Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Review: Relish Modern Tapas

When our schedules match up, which doesn't seem to be very often, two of my good friends from high school, Alli and April,  and I like to get together for dinner or drinks.  They both live in Lebanon which is not very close to me, so we try to find somewhere in the middle.  In the past we have ventured to Silver Spring House in Montgomery, which is okay but typically a lot of middle-aged men hanging out which is not always what we're looking for.  We have also hit up Fox and Hound which has a nice patio in the warm weather.  This past time, we decided to try somewhere new.  I had read a couple reviews about Relish Modern Tapasand thought we'd give it a try.  I had read a lot of mixed reviews about this place on urbanspoon.com, so I was anxious to formulate my own opinion.

If you are not familiar with tapas, it is just a Spanish word for small plates or appetizer/snack portions.  I had never done "tapas" before, so I wasn't quite sure how this was going to work.  Of course, it was a rainy night when we went, but there was plenty of parking close to the door in the parking lot.  Relish is located in a small shopping center behind the movie theater in Deerfield.  When I walked in, I was glad to see April had already snagged us a spot.  The inside of Relish reminded me somewhat of a cafe and kind of like a sit-down Chipotle restaurant. The tables were metal-like and the acoustics weren't great....meaning, a lot of noises echoed and it was kind of loud for not many people being in the restaurant. 

I had seen online that they have happy hour specials for house wine at $4 and free hummus during happy hour too, Tuesday-Friday.  I went for a glass of the house cabernet and April tried the house chardonnay.  I was pleased with mine, but April wasn't in love with hers.

Our waiter promptly brought out our hummus as we waited for Alli, which is very normal :)  The hummus was disappointing.  I didn't think it was very good at all.  I believe it was the red pepper hummus, but I have had better from Kroger.  This had little to no flavor whatsoever, except for the chips.  The chips were warm and had a bit of seasoning to it which was a saving grace to the hummus. 

Alli arrived and we all looked over the menu for awhile.  There were options of sides, salads, appetizers, and entrees.  I was a little taken aback by the prices.  I would think for a "tapas" restaurant, the prices would have been a little more affordable to try a variety of dishes.  Many of the entrees were $13-$18 which I think is high considering they are "small" plates. 

We ended up deciding on a variety of plates: I ordered a side of the potato spheres and the signature chorizo in medjool dates.  My friends ordered french onion soup, the signature salad, mediterranean flat bread, and stuffed breast of chicken. 

The potato spheres were fine.  They were served with a side of wasabi sour cream, which really just tasted like a spicy ranch or something.  These were $4.25. 

The french onion soup was pretty good!  However, it was just a cup portion. It had plenty of carmelized onions and cheese. 

The chorizo with medjool dates were also pretty good.  There were 4 wrapped in bacon and topped with a tomato pepper sauce. The dates weren't very apparent in the dish, however.  These were soft and had were pretty spicy.  I liked these the best of all the things we ordered.

Next was the flat bread.  This was pretty good as well!  It was crispy and the feta, peppers, and herbs were a nice blend of flavors. There wern't many olives at all, which didn't bother me because I don't like olives.

The salad was just okay.  Pretty typical salad. I thought it was a small portion for a side salad to share. 

April and Alli really liked the stuffed chicken. It was stuffed with ham, cream cheese, asparagus, and roasted peppers. I thoguht it was pretty good overall, maybe too many things inside though.  I liked the sauce that was atop the chicken,but once again, I thought $13.95 for just a chicken breast was overpriced.

We had ordered a couple more glasses of wine.  Our sever was very attentive and prompt with all our food and drinks.  He offered a lot of suggestions and made sure we were happy the whole time.  I think every table is also given free "sugar" type cookies for dessert.  This were thin and crunchy, not bad , but VERY buttery.

The verdict: I thought this place overall was okay.  Between the three of us, we had plenty to eat and our bill wasn't terribly expensive; however, I still thought it was over priced.  It was a lot of fun to try lots of different things which was defintely a plus.  I like sharing, so this was something fun and different.  I don't know if this is a place to go with two people or even more than 3 or 4.  I don't think any of the food was really worth the price, but it was tasty.  I would recommend this place to go for a drink or two to grab a small bite to eat.

Food: 2.8
Service: 3.5
Overall Experince: 3.5 (We enjoyed ourselves!)

Relish Modern Tapas on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 30, 2011

Review: El Toro

I have to say that I have great friends.  I am lucky enough to have friends who know just what to get me for my birthday....gift card to a restaurant.  My birthday was a couple months back, but my good freinds Zac, Kelly, and Dan gave me a gift card to El Toro restaurant in the Oakley/Hyde Park area.  I love Mexican food and had never been there before, so I was excited to be able to try something new!

El Toro is located in a shopping center on Paxton Ave. where Daybreak used to be.  I loved Daybreak and was a little disappointed when I saw it was closing, but there aren't a ton of Mexican options in this area.

My husband and I decided to go a couple weeks ago on a Thursday evening.  We arrived around 6 or so and we were immediately seated at a table.  The decor in El Toro is pretty standard for a Mexican restaurant.  Lots of colors and a bar toward the back.  We were seated in a booth by the window, which was nice, but a bit chilly.

Ross and I decided we were gonna start with a margartia.  El Toro offers FOUR different sizes: small, jumbo, grande and monster.  I was going to order the grande, but my husband talked me into the monster, we had a gift card after all, and the margaritas were a special price during happy hour.  This thing came out and I couldn't believe my eyes.  It wa HUGE.  It was seriously the biggest margarita I have ever had in my life!!  Now, as far as taste...it was just okay.  I think it was a bit to sweet for my liking.  I would have been happier with a smaller margarita with better proportion of tequila to the mix.

As most Mexican restaurants do, we were given some salsa and chips to start off with.  The chips were pretty good.  Salty and warm; however, the salsa again was just okay.  It was a bit too runny for me and didn't have much flavor and no kick to it whatsoever. 

We also decided to try the queso dip, which always reminds me of my sister, she loves queso.  This queso was fine, better than the salsa.

El Toro's menu is also huge.  Ross and I took a long time deciding what to get because there were so many options.  I almost always get a quesadilla, fajitas, or tacos when I got to Mexican restaurants, so I decided to try something a bit different.  I went with a combo of a taco, enchilada, and chile poblano.

All in all, these were not that great.  The taco was fine.  I had ordered it with chicken and it was topped with lettuce and cheese.  The enchilada wasn't very good at all.  The chile poblano was the best of the three.  It was the only one that tasted like it had any flavor to it.  The other two items I had to add hot sauce or the runny salsa to.

Ross ordered some sort of burrito, as usual.  He thought his burrito was pretty good.  It came with a side of rice which he thought was pretty good as well.

We ended up not even being able to finish our margaritas because they were so big and sweet.

Our service was fine.  Pretty standard overall.  It was great that I had a gift card to El Toro but I don't know if I would go back. There are many other Mexican restaurants I like a lot better.  Prices were pretty average as well, average $6.99-$11.99 for dinner.
So, I thank my friends again for my gift card, despite mediocre food, we had a good time!

Food: 2
Service: 3
Overall Experience: 2.5

El Toro Mexican Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 27, 2011

Guest Blog: Cabana on the River

For this week's guest blog, our good friend Matt ventured to a great outdoor restuarant right next to the Ohio River.  It looks like a great place to try for a night outdoors and the food doesn't look to bad either. This is definitely a place I'm going to try this summer for a night on the river!  Thanks Matt! 

It was a warm and beautiful Friday evening on the Westside of Cincinnati, yes, the Westside of Cincinnati.  For those who aren’t aware, that is a major no-no for an Eastsider like myself to venture that far into enemy territory.  But for the burger they have, I’ll take my chances.  If you didn’t guess from my last comment, I have been here before and will come back again.  Is that all I need to say?

Cabana on the River is a place that is perfect for an afternoon/evening when the sun is shining and you want a cold beer.  The atmosphere is almost like no other place I have been in Cincinnati.  The entire restaurant is open with only a tent/roof over a portion of the tables.  It sits directly next to the Ohio River in Saylor Park.  For a point of reference, Saylor Park is near the airport, but on the Ohio side. 

My wife and I met my mom, sister, her husband AJ and their son Mason at Cabana.  Since I had been here before I knew there wasn’t going to be any exciting decision making process with my meal.  I knew going into the evening I was going to be eating their white chicken chili to start, followed up with their CAB (Certified Angus Beef) burger with pepper jack cheese.  I know, nothing too exciting and it sounds like typical “bar food” but delicious. 

We did go out on a limb with our appetizer and order pickle chips and mesquite bbq quesadilla rolls.  Yes, I had two appetizers, soup and my main course.  The pickle chips and quesadilla rolls were decent.  They were “bar food”. 

As for my beer of choice, I’m on a “microbrew” kick, so I went with a draft of Leinenkugels Honey Weiss Bier.  Not impressed.  It tasted like 3am keg beer.  The beer you don’t want to drink but have to because there is nothing else to drink. I had a second just to be sure, but sorry, again not impressed.  Now onto the next course, one of the main reasons I go to Cabana, the white chicken chili.  Now I am no food conesouir, so I can’t tell you how and why a certain food tastes good or why the ingredients all “work together”, but I do know it is delicious.  Nothing special about the presentation, just a bowl of damn good chili with some crackers on the side.  The cheese on the side was an added, unexpected bonus.
The main course, my “CAB” burger did not disappoint, as usual.  The burger is literally as big as my face, as you can see, it takes two pieces of cheese side by side to cover the pattie.  I asked for the burger to be cooked medium-rare and I’d say it came out somewhere between medium-rare and medium, not bad.  But for a burger so big, it is very juicy, tender and tasty.  I have only finished the burger once out of three times I’ve tried, this not being the one.  Sorry, I’m not sorry, I enjoyed it on Saturday too.  There is nothing special about this either.  Just a big, very good, juicy burger. 
Sometime before I started attacking my burger, I switched to a new beer, Cabana Red Ale.  Better.  I’m a fan of red ales and this one was decent.  The switch was well worth it.
I can’t comment on everyone else’s food unfortunately because I had enough to talk about regarding my own food.  Next time I go back, I’ll probably get the same thing again anyway!  Why mess with a good thing?!?!
There is nothing about Cabana that is trying to impress anyone.  Just a huge deck on the river that serves cold beer and good food; suprisingly good food.  You’ll see all sorts of people there.  No matter where they come from everyone is there to enjoy the weather, the food and cold beer with people they care about.   I recommend giving it a try, you might see me there wrestling with the CAB burger yet again!


Cabana on the River on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Recipe: Fettucine With Red Pepper Cayenne Sauce

I recently received an email from allrecipes.com that listed 5 Easy Dinners for the week.  I saw "easy" and immediately clicked on all of the recipes.  One that sounded easy and yummy to me was a pasta recipe for fettucine with a red pepper cayenne sauce.  It noted that it only takes about 15 minutes and all the ingredients were simple and inexpensive; my kind of meal!


  • 12 ounces dry fettuccine pasta
  • 2 red bell peppers, julienned
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 cup reduced fat sour cream
  • 3/4 cup chicken broth
  • 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • salt and pepper to taste

Here are the easy steps to making this dish:

1. Start by boiling your water for the pasta, add some salt and let it boil. Once ready, add the pasta and cook uncovered for 8-10 minutes.
2. Meanwhile, cut up your peppers and get your garlic ready.  Heat a saute pan on medium heat and add cooking spray or EVOO to the bottom of the pan.  Add your garlic and peppers and saute for about 5 minutes.  

Next, add your sour cream, chicken broth, and cayenne.  Let that simmer for another 5 minutes or so.  Add the pasta. 
3. Take the pan off the heat and add the cheese.  Mix all the ingredients together.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper. 

This recipe was so easy and it was delicious!  My husband and I both liked it a lot and will definitely make it again. I love that it doesn't require a lot of ingredients either.  I had some frozen peas on hand, so I added those in to the pan as well.  You could add tons of things to this though: chicken, shrimp, mushrooms, broccoli, etc.  The cayenne definitely adds a little kick to the meal, so if you don't like spicy don't use as much cayenne.  Hope you enjoy!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Review: Bangkok Bistro

There are multiple options of Thai food in the Oakley/Hyde Park area, but Bangkok Bistro is one of my favorites.  Their sushi is not typically my favorite, but I love many of their other dishes.  On one of the many nights of rain that we have had, I met my sister there for dinner.  They have a nice patio -if it is ever nice enough to sit outside.  It wasn't very crowded for a Friday night, but it was still kind of early when we went.  Bangkok Bistro is broken up into three rooms and there is almost always a table available.  The decor is very simple and welcoming enough. 

Our server promptly greeted us and got us started with a drink.  I had originally ordered the house cabernet, and my server honestly replied that it really isn't very good.  I appreciated his bluntness and chose a Malbec instead.

Like I have said in the past, I really enjoy going to restaurants and sharing various dishes to try more than one thing.  My husband hates doing this, but luckily my sister is the same way.  We were a bit over zealous with our ordering.  We decided to share an order of edamame, Crab Rangoon, Golden Bags, and both our favorite's dish Tom Yum Pasta. 

The edamame arrived first.  This was pretty typical edamame: warm and salty. Those who may not be familiar, edamame is just a Japanese soy bean and a great appetizer. 

Next, we got the orders of Crab Rangoon and Golden Bags.  Bangkok Bistro was at the Taste of Cincinnatilast year and served these Golden Bags there.  In fact, they won best appetizer at the Taste last year.  They are delicious.  I can't quite remember what all is in these, but they are fried with various veggies and sausage maybe inside and look like little bags. They are served with a sweet and sour sauce.  These are nice and crispy and there is plenty of filling. 

I had never had Crab Rangoon before, but I have only heard great things about it.  I loved these!  They are wrapped in a light wonton wrapper and filled with a mix of cream cheese and crab meat.  Delicious!  They were served with a side of a sweet and sour type sauce as well.  I liked these even better than the Golden Bags but they were both really good.  Our meal was off to a great start! 

Needless to say, Kelley and I were getting pretty full as you can imagine, but we still had our main dish.  The server asked us how spicy we wanted the dish on a scale of 1-10; I can't remember for sure, but I believe we said 6 or 7, we both like spicy food.  The Tom Yum Pasta is angel hair pasta stir fried with chicken, shrimp, veggies with a spicy sauce.  I have had this more than once and every time it is amazing.  The perfect mix of veggies with a light pasta and a spicy sauce.  This is a good sized dish and is plenty to share, especially when you have appetizers like we did!  We each had some to take home afterward as well. 

Keep Bangkok Bistro in mind any time you are in the Hyde Park area.  With all the Thai places to choose from, it is consistently one of my favorites: the prices are reasonable, service is great, and the food is always a winner.  Our appetizers were $4-$7 and the Tom Yum Pasta is $14.95 and enough for two people. 

Food: 4.5
Service: 4
Overall Experience: 4.5

Bangkok Bistro on Urbanspoon

Friday, May 20, 2011

Guest Blog: Gordo's Pub & Grill

My sister once again has offered to share her opinion about food.  This time, instead of a recipe, she is sharing her experience at Gordo's Pub in Norwood.  They are known for their burgers but offer lots more.  Kelley did not choose to get burgers for this visit; however, the rest sounds great.  Thanks to Kel for sharing!

One of the perks to living in Norwood is having Gordo's within walking distance.  Owner Raymond Gordo, a Norwood native, previously worked under famous chef Jean Robert de Cavel and has over sixteen years of restaurant experience.  Gordo's is a great little bar and grill on Montgomery Rd. with a fantastic atmosphere.  It's perfect for a dinner date or to watch a game with friends.  It's small, so I recommend going a bit early to get a table.

My friend Andrea and I walked up to Gordo's for an early dinner last night around 5:00 PM.  There were about five tables occupied at the time, but that quickly changed in the next hour.  My favorite thing about Gordo's is the extensive beer selection, and during happy hour, all beers are $1 off.  So upon arriving, I began perusing the beer menu and decided to start with a Belgian beer, Fruili Fruit Beer. 

I liked it a lot, so the server gave me some suggestions for other fruit beers to try throughout dinner.  I was really impressed with her knowledge of the beer selection, so I went with her choices and had a Unibroue Ephemere, which had an apple flavor, and St. Ambrois Apricot.  I was very happy with all three, and Andrea liked them all too.  So I would definitely recommend taking your server's suggestions! 

For an appetizer, we ordered the Saratoga chips.  We were given a heaping portion, and they were very light and crispy and not too salty.  They were served with barbeque sauce, and it was delicious.  We asked our server if they made their own barbeque sauce and found out that it was from Cisco!  We couldn't believe our ears.  The chips were addicting...I could eat an order of them by myself!

The menu at Gordo's centers around their burger selection and has been named as "one of the best hamburgers in the region" by Cincinnati Magazine.  Each burger is a half pound of lean ground beef mixed with bacon, onion compote, and mixed herbs, and there are nine burgers to choose from.  The selection ranges from the Pub burger, which has your traditional toppings, to the BPJ, which is topped with fried bananas, peanut butter cream cheese, jam, and bacon.

Despite the rave reviews of the burgers, Andrea and I both opted to go for a salad.  We have to be in bathing suits next weekend!  Andrea chose the spinach salad with salmon.  It had a warm bacon dressing which tasted good but was a bit too vinegary for our tastes.  The salmon was cooked to perfection, so no complaints there.

I ordered the pear and blue cheese salad with chicken.  The chicken was tender and juicy, and it was served atop a bed of spinach and cabbage.  In addition to the pear and blue cheese, the salad included walnuts and raspberry vinegarette dressing.  All of the flavors worked fabulously together.  Both salads were a perfect dinner portion but would probably be a bit too large for lunch.
In addition to our server's outstanding knowledge of the beer selection, she was very friendly and kept on top of us, even when it started to get crowded.  At no point did we have to remind her of something we asked for or wait for a long period of time.  I will definitely go to Gordo's again!

Food: 4
Service: 5
Overall: 4.5

Gordo's Pub & Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

We're Wild About Wine!!

Kate and I and several of our friends attended the Cincinnati Zoo’s Wild About Wine event last Thursday, which happened to be on the same day as my birthday. Coincidence? I don’t think so! I’m sure it was planned especially for me. ;)

As expected, it was a great time!! The Zoo has an entire series of Toast to the Wild events including Zootini, three Wild About Wine events and Zoo Brew. I’ve never been to Zootini or Zoo Brew (not a big martini or beer drinker), but Kate and I attended one of the Wild About Wine events last August and absolutely loved it. Actually, we loved it so much we bought the pass for all three wine events this year, which was less expensive than buying each ticket individually.

Photo from Wild About Wine website
Throughout the park, there are various food stations set up from area restaurants and wine samplings from Krogers and Banfi Vintners. Not only is there great food and wine, there’s also live music, up close animal encounters (I actually got my picture with a bearcat!), and a free wine glass! Now you know why we love it so much! 

I have absolutely no complaints about the wine (which is really the main reason I go), but I will be honest about the food - I was not very impressed. The food last year was more abundant and more easily accessible. They tried a new set-up this year that did not flow as well as last year’s event, and several of the vendors ran out of food before we got to them. 

My favorite food this year was from Butterbee’s American Grille. I’ve never heard of them before, but they definitely got my attention! They served mini pulled pork sandwiches, coleslaw and Saratoga chips with barbeque sauce. Delish!! 

We also tried buffalo chicken macaroni and cheese from Keystone Bar and Grill….this was my second favorite. I actually had two servings of this! If you've ever had buffalo chicken dip, it tastes similar to that - but with mac and cheese! Sorry – I didn’t get very many photos, but it was great - take my word for it!

We tried cupcakes from Sweet Peace Bakery. This was my first vegan cupcake experience…and probably my last. I tried the vanilla and thought it tasted like Play-doh. Not good.

The other sweet treat there was Madisono’s Gelato. Thank goodness they did not disappoint and I was finally able to satisfy my sweet tooth! I got the pistachio gelato (which I have purchased at Bigg’s before). This is soooo yummy! It has a little kick to it, but I love the combination of sweet and salty.

The Bistro served a trio of items including a fresh fruit jam tart with honey mascarpone, duck liver mousse, and pork roulade with mustard and red onion marmalade. The fresh fruit tart was very good and so was the pork roulade. The duck liver mousse on the other hand....not so good! I didn't like the texture and it tasted like dirty feet in my opinion....which I may have said a little too loud after a few glasses of wine! I'm pretty sure The Bistro staff heard me say this...but oh well, I'm not sure why they would serve something so "risky" to begin with. They should have expected that kind of reaction with a dish like that at a zoo event!

Remembered to take a picture after already digging in to the fresh fruit jam tart!
There were chicken wings from Mt. Adams Pavillion, which I would have liked to try but they would have been too messy and difficult to eat. Imagine trying to eat a chicken wing while holding a glass of wine, a purse, a plate of food, an event program and a camera...then imagine doing this after about 6 glasses of wine. Not the best choice of items to serve for this type of event.

Other things we didn't try included a large cheese station from Innovations Culinary Company (line was waaaaay too long for just cheese), ZZ's Pizza (they ran out) and Bronte Bistro (never found it).

Even though the food is not the greatest, I would definitely still highly recommend going to the future Wild About Wine events! The wine is really the star, so I would go back for that in a heart beat! And it supports a great cause - the Zoo!


Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Review: The Firehouse Grill

On a recent Friday evening, I met Kate and her husband Ross for happy hour at The Firehouse Grill in Blue Ash (the old location of Watson Bros. and Apsara). It was in the midst of the ridiculous amount of April rain we had here in Cincinnati, so we were ecstatic that it was a sunny day and we could sit outside. They have a beautiful patio that overlooks a pond with a fountain. Despite the traffic on the nearby busy streets, it really is peaceful and serene back there.
We met at 5:15 immediately after work and the place was already filling up. Kate and her hubby each had a beer and I started with a glass of wine. Then it was on to the food menu…they have a pretty standard menu consisting of some typical appetizers, salads, burgers, sandwiches, pizzas, entrees and pasta dishes. There were a lot of items that jumped out at me, but Kate and I decided to split the buffalo chicken rolls and the barbeque chicken pizza – I told you we like to split everything! J Ross went with the Back Draft burger and fries.
Our server – who was very nice but a little ditzy – brought out our buffalo chicken rolls first. These are a play on traditional egg rolls – instead of the standard ingredients, they have bits of fried chicken, pepperoni, Monterey jack cheese and buffalo sauce and they’re served with blue cheese dressing. Kate and I both prefer Ranch dressing so we asked the server to substitute that instead. These were pretty good – although I don’t know if I’d order them again. I am obsessed with Teller’s (in Hyde Park) version of this appetizer, and these just didn’t quite compare. If I had never had Teller’s buffalo chicken rolls before, I probably would have loved these (which was the case for Kate). They do have a nice crunch and a great buffalo flavor. I’m just biased towards Teller’s.
Next the server brought out our pizza and Ross’ burger and fries. The barbeque chicken pizza comes with bacon, pulled chicken, onion, mixed shredded cheese and cilantro. They use a homemade barbeque sauce that is pretty good and pretty sweet. Of course, we ordered onions on only half since I despise onions and Kate loves them. Overall, Kate and I both enjoyed the pizza. I pretty much like anything with bacon, although I think it could have used a little more cilantro (but I’m very partial to cilantro), and when I make this pizza at home I add roasted red peppers, which I think would have been a nice addition.
I didn’t try Ross’ Back Draft Burger, but it looked pretty darn good!! It was topped with jalapenos, chilies, Monterey jack cheese, bacon and guacamole and came with a side of fries. Ross really liked it! And the fries were pretty good as well – nice and hot and crunchy and not too salty!
Overall, I think the food at Firehouse is pretty standard – nothing extraordinary, but the atmosphere is really nice, it’s close to home and work, and the service was decent, so I’m sure I’ll be back!
Food: 3.5                                                                                                                                           Service: 3                                                                                                                                        Overall: 3.5 

The Firehouse Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, May 16, 2011

Save the Date! Taste of Cincinnati

If you have lived in Cincinnati for more than a year, you are most likely familiar with the Taste of Cincinnati. This is a fun event held downtown annually with more than 40 restaurants participating.  They offer tastings of some of their most popular items. It is running Memorial Day weekend, May 28-30, and is three days of opportunities to try some new foods. Check out the website for more information on the restaurants that are participating and the cost of each item.

Last year I went and had a great time.  Parking is pretty easy to find but you will have to pay to park.  My advice is to go with a couple people and share items. Most of the places last year give pretty big portions so you can easily share. Most items are $3-$5 which can add up quickly, so if you go with a couple people, you're able to try more things without spending a fortune. Let's hope for good weather and have fun!

Friday, May 13, 2011

Guest Blog: Green Papaya

For today's guest blog, we have one of my dearest friends and fellow foodies, Jenna, writing about a recent dining experience we had at Green Papaya. Jenna also has her own blog, The Over-Analyst, which is great - you should check it out!! Thanks, Jenna!


Hello to all my foodies out there! We've always been taught to "eat to live" but I think we can agree to disagree with this statement. I'm proud to say I "live to eat"! I can hear my father now, "Jenna, what's the point of getting excited about food - you chew it up, swallow it and digest it." Ohhhhh man, does he not get it. It's the memories and new foods I discover in each dining experience that excites me! You know you're a foodie when you just finish your lunch and your wheels start turning thinking about where you're going to have dinner. So now that you know I'm a legit foodie, I will be filling in for the experts today as a guest blogger from NYC. I've lived in NYC for 5 years now and I can confidently say that we have the best food in the country...hands down. You probably hate me for making that comment but you can't, I'm from Ohio! And I'm a hard critic so here it goes...

Today's grub review is on the restaurant, Green Papaya in Oakley. The cuisine is a combination of Thai and sushi bar. When I was on my way to the restaurant, I was certain there would be a green theme going on. Whenever a color is part of a restaurant's name, 9 times out of 10, the restaurant is decked out in that color. So when I arrived at my destination, lo and behold appeared a bright green hole-in-the-wall. When I walked in, my girlfriends were sitting at the table in front of the sushi bar (I was late like usual). Like I mentioned, I just love getting together with friends and talking about anything that comes to mind. We had one of our best friend's wedding the night before so there was much to talk about. When I finally came up for air, I realized I was completely oblivious to my surroundings. When I started looking around, the green theme was in full effect which is common for a Thai or Japanese restaurant. Green plants were scattered throughout the restaurant which made the space very naturesque. I know I said I'm a hard critic but not with atmosphere. One thing I have learned while living in NYC is that usually the restaurants that don't necessarily appeal to the eye have the most amazing food. I tend to stay away from modern, empty spaces. 3 words....small-portions....expensive. So I was absolutely loving the quaint, ethnic feel to the restaurant. No complaints there!

I started with a glass of Malbec. This is typically one of my favorite wines because I tend to like fuller bodied wines. When she handed me the glass, it was more transparent than usual and I knew it was going to taste watered down. I'm somewhat big on wine and I had to bite my tongue after I tasted it. I felt like I was drinking grape juice. This has happened to me before and I had no shame in returning it. I thought nothing of it but when I looked at my friends I was with, they started busting out laughing. So after remembering that
experience, I decided to throw back the grape juice.

When I opened the menu, I am picky yet again! Since I am a vegetarian (that eats fish) I have to have the right amount of options. If the menu appears like a "diner menu", I get overwhelmed and become extremely indecisive. In these cases, I usually give the waiter 3 options and he selects my meal. When there is not enough of a selection, I still don't know. In these cases, I usually end up combining 2 plates and creating my own meal. And yes, I am completely aware that I have issues. Green Papaya's menu was closer to the "diner menu" so to save time, when our waiter was taking our order, she was going around in a circle. But about half way through, she looked at me, skipped me and carried on. I honestly thought she was punishing me for being late. Accidentally, I said, "seriously?" I don't think she heard me but I felt somewhat ridiculous so I let it go. When I ordered, I took my gf's advice and went with the green papaya roll. If it's their house specialty roll, it's gotta be good! I wasn't too hungry so I just ordered a salad to start with. The table started with edamame and we were very pleased! You would be surprised how some restaurants actually carry mediocre edamame. I could still taste warm grape juice, so I ordered a Sapporo (Japanese beer). Sapporo never lets me down. When the salads came out, mine looked nothing like the salads my friends ordered. Then I remembered the waiter asked me how spicy I wanted it...I just said 10? I have a really high tolerance for spicy foods. When I started eating it, it wasn't so bad. Then a couple bites in, I realized this ridiculous salad was too spicy to handle. I started chugging water and was pretty much silent for 20 minutes. I think I even patted my forehead off a little. Because I absolutely hate wasting food, I tried my very hardest to eat it all. I now know "spicy" at Green Papaya actually means "flaming". And I also now know to actually read the menu before ordering!

In between courses, we started telling stories and laughing at each other. We never have been a quiet bunch so yeah, the volume started to raise but it was nothing dramatic. I just have to preface that my #1 pet peeve when dining at a restaurant is when another table secretly starts listening to your conversation. If it's an awkward date, I feel bad and let it be even though it's slightly awkward. So that night, there was a table of 8 sitting next to us and they all literally stopped talking and listened to our conversation for a good few minutes. We thought it was hysterical and had a few good laughs. After all, I can't blame them for wanting to join our table. We are always a lot of fun  :)

It was turning out to be quite an eventful night and I couldn't wait to get my green papaya roll! I was sure something outrageous was bound to happen - maybe the sushi would start moving? Shortly, our waiter came out with the next dish. I was highly impressed with the presentation. It drew my attention to the guys behind the sushi cart and they were conjuring up all sorts of interesting presentations. I do have to admit, the sushi places that I go to in NY only display sushi rolls in lame rows....boring. Point for Ohio. The roll consisted of about 12 pieces. What I loved most about the roll was the manageable size of each individual piece. The Green Papaya Roll is considered a specialty roll and those are usually the insanely large pieces. If you're on a date, everyone knows not to order a specialty roll because if the guy watches you eat that thing, you're done for. My next favorite part about the roll was that it was wrapped with green soy bean instead of seaweed. I’ve always liked seaweed but the green soy bean put it to shame. The green soy bean wasn't as chewy as seaweed usually is, which made it easier to eat. Most seaweed is salted but I don’t believe the green soy bean contained any salt. Although I’m a fan of salt, the green soy bean is the healthier choice. And anyways, I got my salt fix by drenching it in soy sauce - low sodium though! Inside the roll contained shrimp tempura, spicy tuna, mango, and cream cheese. The roll was topped with spicy mayo, crab stick and tempura flakes. It was the perfect combination and the best roll I've had in years. This is BIG. New York is well-known for their sushi. And another point for Ohio. I wasn't going to go here but I must add that this roll isn't necessarily healthy. A typical shrimp tempura roll has about 500 calories and spicy tuna rolls have about 300 calories. Not going to ruin my amazing experience by counting calories so I'll stop here. But if you're wanting to focus on eating healthier, this may not be the roll for you. As long as you stay away from tempura, I think that's good enough!

Overall, Green Papaya was more than what I expected. Don't tell my fellow New Yorkers, but I think I enjoyed the sushi more than the majority of the sushi restaurants that I regularly go to in NY. That was hard to admit. I feel like I'm cheating on my boyfriend! I can have 2 right? Totally.

So to wrap it up...don't show up late or the waiters take your order last; do not order a glass of the Malbec & ask for a better wine; if you're feeling spontaneous and want to order the FLAMING Green Papaya Salad, I recommend sticking with the 1-5 levels; DO order the Green Papaya roll when you feel like you can indulge a little (try ordering w/out the shrimp tempura for a healthier option); go with a good group, they have a fun atmosphere and I'm sure they would be okay with a few sake bombs; and if people start listening in on your conversation, look at them and offer them a piece of your sushi (hehe). HUGE fan of this place and definitely plan on going back when I return to my old stompin' grounds!

Food: 4
Service: 2.5 (only because me & the waiter had issues)
Overall Experience: 4.5

It was my amazing girlfriends that made my overall experience so incredible. Remember, eating good food makes the experience 10x better when you have great company! Thanks Kris, Mags, Pep, & Alaine! xx

And thank you to Kate & Kris for inviting me to guest blog! Your blog is just wonderful!

All my best,


Green Papaya on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Review: Walnut Street Grill

When I heard that Jeff Ruby's was opening a new restaurant that was to be more casual and affordable, I knew I wanted to try it out. Walnut Street Grill is located across from the Aronoff where Bootsy's used to be. I went a couple weeks ago with my friend Kenzie and easily found parking in the Fountain Square garage. We went on a Tuesday night around 6:00 so reservations were not needed.

When we first walked in, we were greeted by a lady sitting at a stand who told us to go up the stairs. The restaurant still looks a bit like Bootsy's did.  As we got upstairs, the hostess greeted us and took us into the "restaurant" area. We looked at the drink list and were excited to see that domestic bottles were $2 until 7:00 and their cocktails/martinis were $5....however, we were disappointed when our waiter told us those prices were only in the "bar" area, kinda annoying$9 otherwise. We asked if we could move in there, and our server was glad to take us. We sat in a comfy booth and began to peruse the menus after ordering our specialty cocktails.  I ordered the grape cooler, and Kenzie had a mango flavored drink. Both drinks were very good and were served in these fun mason jars to give it a little something different. 

Appetizers were only $5 during happy hour which was a plus. The rest of the menu consists of steak burgers, salads, and some other entrees including chicken pot pie, meatloaf, and short ribs to name a few. All of these sounded good, but Kenzie and I both agreed that we needed to try one of their steak burgers. We opted to share an appetizer, share a burger, and a side of Jeff Ruby's famous mac n' cheese.

The pulled pork nachos sounded unique and delicious, so we put in an order of those and the green chile cheeseburger.

The pulled pork nachos arrived first. We both thought the portion was a bit small, but it was enough for the two of us. The pulled pork was warm and sweet atop the nachos.I would have liked a bit more cheese on the nachos because the chips on the bottom were somewhat dry.  Overall, I thought these were just okay. I liked the pulled pork, but I was expecting a bit more pizazz.

Next, our burger arrived. It looked delicious. The bun was toasted nicely but soft and there was an onion ring on top of the bun. This burger had a roasted poblano salsa, lettuce, tomato, onion, cheddar, and their homemade WSG sauce, which we got on the side. After splitting our burger, we dug right in. I chose to use the WSG sauce, which tasted just like a spicy mayo. The burger was cooked to order; however, I was underwhelmed. This burger to me looked a lot better than it tasted. It wasn't bad by any means, but it was not the best burger I have ever had either. It wasn't particularly juicy, so I definitely appreciated the toppings. Maybe my expectations were set a bit high, being a Jeff Ruby's restaurant, but I wasn't very impressed.

The mac n' cheese was good. I love the mixture of cheeses and that it is baked perfectly with a crust on top. I have had it at the Precinct before and thought it was a bit better there.

Kenzie and I decided to go with one of the $2 beers while we finished our meal. Everything came out on time, but after we got our food, we didn't see much of our waitress after that. In fact, we were both finished with our food and drinks and had to ask another server to get our check for us.

All in all, Walnut Street Grill was just okay. I would be intersted in going back again for happy hour and possibly trying some of their other appetizers since they are on special. I would also give it another chance to try some of their other entrees.

Food: 3
Service: 2.5
Overall Experience: 3

Walnut Street Grill on Urbanspoon