waterfalls and sushi bar

The food is well worth the drive to Blue Ash though. Their vegetarian vegetable soup ($5), consisting of crisp-tender veggies in a clear, delicate broth, was astonishingly good. Each vegetable retained its taste and texture, lending a tender crunch with each spoonful. I'd happily revisit Apsara based on this dish alone.

A rather shaky photo of the delicious vegetable soup

Likewise the Jackfruit Curry: a heady concoction of tart jackfruit, caramelized onion and green chilies in a sweet red curry sauce. I'd never had jackfruit before and am amazed at how delicious it is. It has a consistency similar to cooked chicken but has a tart, sweet taste like an unripened banana.

Jackfruit curry

There were a few glitches - the main one being that the jackfruit curry was supposed to be a spice level of 8, but instead the kitchen neglected to put any spice in it whatsoever. The upshot was that I got to know exactly what the jackfruit tastes like, but I have a feeling that if I'd have gotten it as it was supposed to be prepared with the green chilies, it'd be my new favorite dish.

The restaurant looks like it'd be more expensive than it actually is, although it isn't what you'd call cheap. At $12, my curry was one of the least expensive entrées on the menu, with most ranging from $14-$22 and a few of their specials hitting the $30 mark. I found it to be totally worth the dosh and am already planning a return visit.

Apsara on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 1, 2010

Herb Bread

I used to really struggle with homemade bread; not only were my early efforts inedible, the bread was so hard it couldn't even be sliced. This simple recipe changed all that. I won't go as far as to say that it is fool-proof, but it's transformed me from a breadmaking failure to an old pro.

4 1/4 Cups of all-purpose flour
3 Tbs white sugar
2 (1/4 oz) packets of instant yeast
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 tsp herbes de'provence
3/4 Cup milk
1/2 Cup water
1/4 Cup salted butter
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbs butter, melted


1. In a large bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups flour with the sugar, undissolved yeast, salt and herb mixture.

2. Warm milk, water and 1/4 cup butter to between 120-130 degrees F. Use a candy thermometer to make sure the temperature is correct. This is essential!

The right temperature will activate the yeast

3. Stir milk mixture into dry ingredients.

Add egg and enough remaining flour to make a soft dough.NOTE: You probably will not use all of the flour. I usually have around half a cup left over.

4. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth and elastic - about five minutes. Cover; let rest on floured surface for about 10 minutes.

5. Divide dough into three equal pieces.

6. Roll each piece into a rope about 30 inches long.

7. Braid ropes together and pinch ends to seal.

8. Tie a knot into the center of the braid; wrap ends around knot in opposite directions and tuck underneath to make a round loaf. Place on a greased baking sheet; cover and let sit in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size, about 40 minutes. I usually put my dough in the oven with the light on, as this provides enough warmth for the dough to rise.

9. After dough has risen, heat oven to 375F and bake for 20 minutes.

10. Remove from oven and brush with melted butter. Cover bread with foil and put back into oven for another 10-15 minutes.

11. After bread has finished baking, place onto a wire rack to cool.


For a printable recipe, click here.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Pirate's Cove - guest review

Pirate's Cove
4609 Kellogg Ave.
East End
(513) 871-1820

I found Pirate's Cove unworthy of a review, but my husband felt otherwise. This is his review.
Pirate's Cove bills itself as a "tropical paradise." Located on a floating barge in a cove off the Ohio River and attached to the Four Seasons Marina and Restaurant, the restaurant's outdoor, tiki-bar setting and live music could, if you closed your eyes, let you pretend you were nestled amongst the Florida Keys. I suspect, however, that visitors to the Keys would be expecting FAR better quality food than is served up here.

The Four Seasons

Tiki-bar decor

We visited on the recommendation of a friend and were armed with a discount Groupon coupon that was burning a hole in our pocket. While Pirate's Cove might be fine as a local watering hole (although most of the beer is of the canned variety) there's no way the food is worth the drive to East End - discount or not.

I always get disappointed when my wife's vegetarian choice is limited to nachos or fried fare from an appetizer menu, but that's exactly what she had to order here. Or should I say "suffered," as the nachos she ordered were topped with Velveeta cheese and canned tomatoes (truly an unforgivable offence when fresh tomatoes are in season), and looked to me like they had been eaten once already. She said they were "OK", but I could see in her eyes that she was just trying to be nice, the thought of having spent ten bucks on them quietly gnawing at her psyche.

Basket of nachos

Her chosen 'accompaniment,' four cheese-filled bread sticks ($6.50), were devoid of flavor and left virtually untouched.

Could bread sticks look any more unappealing?

There was nothing amongst the two dozen entrees she could have eaten. Not one single item was vegetarian-friendly, which means Pirate's Cove fails to cater to not just vegetarians but potential customers who may want to eat something a little healthier than the usual fried or fat-ridden 'bar food' choices. Whether it's ignorance or an oversight is for others to decide.

For my own sins - and I must have sinned a LOT - I was drawn to their daily special, the Chicken Fajita Wrap ($6 when we visited, $10 at other times) which completely shivered me timbers. A soggy tortilla encapsulating the merest quantity of chicken breast, peppers, salsa and insipidly bland cheese, accompanied by pre-cut, frozen french fries. One bite was enough for me to realize this was a poor choice and it was all I could do to eat half the fries and pick out the tiny bits of chicken, wastefully leaving the rest behind in the plastic basket.

Chicken fajita wrap with fries

With a certain theme in mind, what should have been "Arrrr" turned out to be "Arrrggh!" and Pirates Cove should be made to walk its own gangplank, as it gives a whole new meaning to the phrase "Thar She Blows."

Not worth the drive

Pirate's Cove Tropical Bar & Grill on Urbanspoon